But the 2018 Academy Award nominations announced on Tuesday offer lots of reasons to be optimistic, whether you were watching them for signs of the entertainment industry’s politics, or in the hopes that some of the best movies of the year would get the recognition they deserve. So, because we could all stand to practice a little optimism these days, here are five things to celebrate this year.
Hollywood may still be “so white” in general, but at least the Oscars aren’t kicking off with a white-out: April Reign’s #OscarsSoWhite hashtag was a response to the academy’s decision to ignore black films and black actors in 2015 and 2016. Last year seemed like a course correction: “Moonlight” won best picture; its director, Barry Jenkins, won for best adapted screenplay; its star Mahershala Ali won best supporting actor, and Viola Davis won best supporting actress for her work in “Fences.” But there’s a difference between an aberrational year and one that signals a permanent change of course.
Earlier in this awards season, it seemed like snubs for “Get Out” and “Mudbound” were pointing toward a blip. But Mary J. Blige and Octavia Spencer were nominated for best supporting actress for their performances in “Mudbound” and “The Shape of Water,” respectively, and Daniel Kaluuya and Denzel Washington will compete for best actor for their work in “Get Out” and “Roman J. Israel, Esq,” respectively. The screenplays for “Mudbound,” by Dee Rees and Virgil Williams, and “Get Out” by Jordan Peele were nominated in the adapted and original categories, respectively. And Peele was nominated for directing “Get Out,” which is also a contender for best picture.
This is all great news, but it’s also a reminder that African American actors, writers and directors aren’t the only people struggling to tell their stories and win recognition for their work. Latinos, who are also dramatically underrepresented in the entertainment industry despite their loyalties as moviegoers, have as their sole representative among the major nominees director Guillermo del Toro. The work to make Hollywood look like the world as a whole continues.
Christopher Plummer’s nomination for “All The Money in the World” reminds the academy you can do the right thing about sexual harassment: “All the Money in the World,” Ridley Scott’s movie about the Getty kidnapping case, has been caught up in a controversy about how much stars Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg were paid for reshoots. But even as that conversation sparks a much-needed look at the role agencies play in the Hollywood pay gap, it’s worth stepping back. Scott decided to do something that seemed exceptionally difficult — replace star Kevin Spacey with Plummer on extremely short notice after Spacey was accused of multiple instances of sexual assault and harassment. And he not only pulled it off such that “All the Money in the World” could come out on time, but he did it so successfully that Plummer, who is excellent in the role, earned an Academy Award nomination for his last-minute work. I can’t think of a clearer argument for the idea that doing the right thing and refusing to excuse sexual harassment are all upside.
Women get nominated for roles in which they’re not necessarily playing nice: There’s nothing wrong with getting nominated for an Academy Award for playing a saint. But in the midst of our #MeToo reckoning, it was refreshing to see women nominated for their work in movies where their behavior is difficult, demanding or even downright off-putting.
For all my feelings about “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” as a whole, I think Frances McDormand is tremendous as a woman who has been destroyed by her grief in the aftermath of a horrible act of sexual violence, and who is determined that everyone else share her pain. Margot Robbie walks an incredibly fine balance in “I, Tonya,” rendering Tonya Harding comprehensible to the audience while refusing to turn her into some sort of put-upon victim. Allison Janney, playing her mother LaVona Golden, does the same thing with a character it would be easy to caricature as a monster. And as a mother locked into an existential struggle with her daughter in “Lady Bird,” Laurie Metcalf’s mistakes and cruelties are so painful because they’re universal, not because they’re exceptional.
Rachel Morrison breaks the gender barrier with her nomination for best cinematography for “Mudbound”: Cinematography is a technical category at the Oscars, and this year, a lot of the attention for it will probably focus on whether Roger Deakins will capture the prize at long last for his work on “Blade Runner 2049.” But cinematography is all about how things and people look on screen, and as a result, it’s an important category to consider when we think about how women and members of minority groups are presented in Hollywood movies. If you care about who gets to shape these images, it’s great news that Morrison’s work on “Mudbound,” Dee Rees’s historical look at sharecropping, finally became the first woman to make her way into the category. With luck, more will follow.
Tatiana S. Riegel’s editing nomination for “I, Tonya” shows us why women’s sports deserve to get treated like action blockbusters: I get that Craig Gillespie’s movie doesn’t sit quite right with a lot of moviegoers. I loved it, though. And I particularly loved the way the film handled a difficult task: re-creating some of Harding’s skating routines to communicate just why she was such a compelling athlete to watch, while simultaneously showing us how Harding felt about her performance in those moments. Seeing a sport defined by its female performers edited with all the care and crispness of a major action movie was genuinely thrilling.