The Academy Awards are, for better or for worse, the biggest night in film. This year’s nominee list is, in part, not surprising in the least, with significant nods for both La La Land and Meryl Streep, but also signifies a knowing change in direction from the Academy in the face of last years racial backlash.
If the Academy love two things; it’s films about films and Meryl Streep. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that La La Land – a film all about the magic of Hollywood – has scored a record 14 nominations (tying it with Titanic for the most ever) and Streep herself has been nominated for a record 20th Oscar nomination for her titular role in Florence Foster Jenkins. There will be many people who think that, 14 nominations and widespread acclaim aside, that La La Land isn’t actually *that* good (spoiler: it actually really is *that* good) and Streep could have been quite easily bumped aside to make way from Amy Adams, who gave two powerhouse performances this year in both Arrival and Nocturnal Animals.
But that really isn’t the point. Both of these triumphs show the Academy making a very concise message; the Arts stand in unity in the face of all the on-coming chaos that we have faced and still have left to face. For all its minor faults (which include Ryan Gosling basically playing Ryan Gosling and a rather saggy middle act), La La Land is an inherently defiant film; Emma Stone’s Mia’s greatest success comes from getting back on her feet following failure and rejection and the film’s landmark opening number, ‘Another Day of Sun’ sees a horde of LA commuters from a multitude of different backgrounds all clamour together in a joyous recognition of hope amidst our normal lives. And Streep, well Meryl Streep is a fucking legend, isn’t she. Not just the most nominated actor in Academy Award history, but genuinely one of the greatest actors to ever grace the screen. Sure, Florence Foster Jenkins may not be her greatest contribution to the oeuvre, but this is the most brash statement of protection from the Academy that I know I’ve ever seen. Not just another record-making nomination for Streep, but a defiant statement from the Academy that, no matter what Donald Trump thinks of her post-Golden Globes, the Academy will protect its arguably greatest star. And, to be fair, you don’t mess with Meryl Streep, do you.
But by far the most impressive thing from this year’s nominations is the fact that the Academy have genuinely reacted to lasts years #OscarsSoWhite backlash. There’s a host of nominations for a diverse group of actors who have all given powerful performances well-deserved of the nomination. From Ruth Negga’s sobering performance in Loving, the general love given to the beautiful Moonlight and the third Oscar nomination for Viola Davis, the first black woman to ever achieve this. There’s still a long way to go, let’s not doubt that, but given the warranted backlash against last year’s ceremony, its refreshing to see the Academy’s nominations starting to resemble what are actually some of the greatest performances and films of the past year, not just prestige pictures with the right mogul behind them.
But, as ever, there are still some notable snubs that we need to draw attention to. Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals was an elegant, visceral neo-noir that proved Ford’s first feature, A Single Man, wasn’t a fluke. Despite a supporting nomination for Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who recently won a Golden Globe for his own performance in the film) deserved a nod, as did Ford for his directing and his own adapted screenplay. Amy Adams not only provided the lynchpin for Animals but for Denis Villeneuve’s thinking-mans sci-fi Arrival too, and it was a shame to not see her included in the Best Actress list. For this writer, however, the biggest disappointment by far comes from the continued snubbing of one of cinema’s brightest young talents, French-Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan, whose sixth feature It’s Only The End of the World won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes (despite some controversy) and was another step in Dolan bettering his craft still before making his English-language debut this year with The Death and Life of John F. Donovan.
So, basically; Emma Stone is a shoo-in for Best Actress with a performance that was as fragile as glass, La La Land might equal or even better The Return of the King’s haul of 11 Oscars on the night (it will almost definitely win Best Picture) and Meryl Streep just keeps on winning.
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Words by George Griffiths