Clayton Davis | Variety
The celebration of Black cinema should be year-round and the focus on embracing Black creatives in the awards community is ongoing.
While the Oscars often receive the brunt of criticism for their lack of diversity among its nominees, they are typically used as a scapegoat for the real issue, which is not enough Black projects and filmmakers getting the green light to tell stories. Hence, the members do not have an abundance of choices to select from in any given year.
There are too few in the bucket of hundreds of films released theatrically every year. Even if Black people make up 13% of the population (a statistic that some throw out about why there aren’t many stories) that benchmark isn’t met in television and movies.
When assessing the phrase “snubs,” which is a term that is admittedly overused when nominations are announced, it has become the universal word for general consumers to understand that there are some films and performances that many felt should have landed in a particular field of nominees, but didn’t.
Variety lists 25 notable omissions from Black creatives across all categories in the last decade. Not to be confused with “the only omissions,” with many others warranting discussion, many of these typically land on a list like this with hindsight or simply because not enough people saw the movie upon release (or sadly, even now). However, when it comes to artisans — the behind-the-scenes industry that consumers aren’t often privy to the working-class status and too often unsung contributions of — we’ll always use this opportunity for readers to learn their names and crafts.
There are also outstanding achievements from this past year featured on the annual “If I Had an Oscar Ballot…” piece.
Check out the list of films and performances released after Jan. 1, 2011, below, along with notable clips from the respective entries.
Honorable mentions: Daniel Kaluuya (“Widows”), Cynthia Erivo (“Bad Times at the El Royale”), Paul Tazewell (“Harriet”), Ruth E. Carter (“Dolemite Is My Name”), The Coup (“Sorry to Bother You”), Kathryn Bostic (“Clemency”).
Director: F. Gary Gray
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Written by: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leight Savidge, Alan Wenkus
Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr, Aldis Hodge, Paul Giamatti
Nominees in the category during the respective year: Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”), Alejandro G. Iñárritu (“The Revenant”), Adam McKay (“The Big Short”), Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”), George Miller (“Mad Max: Fury Road”)
The scene that proves it: “Creating F*** Tha Police.”
Before helming his magnus opus “Straight Outta Compton,” a riveting look at the rise and fall of legendary rap group N.W.A., F. Gary Gray was known for his comedies (“Friday”) and music videos.
The music biopic was one of 2015’s most enthralling films, worthy of Oscar nominations across the board, including best picture, lead actor (Jason Mitchell, despite being campaigned supporting), cinematography, editing, sound and most deserving best director. Unfortunately, it was only able to make headway in best original screenplay.
Director: Regina King
Distributed by: Amazon Studios
Directed by: Regina King
Written by: Kemp Powers (based on the play “One Night in Miami” by Powers)
Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr
Nominees in the category during the respective year: Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”), Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”), David Fincher (“Mank”), Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”), Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”)
The scene that proves it: “Jim Brown and Malcolm X discuss colorism.”
After winning an acting Oscar for Barry Jenkins’ underappreciated masterpiece “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018), Regina King stepped behind the camera with assured confidence with a powerful look at an evening between four prominent Black figures. The drama landed three Academy Award noms, in supporting actor (Odom Jr), adapted screenplay and original song. However, King missed out on one of the five coveted places in a category that has not recognized a Black woman director (yet).
Lead Actor: Abraham Attah
Distributed by: Netflix
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Written by: Cary Joji Fukunaga (based on the novel “Beasts of No Nation” by Uzodinma Iweala)
Starring: Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Kurt Egyiawan, Jude Akuwudike, Emmanuel “King King” Nii, Adom Quaye
Nominees in the category during the respective year: Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”), Matt Damon (“The Martian”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”), Michael Fassbender (“Steve Jobs”), Eddie Redmayne (“The Danish Girl”)
The scene that proves it: “I saw terrible things… and I did terrible things.”
