I’m not sure why people think that being a film critic makes me a good prognosticator when it comes to the Academy Awards. Two good friends of mine are high-profile Oscar pundits and like everyone else, they had some surprises in store this morning. No one thought newcomer Ruth Negga would wind up in the Best Actress race, even though she’s deserving for her understated performance in Jeff Nichols’ Loving (which was otherwise ignored). Most authorities didn’t think Mel Gibson had a shot at a Best Director slot, even though they anticipated support for his movie Hacksaw Ridge. And I don’t think the experts thought the song from the documentary Gleason (which didn’t get nominated) was a contender, but they underestimated the enduring power of a star-songwriter like Sting, who collaborated with J. Ralph on “The Empty Chair.”
The foreign language category is always a toss-up; this year’s sleeper is Tanna, from Australia. It got good reviews during its limited theatrical run last fall, and will be released on VOD and digital platforms in two weeks, with Blu-ray and DVD to follow on March 7. (The people who predicted that My Life as a Zucchini would make the cut ignored the fact that the foreign language committee—like other Academy branches—generally feels that animation belongs in its own niche.)
The same unpredictability permeates the documentary lineup year after year. Many people were certain that the high-profile Weiner, the crowd-pleasing Eagle Huntress and the critically acclaimed Cameraperson were sure bets. They were wrong.
As for the enthusiasts who convinced themselves that Deadpool was going to score big with the Academy: sorry, guys. It wasn’t gonna happen. (I’m more upset about the near shut out for Martin Scorsese’s Silence.)
The one “sure thing” about the Oscars is that the actors’ branch—the largest in the Academy—is the most welcoming to newcomers. That explains the nominations for Ruth Negga (from Loving), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), and Dev Patel (Lion).
It also means that some fine actresses were left out this year, notably Annette Bening in 20th Century Women and Amy Adams in Arrival (not to mention Nocturnal Animals). They’ve both been nominated before and I daresay will turn up again…but not this year. With only five slots in each category, except Best Picture, someone worthy always winds up on the sidelines. I’m sorry it’s these two superb performers.