Countdown to the Oscars: After the Nominations

After last week’s Academy Awards nominations, the conversation in the blogosphere and the filmmaking community was focused on the lack of diversity in the main categories. The main focus, and ire, has been mainly placed on the fact the Academy did not nominate one actor, of the twenty possible nominations, of color. All the nominees were white actors and this is the second year in a row this has occurred. If it happens one year, that is a possible one off, random event, but to have it happen two years in a row leaves a bad, unsettling taste in people’s mouth. Two years in a row, come on Academy. That is not to say that there has to be a nominee of color just because you have to, but when there are plenty of insanely qualified, gifted, talented actors of color that do not get nominated when the rest of the industry and critics are celebrating the craft of actors and directors such as Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Michael B. Jordan, Ryan Coogler, Cary Fukunaga, F. Gary Gray, the cast of Straight Outta Compton, Benicio del Toro and Will Smith, something fishy and unacceptable is going on.

Now, I do not presume to understand or even declare the Academy racist or homophobic, I will get in to the Carol stuff in a bit, but how can an actor that delivers a heart pounding, emphatic performance not be nominated. That actor is Idris Elba. His performance in Cary Fukunaga’s brilliant, harrowing masterpiece Beasts of No Nation, is one of the finest performances of not only this year, but of this decade. He received a SAG, Golden Globe and Indie Spirit Award, but no Oscar nomination. It seemed like a sure bet, but it was a no go. How? The film is a tough, unsettling sit, but sometimes substantial, powerful filmmaking is. It is the filmmaking that punches you in the gut and never lets up. The kind that the Academy should be embracing, but since it was released on Netflix first (new, foreign territory to the Academy) and the fact that it deals with the honest brutality of children soldiers in war torn Africa, it was not seen or given its just due. It is a movie that is in competition for the most prestigious award in cinema, it damn well better be seen by everyone that has a vote. No excuses. No exceptions.

This is not to say that the five nominees in the Best Supporting Actor category are not deserving because they all are, and it was the most competitive category out there, but Elba should not only be nominated, but could have (or should be) the frontrunner. The same can be said for Elba’s young co-star Abraham Attah, who was a show stealer with everyone, including myself, who saw the film for the first time. You also have the talented, up and coming Michael B. Jordan. I know there was not a tremendous amount of talk or chance of him receiving a Best Actor nomination, but he should have at least been in the conversation a bit more than he was. He was just as brilliant as Best Supporting Actor nominee Sylvester Stallone. The critics have to champion these films and performances to the nines.

Okay, so, my biggest beef is Elba not getting in, and the Academy, although I doubt they really care, need to know it. Secondly is how the hell does a romantic, beautiful film, that is directed with precise perfection and which also received six nominations, not receive a Best Picture and Best Director nomination. Carol easily should be in the final Best Picture list of nominees and Todd Haynes should have received a Best Director nomination, at the Academy or the DGA. A transcendent film about two women who fall passionately in love, directed by a gay man, should not be on the outside looking in. If there were only five best picture nominations, Carol should have been one of them. Look at what happened when Brokeback Mountain was nominated for Best Picture in 2006, and it lost to the underwhelming, basically forgotten Crash. Brokeback Mountain was the far superior film and the Academy could have a championed a groundbreaking piece of cinema, but chose the safe route. It just does not make any sense. I am not saying the Academy is homophobic, but there is some pushback to a film that is not old fashioned enough and comforting to them. Wake up Academy!

Those are biggest complaints: no Elba, no Carol for best picture, and no Todd Haynes for best director. Diversity in cinema is out there, but the Academy ignored it. They ignored Elba and Beasts of No Nation. They ignored Carol and Haynes, and just went for the craft for Carol, which is satisfying, and the acting, which is amazing. Why not just go to a flat ten nominations for Best Picture? That could stop some of this blatant ignorance. The PGA does it and uses the preferential ballot system. If there would have been a flat ten nominations, then Carol and Straight Outta Compton would have made it. I am not as upset about Straight Outta Compton not receiving a best picture nomination, as I always thought it was on the border. If it made it, I was cool with that. If it did not, I was cool with that too. It is a very good film, directed with such understanding of culture, time and place, by the great F. Gary Gray, but not sure if it was a flat out, guaranteed Oscar film. I also felt the same way about The Martian, which is another very good film, but not that special or extraordinary. I still am a little surprised it has made it as far as it as.

There are always going to be films, performances, writers and crafts that are not going to make it. One’s that almost made it, but just missed. Everyone is a little too p.c. these days anyway, but the Academy needs to open to worlds, cultures and the evolving times we are living in. I look at last year and believe that Ava DuVernay should have been nominated for Best Director for Selma, and David Oyelowo for Best Actor for Selma. Powerful and brilliant. For me, Beasts of No Nation and Carol are easily in my Top Ten for 2015 and should be championed throughout. These films will never be forgotten. The Academy Awards are the biggest awards given out in cinema, so the light is always shined bright on them and it has dimmed quite a bit. The Academy Awards is chance to showcase the year in film and champion some of the best cinema has to offer, but do not delegate it to where there is more shutouts that accomplishments. We should not diminish any of the films that have been nominated as they are all deserving, but where is the diversity. Why was Elba and Attah, and that for matter Fukunaga, not nominated? Why was Carol for best picture and Haynes for best director not nominated? Why was The Martian nominated for best picture and not Straight Outta Compton or Creed? Why are foreign films hardly ever nominated for Best Picture when the Academy should be championing not just films from America and England, but from all over the world? Why were there not more prominent roles for African American woman this year??? Come on Hollywood and the Academy, time to start living in the new, evolving world!

I feel as if I am complaining much more than arriving at some conclusions here. I watch cinema from all over the world, from every country, religion, ethnicity, sexuality and era. Nothing is off limits because watching cinema with an open mind teaches me about the past, present and future. It shows the beauty and horror of the world. Cinema should be entertaining, but at the same time, it should educate, enlighten and examine the world and times we live in. A film or performance should be nominated on its merit, talent and ability to make us think and feel. Any good film should do that and the Academy needs to get out of its old ways before it is driven so far into the ground it runs out of air. Do nothing out of guilt, but do it because it has earned it and has earned the right to be championed, cherished and appreciated at the highest level. In the end, do awards really matter? The films, performances, writing, cinematography, production design and direction will live on forever, a lot longer in our hearts and minds than a golden statue.

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