Child performances are too often overlooked and underappreciated. As the excellent Saniyya Sidney, who played Venus Williams in the Oscar-nominated “King Richard,” she said, “when someone diminishes or discounts performances because someone is a ‘child’ they do not understand how difficult acting is regardless of age.”
That sums up any logical reasoning why Abraham Attah’s heartbreaking turn in “Beasts of No Nation” was not at the top of the Oscar-snubbed lists in 2015. While his co-star Idris Elba was worthy of acclaim, becoming the first actor to win a SAG Award when not nominated for an Oscar, the promise of Attah is vivid, and Hollywood should give him more roles, stat.
Lead Actor: David Oyelowo
Film: “Selma” (2014)
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
Written by: Paul Webb
Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi, Alessandro Nivola, Cuba Gooding Jr, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey
Nominees in the category during the respective year: Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”), Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”), Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”)
The scene that proves it: “Give us the vote.”
One of the Academy’s most glaring omissions wasn’t just the overall ignorance of Ava DuVernay’s brilliant take on the 1965 voting rights march in Selma, Alabama but the utter gall to not recognize David Oyelowo’s masterful turn as civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
With all due respect to other nominees, Oyelowo should have a statuette in his home for this one.
Lead Actress: Emayatzy Corinealdi
Distributed by: AFFRM, Participant Media
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
Written by: Ava DuVernay
Starring: Emayatzy Corinealdi, Omari Hardwick, Edwina Findley, Sharon Lawrence, Lorraine Toussaint, David Oyelowo
Nominees in the category during the respective year: Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”), Emmanuelle Riva (“Amour”), Quvenzhané Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”), Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”)
The scene that proves it: “How is this supposed to work when you’re two hours away, both ways?”
Before “Selma” and ARRAY, Ava DuVernay blazed onto the scene with the emotionally stirring “Middle of Nowhere,” which boasts an incredible breakthrough performance from Emayatzy Corinealdi as the nurse Ruby, who spends most of her time visiting her husband in prison. With the help of a beautiful ensemble of actors, the film is too underseen in the echo chamber for one of the best performances of the last decade. If you haven’t seen it, please give it a watch.
Lead Actress: Adepero Oduye
Film: “Pariah” (2011)
Distributed by: Focus Features
Directed by: Dee Rees
Written by: Dee Rees
Starring: Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, Aasha Davis
Nominees in the category during the respective year: Glenn Close (“Albert Nobbs”), Viola Davis (“The Help”), Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”), Michelle Williams (“My Week with Marilyn”)
The scene that proves it: “Want to spend the night?”
In the year that Viola Davis famously lost one of her first lead actress bids to an actress taking home her third statuette, a tiny film from writer and director Dee Rees that tells the story of a 17-year-old coming to terms with her sexuality introduced the world to the brilliance of Adepero Oduye. Under another example of a masterful framework from Bradford Young, Oduye conveys the struggle of a teenager trying to find out who she is.
Supporting Actor: Dwight Henry
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures (now Searchlight Pictures)
Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
Written by: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin (based on “Juicy and Delicious” by Lucy Alibar)
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry
Nominees in the category during the respective year: Alan Arkin (“Argo”), Robert DeNiro (“Silver Linings Playbook”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“The Master”), Tommy Lee Jones (“Lincoln”), Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained”)
The scene that proves it: “Who da man?”
In an awards year that resulted with all five supporting actor nominees being former Oscar-winners, it’s a travesty that Dwight Henry couldn’t find traction for a nomination as Wink. Striking a delicate balance between fantasy and the harsh truth about life, Henry soars in every frame and, in many ways, is the clear standout of the picture.
Supporting Actor: Michael B. Jordan
Film: “Black Panther” (2018)
Distributed by: Marvel Studios
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis
Nominees in the category during the respective year: Mahershala Ali (“Green Book”), Adam Driver (“BlacKkKlansman”), Sam Elliott (“A Star is Born”), Richard E. Grant (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”), Sam Rockwell (“Vice”)
The scene that proves it: “It’s beautiful.”
