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.”

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga in Loving

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 Eagle Huntress

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).

Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges in Manchester By The Sea

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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024