Best Director category, for one, gets it right this year
I've had a love-hate relationship with the Academy Awards for decades. I love that they heap some attention on some films that deserve it. I hate how few risks they take in honoring films that could use the boost.
If this year's nominations didn't have many shocks, they also didn't have the sort of missteps for which this still mostly male, mostly white body of voters is known.
So in a time of #MeToo social change that's shaken Hollywood in particular, is the Academy actually … learning??
Granted we're going from 2015's #OscarsSoWhite to #OscarsStillPlentyWhite, but the one category I was watching most closely really got it right: Best Director.
The Golden Globe nominations in the category — magnificently called out by presenter Natalie Portman for their all-maleness — were thankfully not a harbinger for the Oscars. In fact, two elder, white, old-Hollywood guys (Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott) were among the snubs.
They were replaced by the directors of two of the most deserving breakout movies of the year, one a woman, one an African-American. It's incremental, but it's progress.
“Get Out” seemed like a shoo-in for the larger Best Picture category after Best Director-nominee Jordan Peele pulled off the seemingly impossible: He turned an incredibly sharp and layered analogy for race in America into a wildly and subversively entertaining crowd-pleaser.
One could see “Get Out” and not get what it was really about — and still love it. It's those repeat viewings that brought it into focus, and no one is more responsible for that than Peele.
Then we have Greta Gerwig's smart, thoughtful coming-of-age story, “Lady Bird,” which somehow seemed radical because it was a young woman coming of age.
Again, there's more at work here than just Saoirse Ronan's magnificent lead performance. The tone, the beats and the feel of this movie were so personal and yet so universal. Gerwig made something honest — and something with two of the strongest characters of the year in the mother-daughter combo at its core.
This takes on extra weight because this will be the first Oscars after #MeToo brought a lot of the ugliness with which Hollywood (and society at large) can operate to the forefront.
Harvey Weinstein, an Oscar staple, was ousted from the Academy. Casey Affleck declining to attend (he would have presented Best Actress as last year's Best Actor winner) diffused what would have been the most tone-deaf moment of the night.
And the biggest snub of the nominations would be James Franco, whose behavior, detailed in a Los Angeles Times story released just one day before the Academy's voting deadline, was almost a cliche of how men in Hollywood think of aspiring actresses.
So let's call this a step in the right direction for an industry that needs a lot more of them. You know how we could have more women and people of color nominated? Let them make more movies.