January 25, 2017

Postmortem Oscargasm: 2016

The Academy has spoken! If you're like me, then you were probably up at the 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday, perplexed by the new, cheesy infomercial format that was adopted for the announcement, as well as seething over their use of the trend of splitting nomination announcements into two halves with a mini intermission in between instead of announcing every damn thing in one full swoop. That said, there's some thoughts to be said on the 89th Academy Awards.

Isabelle Huppert and her WTF Nomination

I'd like to admit that I for one am wholly perplexed by the adulation over Isabelle Huppert's work in Elle this season. The film itself is some really compelling, high-end trash (that's not necessarily a bad thing). But like Huppert in the film, I have some complicated, indifferent feelings to her performance. That said, regardless of the performance itself, the fact that she was able to break into the top five 
  • a) speaks to the respect her peers have for her.
  • b) is pretty impressive given it's easier for foreign language performances to wiggle their way into the Best Actress category when the competition is more sparse (a la Riva in 2012 and Cotillard in 2014, after seven years of missing out on nominations) and 2016 was the most packed Actress race in years.
  • c) is pretty wild considering Huppert's work in Elle makes for one of the weirdest nominations I've ever seen. If you've watched the film, you'll know what I mean. This is some extremely atypical stuff not at all friendly to Oscar voters, that may not have been nominated if it wasn't Huppert herself riding the wave of the "never-been-Oscar-nominated" narrative, and would most definitely not be nominated if she were an American and Elle was an American film.
  • d) bears a soft spot in my heart because I love when foreign language performances are recognized - you gotta have love for the underdog!
  • and e) follows the fantastic trend the Academy has had in recent years in terms of making inspired nominations as well as recognizing veterans who've not had any prior nominations. I'm talking about Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night, Emmanuelle Riva in Amour, Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years...even SAG/BAFTA-ignored Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine and Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Meryl Streep and her 20th Nomination
I've said this before during her last two noms, and will say it again: until the very end I will always be happy for another Meryl Streep nomination. Haters will hate and bemoan Meryl's occupation in a spot that could otherwise have been given to a less nominated/never nominated actress, but I don't give a flying rat's ass. We are watching history unfold with this crazy, unheard of nomination count! Should she nab a few more, she'll have double the nominations than Kate Hepburn, her closest competitor. Do you realize how completely whack that is, for better or for worse? I like to view it out of the POV that the Meryl Streep phenomenon will never happen again, no one will top her final nomination count, and that my future Oscar-crazed, cinephile grandchildren will have wondered what it was like to live in the age of Streep and I'll have the answer. She's a living legend people! And I'll always be in awe of her.

Moonlight! Fences! Hidden Figures! Denzel and Viola and Ruth and Naomie and Mahershala and Octavia and Dev! Ava! Actors of color across all acting categories! After listening to swaths of people bitch and moan about how Caucasian the Oscars are for the last two years, we are blessed with a bye year for 2016. Listen, at the end of the day, what I care most about are slates of Oscar contenders who're as close to the Best of the year as possible. To throw in prerequisite PC rules that actors of color has positive intentions, though I've always thought it to be a flawed argument - one that diminishes the acting nominations of talented (and yes, Caucasian) actors, and one that bears a quota-mentality which seemingly seems to imply that achievements made by actors of color ought to take priority over those made by white actors. I don't care what race an actor is. If they're absolutely fantastic, I hope they're nominated and I hope they win. Was I pleasantly surprised and am I happy for Ruth Negga for getting in for Loving? Yes, and I hope that this nomination opens greater opportunities for her career moving forward. Would I have nominated her? Based on all the contenders I've watched - no, I would not have nominated her. I thought there were a few others who were much better (and yes, Caucasian). Granted, that latter point reflects my feelings towards Huppert as well. I just care about the work, that's all. Skin color doesn't matter to me.

Oscar's Type of Man
Whether it's Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine, Aaron Eckhart in Rabbit Hole, Tom Courtenay in 45 Years, or Jean-Louis Trintignant in Amour, I've noticed an interesting trend in which Oscar and other awards bodies tend to favor and acknowledge only the woman in films revolving around the trials and tribulations of a (heterosexual) couple. This year, Joel Edgerton in Loving follows that example. What is it that makes Oscar / awards voters inherently and systematically not care about the male counterpart in stories rooted in the relationship of a man and a woman?* Garfield's nomination for Hacksaw Ridge and Bradley Cooper's nomination for American Sniper seem to reflect back to the 1940s and their overwhelming love for a certain kind of man - the Great American War Hero. While I do think that modern day voters absolutely go for challenging, more sensitive and more emotional male roles nowadays, it's funny how that exclusively tends to gear to narratives that only focus on the male character, as opposed to when that male character shares the narrative with a female character. One may argue that the Best Actor category generally has more crowded fields...but Edgerton never seemed to be apart of the equation this year in spite of the drought taking place in the Best Actor category, while on the flip side, Ruth Negga managed to find her way into the top five atop a dog pile of Best Actress contenders.

*This argument is made in spite of Ryan Gosling's nomination for La La Land

Late Releases and Other Snubs
Silence and 20th Century Women each nabbed 1 nomination apiece. I find this hard to believe - is Andrew Garfield's work in Hacksaw Ridge truly greater than his work in Silence? And how could you possibly ignore Annette Bening's searing work in 20th Century Women? Were the only things worth acknowledging about the two films its cinematography and its screenplay? I think their overall snubbage is attributed to the fact that Paramount and A24 decided to give the films limited releases in late-December - a confusing practice that I've never been completely sure of. Sometimes it works - such as with The Wolf of Wall Street and American Sniper. Sometimes it doesn't, as with A Most Violent Year. But in avoiding the time frame in which all other Oscar contenders are released, why risk being the ones that are forgotten about after the fact?

