Roeper on the Oscars: Finally, a diverse list, but why no Taraji?


Taraji P. Henson in “Hidden Figures.” | 20th Century Fox

From “Argo” to “The Artist,” from “Chicago” to “Shakespeare in Love,” from “Amadeus” to “The Sound of Music,” from “Annie Hall” to “West Side Story,” the Academy has bestowed best picture honors upon myriad films that are either musicals or are about artists and the artistic process.

“La La Land” is both.

How impressive are the 14 total nominations awarded Tuesday to Damien Chazelle’s triumph? Consider there are 24 main categories, and “La La Land” was ineligible for seven: foreign language film, documentary, animated film, documentary short, live short, one of the two screenplay awards and animated short. Barring multiple nominations in the acting or song categories, 14 is very close to touching the ceiling on the number of nominations any film will ever get.

For years I’ve railed about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and its tradition of racing through its award nominees at approximately 5:30 a.m. PST, with almost no pomp or circumstance or sense of timing. A couple of familiar faces would read the nominees, we’d hear a smattering applause or startled reactions from the off-camera media — and that would be that. BORING.

After Tuesday’s presentation, which featured taped interviews with past winners and nominees and Oscar hosts, interspersed with announcements made in the form of black on white graphics accompanied by a disembodied voice that sounded like the virtual reality offspring of Alexa and Siri, I say bring back the boring.

On the Academy’s website, there was some confusion in the acting categories early on. The site listed Amy Adams as one of the best actress nominees instead of Ruth Negga — an error that was quickly corrected. For a short while, the Academy’s website listed six nominees for best actor, including Tom Hanks for “Sully,” who was not nominated.

ABC Digital took the blame for posting the inaccurate information and issued an apology “to the Academy, press and fans for any confusion.”

Everybody likes to talk about “surprises” and “snubs” when nominees are announced, but with so many awards shows taking place prior to the Oscars, and so many websites featuring expert analysts that can break it down for you as if they’re handicapping the Kentucky Derby, most of the selections were essentially carved in stone (or at least in engraved envelopes) well before Tuesday morning.

That said, there were some notable moments.

Viola Davis became the first African-American actress to with three Academy Award nominations. Davis, Negga, Denzel Washington, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Dev Patel and Octavia Spencer received nominations for a total of seven out of 20 nods in the acting categories going to people of color, an all-time record for the Oscars.

This comes after there was a total of zero nominations for minorities out of 40 the last two years, leading to the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and much talk (and, to be fair, some action) about making the Academy Awards — and the Oscars themselves — more diverse.

Here’s hoping we reach the day when we don’t even have to engage in this type of scoreboard watching.

One of the mild surprises was the lack of a nod for Academy favorite Adams, even though “Arrival” was nominated in other categories including best picture and best director.

Obviously each and every actor nominated for an Oscar is a talented artist — but had it been to me (he says with narcissistic assertion), I would have made room for Adams’ work in “Arrival,” Taraji P. Henson’s performance in “Hidden Figures” and Tom Hanks’ achievement in “Sully.”

Hollywood has apparently forgiven Mel Gibson. His “Hacksaw Ridge” received a nomination for best picture and for best director, and for Andrew Garfield’s lead performance.

Michael Shannon’s performance in “Nocturnal Animals” was one of the best things about the film — but it was still a bit startling to hear his name called as one of the nominees for best supporting actor, taking the spot most had reserved for Hugh Grant (“Florence Foster Jenkins”).

And “Finding Dory,” once thought to be a favorite for best animated feature, wasn’t even nominated.

I would given nods to “Lights Out” and “Zootopia” for best picture — but horror films are rarely taken seriously come awards time, and as long as there’s a best animated category, it’s going to be exceedingly difficult for a film of that genre to crossover to traditional best picture territory.

The Oscars will be televised on Feb. 26. Given the number of nominations for “La La Land,” and the Academy’s love for movies that celebrate the art of moviemaking, expect a lot of dancing in the aisles for the cast and the makers of the globally popular musical.

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