A full look at the 2016 nominees (and misses).
Last year, the white-washed list of Oscar nominations provoked outrage. This year there’s, what, acceptance? What are the seven stages of diversity grief?
With the nominations for the 88th Academy Awards being announced overnight, the view looks all too similar. And not just because of all the familiar faces (Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett receiving their 7th acting nominations, Leonardo DiCaprio his 5th, the Coen Brothers their 14th overall nod, John Williams receiving his 50th nomination for his The Force Awakens score) on display.
For the second year in a row, all 20 acting nominees are all white (the last time that this happened was 1997/’98). Again, there are no women nominated for directing or cinematography. There are no nominations in any of the ‘big’ categories for films that aren’t in English.
The searing, racially-charged NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton got a nomination... for its white writers. Similarly, Sylvester Stallone scored a nomination for Creed, but director Ryan Coogler and stars Tessa Thompson and Michael B. Jordan did not. Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts Of No Nation, a portrait of African child soldiers with brilliant performances from Abraham Attah and Idris Elba, failed to find any love.
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Although many categories are voted on in isolation —actors vote for actors, writers for writers, cinematographers for cinematographers, etc— and are, thus, their own separate entities, it’s hard when looking over the full list of Oscar nominees (see below) not to see an institutional racism at play. The movie biz’s night of nights seems, more than ever, symbolic of a world in which only a privileged few get to choose what stories get made, who makes them, who’s in them.
But, even in this climate of outrage culture and Twitter tears, should we actually care? Should the ongoing conservatism of the Oscars actually bother us? Should Hollywood’s annual self-congratulatory circle-jerk be a bellwether of artistic achievement and social progress? Do we need an awards-show voted on by an overwhelmingly old, white, male constituency to reflect the world around us?
Does Sean Baker’s acclaimed, beloved Tangerine —a film shot on iPhones, starring two transgender women-of-colour— need an Oscar nod to officially consecrate its worthiness? Do we need people who never even nominated Stanley Kubrick, Fritz Lang, or Werner Herzog to tell us what great filmmaking is? Should we really put any stock in any institution that once acclaimed Paul Haggis’s heinously awful Crash as the best film of the year? Do the Oscars actually matter at all?
Whilst it’d be great to say ‘no’, of course they do. To paraphrase a great David Foster Wallace monologue in The End Of The Tour (totally Oscar snubbed!), you can’t play the Oscars-are-bullshit card when they nominate bad films, then claim them as worthy validation of work when they seem to otherwise Get It Right.
For all the conservatism of their nominations and the filmmaking blandness so often on parade, they’re still a celebration of cinema as artform. For better or worse, Oscar season now exists as the six-month B-side to blockbuster season; the place where all the ‘prestige’ pictures reside, and where fans of movies not sourced from comic-books can seek respite from dusted-off IPs, CGI explosions, and macho MCU brand-managing. And, beyond water-cooler conversation, the Oscar nominations have a huge influence in what films are made, and whether or not they end up on your screens.
Oscar love provides a hugely beneficial effect for smaller films that’re nominated. Lenny Abrahamson’s excellent Room, for example, will surely be seen by a great more people now that it’s picked up nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress (for Brie Larson). The psychedelic, shamanist Colonialism fable Embrace Of The Serpent, from Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra, will, if nothing else, earn a local cinematic release on the back of its completely unexpected Best Foreign Language Film nomination. And whilst no one ever suggested the best film of 2015, Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster, was in contention for any Academy love, it’s a film Lanthimos may never've got to make had his amazing second film, Dogtooth, not scored an Oscar nomination in 2011.
So, let us give thanks and praise for the fact that the two most-celebrated films —The Revenant, with 12 nominations, and Mad Max: Fury Road, with 10— were fucking awesome, and that a Tom Hardy Indecipherable Accent was finally deemed Oscar-worthy. All hail Jennifer Jason Leigh’s bonkers turn in The Hateful Eight, Roger Deakins’ brilliant cinematography and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s menacing score for the otherwise-overlooked Sicario, and animations high-concept (Inside Out), wildly stylised (Boy & The World), and guaranteed to make you cry (When Marnie Was There).
Be glad for acknowledgement for films about queer love (Carol) and trailblazing trans surgery (The Danish Girl). Not to mention that Antony Hegarty —who now records as Anohni— became the second trans person to ever be nominated for an Oscar, for her song Racing Extinction (with nods for Sam Smith and Lady Gaga, the always-questionable Best Original Song cat was easily the Academy’s queerest).
And note that, once again, the Oscars have acknowledged the work of Joshua Oppenheimer, the filmmaker whose documentaries on Indonesian genocide —2012’s The Act Of Killing and 2014’s The Look Of Silence— are such profound works of journalism, humanity, and outrage that they’re causing huge ripple effects in Indonesian society.
So, beyond its lilywhite principal cast and absence of genuinely transgressive artworks, there are positive developments, worthy recipients, and fabulous examples of cinematic artistry scattered throughout the 2016 Oscars. It’d just be nice if there were more of them.
The Big Short
Bridge Of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Rylance, Bridge Of Spies
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Roger Deakins, Sicario
Edward Lachman, Carol
Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant
Robert Richardson, The Hateful Eight
John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road
Bridge Of Spies (Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)
Ex Machina (Alex Garland)
Inside Out (Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Ronnie del Carmen)
Spotlight (Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy)
Straight Outta Compton (Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus)
The Big Short (Charles Randolph, Adam McKay)
Brooklyn (Nick Hornby)
Carol (Phyllis Nagy)
The Martian (Drew Goddard)
Room (Emma Donoghue)
Boy & The World
Shaun The Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There
Embrace Of The Serpant
Son of Saul
The Look Of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter On Fire