Ali Taimur Shabbir discusses the Oscars nominations
Oscar season is well and truly upon us. On the 28th of February, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present the coveted gold statuettes to a number of artists in the film industry. Whether those recipients really deserve their places amongst the nominees, as well as the accolades they are eventually bestowed with, is up for debate. This speculation is part of the Oscar magic that we all have a soft spot for.
A cursory glance at any news medium tells you that the overarching issue as we hurtle toward the famed awards ceremony regards the issue of diversity. No actor of African nor Asian descent is nominated in the major categories. But while the Academy should always recognise people on the basis of merit, whatever racial group they belong to, detractors do have a hefty amount of evidence to support them. Creed director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan made the best movie in the Rocky series since the original, but the sole nomination went to Sylvester Stallone. Straight Outta Compton featured glowing performances but only the two screenwriters, both Caucasian, were recognised. The Academy’s promise to double the numbers of minorities in its ranks by 2020 hides a stark assumption; the organisation believes that those of African descent will vote solely for artists belonging to their own racial group, and, by logic, so will the white men that currently make up 94% of the Academy’s current ranks. But this shouldn’t be the case; actors should be judged based on merit only, irrespective of race.
But on a positive note, these Oscars are shaping up to be exceptionally open. Of course, we’d all love to see Leonardo DiCaprio finally get his Oscar. His performance in The Revenant will make you squirm. But the lack of dialogue throughout the movie could give voters another excuse to overlook him and choose possibly Eddie Redmayne, though I hope Matt Damon is recognised for his riveting, hilarious interpretation of Mark Watney in The Martian. This is very unlikely, however, and DiCaprio will probably end his golden drought because the Academy actually feels it owes a debt to him for snubs of his equally (and sometimes more) impressive past performances.
The Best Picture category, conversely, is more open. Expect a three-way tussle between The Revenant, Room and Spotlight. The 8 nominees are enticing and deal with subject matter ranging from the financial crisis to an apocalyptic future, but those three films have the sophisticated content and critical appeal that, say, Mad Max lacks, and the Academy’s voters love. George Miller’s 4th instalment in his series is a technical and innovative masterpiece, but it still isn’t strong enough to win in the face of the more serious issues that the three favourites address.
It is a case of the old guard vs. the new wave for Best Actress, on the other hand. Brie Larson has received universal acclaim for her role in Room but Charlotte Rampling will be looking to show her and the other nominated newcomers that experience is often the most important ingredient needed in the recipe for an Oscar win. But Cate Blanchett may just pip them both; there are few actresses as elegant and timeless as her, traits that she flaunted in Carol, surprisingly and disappointingly not nominated for best film. Again, this is the sort of film the Academy adores, and the Oscars are subjective if nothing else.
Controversy again rears its head as we approach the Best Supporting Actor and Best Director categories. Two massive names have found no place in the nominations: Oscar Isaac for Ex Machina and Coogler for Creed. Isaac’s turn as the billionaire inventor trying to replicate humanity in a robot, while isolating himself in the middle of nowhere, is as ironic as it is spellbindingly deranged. Watch him channel the spirit of Saturday Night Fever in the film’s best scene. I don’t understand how Tom Hardy managed to get the nod ahead of Isaac – I could barely understand what he was saying in his thick southern accent in The Revenant. It’s a similar criminal offence to snub Coogler. This is a man who is only 28 years old and has propelled himself ahead of many directors with twice his experience through Creed. He was in the same situation as J.J. Abrams and Star Wars; both had to continue beloved franchises. And just like the celebrated Abrams, Coogler delivered. We could make the case for other snubs (Beasts Of No Nation, Todd Haynes), but Isaac and Coogler were outstanding.
The 28th of February promises to be unpredictable. Maybe Mad Max will win Best Picture, or maybe Bryan Cranston will take home the award for Best Actor. Between now and then, some films will lose momentum while others pick up steam. If the recently held Golden Globes awards are any indication, it promises to be a divisive night.