Despite being the first superhero movie nominated for best picture, it missed a critical mention of the MCU’s most complex villain, Killmonger, portrayed by Michael B. Jordan. By my measure, two snubs are under Jordan’s belt, starting with “Fruitvale Station” (2013) and as the ex-black ops U.S Navy SEAL who challenges T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman) for the throne of Wakanda. Jordan seemed to be bubbling for a nom during the respective season, but groups opted for other selections.
Supporting Actress: Tiffany Haddish
Film: “Girls Trip” (2017)
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee
Written by: Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver
Starring: Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Larenz Tate, Mike Colter, Kate Walsh, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah
Nominees in the category during the respective year: Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”), Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”), Lesley Manville (“Phantom Thread”), Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”), Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”)
The scene that proves it: “Take your driver’s license so you can get on the plane with your nasty ass, dirty ass, nasty ass husband that fuck Instagram bitches.”
Comedies are rarely valued as art, both by film critics and industry voters. Once in a while, you see a few breakthroughs like Marisa Tomei (“My Cousin Vinny”) and Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids”). When the comic revelation Tiffany Haddish won the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle prize and was nominated by the Critics Choice, we thought we might see her hysterical turn sneak into the fray. However, it wasn’t meant to be.
Supporting Actress: Taylor Russell
Film: “Waves” (2019)
Distributed by: A24
Directed by: Trey Edward Shults
Written by: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K. Brown
Nominees in the category during the respective year: Kathy Bates (“Richard Jewell”), Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”), Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”), Florence Pugh (“Little Women”), Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”)
The scene that proves it: “He’s a monster for doing that to her.”
Broken into two halves, the unforgettable “Waves” boasts a triage of soulful performances, but it’s Taylor Russell’s star-making turn as Emily, a teenager trying to pick up the pieces of her life after her brother Tyler (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) commits a horrible act. Steering the second half in a wave of emotions, Russell finds the balance of grief, anger and burying the hurt. It’s in Emily’s conversation with her father Ronald (played by another nomination-worthy Sterling K. Brown) that solidifies her place as one of our most gifted actresses, who should have a statuette for what she achieved.
Original Screenplay: Maggie Betts
Film: “Novitiate” (2017)
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Directed by: Maggie Betts
Written by: Maggie Betts
Starring: Margaret Qualley, Julianne Nicholson, Dianna Agron, Morgan Saylor, Maddie Hasson, Liana Liberato, Melissa Leo
Nominees in the category during the respective year: “The Big Sick” (Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon), “Get Out” (Jordan Peele), “Lady Bird” (Greta Gerwig), “The Shape of Water” (Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor), “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Martin McDonagh)
The scene that proves it: “Are you questioning my judgment again?”
Writer and director Maggie Betts’ look at a convent with young postulants under the regime of strict leaders and punishments is relentless but incredibly rewarding. An outstanding cast of some of the best working women in acting, Betts offers compelling questions about religion and feminism, and how they navigate a world in blind faith.
Adapted Screenplay: Julius Onah
Film: “Luce” (2019)
Nominees in the category during the respective year: “The Irishman” (Steven Zaillian), “Jojo Rabbit” (Taika Waititi), “Joker” (Todd Phillips, Scott Silver), “Little Women” (Greta Gerwig), “The Two Popes” (Anthony McCarten)
The scene that proves it: “Your son scares me.”
After debuting at the Sundance Film Festival, co-distributors Neon and Topic Studios saw the promise of Nigerian-born filmmaker Julius Onah as a director, producer and screenwriter. Teaming up with co-writer J.C. Lee, who adapts his play that the film is based upon, the thriller takes a terrifying look into the darkness that lies within. With two awards-worthy performances from Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Octavia Spencer, Onah’s explorations of character and themes is one of the best by a debut artist.
