Richard Roeper: Academy moves in the right direction with strong, diverse Oscar nominees

Two deserving women are in the running for the best director award.

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With security guard William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) in the foreground, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) raises a fist to the crowd in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

While LaKeith Stanfield (foreground) is clearly the lead of “Judas and the Black Messiah,” both he and co-stat Daniel Kaluuya (top) are best supporting actor nominees.

Warner Bros.

Note to the Academy:

Pretty, pretty, pretty good.

We’re always going to find room to air gripes about gaffes when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces the Oscar nominations in the perennially underwhelming pre-dawn (Pacific Time) announcements, and this year was no exception. But overall, it’s a strong and diversified list, bursting with talented artists and films you shouldn’t miss. (And you’ll have time to catch up between now and the Oscars airing on April 25, with the vast majority of these films available for home viewing.)

With the Oscar eligibility window extended to 14 months, films and performances that came out way back in the summer of 2020 might have been unfairly forgotten. June of 2020 seems like June of 2010 for many of us. Maybe that explains how Delroy Lindo wasn’t nominated for his career-crowning work in “Da 5 Bloods.”

On the plus side: For the first time in the 93-year-history of the Academy Awards, two women — Chloe Zhao for “Nomadland” and Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman” — were nominated in the directing category. For only the second time ever, three Black men (Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield for “Judas and the Black Messiah” and Leslie Odom Jr. for “One Night in Miami”) were tabbed for a best supporting actor nomination. That Stanfield was the undisputed LEAD in “Judas and the Black Messiah” and the Academy inexplicably voted for him as a supporting player — raising the question of who exactly Kaluuya and Stanfield were supporting — shouldn’t take away from the brilliance of all three of these nominated performances.

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Best director nominee Emerald Fennell (center) works with Carey Mulligan (left) and Laverne Cox on the set of “Promising Young Woman.”

Focus Features

In another breakthrough nomination, Steven Yeun, who delivered such a grounded and quietly powerful performance in “Minari,” is the first Asian American nominated in the best actor category. Yeun was born in Seoul and grew up in Michigan, but Chicago claims him as well, given his time with Second City and the Stir Friday Night improv group just before he was cast in “The Walking Dead.”

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Steven Yeun, a best actor nominee, plays a new arrival in Arkansas in “Minari.”

A24

Also on the #ChicagoStrong front, it was a wonderful and welcome surprise to hear 72-year-old Paul Raci’s name called in the best supporting actor category for his transcendent work in “Sound of Metal.” Raci grew up in Humboldt Park and has worked in relative obscurity for decades before he was catapulted into the spotlight, and deservedly so, for his work as the owner of a substance abuse treatment facility for the deaf.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” picked up nominations for best picture, Sacha Baron Cohen for best supporting actor, Aaron Sorkin for best original screenplay, as well as cinematography and editing. (“Judas and the Black Messiah” is set in Chicago but was filmed in Cleveland. It’s a quality film and the visuals are solid, but there are times when it looks like a Chicago film that was made in Cleveland.) Also: the Higher Ground Productions documentary “Crip Camp” was nominated. The founders of Higher Ground are Barack and Michelle Obama, and I’m pretty sure they have some Chicago roots as well.

It wouldn’t be an Oscar Nominations Reaction Piece without the obligatory look at Snubs and Surprises, so let’s get to it.

SURPRISES

  • Thomas Vinterberg, director of “Another Round”
  • LaKeith Stanfield for “Judas and the Black Messiah”
  • Best picture, best actor, best supporting actor and best original screenplay for “Sound of Metal”

SNUBS

  • “One Night in Miami,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “News of the World” and “Da 5 Bloods” for best picture
  • “I”m Your Woman” and “Palm Springs” for screenplay
  • Aaron Sorkin, Regina King and Spike Lee for best director
  • Tom Hanks, “News of the World”
  • Ellen Burstyn, “Pieces of a Woman”

And here’s a line that would have been unfathomable a mere decade ago: Netflix leads the pack with a total of 35 nominations — a reminder that any talk about whether the streaming giant is a major player in the prestige Hollywood market should be a thing of the past. They’re not arriving on the scene, they’re setting it.

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