The highlight, for this writer, of the official list of Academy Award contenders announced at 5:30am this morning was the inclusion of The Weeknd's "Earned It" among the best original song nominees. I have no affinity for the tune, but I take perverse pleasure in knowing that smack in the middle of the Oscar ceremony on Feb. 28 -- the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ annual infomercial trumpeting the supreme art and craft of the Hollywood film industry -- all of America will be reminded of the lame existence of Fifty Shades of Gray.
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Jobs
Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
Lenny Abramson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
See, the Academy Awards telecast, hosted this year by Chris Rock (who’s already working on 50 shades of jokes about Sylvester Stallone’s nomination for best supporting actor for Creed while that movie’s black lead actor Michael B. Jordan and black writer-director Ryan Coogler were never in the running in their categories), is nothing if not a studious effort to wipe our memories clean of the money-making junk that Hollywood pumps to the multiplexes for teenagers and children to gorge on. For three-and-a-quarter hours every year, the academy pretends it’s in the business of making movies for adults, and laboring in the service of art.
To sustain that illusion, eight films (out of a possible 10) are in the running for best picture: Bridge of Spies, The Big Short, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room and Spotlight. There’s nothing approaching a masterpiece in the bunch (only Brooklyn offers the precious combo of craft and heart), which is consistent with the consensus, as one high-profile fall and holiday film after another proved disappointingly flawed.
It’s worth noting that four of the Grateful Eight are devoid of women characters, and Spotlight’s lone female, Rachel McAdams, registers in only a couple scenes (which was enough, apparently, for a supporting actress nod). While I can’t claim there’s greatness in the year’s quartet of films about strong women -- Carol, Joy, Suffragette and Freeheld -- it’s worth noting that all were shunned in the major categories except for best actress noms for Cate Blanchett (Carol) and Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), and Rooney Mara (Carol) for supporting actress. (For those keeping score at home, Lawrence now stands a mere 15 career nominations behind Meryl Streep, who didn’t make the cut this year.)
Best actress nominee Brie Larson propelled Room’s breakthrough as the Academy’s designated indie (last year it was Whiplash), with nods also going to director Lenny Abrahamson and screenwriter Emma Donoghue. My favorite performance of the year, Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years, is recognized in the best actress category, as well, with Saoirse Ronan taking the other best actress slot for Brooklyn.
Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) and Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) received best actor nominations for interpreting historical figures, while Matt Damon played yet another variation of himself in The Martian. I’m even less enthused about the supporting actor choices of Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) and the aforementioned Sly Stallone.
The Revenant turned out to be the only end-of-year prestige picture to hit the bulls-eye with academy members, racking up nominations for director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki along with the two actors (and, of course, best picture).
The gulf between what AMPAS members honor and what the public votes for with its wallets shrunk this year, as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road received multiple nominations. (The Pixar hit Inside Out made the grade in the animated feature category, though that can’t be considered a surprise.)
A special shout-out to documentary short nominees Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman, whose Last Day of Freedom recently aired on KQED's Truly CA. The five documentary features in contention for the Oscar -- and we could debate them all day -- are the artist profiles Amy and What Happened, Miss Simone? and three portraits from abroad: The Look of Silence, Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom and Cartel Land.
The foreign language finalists are led by prohibitive favorite Son of Saul from Hungary, which opens tomorrow, Embrace of the Serpent from Colombia (opening Feb. 26), Mustang from France (now playing), Theeb (Jordan) and A War (Denmark).
Finally, the most amusing nod to me was the makeup and hairstyling nomination for The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, a Swedish film that premiered locally at the 2014 Mill Valley Film Festival and subsequently had a brief theatrical run.
I predict, with no enthusiasm at all, that Spotlight will take home the gold statuette for best picture. Pedestrian, prosaic and perfunctory, it nonetheless will find favor with the most academy members in a year in which nothing stood out.
(Ed. note: For a full break-down of all the Oscar snubs and surprises, check out KQED Pop.)