Acting is the part of movies that everyone thinks they understand. Frequently, we hear or read fellow film fans declaring: ‘Oh, the acting there was great’, ‘The acting there was rubbish’, ‘So and so is overrated’, ‘Why didn’t she get nominated?’ Strangely though, these judgements rarely provide detailed reasoning as to why certain performers or performances are or are not worthy of great accolades. In a similar vein, there was significant consternation when the Oscar nominees were announced, with notable omissions described as ‘snubs’, but little explanation as to why. Granted, Amy Adams was predicted to be a nominee either for Arrival or Nocturnal Animals (or even both), but for her to be left out simply indicates that when it came to voting for nominees, other performers garnered more than she did. In any case, I find it far more interesting to look at what is, rather than what might have been. Let us therefore cast our eyes over the nominated performers this year.
After the diversity controversy of the last two years, it is significant that of the twenty nominees across the four acting categories, seven are performers of colour. Granted this is only 35% of the total number, but nonetheless it is a definite improvement over previous years. Furthermore, some of the performers of colour are hotly tipped to win. Three of the nominees for Actress in a Supporting Role are black, including Naomie Harris for Moonlight, earning her first nomination, and Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, who previously won for The Help. Spencer’s co-star from The Help, Viola Davis, has already won the Golden Globe, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild awards in this category, as well as various critical associations, for her performance in Fences. She is therefore very likely to win the Oscar as well, making the most controversial aspect of her victories the fact that she is nominated in a Supporting Role. There is no other female role in Fences, so technically Davis is the Lead Actress (an argument that could also be made for Nicole Kidman in Lion). Her being put forward for the Supporting category is probably a tactical move by the studio, ensuring that Davis does not have to contend with the tougher competition in the Leading Actress category. If so, this tactic has paid off, and I predict that Davis will continue her winning ways.
Were Davis nominated in the Best Actress category, her main competition would be Emma Stone in La La Land, who like Davis has picked up the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and now looks like a dead cert to pick up the Oscar. This is Stone’s second nomination, after getting the nod for Best Supporting Actress in 2014 for Birdman. Her predicted victory is perhaps surprising, since three of the other nominees (Ruth Negga, Natalie Portman, Meryl Streep) play historical figures, which often attracts Academy votes. But perhaps the array of skills Stone displays in La La Land – singing, dancing and acting at acting – have won her this love from her peers, and come Oscar night I foresee Miss Stone will add to her awards collection.