Oscar Nominations: 10 Key Things to Look For During Tuesday Morning's Big Announcement

THR's awards columnist discusses history-making opportunities for 'La La Land,' Meryl Streep and Amazon; why #OscarsSoWhite3 is unlikely to happen; and potential fresh controversies involving 'O.J.' and Mel Gibson.
Courtesy of ESPN

The Academy's nominations for the 89th Oscars will be revealed on Tuesday morning. Here are 10 key things to look for during the big announcement.

1) Will La La Land tie the record for most nominations for a single film?

Damien Chazelle's original musical is expected to lead the field in noms, but pundits are torn over just how many it will land. It could conceivably get as many as 14 — picture, director, actor, actress, original screenplay, cinematography, costume design, film editing, original score, original song (for both "City of Stars" and "Audition"), production design, sound editing and sound mixing — which would tie the all-time record currently shared by All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997). I think it will, but others are capping their forecast at 13, since the most recent musical to win the best picture Oscar, Chicago (2002), got a nom for sound mixing but not sound editing. Thirteen still would be an incredibly impressive figure, especially when you consider the nine films that got that many: Gone with the Wind (1939), From Here to Eternity (1953), Mary Poppins (1964), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Forrest Gump (1994), Shakespeare in Love (1998), Chicago, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).

2) Will #OscarsSoWhite become a thing of the past?

Let's put it this way: I'm so confident that it will that if it doesn't, then even I — someone who has vociferously defended the Academy against charges of racism over the last two years — will boycott the Oscars. That's because this year — unlike the last two years, during which the Twitter hashtag took off — there are specific performers of color whom everyone who actually follows this stuff regards as slam-dunks for noms: Fences lead actor Denzel Washington and supporting actress Viola Davis; Moonlight supporting actor Mahershala Ali and supporting actress Naomie Harris; and Lion supporting actor Dev Patel. (Noms also might be accorded to Hidden Figures' Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae and Loving's Ruth Negga, although those are far less certain.) When this happens, the Academy may try to take a victory lap — in response to the outrage over the second consecutive #OscarsSoWhite, they flooded their membership with a record number of new members, including many non-whites — but I strongly believe that these same performances, against the same competition, would have been recognized a year or two ago.

3) Will O.J.: Made in America be embraced or snubbed?

One of the most critically acclaimed contenders of 2016 was ESPN Films' O.J.: Made in America, the epic documentary about O.J. Simpson and the long and troubled history of race relations in America. Despite a 7.5-hour runtime and having aired in five parts on TV following its premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Ezra Edelman's opus was among 145 titles deemed eligible for best documentary feature, and it ultimately landed a spot on the doc branch's shortlist of 15 films from which the five nominees will be chosen. While everyone agrees that it can be nominated, it now is at the center of a great debate within the branch over whether or not it should be nominated. Few question its ambition or accomplishment, but some — including titans of the doc world — feel that it may, and perhaps should, be passed over in favor of other docs that don't blur the line between film and TV. A best doc feature nom, they fear, could open the floodgates to other miniseries-length docs at a time when branch members already don't have enough time to see everything they're asked to consider. The reality, though, is that that influx will happen whether or not O.J. is nominated — unless and until the branch's executive committee refines its rules and requirements, which I understand they are in the process of doing. One other thing to consider: whether or not the doc branch rewards O.J., other branches might do so. Hoop Dreams (1994), which is widely regarded as one of the best docs of all time, wasn't nominated for best doc feature but was nominated for best film editing, a category in which O.J. stands a strong shot, as well. And I've even heard from Academy members who voted for O.J. for best picture, a category in which no doc has ever been acknowledged.

4) Is Deadpool an awards contender?

This question would have seemed laughable prior to the release of Fox's long-gestating, highly unusual comic book adaptation last Valentine's Day weekend — but then it opened to an astounding $132 million in ticket sales (and, by the end of its theatrical run, $363 million domestically and $783 million worldwide, making it one of the biggest hits of 2016); it garnered rave reviews (it has an 84 percent favorable rating at RottenTomatoes.com); and it was recognized with a best picture and best actor (musical or comedy) Golden Globe noms, as well as PGA, WGA and DGA noms, which collectively have gone to few films that didn't go on to a best picture Oscar nom. Eight years ago, the Academy removed its decades-old cap of five slots in the best picture category in response to the best picture snub of another comic book adaptation, The Dark Knight, with the hope that doing so might make it likelier for future acclaimed popcorn films to crack the top category. Thus far, that hasn't happened, but Deadpool might well be the one to crack the glass ceiling — which would make its star, Ryan Reynolds, who also is one of its producers, an Oscar nominee.