So that's that! Turns out I got 5 predictions wrong this year across Best Director and the acting categories - five drinks this weekend it is! If I'm feeling extra I'll throw in two more for the Best Picture misses ;)

Past Predictions:

  • 2013: 7 wrong across 6 categories (4 across fields of five)
  • 2014: 9 wrong across 6 categories (6 across fields of five)
  • 2015: 8 wrong across 6 categories (7 across fields of five)
  • 2016: 7 wrong across 6 categories (5 across fields of five) redeeming myself a little bit from the last two years!


  1. I'm so sad about Amy Adams' snub :(

    1. I'm not :)

      I have a weird relationship with Amy. In the same vein as people are exhausted by Meryl, I'm kind of exhausted by Amy and find that she tends to play the same kind of character over and over again. I definitely do think she deserved to be nominated this year, but I guess I don't love her enough overall to be sad about her missing out. I personally think she's picked up a couple of nominations that were underwhelming, so a snub or two kind of balances that out to the point where I can say she's an actress deserving of 5 nominations :)

    2. I actually like Adams in general quite a lot, but her performance in Arrival in particular killed me. It was so subtle, graceful and heartbreaking.

    3. I thought Adams was fantastic as well - I was surprised by how much I liked her in the film. Don't know that I completely understand the overall love over Arrival though - I thought that it was well done, but I found that it didn't really bear any differentiating qualities to it for me against recent acclaimed sci-fi releases.

  2. Denzel Washington was once one of my favorite actors ... that is, until I got tired of the intense brooding and yelling he does in almost every role. From what I've seen (and heard about), he does more of the same in 'Fences'. I loved the original Broadway production and I'm glad the film was made but I do wish he'd lighten up a bit because he's getting into Al Pacino territory. He could use a few comedies at this point.

    I, on the other hand, could use a few less tears in a Viola Davis performance at this point, but I also think she's a terrific actress and is (along with Casey Affleck) the surest bet to win come Oscar night.

    1. Denzel...definitely yells a lot in Fences. I'll keep my thoughts to myself for the time being, but he very much is how you describe him here - he's a little too much for the aural senses. Though he certainly wasn't that way in Flight!

      Viola I enjoyed just fine, she'll win handily and I'll be okay with it.

    2. In 'Flight' there was less yelling but the intense brooding was front-and-center. I don't mind if it's right for the role but, at this point, it's just overly familiar territory that I've tired of from him.

      As to Viola, I think she has a talent that cannot be denied and I hope she finally wins the Oscar ... but I would also like to see less intensity/tears between her performances and her acceptance speeches. I realize she brings so many texture/layers to her work, but sometimes less is more.

  3. I certainly get where you are coming from RE: #OscarsSoWhite, I think certain areas of the internet boiled the situation down to "look at these 20 white faces". But it feels a bit wrong to diminish the issue entirely down to merit. Of course we want the 20 best performances nominated regardless of color, and there were certainly not many alternative options last year (it was basically like Idris Elba was the only shot if I'm remembering correctly?).

    To me the central issue was always asking WHY there weren't any alternatives. And the answer was because the opportunities aren't there, and there just aren't enough people of color getting roles in films. So by design there is less of a chance of even being in contention for Oscar nominations (see Viola's Emmy speech: "You can't win an Emmy for roles that aren't there"). It's an issue of opportunity, not of "these white actors stole the black actors nominations". And that message got messed up a bit by the online outrage machine, sure.

    Some say that the problem isn't the Academy's fault, but at the same time the Academy is made up of industry professionals so it's important to open their eyes to that problem. And it had positive results! The renewed commitment to diversity (and purging of old members tbh) within the Academy is ultimately a good thing, let's hope it continues.

    And at the end of the day, the actors nominated last year will be FINE. They'll still get the prestige and the increased asking price that undoubtedly comes with Oscar recognition, and history won't look at them directly as the problem imo. It's just an industry problem that needed calling out, and as the Oscars are often seen as the face of the industry (for better and worse), they were the ones that took the hit.

    Just my two cents :)

    1. I always appreciate your two cents :)

      And I definitely agree with everything you've outlined here. That's what I found most frustrating about the #OscarsSoWhite "movement" if you will - the fact that this is a bigger problem beyond the voters who're nominating folks for an award. I saw the whole thing as a lot of people who don't have a holistic understanding of a process or an issue at hand making a fat fuss about reform towards a body of people, a great share of whom shouldn't have to bear with that sort of blame, if you will.

      The anger and protests were directed to a product of the problem and not necessarily directly at the problem itself, though what you say about the Academy being made up of industry professionals and the importance that they hear and see the problem totally makes sense. Diversity issues bear double-edged views - I've struggled myself on bearing a coherent POV :)

  4. I'm probably more pleased with the fact that Isabelle Huppert is finally an Oscar nominee than the fact that this performance of hers got nominated. I'm still trying to figure out whether I should like it or not.

    Currently with Emma, but it's more of the fact that she's one of my fav celebrities out there rather than her actual performance, which I love in a not very objective manner.