Diversity was very much on Oscar voters’ minds this year, as evidenced by Tuesday's nominations. Nods across all major categories singled out films about the African American experience, including three of the nine films nominated for best picture: Moonlight, Fences, and Hidden Figures.
Academy voters seem to have gotten the message after facing harsh criticism for failing two years in a row to nominate even a single black actor. This year, seven actors picked up nominations, including Denzel Washington for best actor for Fences and Loving's Ruth Negga.
But you can never accuse the academy’s more than 5,700 members of failing to be just a little predictable. As prognosticators guessed, the romantic musical La La Land led nominees with a total of 14, tying the record with Titanic and All About Eve.
What else can we take away from the nominations for film's most prestigious awards, which will air at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 26 on ABC? I run down the nods:
"La La Land": A forgone conclusion
With a leading 14 noms, including best director for Damien Chazelle, top actor nods to Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (read Steven Rea's interview with the actress), and, of course, best picture, you can bet money that La La Land will be the big winner come February. It already has swept virtually every other major award, picking up a record seven prizes at the Golden Globes.
I think the folks at Lionsgate can go ahead and slap its promo posters with stickers reading “Winner: Best Picture!!!” (I leave the number of exclamation points to them.)
One of those blessed films that has won accolades from fans and critics alike, the film has song, it has dance, it has love, and, most of all, it has a lot of heart. Oscar voters can’t get enough of the stuff.
"Moonlight": Can you handle the truth?
Moonlight is a serious downer. It's an unforgiving, shockingly realistic coming-of-age story about a young, gay African American man born on the wrong side of the tracks -- and of history. Yet it managed to pick up eight nominations, including best director and best adapted screenplay for Barry Jenkins, and Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris picked up best supporting actor nods.
Moonlight is a triumph of film storytelling, with a structure and point of view that’s disarming and fresh, a theme that’s devastating, and a surfeit of honest, raw performances.
In addition to Moonlight, La La Land, Hidden Figures, and Fences, other best-picture nods went to Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Lion, Arrival, and Manchester by the Sea (the first for a streaming service, Amazon, which distributed the Kenneth Lonergan film).
Say bye-bye to the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag
At least for now.
Seven actors of color were recognized this year, including Washington for best actor for Fences (although he didn't receive a nod for best director, despite his recognition at the Golden Globes). His costar Viola Davis and Hidden Figures’ Octavia Spencer join Harris in the best supporting actress category. (Of five supporting actresses, three are women of color. Other nominees are Nicole Kidman for Lion and Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea.) Lion's Dev Patel joined Ali in the best supporting actor category.
Far less known on our shores is Negga, who was nominated for best actress for her performance opposite Joel Edgerton in Loving.
Sadly, David Oyelowo -- who was used as an #OscarsSoWhite example after he was not nominated for playing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Ava DuVernay's Selma last year -- was snubbed, even though he turned in two powerful performances, in Disney’s Queen of Katwe and in the indie low-budget drama Five Nights in Maine, directed by local helmer Maris Curran.
"Hacksaw Ridge": Whoa, Mel's really back?
Remember Mel Gibson? The actor-director has been keeping a low profile after generating a heap of bad press, but is he now being redeemed? His incredibly violent WWII epic, Hacksaw Ridge, featuring Andrew Garfield as a pacifist war hero, is so good snubbing it would be harsh. It has picked up six nods, including best picture, best actor for Garfield, and best director for Gibson.
Affleck: It’s so about time
Casey Affleck's performance in Manchester by the Sea was so raw, so electric, it’ll burn you. Yes, it seems Ben Affleck’s little brother can finally say he has arrived -- 22 years after his first film role, opposite Nicole Kidman in To Die For and a decade after picking up a best supporting actor Oscar nod for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Affleck has a good chance to pick up the statuette: He's already taken home the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Golden Globe.
I must say, I'm also pleased to see Viggo Mortensen get a nomination for Captain Fantastic. But will either Affleck or Mortensen survive next to La La Land powerhouse Gosling?
Voters weren’t too predictable when it came to the best actress category, picking a few serious underdogs -- including a pair of non-Americans -- and snubbing a boatload of front-runners. Odds-on favorite Stone and outsider Negga are joined by Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins, Isabelle Huppert for Elle (she took home the Golden Globe), and Natalie Portman for Jackie. Yep, five-time nominee Amy Adams, who was sublime in Arrival, was shut out.
Read more: How Natalie Portman became Jackie Kennedy.
Streep’s strangely divisive performance in Florence Foster Jenkins is not her finest, by far. But the nod does mean she has now been Oscar-nominated a remarkable 20 times, the most of any actor or actress in academy history.
Huppert, 63, was recognized for the first time by the academy for her extraordinary turn in Paul Veerhoven’s Elle, which has already landed her a Golden Globe award. It’s about time Americans got to know the French star.
The snub and the fury
Adams wasn’t the only favorite to get the boot this year.
Tom Hanks didn’t make the cut for his turn as a heroic pilot in Clint Eastwood’s hit Sully, and Eastwood was shut out of the directing category.
That other great American mainstay, director Martin Scorsese, also was snubbed, for his religious epic Silence. Frankly, I'm not shocked that the Goodfellas helmer did not get voters’ attention. Though it is sublime in parts, Silence is an acquired taste.
I’m far more disappointed that Pharrell Williams was not recognized for his work on the music in Hidden Figures.