After months of educated guesswork, the 2017 Oscar nominations arrived today with a lot of expected results, particularly with respect to “La La Land” and the 14 categories it landed in — in addition to strong showings for “Moonlight,” “Manchester By the Sea,” and “Lion.”
However, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is a large body of voters, and for various reasons too numerous to elaborate on here, they can be subject to all kinds of surprise decisions that lead to unexpected nominees in some categories, as well as snubs in others. Here’s a quick look at a few of them.
“Deadpool” is DOA
The naughty Ryan Reynolds comic book movie was an unexpected commercial sensation last year that quietly snuck into the awards race, surprising even its fans. However, while the movie landed two Golden Globe nominations and support from both the PGA and the WGA, the very idea of this outrageous R-rated send-up of superhero tropes getting into the Oscar race may have been just too radical.
Amy Adams has been a definite awards season contender ever since she was saluted at the Telluride Film Festival this fall for her role in “Arrival,” while her performance in “Nocturnal Animals” only helped to raise her profile during this competitive time of the year. Yet the five-time nominee won’t get to add another notch to her belt this year, as she wound up off a list that included another perennial nominee instead — Meryl Streep, for “Florence Foster Jenkins” — in addition to the welcome inclusion of Ruth Negga for “Loving,” which had lost momentum in the race by the end of the year.
Mel Gibson may have finally overcome his tarnished reputation in Hollywood by landing a best director nomination for his WWII drama “Hacksaw Ridge.” He’s been campaigning heavily throughout the season, alongside fellow nominee Andrew Garfield, and it seems to have paid off.
When Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s “Weiner” won the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival last year, many expected the filmmakers’ cringe-worthy portrait of the disgraced former Congressman was a shoo-in for awards consideration. That perception continued throughout the year, when both the movie’s box office success and the developing relevance of its subject in the 2016 presidential election kept “Weiner” in the conversation. At the same time, Weiner’s divorce from his wife and role in the email scandal that derailed Hillary Clinton’s campaign contributed to a definite “ick factor surrounding the movie’s very name. Meanwhile, the documentary category became increasingly crowded, and it was inevitable that an early frontrunner would face serious competition. All of that seems to have contributed to pushing “Weiner” off the list. But it wasn’t the only major contender that didn’t make the cut…
Woman With a Movie Camera
Another 2016 Sundance highlight, “Cameraperson” was a bold experiment by non-fiction cinematography Kristen Johnson to turn footage from various documentaries she had shot over the years into a personal diary film about her life. It was a critical darling, but more than that, provided a platform for Johnson to be celebrated by many of her collaborators in the documentary community — a number of whom are also Academy voters. Sadly for the movie’s fans, the support wasn’t strong enough for “Cameraperson” to land on the final list, though it did take home the top prize at the Cinema Eye Honors earlier this month.
Needless to say, Netflix managed to prove once again that it knows better than anyone how to crack this category, landing a nomination for Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” even though a lot of people expected these more ambitious filmmaking efforts to get in instead. But the five contenders for best documentary weren’t the only non-fiction features in the nomination list…
“Jim: The James Foley Story” was a well-liked portrait of the kidnapping and murder of journalist James Foley, but it wasn’t a big player in the crowded documentary field as the year wore on. Nevertheless, it managed to stay in the conversation thanks to its high profile single, “The Empty Chair,” composed by Sting and J. Ralph. It landed in the original song category alongside expected nominees from “La La Land,” “Trolls” and “Moana.”
Progress for “Passengers”…
Big studio movies may not dominate the categories receiving the most attention, but they often land in below-the-line categories, where technically-savvy members of those branches take note of craftsmanship on all kinds of production scales. It can also lead to support for movies that are otherwise not considered part of the Oscar race. That’s certainly the case with “Passengers,” Mortem Tyldum’s space romance that landed in theaters last December to a mediocre reception. Nevertheless, the movie did surface in the below-the-line arena, landing a nomination for both production design, in addition to a nomination for original score — ensuring that its reported $110 million budget wasn’t a complete waste.
…And a Little Bit For “Sully,” Too
When Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” was a commercial hit last fall, many expected the movie to become a major awards player along the lines of Eastwood’s “American Sniper.” That never happened, but “Sully” did land some recognition for its unnerving depiction of the infamous Hudson River landing by getting a nomination for best sound editing — alongside another movie otherwise ignored by the Academy for more predictable reasons, Michael Bay’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.”
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has been an Oscar nominee before, in the foreign language category, for his wacky Orwellian family drama “Dogtooth.” While his first English language effort, “The Lobster,” was considered to be a successful transition into a bigger production in the English language, the weird portrait of a future in which being single has been banned didn’t maintain nearly as much visibility in the fall as more straightforward fare. Thankfully, voters at least recognized Lanthimos’ dryly funny screenplay, which successfully expands its bizarre premise into compelling feature-length form. Lanthimos isn’t the only foreigner to sneak into an Oscar category this year…
A World of Animation
Ever since it became a critical and commercial hit in early 2016, “Zootopia” has been a favorite for the best animated feature category, and whispers of surprise entries like “Sausage Party” haven’t amounted to much. But it’s still a particularly diverse crop of nominees this year, with both the delicate stop-motion Swiss drama “My Life as a Zucchini” and the Studio Ghibli-produced “The Red Turtle” — both of which got their starts last year at the Cannes Film Festival — giving “Zootopia” some company. Not on the list? A lot of expensive studio fare that looked like it had a shot, including Pixar’s “Finding Dory,” Universal’s jukebox musical “Sing” and “Trolls.” In retrospect, it appears that the animation branch really watches a lot of movies before they vote.