The Academy Award nominations for films released in 2016 have officially been announced, and, as expected, the movies La La Land, Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea dominated with multiple nods each. However, there were a number of surprises in this year’s Oscar nominations worth noting. Instant reaction online seems to suggest that there were more surprises than usual in the Academy Award nominated films. In the coming days, the nominations will surely be analyzed to death, but here is our immediate reactions to what we feel are the biggest surprises of the 2017 Oscar nominations.
10. Viggo Mortensen Nominated for Best Actor
There was a strong push by fans to get actor Viggo Mortensen nominated for Best Actor for his portrayal of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. And while that movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2004, there was no love for Mortensen. Yet the long-time thespian scored an Academy Award nomination this year for his work in the small independent movie Captain Fantastic, about a father who raises his six kids in the woods of the Pacific Northwest far from civilization. While critically acclaimed, Captain Fantastic was a small movie that did little business at the box office and did not generate an earth shattering amount of buzz. It also wasn’t nominated in any other Oscar categories. Yet Mortensen picked up his second Oscar nomination for this film. He was previously nominated for Best Actor for 2007’s Eastern Promises.
9. Michael Shannon Nominated for Nocturnal Animals
Nocturnal Animals, directed by former fashion designer Tom Ford, was largely panned by critics and received only a limited theatrical release. That the movie got any attention at all from the Oscars is therefore surprising. Yet actor Michael Shannon received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the film, playing as a deranged killer. This nomination was a surprise to us, as there was not much talk or expectation that Shannon would be nominated for this movie. While he certainly is a well-respected actor (and has been previously nominated for an Academy Award), Shannon’s work in Nocturnal Animals didn’t seem to stir up much notice or praise from critics or other award granting bodies this past year. Still a worthy nod for an actor who consistently delivers good performances.
8. My Life as a Zucchini Nominated as Best Animated Film
Has anyone heard of the animated movie My Life as a Zucchini? Neither has anyone around here. That might be because this animated film was originally a French movie called Ma vie de Courgette. It was later voiced over in English. The focus of the movie is a nine-year old boy nicknamed “Courgette” (French for Zucchini) and who is an orphan that is sent to various foster homes, befriended by a kindly police officer, and eventually learns to trust people and accept love into his life. While this all sounds rather noble and like it could make a good movie, the nomination as Best Animated Film is a surprise given that almost nobody has even heard of My Life as a Zucchini. While the other films nominated in this category were expected – Zootopia and Moana, among others – the inclusion of My Life as a Zucchini sent many people running to Google to see what this movie is all about. The other notable surprise from this category is no nomination for Pixar’s Finding Dory.
7. Multiple Nominations for Sci-Fi Film Arrival
Traditionally, the Academy Awards are reluctant to honor science fiction movies. Only a couple of sci-fi movies have ever gotten a nomination for Best Picture. Those would be Star Wars: A New Hope and E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. Even a movie as revered as Close Encounters of the Third Kind didn’t manage to get a Best Picture nod from Oscar voters. So it was surprising, in a good way, to see multiple nominations this year for the brainy sci-fi movie Arrival, about mankind’s first contact with aliens. Arrival received nominations in major categories such as Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and a host of technical nominations in categories that recognize sound, editing, and cinematography. In all, Arrival received eight Academy Award nominations, which is a solid showing for any science fiction film. Interestingly though, Amy Adams did NOT get a nomination for Best Actress, although she definitely deserved one. So Arrival provided one bad surprise, as well.
6. A Nomination for Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad was one of the most polarizing movies of the past year. It clearly divided critics and fans, and generally underwhelmed people who saw it. And while the movie still did well at the box office, the general consensus has been that Suicide Squad was another disappointment for the D.C. Comics Cinematic Universe. Despite that, Suicide Squad managed to score an Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling. One look at actress Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and it’s easy to see why the movie scored this nomination. But given the flack that Suicide Squad has taken since it arrived in theaters last summer, it is a bit of vindication to see the movie honored with an Oscar nod – even if it is in a more technical category. Amazingly, the much better comic book movie Deadpool couldn’t garner a single nomination — not even for it’s sharp and witty script.
