By Kirby Davis, Entertainment Editor
The Academy Awards usually feel like a stiffer, soberer successor of the Golden Globes, weighted down by lofty prestige (plus predictability, based on previous award show winners). But after a decidedly lagging Globes broadcast last month, the Oscars don’t have much to live up to on Feb. 26.
In a brief reprieve from the nonstop political chaos besieging the news, Hollywood’s finest will gather to display their freshly painted manicures for E!’s nail polish red carpet camera and celebrate 2016’s most notable cinematic storytellers. Here’s what you should know for a properly immersive viewing experience:
The Oscars may feel like a four-hour tribute to “La La Land,” should the nostalgia-seeped whirlwind of a musical win even half of the awards it’s after. Writer-director Damien Chazelle’s flick has joined the prestigious 14 Nominations Club, whose only other members are 1950’s “All About Eve” and 1997’s “Titanic” (both Best Picture winners).
A honeymoon period of nonstop praise followed the film’s December release. But upon further reflection, much of the initially dazzled American public has had a change of heart. Chief complaints include flat characters and a glitzy but seemingly hollow plot compared to grittier (and less commercially popular) films like “Moonlight,” helmed by Barry Jenkins and up for eight nominations.
“Moonlight” reigned as the most critically-acclaimed film of last year and stands a fair chance at taking home Best Picture. According to Metacritic (a review aggregator), it nearly doubled “La La Land’”s first-place spots in critics’ end-of-year best film lists. Following 2016’s #OscarsSoWhite outrage over the exclusively white acting nominations, “Moonlight’”s awards season success is especially notable, as the film’s cast is primarily black (as is Jenkins).
“Fences,” which Denzel Washington directed and stars in alongside Viola Davis (both are up for acting awards) is another film with a primarily black cast nominated for Best Picture. “Hidden Figures,” which beat “Rogue One” at the box office its opening weekend and earned Octavia Spencer a Supporting Actress nod, joins the refreshingly diverse Best Picture race as well.
This is not to say that the Academy is, all of a sudden, a revolutionary hotbed of cultural diversity and acceptance. But it’s still progress after a year in which, out of 20 best acting nominees, zero were people of color.
“Moonlight” and “La La Land” are frontrunners, but innovative alien flick “Arrival,” bleak but biting family drama “Manchester by the Sea,” western-oriented “Hell or High Water,” identity-seeking tearjerker “Lion” and Mel Gibson’s morally charged war biopic “Hacksaw Ridge” will also battle it out for Best Picture.
Viola Davis has made history with her Best Supporting Actress nomination for “Fences.” It’s her third Academy nod, making her the most-nominated black actress ever. Meryl Streep reinforces her title as the most-nominated actress (or actor) in general, this time with acknowledgment for “Florence Foster Jenkins,” but was beat out by Emma Stone at the Globes. Streep likely doesn’t stand a substantial chance against Davis and Stone this year, though I’m sure no one would object to another acceptance speech that gracefully eviscerates President Trump.
“Hacksaw Ridge” star Andrew Garfield earned his first-ever nod this year, as did Lucas Hedges for Supporting Actor in “Manchester by the Sea.” Stone’s suave “La La Land” counterpart, Ryan Gosling, and “Manchester’”s Casey Affleck, both earned their second.
Controversy has trailed Affleck since the film’s release; he was the target of sexual harassment lawsuits from two women working for him in 2010. Despite his subsequent denial, the situation seems to emphasize Hollywood’s disconcerting prioritization of male actors’ and filmmakers’ talent over their treatment of women (Woody Allen’s acceptance of the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes dredged up similar sentiment three years ago).
On a less controversial note, Disney or Pixar films have won Best Animated Feature since 2007’s “Ratatouille,” and recent Disney princess films “Brave” and “Frozen” both took home gold statues. But is seafaring stunner “Moana” a match for the unprecedentedly feminist “Zootopia”? If the Disney/Pixar inevitability trend doesn’t continue, other films up for the award are “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “My Life as a Zucchini” and “The Red Turtle.”
Snubs inevitably abounded in this year’s nominated categories as well. “Hail, Caesar!” and “Sully” both received single disappointing nominations each, for Best Production Design and Best Sound Editing, respectively. “Sully” is Clint Eastwood’s sleek, straightforward take on 2009’s Hudson River plane landing, and also failed to earn titular star Tom Hanks a nod. The Coen brothers’ film-lovers fantasy “Hail, Caesar!” was probably overshadowed by “La La Land” and the fact that it was released last February. But the film was unrelentingly hilarious and proved that future Young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is a comic revelation.
Amy Adams’ acclaimed “Arrival” performance went unacknowledged by the Academy, as did Martin Scorsese’s work on “Silence.” “Deadpool,” honored by the Globes, was also ignored, but universally detested Suicide Squad” and “Passengers” managed to pull through with a combined three nominations.
Hopefully after the ceremony, it will be Viola Davis with an “Academy Award-winning” prefix to her name and not “Suicide Squad.”
Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, the 89th Oscars ceremony will air on ABC at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26.