By Matt Neglia Every year I always seem to hear that it’s the year of women at the Oscars. However, I never really believed it as good women roles continued to be hard to come by and female-driven films did not get all of the Oscar consideration they deserved. Most notably, two years ago Ava DuVernay missed out on a Best Director nomination for “Selma” and Gillian Flynn was snubbed for adapting her own work in “Gone Girl.” However, this seems to be the year where the women are truly at the forefront of some of the best films of the year. Take a good hard look at the Best Picture winners over the past 12 years. Not since “Million Dollar Baby” has a Best Picture winner had a female performance also be honored in Best Actress. “12 Years A Slave” had a Best Supporting Actress win tied to it with Lupita Nyongo winning but that film was centered around Solomon’s story, not Patsy’s. Women may be featured in the ensemble of a Best Picture winner such as “Spotlight” but the Academy still tends to favor the male’s perspective of the story that is being told.
So where does all of that leave us for the 2017 Oscars? “La La Land” is definitely the frontrunner for Best Picture at this time with Emma Stone now taking the lead in Best Actress after Viola Davis dropped down to supporting for “Fences.” While I don’t believe “20th Century Women,” “Jackie,” “Arrival,” “Miss Sloane,” or even a foreign film such as “Elle” can win Best Picture at this time, they all have one thing in common: Their sole representations in the acting categories are for women and not their male co-stars. “Jackie” may have the weakest claim to this as some are predicting Peter Sarsgaard to possibly show up in Best Supporting Actor, but I personally don’t feel that is going to happen. These are all strongly led female-driven films where the male co-stars are not overshadowing the women within the context of their respective stories. The only exception that comes to mind at this time is “Loving” which is a true two-hander between Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga. All of the other mentioned films have their focus squarely on their female leads and as a result, it has produced the most competitive Best Actress lineup in years.
The fight to get the coveted 5 slots in Best Supporting Actress is equally as strong as Best Actress. In years past, I have struggled to come up with 5-6 names for this category where this year, I don’t know who to leave off. It’s a welcome change of pace within an industry that heavily favors male-centric stories and is finally shifting their focus towards crafting more complex roles for women. With Viola Davis moving to Best Supporting Actress, we can assume that category is all sewn up for the 51-year-old 2 time Academy Award nominee who historically won an Emmy Award for Best Actress last year, becoming the first African American women to ever do so. She won’t be setting a new record in the Best Actress category like Halle Berry did in 2001 becoming only the second African-American to win the award in over 80 years of Academy history, but it is always possible that the Academy can always nominate her in Best Actress anyway (See 2008 for Kate Winslet’s campaign and ultimate placement for “The Reader).
But let’s assume Davis goes supporting, it still will not diminish the work that is being done in that category by the other women involved. Michelle Williams makes the most of her limited screentime to deliver a gut-wrenching performance in “Manchester By The Sea.” Naomie Harris takes the Mo’Nique route from “Precious” and presents a deeply troubled mother in “Moonlight.” Greta Gerwig continues to win moviegoer’s hearts with her excellent work in “20th Century Women.” And other films that I have yet to see such as “A Monster Calls,” “Lion” and “Hidden Figures” all feature supposed terrific performances from Felicity Jones, Nicole Kidman, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae.
Both categories feature an abundance of riches in terms of roles and performances making for two of the best races of this year’s awards season. Whether you want to believe both categories are already signed sealed and delivered by their presumed frontrunners should not change the fact that women roles this year have been nothing but extraordinary. I’m still struggling to come up with 10 names in both the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories this year where in year’s past that would be so easy for me and the opposite would be true of the female categories. When you factor in how many of these female-driven films also stand a chance to be Best Picture nominees, it is such a welcome change of pace in year’s past. Some may want to draw parallels to this being an election year where we could end up with potentially the first women President in the country’s history. I don’t believe in coincidences such as that, but it does not make it any less fascinating. Either way, it seems there is finally a shift starting to happen within the Academy over this past couple of years. With the rise of social media and the outcry from audiences and bloggers reaching the membership’s ears, we are finally starting to see more diverse films get recognized, more genre films being recognized and the industry finally starting to wake up to the fact that women can carry a film just as well, if not better than a man can. What a time to be following the Oscars! What a time indeed. You can follow Matt and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @NextBestPicture