Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Oscars I Care About

So, Oscar nominations have been released, and in terms of the awards I care about, there were 21 additions to my lists. Three of those (The Shape of Water, Logan, and Get Out) I have already seen. The complete lists, again, for those seven categories that matter to me here, are as follows:

Best Picture
Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director
Christopher Nolan: Dunkirk
Jordan Peele: Get Out
Greta Gerwig: Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson: Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro: The Shape of Water

Best Actor
Timothee Chalamet: Call Me by Your Name
Gary Oldman: Darkest Hour
Daniel Kaluuya: Get Out
Daniel Day-Lewis: Phantom Thread
Denzel Washington: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Best Actress
Margot Robbie: I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan: Lady Bird
Meryl Streep: The Post
Sally Hawkins: The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Adapted Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Molly's Game

Best Original Screenplay
The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Animated Feature
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent

So, here are a few things worth mentioning.

First, Oscars are far less white this than in a few previous incarnations, although Best Actress is entirely white this year. I'm a little surprised in terms of genre to see Daniel Kaluuya nominated (pleasantly surprised, mind you--I've said for years that Oscar is unfairly prejudiced against horror). In fact, the number of nominations for both Get Out and The Shape of Water is nice to see, since both are of genres that Oscar typically shuns.

Speaking of that, I'm a little disappointed but not surprised at the lack of nominations for Wonder Woman. I had hopes for it, but superhero movies are routinely ignored--the fact that Heath Ledger was nominated let alone won for a performance in a superhero movie is a huge anomaly. Evidence for this is the fact that Logan earned a nomination for just its screenplay and Patrick Stewart was ignored for what is probably the greatest performance of his career. Wonder Woman's lack of nominations speaks more about the genre than it does about a woman-fronted movie or a major film directed by a woman.

To that point, it's nice to see Greta Gerwig nominated for Best Director. But herein lies a serious problem for the Academy. With this award, there is no win for them. I haven't seen Lady Bird (I'm very much looking forward to it), so I can't say if she deserves to win or even deserved a nomination at this point. I can say that my heart will always be with Guillermo del Toro here, but that's beside the point. If Gerwig wins, there will be a contingent of people who will say that she only won because of everything that happened in 2017 and that she didn't really earn it--she won because she was a woman in the right place. If she doesn't win, there will be a contingent of people who say that her nomination was the Academy providing lip service to the #metoo movement. They're damned if they do and damned if they don't--and this would have been a good case for nominating Patty Jenkins as well. A second woman on the list would alleviate this problem, and it's incredibly easy to make a case for Jenkins here despite genre issues.

There is a point in the Academy's favor, though. Four of the five Best Actress nominees are in films that were also nominated for Best Picture. That may not sound like a big deal, but it could well be the start of an important trend. Last year, only one nominee (Emma Stone for La La Land) was nominated for a performance in a Best Picture nominee, while four of the five Best Actor nominations were. This is not uncommon. I'll go back a few years to show you what I mean. In each of the following, I'm listing the number of nominated performances that were in films nominated for Best Picture.

2016 Oscars: 4 actors, 1 actress
2015 Oscars: 2 actors, 2 actresses
2014 Oscars: 4 actors, 1 actress
2013 Oscars: 5 actors, 3 actresses
2012 Oscars: 3 actors, 4 actresses (an anomaly!)
2011 Oscars: 3 actors, 1 actress
2010 Oscars: 4 actors, 3 actresses
2009 Oscars: 2 actors, 3 actresses (another anomaly!)

Yes, there are a couple of anomalous years here, but on average, 3.375 Best Actor performances are from films also considered important enough and good enough to be considered for Best Picture compared with an average of 2.25 for Best Actress performances. This is significant--it's under half for women and well over half for men. That list above only goes back to years where the Best Picture category has been expanded--it's true as we continue back in history. From 2000-2008, 42.22% (19 of 45) of Best Actor nominations are in Best Picture nominations with no common nominations in 2006. A mere 22.22% (10 of 45) of Best Actress nominations are in Best Picture nominated films, with no common nominations in 2003 and 2005. In seven of those nine years, two or more Best Actors nominations qualify, something true of only three years for Best Actress nominations. Best Actresses have more Best Picture-related nominations in only two of these years (2000 and 2006), while Best Actors have more Best Picture related nominations in five of those years (2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2008).