Animated Feature: Peter Ramsey
Film: “Rise of the Guardians” (2012)
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks Animation
Directed by: Peter Ramsey
Written by: David Lindsay-Abaire (based on “The Guardians of Childhood” and “The Man in the Moon” by William Joyce)
Starring: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law
Nominees in the category during the respective year: “Brave” (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman), “Frankenweenie” (Tim Burton), “ParaNorman” (Sam Fell, Chris Butler), “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” (Peter Lord), “Wreck-It Ralph” (Rich Moore)
The scene that proves it: “Battling the Boogeyman”
Before he became an Oscar-winner for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which he shared with Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the talented Peter Ramsey already had a snub under his belt for not making the cut for the highly entertaining “Rise of the Guardians.” His inclusion on the list is two-fold, also bringing to light the lack of diversity in the animation medium in the U.S. Add another item to Hollywood’s list of things to change.
Production Design: Wynn Thomas
Film: “Hidden Figures” (2016)
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios)
Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Written by: Alison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer. Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell
Nominees in the category during the respective year:
The scene that proves it: “You are the boss.”
An absolute legend, production designer Wynn Thomas has been behind some of the most illustrious backdrops of cinema for more than four decades. With films under his belt such as “Do the Right Thing” (1989), “A Bronx Tale” (1993), “A Beautiful Mind” (2001), “Da 5 Bloods” (2020) and most recently “King Richard,” the fact of his nomination-less resume is almost criminal. However, in the last decade, his most worthy inclusion stands in his recreation of the 1960s, where African-American female mathematicians working at NASA were breaking barriers in the field, leading to America’s success in the Space Race.
Cinematography: Bradford Young
Distributed by: A24
Directed by: J.C. Chandor
Written by: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Albert Brooks, Elyes Gabel
Nominees in the category during the respective year: “Birdman” (Emmanuel Lubezki), “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Robert Yeoman), “Ida” (Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski), “Mr. Turner” (Dick Pope), “Unbroken” (Roger Deakins)
The scene that proves it: “This was very disrespectful.”
With the lighting, framing, and God-given gift to capture emotion, Bradford Young is one of the most exciting and skilled cinematographers in the game today, and that’s with only 18 feature film credits. With one nomination thus far for “Arrival” (2016), this list could easily have included half a dozen others from Young, including “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (2013), “Selma” (2014) and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (2018), which is the last time he’s shot a feature film (how is that possible?).
But I landed on what I consider his best work yet on J.C. Chandor’s period crime drama, the best has yet to come for young DP. Don’t ever stop.
Costume Design: Charlese Antoinette Jones
Distributed by: Warner Bros
Directed by: Shaka King
Written by: Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenneth Lucas, Keith Lucas
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith, Dominique Thorne, Martin Sheen
Nominees in the category during the respective year: “Emma.” (Alexandra Byrne), “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Ann Roth), “Mank” (Trish Summerville), “Mulan” (Bina Daigeler), “Pinocchio” (Massimo Cantini Parrini)
The scene that proves it: “War is politics.”
In a film that navigates 1960s Chicago and the events that led to the murder of Fred Hampton, people can relish in the recreations of the Black Panther soldier attire, which is undoubtedly impressive. However, what Charlese Antoinette Jones achieves in moments outside of marches and speeches, is capturing the flavor and zeal of Black styles that pop on the screen, also thanks to cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s lighting of scenes.
Film Editing: Joi McMillon
Distributed by: A24
Directed by: Barry Jenkins
Written by: Barry Jenkins (based on “If Beale Street Could Talk” by James Baldwin)
Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Regina King
Nominees in the category during the respective year: “BlacKkKlansman” (Barry Alexander Brown), “Bohemian Rhapsody” (John Ottman), “The Favourite” (Yorgos Mavropsaridis), “Green Book” (Patrick J. Don Vito), “Vice” (Hank Corwin)
The scene that proves it: “Opening scene”
I’ve made it no secret that Barry Jenkins’ divine “If Beale Street Could Talk” stands as my favorite film of the 2010s, and yes, that means I find it more impactful than every movie that can be thrown out with a “better than…?”
