ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now let's talk about movies.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LA LA LAND")
RYAN GOSLING: (As Sebastian, singing) City of stars, are you shining just for me?
SHAPIRO: Academy Award nominations are out today, and the musical "La La Land" sang and danced its way to 14 Oscar nominations, tying a record. "La La Land" will compete for Best Picture with "Moonlight," an intimate drama about a gay black man growing up in Miami...
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MOONLIGHT")
MAHERSHALA ALI: (As Juan) Let me tell you something, Man. There are black people everywhere. Remember that, OK - no place you can go in the world ain't got no black people. We was the first on this planet.
SHAPIRO: ...Also the science fiction film "Arrival" in which a linguist introduces aliens to human beings...
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ARRIVAL")
AMY ADAMS: (As Louise Banks) Louise - I am Louise.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) What is that? Is that a new symbol? I can't tell.
SHAPIRO: ...Along with six other Best Picture nominees. And joining us to talk about the nominations are Linda Holmes of NPR's pop culture blog Monkey See and our film critic Bob Mondello. Hey you guys.
BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Good to be here.
LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: First, what are the other six best picture nominees?
MONDELLO: Well, let's see. There's "Fences," which is Denzel Washington's adaptation of the August Wilson play - Pulitzer Prize-winning play - "Hacksaw Ridge," which is a World War II story about a conscientious objector; "Hell Or High Water," which is essentially a Western, although it takes place in cop cars and things like that; "Hidden Figures," which is the story of three African-American women who were in - or actually a whole bunch of African-American women who were in NASA's space program - "Lion," which is a story about adoption in India to Australia and "Manchester By The Sea," the cheeriest movie of the whole bunch.
HOLMES: Bob's being sarcastic.
MONDELLO: I am being sarcastic. That is a really rough slog - but, oh, my God, what a movie.
SHAPIRO: So this time last year, we were talking about #OscarsSoWhite, and this year - not so white, Linda.
HOLMES: Yeah. I want to point out. We were not just talking about #OscarsSoWhite. We were talking about the fact that the Oscars were in fact...
SHAPIRO: Were so white.
HOLMES: ...So white.
MONDELLO: Two years running.
HOLMES: And I think that there is some progress, particularly in the acting categories here. You do have three black women nominated in best sporting actress. Ruth Negga was nominated in lead actress for "Loving." She's wonderful in that movie. That's the story of the Supreme Court case...
SHAPIRO: Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriage.
HOLMES: Interracial marriage - so I think there was some progress. Dev Patel is nominated for "Lion." You know, they're a bit less white, but you know, it's important in these kinds of things not to get too excited too quickly. Barry Jenkins from "Moonlight" is still only the fourth black director ever nominated in best director.
SHAPIRO: Beyond diversity, what stands out to you when you look at the entirety of these nominations, Bob?
MONDELLO: Well, what's intriguing to me is how these are not - especially the nominees for Best Picture are not big studio movies. These are movies that are essentially smaller pictures. The whole notion of doing ten nominees or as many as 10 - this year, there are nine - was to get more films into the mix. Well, we really got them into the mix this year because almost none of these are the big, splashy, big production movies that you'd expect.
SHAPIRO: Well, that's what strikes me - is that when I look at the list, they're all of these sort of, you know, socially conscious movies that make you feel like a better person when you leave, whether we're talking about "Hidden Figures" or "Moonlight."
And then there is the 800-pound gorilla of "La La Land," which is this splashy, vibrant, sunny musical that is not about social issues or making you feel (unintelligible).
MONDELLO: I'd like to point out that Ari was doing jazz hands when he was doing that.
HOLMES: It's true. It's true. I think that one theme for me in these nominations is you do see some more films here that have more moments of giving pleasure, which, for some people, that's not really what awards are about. They're about the art. But if you look at these films, it's not just "La La Land," which really takes pride I think in its ability to be aesthetically pleasing and in some places fun.
You also have films like "Hidden Figures," which in many places is a lot of fun despite having a lot to say. You have a film - even, like, you know, "Lion" has a lot of really upbeat, you know, kind of uplifting moments even though many parts of it are sad. I would say the same thing about "Arrival" - has some moments that are fun to watch even though it has a lot of sad themes. Now, you have your "Manchester By The Sea," which seriously is a...
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) One in every bunch.
HOLMES: ...Very sad movie.
MONDELLO: It's so sad - oh.
HOLMES: But it - but there are some years when the Oscar films just feel like a grind, like you're...
SHAPIRO: Like you're rewarding suffering.
HOLMES: Like you're just being asked to be sad and miserable all the time. And I don't get that feeling from these.
SHAPIRO: Linda, give me your I'm-so-glad-this-made-the-list and really-this-made-the-list.
HOLMES: Yeah. My I'm-so-glad-this-made-the-list would be "Hidden Figures," which is a terrific, terrific film that I loved...
SHAPIRO: For Best Picture.
HOLMES: ...For Best Picture. The one that I would take back - and it's kind of a technicality 'cause I love it.
HOLMES: But the documentary project "O.J.: Made In America" was nominated for outstanding documentary feature.
SHAPIRO: Was it a movie?
HOLMES: To me, that's a television project. It was mostly watched on television. It was produced in chapters with the intention of it being on television. Although it qualified under the rules, I would have left that space open for something like perhaps "Wiener," which is the movie about Anthony Weiner's run for mayor of New York City, which is a crazy and fascinating film perhaps now more than ever.
SHAPIRO: Bob, give me your yes and your really.
MONDELLO: Well, my really is Viggo Mortensen, who I - listen. I am crazy about Viggo Mortensen, but "Captain Fantastic" is a movie that I just can't imagine getting nominated in any category. So I just - I didn't get that. My oh-I'm-so-pleased was "The Lobster" for best original...
SHAPIRO: Oh, yeah.
MONDELLO: ...Screenplay. And I - it's mostly because if you gave an award for most original screenplay, that would have to be it - a film about a guy who is on the verge of turning into a lobster. I - it's wonderful.
SHAPIRO: NPR's film critic Bob Mondello and Linda Holmes of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, thanks to you both.
HOLMES: Thanks, Ari.
MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF LORD HURON SONG, "FOOL FOR LOVE")
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