Meryl Streep, Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman — aren’t there any new faces at the Oscars this year?
Actually, we’ll see plenty of first-time nominees in high-profile categories at Feb. 26’s Academy Awards ceremony. Maybe that’s because the Academy made a push last year to diversify its membership, or maybe it’s because there’s so much new talent coming up behind the heavy hitters who have long dominated the film industry. (There’s also at least one case of a cinematic legend receiving some overdue recognition.) Many of the major Oscars will surely go to familiar faces — Casey Affleck, Natalie Portman, Viola Davis — but this looks like a good year to root for the rookies.
Here’s the scoop on nine newly minted Oscar nominees for 2017:
If his first name trips you up, it’s actually the short version: He was born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore, and changed his last name to Ali when he converted to Islam. He’s had a number of small roles in movies — he played Katniss Everdeen’s bodyguard, Boggs, in the two “Mockingjay” movies — but it’s his role as the good-hearted drug-dealer Juan, in “Moonlight,” that earned him an Oscar nod for supporting actor. Ali could just as easily have been nominated for “Hidden Figures,” in which he plays a military man who falls for a NASA mathematician. Of all this year’s Oscar first-timers, Ali seems the most likely to walk away with the gold.
Talk about a comeback: After his breakout role in “The Social Network” (as Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin), Garfield donned the mantle of Spider-Man, one of the most popular superheroes of all time. Financially, his two “Amazing Spider-Man” movies performed well, but culturally they fell between the cracks of the still-beloved films that starred Tobey Maguire and the new spate of Marvel blockbusters. Garfield’s Spidey was unceremoniously shelved, but the actor returned last year in two high-profile roles: a Jesuit priest in Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” and a pacifist soldier in Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” which earned him a best-actor nomination.
As a black actress, Harris had a personal rule: “I’ve always said I would never play a crack addict.” Instead, she’s been a witch in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, Eve Moneypenny in the new James Bond franchise and Winnie Mandela in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” Then she read Barry Jenkins’ script for “Moonlight,” about a gay African-American kid whose mother spirals into drug use. Harris broke her vow, took the part and earned a nomination for supporting actress.
A Brooklyn Heights native, Hedges got his start as a child when he was cast in his father’s film “Dan in Real Life” (2007). He learned that nepotism doesn’t guarantee success — his line in the film was cut — but he kept working, taking small roles in such movies as Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” and Dix Hills-raised Michael Cuesta’s “Kill the Messenger.” Now, at the age of 20, Hedges is a supporting-actor nominee for his performance as a grieving teenager in “Manchester by the Sea.”
Why is this legendary actress of French cinema only now getting her first Oscar nod? It’s true that she hasn’t exactly courted Hollywood since beginning her acting career in the early 1970s. She chose Michael Ciminio’s notorious flop, “Heaven’s Gate,” for her American film debut but remains one of Europe’s most esteemed actresses. At 63, Huppert is now one of the few actresses to be nominated for a foreign-language film: Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle,” in which she plays a Frenchwoman seeking revenge against the man who attacked her. She won the Golden Globe for the role in January.
John Singleton for “Boyz N The Hood,” Lee Daniels for “Precious,” Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave” — the number of black Oscar nominees for best director has now reached four with the addition of Jenkins for “Moonlight.” His film about a gay African-American kid growing up in Miami — semi-autobiographical, though Jenkins is straight — has been praised as a masterpiece even though it’s only his second feature. Jenkins’ next project is a limited series based on Colson Whitehead’s novel “The Underground Railroad.”
In “Loving,” Negga turns in a beautiful performance as Mildred Loving, half of an interracial couple fighting Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws during the 1960s. Writer-director Jeff Nichols said he was stunned by Negga’s audition as a soft-spoken woman from the American South — especially when he realized she was actually Irish-Ethiopian. At 35, Negga has had a solid career in television (including ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and nearly appeared in 2013’s best-picture winner, “12 Years a Slave,” though her scenes were cut. She’s now a best-actress nominee.
Ever since his endearing turn as a Mumbai teenager in 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” Patel has been typecast as the friendly Eastern youth who yearns for Western-style success. He played that role in both “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and its sequel, then tweaked it slightly as a brilliant scientist in “The Man Who Knew Infinity.” Patel does something different in “Lion,” playing a young man who leaves his adopted Australian family to search for the Indian mother he lost as a child. The departure seemed to work, earning him a nod for best supporting actor.
This French Canadian director has somehow seduced American audiences with his distinctly European style in such movies as “Prisoners,” starring Hugh Jackman as the father of two abducted girls, and “Sicario,” a crime thriller about Mexico’s drug cartels. His gift for setting a mood and slowly building tension helped turn the sci-fi film “Arrival” into an unlikely hit that has earned more than $100 million and landed him a best-director nod. (“Arrival” is also nominated for best picture.) Villeneuve is the director of this year’s long-awaited sequel “Blade Runner 2049.”