And that trend continues the further back we go. In fact, it gets worse. Almost half (24 of 50) Best Actor nominations in the '90s are from Best Picture nominations while just over a quarter (13 of 50) Best Actress nominations are. Best Actors have six years where these nominations outnumber those of Best Actresses, and the other four years are tied. There are no films in common for Best Picture and Best Actress in 1990 and 1994, and that's never true for actors. This holds true in the '80s (26 Best Actor nominations vs. 19 Best Actress) and the '70s (24 to 20).

So what does all of this mean? It means that traditionally, the Academy undervalues actresses. Those performances most worthy of note from actresses tend to happen (in the eyes of the Academy) in films that are not important enough or good enough to be considered for Best Picture. It's the old idea that pictures about women and women's issues attract women while pictures about men and men's issues attract everyone. Perhaps this is changing, but we've had years like this in the past. It's something to watch, and we can hope it's the beginning of a trend.

As always, I'd love any comments. Please, let me know what you think and what you think got snubbed.


  1. Patty Jenkins: definitely snubbed. The woman single-handedly rescued the DC brand (before Snyder & Company fucked it up again).

    1. Yeah, I think I agree in spirit. I do need to see the three nominations I haven't, none of which surprise me, honestly. 2017 was a very good film year, so there are going to be snubs no matter what happens.

      As I said above, though, I think the snub for Jenkins is far more about the genre than her. Christopher Nolan got no nominations for his Dark Knight trilogy, after all. In fact, this is his first nomination for director, which is rather surprising.

      I didn't realize this until now--four of the director nominees are first-timers. Only Paul Thomas Anderson as a previous nomination.

  2. I would also like to mention, as someone did on my Facebook feed, Rachel Morrison's nomination for Best Cinematography for Mudbound. It's not one of the categories you cover here, but it is the first nomination for a woman in the history of the category, which is pretty epic.

    Also, another LEGO movie got snubbed in the Animated Feature category. For Boss Baby, no less. :D

    1. The Rachel Morrison nomination is one that I admit slipped under my radar because it's not one of my pet categories. It's an important moment, though, absolutely.

      As I was putting this together, I did have that moment of realization that I have to watch The Boss Baby.

    2. I saw The Boss Baby because it was my movie-going friend's turn to pick the movie. Though I'm not sure I would nominate it, it was not the chore I thought it would be. Alec Baldwin has quite a few very funny moments. Sure, it's kind of stupid at times, but not any stupider than a lot of slightly-above average animated (and non-animated, for that matter) films that I see.

    3. Still...Oscar nominated? And LEGO Batman left out in the cold?

  3. Because of personal issues I have seen practically nothing this year to the point where I'll never be able to catch up by Oscar time or even come close but based on its tally Shape of Water appears to be something I need to make time for.

    That's quite the statistic about Best Actress vs. Picture and how it goes back but it wasn't always so. I looked at the 1941 line up since you were talking about it yesterday and all but one of the actresses (Barbara Stanwyck) were in a Best Picture nominee and the year before all five women's films were in the running. I realize it was a more controlled base than but the studios also crafted their female stars pictures with more care insuring, at least for their biggest stars a quality vehicle to showcase them in. They did the same for their male stars of course but it was more of an equal balance.

    1. Well, there are those years that are a bit anomalous. I was curious, though, so I looked through the '40s.

      1940: 4 actors, 5 actresses
      1941: 3 actors, 4 actresses (so far so good)
      1942: 4 actors, 2 actresses
      1943: 5 actors, 4 actresses
      1944: 4 actors, 3 actresses
      1945: 3 actors, 2 actresses
      1946: 4 actors, 1 actress
      1947: 1 actor, 1 actress
      1948: 2 actors, 2 actresses
      1949: 2 actors, 1 actress

      So, while the years you picked are better, the problem is still pretty much there. That's 32 actors (64%) and 25 actresses (50%).

      While I don't know for sure, I bet this holds true for the 1950s and 1960s as well.

    2. So I checked.

      In the 1950s, 27 actors (54%) and 18 actresses (36%). The 1960s might be the worst decade--32 actors (64%) and just 15 actresses (30%). Seems like an endemic problem.

  4. The snub that comes to mind is Robert Pattinson in Good Time, he deserved a Best Actor nom. I'm disappointed Spielberg directed by Susan Lacy is not in the line-up, an excellent documentary.

    The nominations for Get Out. I too was pleasantly surprised as the Academy usually don't love horror. Yet I'm not that surprised because the Oscars wants to be seen as inclusive and is so politically correct now.

    1. As is typically the case, I haven't seen a ton of movies from 2017 at this point, but if I have to name a snub that hurts, it would be Patrick Stewart getting passed over for a supporting nod for Logan.

      Last year was a good one for horror--they almost had to recognize that, didn't they?