The Academy Awards will be handed out on Sunday, February 24. Are you caught up on the major nominees?
Eight films made the cut in the category of best picture and a few of them are still in theaters, notably the offbeat royal drama The Favourite (2018, R), which came away with ten nominations, political commentary Vice (2018, R) which scored eight nomination, and Green Book (2018, PG-13), with five nominations in all.
Also still in theaters is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018, PG), the current favorite in the animated feature category.
A number of nominated films, however, are already available to watch at home. Here’s an easy guide to what you can see and how you can see them.
Two of the top nominees are currently available to stream on Netflix. Roma (Mexico, R, with subtitles) and Black Panther (PG-13).
The Academy Awards were born in 1927, the brainchild of MGM’s Louis B. Mayer, a studio head whose original idea for an organization to negotiate labor disputes and industry conflicts evolved into the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The awards themselves were an afterthought and initially more public relations gimmick than egalitarian celebration of the arts. Every member of the Academy (then as now an exclusive organization where membership is by invitation only) was involved in nominations but a committee of five judges picked the winners and Mayer, of course, oversaw it all. If he didn’t actually handpick the winners, be surely put his thumb on the scales. By 1929, Academy members were voting on the final ballots themselves and in 1934 the ceremony moved from November to March. Additional categories were added and other refinements made over the years (Foreign Language Film got its own statue in 1957) but otherwise the Academy Awards as we know them today were born: a glitzy event that brought the stars out and handed out trophies.
That leaves practically the entire silent movie era out of Oscar history. Hollywood had reached a zenith in terms of craftsmanship, glamor and ambition when The Jazz Singer was released before the first awards were handed out. It was. By its second year, sound films dominated the awards.
Let’s imagine an alternate history where the Academy Awards had been born earlier and (as long as we’re dreaming) with a more egalitarian purpose from the outset. What kind of winners might you have in an era when movies were more international and there was no such thing as a “foreign language film” when credits and intertitles were easily replaced for each region? What landmarks leading up to that first ceremony, where the twin peaks of populist blockbuster and artistic triumph—Wings and Sunrise—represented the Best of Hollywood, might have been chosen in the golden age of twenties cinema, or the birth of the feature film in the teens, or even the wild days of experimentation and rapid evolution in the decades previous?
Here are my picks for a few key awards in the imaginary Oscar history.
1928: Metropolis Best Picture, Cinematography, Production Design
Released in January of 1927 in Germany and two months later in the U.S., this landmark was just too early for consideration in the inaugural awards (handed out in May, 1929). So I’m giving this early 1927 release a clear playing field with its own Oscar year: Academy Awards Year Zero. Sure, science fiction isn’t a big player with the Academy, but otherwise it has all the hallmarks of an Oscar favorite: epic canvas, astounding sets, visionary visual design and the timely theme of man struggling to find his place in the rapid spread of technology and machinery, all under the firm control of filmmaker Fritz Lang. Hollywood had never seen anything like it before. The film was soon edited down for and the original cut was lost for decades. The 2010 restoration restores scenes, characters and story lines unseen since opening night and confirms just how grand Lang’s vision was.
By the time the Oscars air on March 2, most moviegoers will not have been able to get to theaters to see all the nominees. But thanks to the era of DVD, Blu-ray, streaming video and movies on demand, those who really want to cram for Hollywood’s big night can catch up on a bunch of the films at home.
Some of the front-runners still require a theater trip (more on that later), but for those of you who want to order in and prep for your office pool from the comfort of your own couch, it’s possible to cover a lot of ground.
The biggest talkers
“Dallas Buyers Club” picked up six nominations, including best picture and best original screenplay, but its best chances are in the acting categories, where Matthew McConaughey is a front-runner for best actor and Jared Leto is up in the supporting actor category. The two already took home Golden Globes for their performances. It’s available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and On Demand.
“Captain Phillips” also received six nominations, including best picture, adapted screenplay, and actor in a supporting role for Barkhad Abdi, a non-actor who made a vivid debut in the role of a Somali pirate. Star Tom Hanks was overlooked for his equally strong performance. It’s available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and On Demand.
Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” earned Cate Blanchett her sixth Oscar nomination and she is a wonder as a Blanche DuBois in contemporary San Francisco. That would make fellow nominee Sally Hawkins (up for best supporting actress) the film’s Stella. It’s available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and On Demand.
“Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” goes the old show biz cliché. Unless you’re looking for an Oscar, of course. That’s when comedians face death, disease, and hardship, without cracking a joke. Because as Oscar reminds again and again, comedy just doesn’t get you much appreciation when you’re up against Meryl Streep as Britain’s first female prime minister or Daniel Day Lewis transforming himself into a legendary (and doomed) American president.
This year, Matthew McConaughey picked up his first Oscar nomination by applying his easy charm to a reckless Texan gaunt with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club, erasing memories of his tired rom-coms in the process. And he’s not the only comedy veteran who got the Academy’s attention by turning to drama.
Jonah Hill, best known for goofing his way through Judd Apatow comedies, picks up his second Oscar nomination for his offbeat turn in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, a labor-of-love role he took just so he could work with his directing hero. Though previously nominated for playing a nerdy statistician in Moneyball, this one still took him by surprise: “I am in complete and total shock,” read Hill’s official statement. “I honestly was not expecting this, on a level you can’t even imagine.” (The 30-year-old actor will be able to flex his comedy chops again this weekend when he hosts Saturday Night Live.)
The Academy Award nominations are now out (see full list here). Now let the guessing games begin. Predictions and kibbitzing are all part of the fun (my annual accounting of contenders who missed the Oscar cut is here on MSN) and catching up on all the nominees before Oscar night is, for many, part of the ritual.
While many of the front-runners were released late in the year and are still playing in theaters — best picture nominees “The Descendants,” “War Horse,” ” Hugo,” “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” and ” The Artist” should all get a boost this weekend — just as many are already available for home viewing on DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and/or pay-per-view. Here’s a list of those you can see now on a small screen near you. Click on the titles to get to the DVD/Blu-ray reviews.
“Moneyball” (Sony), arguably the brainiest sports movie ever, came away with six nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Brad Pitt), Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill) and Adapted Screenplay. The Blu-ray and DVD editions offer a few peaks behind the production. Also On Demand.
“Midnight in Paris” (Sony), the grown-up romantic fantasy that unexpectedly became Woody Allen’s most financially successful film ever, earned four nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. On Blu-ray and DVD with minimal supplements, and On Demand.
“The Tree of Life” (Fox), Terrence Malick’s portrait of one boy’s education growing up in Texas set against nothing less than the origins of life in the universe, picked up nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography, and it is a stunning looking film on Blu-ray, which also features the supplements (there are none on the DVD). Also On Demand.
By sheer numbers, the 84th Annual Academy Award Nominations seems to belong to Hugo, with 11 nominations. But given those are largely in the technical / craft categories, the success story this year is The Artist, a modern silent movie, shot in black and white, with two French stars practically unknown in the United States. With ten nominations, it should be the surprise off the season, except for the fact that this is simply the last lap in its run as the unlikeliest picture to win the hearts of awards season voters.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences moved the nominations announcements to January a couple of years ago, effectively shortening the “awards season,” but the unintended consequences have been to push the rest of the pretenders to Oscar glory into a free for all, everyone trying to predict or influence or simply contrast eventual Academy Award nominees. As a result, there are few real surprises by the time the Oscars are announced. It’s the final party in an absurdly overcrowded season of awards proms and I’m about partied out.
Plus there’s that new Academy sliding scale of Best Picture nominees. Bumped up from five to ten spots last year (not out of altruism but because indie pictures kept knocking the big audience-pleasing Hollywood movies out of contention), the number is now determined by the number of “You like me, you really, really like me!” number one votes a film received on the Academy ballots. This year, it resulted in nine nominations: an odd number for an odd year.
And yet… it’s the Oscars. They still matter. A nomination is indeed an honor (certainly more of an honor than the Golden Globes) and a snub is still something to get worked up over. And so here is out annual scorecard on Oscar’s slights and oversights: they shoulda been a contender.
There are nine nominees this year, but is more really better when Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Hollywood’s inevitable and inadequate 9/11 drama) and The Help (this year’s answer to The Blind Side?) and War Horse (Spielberg sentiment run amok) fill out those extra slots? This year swings so far in the other direction of Big Films with Important Messages Hammered Home with Insistent Direction that the indie films that spurred the expansion are all but ignored.
Two of the most glaring slights: Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt’s lost-in-the-desert frontier drama (did it play too early in 2011 for voters to remember its understated virtues?), and Take Shelter, a psychological drama about mental illness and end-of-the-world fears wrapped up in contemporary anxieties of economic survival.