And the Oscar Goes to…

…someone on this list.

That’s right, it’s Oscar Season!

Arguably entirely meaningless in the face of a crumbling democracy, a deteriorating planet and so much else, I’m nevertheless going to put far too much thought into the nominations announced on Tuesday morning and the meaning behind them all. You’ve been warned.

I woke up before dawn to queue up the webcast of the announcements, a movie-geek tradition of mine I hold onto even when I don’t have a dog in the race. There was some live-tweeting, I admit, but as the announcements come out fast and furious, it was only later in the day that I was able to really review the newly anointed nominees. Imagine my delight to realize that I’ve actually already seen all nine films nominated for Best Picture! I can’t remember when—or if!—that’s ever happened before.

I certainly have more to see. I need to knock out a few of the docs, and I’ve shamefully only seen one of the films nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. And I may or may not take the purist route and see everything, considering that would mean I’d have to see The Greatest Showman and Kong: Skull Island. (There are head-scratchers every year.)

Let’s start with the big takeaway: generally speaking, The Academy got it right. Sure, it’s lame that we still have to acknowledge that Greta Gerwig is only the fifth woman ever nominated for Best Director. But imagine the backlash had she (and/or Jordan Peele) not been nominated.

I attribute this entirely to the Academy’s recent push to exponentially grow their ranks in both size and diversity. In 2016, they inducted 683 new members; in 2017, that number was 774. So proud of this influx of new blood, they even put together this splashy page on their website to highlight the progress.

This year’s nominations indicate that these new classes of inductees are voting from their contemporary world views, and that they come in numbers large enough that they can—and will—shift the Academy’s world view with them. Most categories this year are diverse in more ways than just gender and race; in fact, even a passing familiarity with the trends of the typical Academy voting (largely white, male and old) shows how different this year really is.

Case in point, that Best Director category.

Since the Academy instated an extended Best Picture category in 2011, where up to ten films could be nominated for the top honor, the Picture/Director awards actually split recognition more often than they align. This year, the nominees include two white dudes (Christopher Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson), but also a Mexican (Guillermo del Toro), a lady (Greta Gerwig) and an African American (Jordan Peele). Notably absent? One Steven Spielberg, whose The Post did garner a nod for Best Picture (and for Best Actress for Queen Streep). Spielberg himself has already been nominated for Best Director no fewer than seven times (he’s won twice), and I’d posit that were the Academy roster the same-old, same-old, he would’ve nabbed his eighth this year.

Love you, Steve, but thank goodness you didn’t.

A lead story out of Tuesday’s announcement was Rachel Morrison’s nomination for Best Cinematography for Mudbound. She is the first woman in ninety years to be nominated in this category. I repeat: the first woman in the 90 year history of the Oscars nominated for Best Cinematography. That’s insane. If you haven’t seen Mudbound, I will say it again and again and again: watch this movie. It is a masterpiece, and Morrison’s camera work is breathtaking in its intimacy and powerful in its courage. The film is streaming on Netflix now, so no excuses. (Which is also a big story in the industry: this marks Netflix’s first non-documentary Oscar nominations, a code they’ve been trying to crack for years now.)

Across the acting categories, I am generally in alignment with where the nominees landed. I would’ve slated in Michael Stuhlbarg somewhere; the man has roles in THREE Best Picture nominees (The Post, The Shape of Water and Call Me By Your Name) and delivers the best monologue of the year in the final scenes of the latter. Perhaps we could’ve skipped setting aside two slots in the Best Supporting Actor category for the underwhelming Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to show Stuhlbarg some love, no?

I’m particularly pleased by the love shown for both The Shape of Water (leading the pack with a whopping thirteen nominations) and Phantom Thread (six nods), two films I adored this year. The Shape of Water, gorgeous to behold and packed with stellar performances, is part love story, part timely critique of government institutions. But above all, it’s an homage to the movies. And if there’s one thing The Academy loves (no matter the make-up of its members, one could argue), it’s the movies. And movies about movies.

Alternatively, Phantom Thread is about dysfunction, entitlement, and the women who make great men possible. It’s not your average auteur offering and, I imagine, leaves a lot of people wondering what the heck they just watched. Which makes its half dozen nominations all the more impressive from an Academy that typically appreciates the mainstream. Or at least used to.

In this year’s nominees, the Academy has made exciting steps towards inclusivity, diversity and an openness to new voices. Is it a perfect list of nominees? No, of course not. But progress is progress, and just establishing a new baseline is worth recognizing.

The 90th Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, March 4. That means you’ve got just over a month to see the crop of very strong, very worthy filmmaking that hit screens in 2017, and I encourage you to do just that.