Oscar Noms: Pretty Good?

Nominations for the 89th Academy Awards were rolled out early this morning. And for the next several days, the entertainment world will be wholly reactionary. Who got in? Who didn’t? Who got snubbed? Meryl Streep again?!

We at Plugged In will be thinking and talking about the Oscars over the next month, too. But for now, here are some quick snapshot reactions.

Family Friendly? Not Quite. But: Oscar loves its edgy, adult fare. Typically, the derby for Best Picture is dominated by R-rated movies. But this year, for the first time since 2012, PG and PG-13 films outnumber them.

Hidden Figures is rated PG. Arrival, Fences, La La Land and Lion are all PG-13, joining the R-rated Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight.

And it’s not just the MPAA ratings that make this crop of nominees encouraging.

For the last couple of years, the most honored films have been rather grim. Last year, Spotlight (about the Catholic clergy sex-abuse scandal) and The Revenant (about a guy who was mauled by a bear) duked it out for Best Picture honors (Spotlight won, but both took home plenty of statues). The year before, the dark dramedy Birdman was the buzz of Tinseltown. The year before that? Well, no one’s going to mistake 12 Years a Slave for a fun crowd-pleaser.

But this year, the light-but-layered musical confection La La Land leads all contenders. Indeed, its 14 nominations tie Titanic and All About Eve for the most noms ever. Down the ballot, Lion gives us a gripping, emotional and ultimately heartwarming story about a man’s search to find his birth mother after being accidentally separated from her 20 years before. Hidden Figures is a rousing inspirational flick, shining a spotlight on three unsung heroes of the U.S.’s early space program and illustrating how excellence and integrity can combat institutional racism.

And if you read our reviews of even the R-rated films up for honors, you’ll find that they, too, have their merits. For instance, Hacksaw Ridge—Mel Gibson’s admittedly bloody return to directorial relevance—is a hard movie to watch, but its hero is a man of faith who, despite refusing to carry a gun in World War II, wins the Medal of Honor.

No More #OscarsSoWhite: For two years running, the Academy has come under fire for honoring solely white nominees in its acting categories. Not so this year.

Ruth Negga’s understated powerhouse performance in Loving propelled her to a well-deserved Best Actress nomination. Denzel Washington, always a perennial contender, scored his seventh Oscar nom for Fences. (He’s won twice, for Glory and Training Day). Heavy favorite Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) joins Dev Patel (Lion), a British actor of Indian descent, in the Best Supporting Actor category. A trio of African-American women are up for Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis for Fences, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures and Naomie Harris for Moonlight. Oh, and here’s a little bit of trivia for you: Davis, who gave I think the performance of the year in Fences, became the first black actress to score three Oscar noms. Perhaps this is the year she’ll win one.

No Pixar? If the acting nominees were fairly diverse, the same could be said in the animated feature category. Disney subsidiary Pixar has long dominated this category whenever it’s had a major film in contention, and make no mistake: Finding Dory was a major film, earning more than $1 billion worldwide. But it was shut out of Oscar’s animation derby. Instead, two films from Disney proper—Zootopia and Moana—joined Focus Features’ Kubo and the Two Strings, the dreamy Japanese fable The Red Turtle (a film completely without dialogue) and the French-made My Life as a Zucchini.

I’ve argued for years that animated films are as good as they’ve ever been. And while I still say that Pixar sets the standard by which all others are judged, perhaps this is a sign that the rest of the entertainment world has caught up to the studio.

Academy Voters and Film Fans Still Don’t Live in the Same Universe. Sure, some big-budget blockbusters snagged technical kudos from the Academy this year. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the year’s biggest movie, was nominated for two awards, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Doctor Strange and even Suicide Squad scored a technical category nom or two. But when it comes to Oscar’s biggest categories, you’ll not see a blockbuster in the running at all.

Arrival, a clever science fiction tale starring Amy Adams, is as close as it comes among Best Picture honorees, earning $95.7 million during its run thus far. La La Land is next with $89.8 mil. While these films will surely see their grosses grow in the wake of the nominations, this year’s Oscars won’t go down as an example of cinematic populism.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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