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Oscars spread the wealth, offering something for everyone

The Academy Award nominations offered something for everyone, and -- in the context of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign an...

Posted: Jan. 23, 2018 2:46 PM
Updated: Jan. 23, 2018 2:46 PM

The Academy Award nominations offered something for everyone, and -- in the context of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign and the often-stodgy organization's recognition of fresh talent and voices -- were at least as important for who was recognized behind the scenes as on screen.

Four African-Americans -- Daniel Kaluuya, Denzel Washington, Mary J. Blige and Octavia Spencer -- were included in the acting races for the 90th Academy Awards, accounting for 20% of the field. Yet other significant breakthroughs occurred elsewhere, with Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig both earning writing and directing nods for "Get Out" and "Lady Bird," respectively, while Dee Rees -- an African-American woman -- was nominated for the adapted screenplay "Mudbound," and Rachel Morrison broke the gender barrier in cinematography for that film.

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon also joined the writing category for their true story, "The Big Sick," along with Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, responsible for the year's most-nominated film, "The Shape of Water."

Reflecting the depth of this year's race, the closely watched best picture category included nine movies, as Oscar voters conspicuously spread the wealth. If there's one genre that increasingly need not apply, it's the special-effects-driven blockbuster, with "Wonder Woman" -- the best-regarded entry in that pack -- overlooked. "Logan" did snag an adapted screenplay nod, but otherwise, movies like "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" and "Blade Runner: 2049" (admittedly a disappointment, financially speaking) were limited to bids related to their technical virtuosity in areas like sound and music.

That said, there are broad commercial successes in the higher-profile categories, including "Get Out" and Christopher Nolan's World War II epic "Dunkirk." That's no small consideration for the Academy and ABC, which will televise the show, theoretically providing viewers a greater rooting interest in the outcome than just marveling at who wore what.

Animation broadened the cultural outreach, with "Coco" -- a story rooted in Mexican traditions -- leading the way.

LGBT themes were also explored in "Call Me by Your Name," a coming-of-age love story; and Chile's "A Fantastic Woman," one of the best foreign-language film nominees.

In terms of diversity, perhaps the most conspicuous oversight was Hong Chau, who co-starred in the otherwise tepidly received "Downsizing," which likely contributed to her failing to make the cut. (Others had voiced criticism about the nature of the role, which hadn't kept her out of lead-up awards.)

Oscar voters also appeared to dodge a public-relations bullet by not nominating James Franco, given the sexual-misconduct allegations facing the actor, who had won a Golden Globe for his movie, "The Disaster Artist."

Similarly, beyond the sentimental value in seeing 88-year-old Christopher Plummer nominated for "All the Money in the World," his invitation would seem to be a means of tacitly lauding the film's producers for taking the extraordinary step of rushing to excise an accused predator, Kevin Spacey, from the movie.

Based on the breakdown of the nominations and what's transpired in awards season thus far, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and "The Shape of Water" would look to be in the most enviable positions, although hearing another title called certainly wouldn't be as unexpected an upset as "Moonlight's" clumsily presented triumph in 2017.

Given the symbolic nature of the awards, and the microscope under which they operate, the Oscars can scarcely avoid second-guessing. But based on the available roster of contenders, this year's nominations have come about as close as they could have, all things considered, to getting it right.

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