5) Will Meryl Streep extend her record number of individual acting nominations?

Hot on the heels of her Cecil B. DeMille career achievement award — and epic Donald Trump takedown — at the Golden Globe Awards, the woman widely regarded as the greatest living actress is poised to extend her record for most acting noms from 19 to 20 with a best actress nom for her performance as the title opera singer in Florence Foster Jenkins. That recognition also would extend Streep's record number of noms in the best actress category, specifically, from 15 to 16. The late Katharine Hepburn is No. 2 behind Streep on both lists with 12 (all in the best actress category). The living male nearest to Streep for overall acting noms is Jack Nicholson, who has 12, and the living females nearest to Streep for overall noms are Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Jane Fonda and Kate Winslet, who each have seven. 

6) Will Amazon beat Netflix to a major Oscar nomination?

Netflix has been a player in the Oscar universe for the last several years. Last year, Ted Sarandos' operation bagged two best documentary feature noms, something it might well repeat this year, since 13th and The Ivory Game both are among the 15 films the doc branch has shortlisted. But Netflix's great quest has been to become the first streaming service to land "major" Oscar noms — meaning for picture, director or in one of the acting or screenwriting categories — and that hasn't yet happened. (Beasts of No Nation, Netflix's great hope last season, on which it spent a fortune, was snubbed across the board.) This year, Netflix does not have a major narrative contender — it tried to get one at last year's Sundance, making a massive offer for Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation — but Amazon does, namely Manchester by the Sea, which it acquired for $10 million at Sundance 2016. That drama seems almost certain to land Jeff Bezos' film division some high-profile noms, including picture, director, actor and original screenplay, and, quite possibly, supporting actor and supporting actress, as well, which would be a bitter pill to swallow for Netflix.

7) Is Mel Gibson back in the club?

The Aussie who dominated the Oscars 21 years ago with Braveheart, but who subsequently blew up his career by making anti-Semitic and misogynistic statements while highly intoxicated, may finally be out of Hollywood's doghouse. His direction of Hacksaw Ridge has been highly praised and recognized with best director Golden Globe and Critics' Choice noms — but those come from journalists, not people who actually make movies alongside Gibson, and it remains to be seen if they are ready to be as forgiving. At the very least, it seems like Hacksaw Ridge will be recognized with picture and actor noms, which, apart from a directing nom, would serve as a great testament to Gibson.

8) Does Harvey still have his mojo?

Harvey Weinstein, the former Miramax co-chief and current The Weinstein Co. co-chief, is the man most credited with turning the Oscar season into a bare-knuckles-brawl, to the advantage of some very special — and some less special — art house films. Among those that he guided to best picture wins: The English Patient (1996), Shakespeare in Love (1998), Chicago (2002), The King's Speech (2010) and The Artist (2011). But, in recent years, Weinstein's operation has hemorrhaged money and personnel, prompting some to count him out as a major awards season player. There's no question that his presence has been less felt this awards season, during which his hopefuls include Lion, The Founder and Sing Street — but that's not for lack of trying. He and his bare-bones but tireless team of young publicists have pulled out every stop on behalf of their contenders — especially Lion, trotting around its adorable young star Sunny Pawar the way they once trotted around The Artist's Uggie. Lion is a crowd-pleaser — it was a runner-up for the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival — but it will be interesting to see whether all that flashy showmanship can turn it into a big contender. 

9) Will a bunch of icons be left out in the cold?

Early indications are that Tuesday may be a rough morning for people who are not used to rough mornings when films they directed are eligible for Oscar nominations. Keep an eye on Martin Scorsese's Silence, Clint Eastwood's Sully, Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply, Oliver Stone's Snowden, Ben Affleck's Live by Night, Robert Zemeckis' Allied and Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk — all films that, sight-unseen, solely on the basis of their filmmakers' Oscar-winning pedigrees, were expected to be serious contenders this season, but which, at this point, would be lucky to land one or two below-the-line noms.

10) Whatever happened to The Birth of a Nation?

A lot can happen in a year. At precisely this time in 2016, the entire press corps at the Sundance Film Festival already had awarded the 89th best picture Oscar to Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation, which Fox Searchlight acquired at the fest for a Park City-record $17 million. Then, years-old rape charges that Parker faced while an undergraduate at Penn State University — he was exonerated — resurfaced, and everything began to fall apart for him and his directorial debut. The quality of his film didn't change, but attitudes toward him certainly did — especially after it came to light that his accuser had taken her own life — and, fairly or not, his film was, by the time of its Oct. 7 release, on life support. On Tuesday morning, it is widely expected that the Academy will pull the plug. That's show business for you!

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