5. Multiple Song Nominations for La La Land
It’s difficult enough for a movie to get one nomination in an Academy Awards category. Filmmakers and actors often spend months campaigning for a nomination in their respective field. It is almost unheard of for a movie to score two nominations in the same category. Yet the musical La La Land is nominated twice this year in the category of Best Original Song. The nominated songs from La La Land are “Audition” and “City of Stars.” Of course, La La Land is a musical that features several songs, so if any movie from 2016 was going to get multiple nominations in the Best Song category, this is it. But still, this is an impressive feat when you consider that just about every movie released in 2016 featured at least one original song in it. This is a surprising accomplishment given how rare it is.
4. Kubo and the Two Strings is Nominated for Best Visual Effects
Kubo and the Two Strings is rightfully nominated in the category of Best Animated Film. However, in a surprise nod, Kubo and the Two Strings have also been nominated in the category Best Visual Effects, where it is up against movies such as Rogue One and Doctor Strange. This is a surprise, since Kubo and the Two Strings is the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Visual Effects in more than 20 years. The last animated movie to score a nomination for Best Visual Effects was Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas in 1994. A stop-motion animated feature, Kubo and the Two Strings is a visual feast for the eyes, revolving around a young boy with magical powers and a missing eye. Academy Awards voters are usually very narrow in their nominations, especially when it comes to animated movies. But they broke from tradition this year on this one.
3. Hidden Figures Gets Best Picture Nomination
The Best Picture nomination of Hidden Figures, a biopic about black women mathematicians who help NASA with the space program in the 1960s, was a surprise for several reasons. The main reason is most people thought the movie was released in early January 2017, making it ineligible for Oscar consideration. But apparently, Hidden Figures received a limited theatrical release in a few select cities in late 2016, getting it in under the wire. The other reason it was a surprise is that the movie had very little buzz surrounding it prior to its release. Usually when a movie opens in January, it is a sign that the film is not going to be very good, or it suffers from a lack of studio confidence. Yet Hidden Figures surprised both critics and audiences, becoming a box office hit and scoring a Best Picture nomination to boot.
2. Multiple Nominations for Hacksaw Ridge
The World War II movie Hacksaw Ridge received six Oscar nominations, including several in major categories, most notably Best Picture. That the movie got this much love is surprising, given that it was made by Mel Gibson, who has largely been a Hollywood pariah over the past decade after his arrest for drunk driving and the insulting language he used to describe a female police officer who arrested him, as well as his blanket statements about Jews and Israel. Gibson’s controversial comments made him the Donald Trump of Tinseltown. Yet, Hacksaw Ridge has proven to be a comeback for the actor-turned-director, and the film’s multiple nominations show that people in Hollywood may finally be willing to forgive and forget. Which brings us to the biggest surprise of this year’s Oscar nominations…
1. Mel Gibson Nominated for Best Director
Even when Hacksaw Ridge was nominated for Best Picture, few people expected that Mel Gibson would get a Best Director nomination too. Mel Gibson has been persona non grata in Hollywood since his troubling 2006 arrest and his drunken antisemitic remarks. He’s also a devout Christian who believes in creationism and rejects Darwinian theories of evolution. That Gibson beat out several other worthy directors and earned a nomination in the Best Director category shows a complete about face from the Hollywood establishment that votes on the Academy Awards. In recent years, Gibson has been reduced to acting in direct-to-video releases such as Blood Father or playing the villain in movies such as Machete Kills and The Expendables 3. Prior to Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson had not directed a movie since 2006’s Apocalypto. Yet he has won the Best Director Oscar before, for 1995’s Braveheart. And it now looks like Gibson is back in Hollywood’s good graces again. Who knew?