There are always more important matters than the Oscars. Right now, grumbling about the newly announced Academy Award nominations — the omissions, the snubs, what they got wrong — seems downright criminal. You should be educating yourself on the many ways our current presidential administration is evading the truth and cramping down on civil liberties. You should be calling your senators or representatives, demanding they fight him on abortion, immigration, climate change, etc. Aren’t you worried about his yen for nuclear arms? Can you believe the term “alternative facts” is now a thing? Wait, the Nazis launched an “alt-right” site on MLK Day?
But we have to talk Oscars. Maybe it will even be healthy? We can’t go 24/7 into the abyss, clogging our brains with all the truly, actually terrifying horrors going on right now. We need to take a few minutes and stew over the fact that Amy Adams didn’t nab a Best Actress nod for “Arrival.”
With that, here’s some miscellaneous carps and praises (before we go back to reading about what Trump pulling us out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership actually means):
Hugh Grant was robbed. Meryl Streep scored her obligatory Best Actress nom for being Meryl Streep in “Florence Foster Jenkins.” We say the show was stolen by her male co-star. As St. Clair Bayfield, husband and manager to the socialite-turned-history’s worst professional singer, Grant gets to play Smarmy Hugh Grant. He also, as the film wears on, gets to play Tragic Hugh Grant, as his character realizes that when she dies, his jig is up. It’s the finest work of his career, and he’s such a self-effacing performer that he’s probably happy he doesn’t have to potentially give a speech.
Michael Shannon over Aaron Taylor-Johnson. It was pretty random when the Golden Globes nominated Taylor-Johnson for “Nocturnal Animals,” let alone when they handed him the trophy. Even he looked surprised! The Oscars corrected that mistake by switching him with Michael Shannon, by far the most entertaining part of Tom Ford’s film, basically because Michael Shannon is eternally entertaining. We would have rather seen Shannon nominated for his turn in “Elvis & Nixon,” in which he played the King more like Michael Shannon than he did Presley. But any excuse to pimp our interview with the god, done three days after the election, is good enough for us.
Why no love for Kate Beckinsale? The Globes ignored her, and so did the Oscars. But there’s few turns as delightful as her hilarious, scheming work in “Love & Friendship.” Despite being one of the highest grossing art house/indie films of the year, Whit Stillman’s Jane Austen movie couldn’t even get a screenplay nod, and Stillman had to write a great deal of his own Jane Austen quips himself. And if we must get sentimental, it would have been a great Oscars story if an actress who’s been grossly misused and mishandled by Hollywood reminded us that, given the right material, she’s one of the greats. (Also, holy crap, how did Tom Bennett, who steals the movie whenever he's onscreen, get shut out, too?)
Strong documentary feature category. “I Am Not Your Negro.” “O.J.: Made in America.” “13th.” Each is a fiery and exacting examination of race in America, perfect for a time when white supremacy has apparently been rebooted. “Fire at Sea” is much more than a study of the migrant crisis, but we’re glad it’s here. “Life, Animated” sort of sticks out in such topical wares, but it’s a very nice, very moving look at a young man who finds that Disney films help with his autism. It was a great year for non-fiction, so here’s some that didn’t make the cut: Kristen Johnson’s “Cameraperson,” Robert Greene’s “Kate Plays Christine,” Chantal Akerman’s “No Home Movie” and (we’re surprised this didn’t slip in, frankly) “Weiner.”
No one wants to see “Elle.” Isabelle Huppert predictably nicked a Best Actress nomination, and she may predictably win, too. But despite winning every award, you can tell most voters and moviegoers are only watching it reluctantly. (It’s only grossed a million-and-a-half in the U.S. after almost three months of release.) And we get it: It’s a bracing, disturbing, even darkly funny look at a woman wrestling with the aftermath of a sexual assault. We think it’s a great film, but it couldn’t get nominations besides Huppert. In related news, as usual we have no idea what 2/3rds of the F-L films are, and we’re cinephiles. But yea for “The Salesman,” from “A Separation”’s terrific Asghar Farhadi, and especially for our favorite film of 2016, “Toni Erdmann.”
No “Finding Dory.” I mean, it’s the second highest grossing film of 2016, not far beyond “Rogue One.” It’s Pixar. They always win. But the year’s “Finding Nemo” sequel was a no-show here. Which reminds us: Hooray that “Kubo and the Two Strings” did get in, not only for Best Animated Feature but Best Visual Effects. Seriously, it couldn’t have been easy doing that origami performance in stop-motion. (Ditto for “The Red Turtle,” the latest Studio Ghibli, which is lovely.)
“Silence” has as many nominations as “13 Hours” and “Suicide Squad.” We’re confident the latest Martin Scorsese will one day be held up as one of his best, but right now things couldn’t be worse: It’s tanking at the box office, in part because few awards bodies have given it significant love. Hell, even we think we’re underrating it. And though its nom for Rodrigo Prieto’s subtly effective cinematography is well-deserved, that means it received as much love as Michael Bay’s Benghazi movie and a comic book movie no one likes. Hell, it has two fewer nominations than “Passengers,” a movie in which a woman comes to love the doofus male who effectively murdered her (in space). Our only consolation is that the Oscars are transitory and quality is forever. Keep “Silence” in your thoughts.
Oh, and “La La Land” will probably win over “Moonlight,” we guess. If you don't hang out on the film section of Twitter (and why would you?), you probably don't know about the "La La Land" Wars. They get ugly. We're of the opinion it's fine but deeply, deeply flawed but fine. Meanwhile, it seems everyone, no matter their tastes or clubs, can agree that "Moonlight" deserves all its wins. But the battle between the two for Best Picture runs deeper than that. The former is feel-good (but also feel-bad) and retro. The latter is timely and feel-bad (but also feel-good). If only the Best Picture race didn’t have to seem like a diagnosis of the national mood, though we’d argue both are optimistic, in their ways, about our very scary future.
The late August Wilson finally gets nominated. This won't be the first time someone is posthumously nominated or awarded — Wikipedia to the rescue! — but it's great that the legendary playwright, who tackled his own 1983 play (with some trimming after the fact by Tony Kushner), scored a nod for Best Adapted Screeplay.
Obligatory who-they-missed list: Annette Bening for “20th Century Women.” Hailee Steinfeld for “Edge of Seventeen.” Joel Edgerton for “Loving.” Colin Farrell for “The Lobster” (which at least got a screenplay nom). Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae for “Hidden Figures.” Lily Gladstone for “Certain Women.”
But at least all that “Deadpool” Oscar talk was bunk. Good. That self-satisfied movie blows.
Now call your local representative and tell them to save the world.