In this year’s Oscar nominations, there was lots of love for Damien Chazelle’s musical La La Land, as well as strong showings for Moonlight and Manchester By the Sea.
But the vast body of voters who make up the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also delivered some genuine surprises — and some apparent snubs — in its shortlist for Oscar night on February 26.
The increased scrutiny of and focus on awards season has, if anything, narrowed the scope and breadth of talent shortlisted, as frontrunners become apparent months before Oscar night and studios organise entire release schedules around the awards.
The Performance: Amy Adams for Arrival
The omission for Adams for Arrival, to my mind one of the greatest snubs of recent years, is all the more astonishing when you consider Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic was nominated in eight other categories, including Best Picture.
The Academy clearly loved the film, yet Adams’ emotionally drained linguist, who attempts to communicate with visiting aliens, is its heart and soul. Arrival is a fine film in its own right, but Adams’ performance makes it special, and her omission is a big surprise.
The Cinematography: Nocturnal Animals
Tom Ford’s stylish but divisive psychological thriller (which I incidentally loved) was shunted out of all the categories, picking up just one nomination for the superb Michael Shannon in support for his turn as a colourful lawman.
Cases can be made for Ford’s film in many categories. But Irish cinematographer Seamus McGarvey did a terrific job of visually bringing to life the film’s two jarring worlds — the modern cityscape in which the characters live and the lonely country road in which horror unfolds. He deserved the nod.
The Performance: Tom Hanks for Sully
Hanks has certainly has enough from the Academy in years past, but his work in Clint Eastwood’s well-judged drama is his best in many years — a subtle, nuanced take on a man labelled a hero.
Given the subject matter — the film centres on the investigations on Hudson river pilot Chesley Sullenberger — multiple nominations would have been expected. It got just one, for sound editing.
The Performance: Annette Benning for 20th Century Women
One of the best actresses of her generation, Benning should have been in the frame for this forthcoming drama about a middle-aged mother trying to maintain a relationship with her son in his adolescence.
She’s funny, charming and real in a busy leading role in this delightful indie dramedy, a standout in a film packed with strong performances from co-stars including Billy Crudup and Greta Gerwig.
The Director: David MacKenzie for Hell or High Water
MacKenzie channels the Coen brothers — but remains his own man — in this finely crafted drama set in Texas.
The tale of two brothers (an excellent Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who rob branches of the bank threatening foreclosure on their family to pay them feels not only timely, but is brilliantly told and acted. Jeff Bridges, rightly nominated for Best Supporting Actor, is the standout, but MacKenzie deserved the nod for holding it all together so grippingly and comprehensively.
The Screenplay: Whit Stillman for Love & Friendship
Largely neglected through awards season, Stillman’s witty, acerbic take on Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan is a delight from start to finish. Starring a never-better Kate Beckinsale (right), it centres on the efforts of the devious Lady Susan, a wiley widow used to surviving in a world where social standing is all, to move up in society and marry off her reluctant daughter.
Shot on location in Ireland, it all works because of an on-form cast who milk Stillman’s terrific script for all its worth. In another year, a screenplay nomination would have been a given.
The Song: Drive It Like You Stole It from Sing Street
There are plenty of stomping earworms in the original soundtrack to John Carney’s ode to first love and 1980s Dublin (many of the tunes were co-written with Danny Wilson’s Gary Clark).
But ‘Drive It Like You Stole It’ looked like the most immediate and Irish fans would have been forgiven for expecting it to be performed on Oscar night, especially given Carney’s pedigree with the Academy for ‘Once’, a former Best Original Song winner. Sing Street was a charmer but more than that — there was some real drama and big issues behind the urban pop. But it got squeezed out of this category in a year where La La Land dominates.
The Documentary: Weiner
Wiener, one of the best-reviewed documentaries of the past year, goes behind the scenes of US politician Anthony Weiner’s attempt to be elected Mayor of New York in 2013 — an effort that ended in catastrophe.
During the race, Weiner was caught up in a very public sexting scandal, and the film looks at the damage it does not only does to him but to those around him. A film about a political car crash that unfolds before our eyes, Weiner was a winner at Sundance last year and regarded as a shoo-in for consideration in the admittedly crowded documentary race.
The Supporting Performance: Sunny Pawar in Lion
He may be just eight years old, but Sunny deserved more awards-season conversation for his endearing role in Lion that displayed an extraordinary natural talent. He carries the first half of the film as Indian child Saroo, who becomes separated from his family in this moving adoption drama based on a true story.
Given that he didn’t speak English, learned his lines in English phonetically, and was directed largely through signs and gestures makes his performance all the more extraordinary. Like Jacob Tremblay in Room from last year, we’ll be seeing a lot more of him.
The Picture: Sully
In a year where nine films were nominated for Best Picture, Sully deserved to make the cut. Clint Eastwood’s film about ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ pilot Chesley Sullenberger is an accomplished piece of work, focusing on the investigations the captain and his co-pilot underwent following the landing.
In keeping an open mind about the investigation until the final, stirring scenes, Sully is quietly powerful in its depiction of no-nonsense heroes.
It’s as procedural and workmanlike as its director Clint Eastwood’s approach, but recreates the events of that extraordinary event in an unusual and creative way. One of Eastwood’s — and Hanks’ — better performances of recent years.