Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominates a handful of films for the Oscar Awards. This year, a wide range of films — from colorful musical-romances to harrowing historical dramas — earned recognition from the Academy; and we’re already deep in debate about who should win. Damien Chazelle’s La La Land earned 14 nods, tying Titanic and All About Eve for the most nominations ever received by a film. And if you’re a betting man or woman, you know the odds are high that it will take home quite a few trophies this year.
But there’s also plenty to be said about the refreshing amount of diversity among this years’ other nominees, particularly in light of last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy. And, as always, there are a few shocking snubs that simply cannot be ignored. Here’s our rundown of the best and worst Oscar 2017 nominations.
It’s a low-budget film featuring a cast of actors that aren’t anywhere close to household names. It tells the story of an impoverished African American child, grappling with his mother’s drug addiction and his own sexuality. By most regards, Moonlight is a film by and about people that we don’t get to see a lot, if at all, on our movie screens. And it’s one that is told beautifully, both from an aesthetic and a narrative perspective.
The fact that it received eight Oscar nominations would have seemed nearly impossible a few years ago. With nominations for director and screenwriter Barry Jenkins, supporting stars Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, and the top award, Best Picture, it’s become a film that has not only stirred audiences around the country, but also truly defied expectations. And anyone who has seen Moonlight knows that it deserves every accolade that has come its way.
Worst: Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson has enjoyed, in true Hollywood fashion, a huge redemption over the past few months. After years of being more or less shunned from the community thanks to a series of controversial incidents that branded him as both violent against women and anti-Semitic, he has enjoyed a career resurgence thanks to his new film, Hacksaw Ridge.
It’s been a hit with critics and earned several high-profile nominations this year — most notably for star Andrew Lincoln, for Best Picture, and for Gibson himself as director. Film buffs can argue at length as to whether Gibson deserves a second chance at stardom, but there is a case to be made that, at the very least, the praise for his new film is a bit over-the-top.
Gibson beat out Martin Scorsese, Denzel Washington, and several other exceptional and deserving filmmakers for the Best Director nomination. Washington’s Fences, at the very least, earned other nods. But Scorsese’s Silence should have earned more recognition than it did. And its exclusion in this category in favor of Gibson, seems particularly unfair.
Best: Viola Davis
This year, Viola Davis made Oscar history by becoming the first African American actress to receive three nominations. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a film fan who would argue she hasn’t earned every single one. With films Doubt and The Help, she’s proven over the last few years that she’s one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood. Her performance as Rose, the beleaguered wife at the center of Fences, is no exception, as it’s nothing short of a revelation. By most accounts the Best Supporting Actress trophy this year already belongs to Davis — perhaps the easiest award to predict in a year of films and performances that run the gamut in tone and theme.
Worst: “Can’t Stop the Feeling”
Justin Timberlake’s free-flowing pop hit may have been one of the best songs of the summer, but that doesn’t mean it deserves Oscar gold. In fact, its inclusion as a Best Original Song nominee seems to indicate some laziness on the part of Academy voters this year. Sure, La La Land deserved its double nominations, and Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda was a shoe-in for his work on Moana. But there was one song, in particular, that was woefully shut out of this year’s ceremony, and this category seemed to be its best bet.
Sing Street, the charming and irreverent British comedy about a teen rock band, delivered one of the most enjoyable and well-placed original pieces of music this year with “Drive It Like You Stole It.” By most accounts, the songs that are recognized in this category should be those that best represented the films they were written for. In that regard, Timberlake’s Trolls song contributed little to the film’s overall quality, while Sing Street‘s anthem should have been at the top of the list.
Best: Lucas Hedges
Anyone who’s been following this award season knew that Manchester by the Sea was a shoe-in for the year’s top honors. Most of the attention has been on Casey Affleck and his much-lauded — if increasingly controversial — turn as a grieving janitor. As his nephew-turned-ward, Patrick, Lucas Hedges is in many ways the film’s unsung emotional anchor; a teen that has to find a way to fit his own pain and loss into the cracks of a new life where no one seems to want him, or know what to do with him.