Jenkins’ “Dream Team” of artisans that he’s worked with on features like “Moonlight” and the limited series “The Underground Railroad” has included cinematographer James Laxton, composer Nicholas Britell and editors Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders. A depth of talent, and we should be so lucky they continue to work together. McMillon, who is the first Black woman to be nominated for editing, has been praised by her colleagues. At the Celebration of Black Cinema, when she presented Jenkins with the director award for television, Jenkins had purposely chosen her to present it because he wanted everyone “to see her and get to know her.”
We see her. Everyone else should know as well.
Film: “Bad Hair” (2020)
Distributed by: Hulu/Neon
Directed by: Justin Simien
Written by: Justin Simien
Starring: Elle Lorraine, Jay Pharoah, Lena Waithe, Kelly Rowland, Laverne Cox. Chanté Adams, James Van Der Beek, Usher Raymond IV, Blair Underwood, Vanessa Williams
Nominees in the category during the respective year: “Emma.” (Marese Langan, Laura Allen, Claudia Stolze), “Hillbilly Elegy” (Eryn Krueger Mekash, Matthew W. Mungle, Patricia Dehaney), “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal, Jamika Wilson), “Mank” (Gigi Williams, Kimberley Spiteri, Colleen LaBaff), “Pinocchio” (Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli, Francesco Pegoretti)
The scene that proves it: “You’re not the first to faint.”
A pandemic and genre bias prevented any traction for Kellie Robinson and Nikki Wright’s work on Justin Simien’s “Bad Hair” to find awards traction. In a year that delivered the first Black winners for hair and makeup with Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, there should have been another pair of worthy candidates who delivered excellent work.
Sound: Greg Hedgepath
Film: “Frozen” (2013)
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures
Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Written by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Shane Morris
Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana
Nominees in the category during the respective year: In sound mixing: “Captain Phillips” (Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munro), “Gravity” (Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro), “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson), “Inside Llewyn Davis” (Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland), “Lone Survivor” (Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, David Brownlow). In sound editing: “All is Lost” (Steve Boeddeker, Richard Hymns), “Captain Phillips” (Oliver Tarney), “Gravity” (Glenn Fremantle), “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Brent Burge, Chris Ward), “Lone Survivor” (Wylie Stateman)
The scene that proves it: “I said enough…”
The achievements in sound design at the Oscars have had different iterations throughout history. In its second year of being merged, we’re navigating a new world where Academy voters accept all the merits of mixing and sound creations in the movies. In 2013, the billion-dollar haul of “Frozen” was a no-brainer for animated feature and original song. Still, in a category that is always friendly to musicals, the songs and compositions did not tickle their fancy. Such recognition would have given Greg Hedgepath, who would have been the third Black man to receive a nomination in sound. Willie D. Burton and Russell Williams II are the only ones to be recognized with multiple wins. Burton is the last person to be nominated (and win) for “Dreamgirls” (2006).
Visual Effects: Stuart Lashley
Film: “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017)
Distributed by: Marvel Studios
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher L. Yost (based on “Thor” by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins
Nominees in the category during the respective year: “Blade Runner 2049” (John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert and Richard R. Hoover), “Guardians of the Galaxy” (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner and Dan Sudick), “Kong: Skull Island” (Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza and Mike Meinardus), “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould), “War for the Planet of the Apes” (Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon and Joel Whist)
The scene that proves it: “God of Thunder awakens”
There is such a shortage of Black artisans in the visual effects space, especially in supervisory and leadership positions that it’s alarming that we’re not discussing this daily. Stuart Lashley has had a hand in a few big-budget efforts like “Baby Driver” (2017) and “Black Panther” (2018) as a visual effects supervisor. The most perplexing omission came with the lavish “Thor: Ragnarok.” From an exhibition match between Thor and Hulk to a final battle sequence that goes down as one of the MCU’s best, Lashley is overdue for love. Let’s see if he can do it again with the upcoming DCEU sequel “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.”
