Any piece about the surprises from any year’s Oscar nominations risks being a short one. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can be predictable in its tastes and the field has already started to take shape long before the nominees get announced thanks to awards from critics, the Golden Globes, SAG, and other sources — to say nothing of the many pundits who try to read the Oscar tea leaves all year. So, on the one hand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has been the frontrunner for some time now and, hey, there it is with a bunch of nominations. Zzzzz… And yet, it’s always a little more complicated than that, and even the seeming dominance of Three Billboards suggests the race will be heated anyway, thanks to the controversy it’s stirred.
Here are a few notable surprises from this year’s announcements.
The announcements can be kind of entertaining
Nobody wants to watch a bunch of short movies at 5:22 a.m., the time in Los Angeles when the nominations are unveiled. But the shorts introducing categories covering animation, production design, and other categories were brisk and cleverly staged and had a bit of star power thanks to Rosario Dawson, Rebel Wilson, Molly Shannon, and others. Beyond that, someone needs to give Andy Serkis and Tiffany Haddish a buddy movie, like, now. Having Haddish mispronounce “Luca Guadagnino,” then mispronounce it again, while Serkis looks on in amusement helped make up for the fact that nobody’s gotten enough sleep.
Netflix can’t yet get respect when it comes to awards
By some measures, Mudbound did pretty well among this year’s nominees. It earned nods for Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress (for Mary J. Blige), song (also for Mary J. Blige), and Cinematography, with Rachel Morrison becoming the first female nominee in that category (a well-deserved nomination for a beautiful looking film). But here’s the thing: If you’ve seen Mudbound you should know that’s not enough. It’s a moving, lovingly made film filled with great performances that easily should have locked down nominations for Best Picture and Best Director (for Dee Rees). And — and I mean this as no slight — it’s the sort of movie that traditionally would get those nominations as a classically made film about an important subject that looks to America’s recent past while commenting on its present. But Netflix is still struggling to figure out how to make movies that debut on its service feel like they have the same legitimacy as movies that take the more traditional theatrical route and Mudbound is paying the price for that. (On the other hand, it’s also highly likely that debuting on Netflix means that more people have seen it than otherwise might and that this is a perceptual problem that will change over time. To be continued…)
The Best Animated Feature category continues to be weird
It was a relatively weak year for animated features, but was it “Let’s nominate The Boss Baby” weak? It’s not a bad movie — I’ve got a six-year-old; I know bad animated films — but it was odd to see it beat out potential nominees like the wonderful Mary and The Witch’s Flower, The LEGO Batman Movie, or even the pretty fun Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.