Hedges has been universally praised for his mature, fully-realized portrayal of Patrick, but he missed out on a Golden Globe nomination, and after Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s surprise win there for Nocturnal Animals, recognition by the Academy seemed like a bit of a long shot. His nomination for Best Supporting Actor, therefore, was unquestionably deserved but still seems like a bit of a welcome surprise.
Worst: Meryl Streep
Pretty much everyone except the president recognizes that Meryl Streep is a national treasure. She’s made Oscar history on more than one occasion, thanks to her historic number of wins and nominations over the years. That doesn’t mean her Best Actress nod for Florence Foster Jenkins needed to happen, though.
It’s not that her performance was bad — that’s a near impossibility for the iconic actress. It’s just that there were other performances that struck a far deeper chord for moviegoers this year. Amy Adams’ genius, genuine take on linguistics professor Louise Banks in Arrival is perhaps the most egregious miss this year. But Taraji P. Henson’s inspiring performance as mathematician Katherine Johnson in Hidden Figures and Annette Bening’s eccentric mother in 20th Century Women were also highlights. Any way you cut it, Streep’s turn in Jenkins was great, as usual, but feels more like an obligatory nod than one that was overtly earned.
Best: Kenneth Lonergan
Kenneth Lonergan’s two nominations for Manchester by the Sea, his gorgeous and heartbreaking exploration of grief and family, are hardly a surprise. That doesn’t make them any less exciting for his longtime fans, though. The writer and director has lent his talents to some incredible films over the last few decades, including the Oscar-nominated You Can Count on Me and Gangs of New York. He’s never really achieved the status of other directors and screenwriters, though — and this could finally be his chance to be recognized for his incredible ability to bring characters to life.
Lonergan received nods for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. While he’s likely to only bring the latter trophy home, the former is just as well deserved.
A sci-fi romance starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence sounded like a can’t-miss hit. Unfortunately, last year’s Passengers failed to excite critics or audiences, and ended up being one of the biggest disappointments of 2016. That’s only part of the reason that its nominations for Best Original Score and Best Production Design are such a surprise.
In a year with solid entries from legends like Hans Zimmer (Hidden Figures), John Williams (The BFG), and talented up-and-coming composers like Abel Korzeniowski (Nocturnal Animals), Thomas Newman’s nod for Passengers has understandably raised a few eyebrows. Likewise, while the film’s sets were perhaps its most distinctive and impressive feature, they weren’t any better than the production design for, say, Arrival, The Jungle Book, or even Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Best: Ruth Negga
This year, the Oscar for Best Actress seems to be a two-woman race. Isabelle Huppert, who portrays a woman seeking vengeance against the man who raped her in Elle, is widely thought to be the front-runner. Emma Stone’s charming performance in La La Land may give Huppert a run for her money, though. Still, there’s something to be said for Ruth Negga’s beautifully understated performance in Loving.
The film, which follows the landmark Supreme Court interracial marriage case, Loving v. Virginia, earned Oscar buzz last fall upon its release, but largely fell out of favor in the run-up to this year’s nominations. As a result, Negga’s nomination for Best Actress came as a bit of a surprise — but that doesn’t make her any less deserving. She disappears into her portrayal of Mildred Loving, the brave, resilient, and soft spoken African American woman who marries a white man in the 1960s.
In a year where Best Actress nominations were largely doled out for bright and brazen performances, Negga’s quiet mastery of her role is a welcome and well-deserved recognition.
Worst: The lack of a 10th Best Picture nod
Since 2009, the Academy has had the ability to nominate up to 10 films for the coveted Best Picture award. However, that doesn’t mean they always bestow that honor upon 10 films — even if there are 10 that deserve a nod. This year, there are nine films nominated for Best Picture: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight. While most would argue that all of these movies earned their nomination, there are plenty of films that could have easily taken the 10th spot.
Jackie, Pablo Larrain’s moody meditation on grief and legacy and Mike Mills’ eccentric and compelling character study, 20th Century Women were lauded by critics and beloved by many moviegoers. Martin Scorsese’s spiritual exploration in Silence, likewise, was deserving of far more recognition than it received. There will always be snubs where the Oscars are concerned, especially in a year with so many standouts. But why leave out a solid entry when there’s room for one more?
The 89th Academy Awards will air Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 8:30 p.m. EST on ABC.
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