Original Score: Michael Abels
Film: “Us” (2019)
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Directed by: Jordan Peele
Written by: Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker
Nominees in the category during the respective year: “1917” (Thomas Newman”), “Joker” (Hildur Guðnadóttir), “Little Women” (Alexandre Desplat), “Marriage Story” (Randy Newman), “Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker” (John Williams)
The scene that proves it: “Opening credit scene (Anthem)”
Michael Abels has created magic with Jordan Peele on both of his outstanding features thus far, “Get Out” (2017), which should have been nominated for original score, and the haunting notes on “Us” (2019), which should have been an across-the-board contender. His “Anthem” is pronounced throughout the movie’s orchestration and narrative reveals, building tension and suspense brilliantly.
Original Score: Tamar-kali
Film: “Mudbound” (2017)
Distributed by: Netflix
Directed by: Dee Rees
Written by: Dee Rees, Virgil Williams
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks
Nominees in the category during the respective year: “Dunkirk” (Hans Zimmer), “Phantom Thread” (Jonny Greenwood), “The Shape of Water” (Alexandre Desplat), “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi” (John Williams), “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Carter Burwell)
The scene that proves it: “Mudbound Theme”
Tamar-kali has quietly but profoundly has been providing magnificent orchestration for the past few years. The Brooklyn native has delivered in films like “The Assistant” and “Shirley,” both released in 2020, but it’s her debut composition on “Mudbound” that really shows off her talents. Knowing when to swell and pull back in a scene, she never allows her music to be overbearing or takeover, rather, only adding value and sophistication.
Documentary Feature: Dawn Porter
Nominees in the category during the respective year: “Collective” (Alexander Nanau, Bianca Oana), “Crip Camp” (Nicole Newnham, James Lebrecht, Sara Bolder), “The Mole Agent” (Maite Alberdi, Marcela Santibáñez), “My Octopus Teacher” (Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed, Craig Foster), “Time” (Garrett Bradley, Lauren Domino, Kellen Quinn)
The scene that proves it: “Talking about Sandy Hook.”
Reflecting on the presidency of Barack Obama as the United States entered the tail-end of Trump’s provided a cathartic and eye-opening experience to the underappreciation of what we had for eight years. Hearing it through the words and photos of Pete Souza, documentarian Dawn Porter captures life and hope for all of us, as she’s shown countless other times with films like “John Lewis: Good Trouble” (2020) and “Gideon’s Army” (2013).
Distributed by: Netflix
Directed by: Jeymes Samuel
Written by: Jeymes Samuel, Boaz Yakin
Starring: Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, Deon Cole
Nominees in the category during the respective year: “Belfast,” “CODA,” “Don’t Look Up,” “Drive My Car,” “Dune,” “King Richard,” “Licorice Pizza,” “Nightmare Alley,” “The Power of the Dog” and “West Side Story”
The scene that proves it: “Cherokee Bill introduces himself on the train.”
Black producers Shawn Carter (better known as Jay-Z), James Lassiter and writer, director, producer and composer Jeymes Samuel, along with three-time best picture nominee Lawrence Bender (“Pulp Fiction,” “Good Will Hunting” and “Inglourious Basterds”) united to bring one of the coolest flicks of last year.
Despite its stylistically rich delivery, the film failed to crack any of the categories, most egregiously the original music and songs. The western genre is a beloved fixture of cinema and Samuels’ movie stands proudly within its walls now.
Best Picture: Ava DuVernay
Film: “13th” (2016)
Nominees in the category during the respective year: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land,” “Lion,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight” (winner)
The scene that proves it: “Trump”
When the Academy expanded the best picture lineup from five to 10, the organization spoke about a documentary having a chance to be included in the Oscars’ top category. However, we’re still waiting for that moment, despite animated and international features making headway in that space. Ava DuVernay’s sobering look into the genesis and the still-thriving issue of mass incarceration would have made a worthy entry into an already impressive field.