Rich Heldenfels

We go into Oscar night with what appear to be sure things.

Leonardo DiCaprio is expected to finally win the best actor award, for The Revenant. While DiCaprio’s nomination is his fifth for acting, he may be joined in statuette-collecting by first-time nominee Brie Larson, a favorite to win best actress for her astounding performance in the Akron-set Room. Experts such as those on awards-analysis site Gold Derby see Sylvester Stallone as the overwhelming pick for best supporting actor in Creed.

The best picture category seems less certain; although many predictors are picking The Revenant, it should be no surprise if Spotlight or The Big Short broke through. I’d like to see the prize go to Room, emotionally the richest and most heart-rending of the nominees, while the journalist in me would cheer if Spotlight wins.

But even as we look at the Oscar nominees, the underlying question is: What’s missing?

In simple terms, a lot. There are about 40 movies nominated for Oscars out of more than 300 eligible films. Films that have drawn enormous audiences often get overlooked in favor of little-seen productions. Some films are just stinkers.

Yet the question of what’s missing can have a sharp focal point. This year it’s that people of color were shut out of the acting categories — all 20 spots — for the second year in a row.

It’s not as if the Oscar voters lacked worthwhile performances and films to consider. Find Beasts of No Nation, for one, and look at what young Abraham Attah does onscreen.

The Film Independent Spirit Awards (handed out the day before the Oscars) nominated him for best lead actor; those awards also had no trouble finding Koudous Seihon of Mediterranea, another lead acting nominee, as well as Idris Elba for best supporting actor, in Beasts of No Nation. Their best feature-film nominees include Beasts of No Nation and Tangerine, notable not only for starring two women of color, but two transgender women, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor.

Neither Beasts nor Tangerine received any Oscar nominations. When the Oscars embraced a movie with a trans character, it was the pompous The Danish Girl and the mannered performance by Eddie Redmayne.

We could also turn our gaze to Straight Outta Compton, with its 88 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and buzz leading into the Oscar nominations. It got just one nomination, for best original screenplay. Creed, though with an African-American title character, received its sole nomination for a white actor, Stallone.

No wonder, then, that Twitter has seen plenty of conversation via the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Some celebrities have said they will boycott the ceremony. Chris Rock, who is hosting the Oscars, reportedly tossed out all his monologue plans when the nominations were announced to make room for plenty of pointed commentary. And the motion picture academy, whose members choose the nominees and winners, took what it called “historic action to increase diversity” throughout the group.

At the same time, mainstream Hollywood’s long history of rarely interrupted, unbearable whiteness is also a reminder that the Oscars are arbitrary and often ignorant of what’s going on in the movie business.

It doesn’t even admit what’s happening in the movies it does nominate. Rooney Mara in Carol and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl are clearly leads, or at least co-leads in their films, and both were nominated as leads in the Golden Globes. But the Oscars have let them into the supporting-actress category.

I asked folks on Facebook to name movies they valued that the Oscars neglected this year, and the list was long. Kurtiss Hare, executive director of Akron’s Nightlight cinema, alone mentioned Clouds of Sils Maria (which he flatly called “too good for Oscars”), Crimson Peak, The Duke of Burgundy, Heaven Knows What, It Follows, Tangerine and Tom at the Farm.

Film expert and University of Akron associate professor Eric Wasserman pushed Suffragette, Experimenter and The End of the Tour. My filmgoing sister brought up I’ll See You in My Dreams (featured at the 2015 Cleveland International Film Festival) and Love and Mercy. Former Beacon Journalist Kevin Johnson, now with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, cited Beasts of No Nation.

Now, there is a variety of reasons why some films and actors don’t get Oscar nominations. They’re in a category with a lot of other good to great movies or performances. They’ve either been under-promoted or gone against a film and studio that lobbied more successfully. They’ve already won, and voters think it’s someone else’s turn.

Or maybe the film isn’t nearly as good as its admirers think it is. I’m nowhere near as admiring of Suffragette as Wasserman is — although I would have given its star, Carey Mulligan, serious consideration for an acting nomination.

Whatever the logic that went into this year’s choices, I still have places where I think, “Come on, Oscar!” I’m not saying that Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs or Bryan Cranston in Trumbo or Redmayne in The Danish Girl are bad (although, as noted, I didn’t care for Redmayne’s work). But I’d bump them all for Attah in Beasts of No Nation, Jason Segel in The End of the Tour and Michael Shannon in 99 Homes.

I’d also put The End of the Tour in the best-picture category, bumping Brooklyn or Mad Max: Fury Road if necessary to make room. I can’t imagine the academy really watched what Sarah Silverman did in just the first 10 minutes of I Smile Back. (Don’t Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence have enough Oscars already?)

A year from now, I’m sure I will have similar thoughts. Neglect is a constant in any selection process, including the Oscars. But there are different kinds of neglect: simple omission, which allows us to gripe, and institutional rejection, for instance of entire races. That should make us demand change.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal, Ohio.com, Facebook, Twitter and the HeldenFiles Online blog. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.