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2017 Oscar Nominations: Five Things to Know About 89th Academy Awards Contenders

Film buffs and Hollywood watchers are buzzing because the long-awaited 2017 Oscar nominations are finally out. Here's what you need to know.
Image: Mahershala Ali and Alex R. Hibbert in \"Moonlight\"
Mahershala Ali and Alex R. Hibbert in "Moonlight."IMDb

Movie buffs and Hollywood industry watchers are buzzing because the long awaited 2017 Oscar nominations are finally out. Here are the five biggest takeaways from Tuesday's announcement of who is vying for the industry's highest honors...

"La La Land" looks unstoppable

The modern homage to classic musicals is already a hit with audiences and critics, and it appears — based on its record tying 14 Oscar nominations — that the ebullient, feel-good film has also won over the very Hollywood community it gently satirizes. For a little perspective, the only two films in the 89-year history of the Oscars to match its total — "Titanic" and "All About Eve" — both went on to win Best Picture.

Related: The Nominees for the 89th Academy Awards Are…

Following its formidable performance at the Golden Globes, this film has all the momentum right now and, even though there is already an inevitable backlash against it, it's hard to see any other movie knocking it off its perch. It may not win in every category its nominated (Ryan Gosling has very strong competition in the Best Actor race, for instance) but it will likely be the biggest winner of the night.

Hollywood temporarily puts #OscarsSoWhite behind it

On the heels of what the African-American Film Critics Association has dubbed the "best year ever" for black film, a record seven performers of color were recognized in the top acting categories this year, a sea change from 2015 and 2016, where no minorities were included.

Related: #OscarsSoBlack: ‘Moonlight’, ‘Fences’ and ‘Hidden Figures Get Nods

Not only were five black and brown actors and actresses featured in the Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress races — where they have historically enjoyed more success — but also Denzel Washington and newcomer Ruth Negga will be competing for Best Actor and Best Actress.

After a slew of unflattering headlines, boycotts and studies which showed just how much work Hollywood needs to do on issues of gender, race and sexuality, the film business appears to be starting to get the picture.

Snubs and surprises

Negga's appearance in the Best Actress race was a bit of a surprise since her film "Loving," which dramatizes the 1960s battle to legalize interracial marriage nationwide, had not been as big a player this awards season and had not become a crossover hit with audiences. Amy Adams, on the other hand, was left out of the Best Actress race for her more widely-seen "Arrival."

Related: Why ‘Loving’ Film’s Portrayal of Interracial Marriage is Relevant Today

Other surprising omissions include Hugh Grant for "Florence Foster Jenkins," Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae for "Hidden Figures," Annette Bening for "20th Century Women," Tom Hanks for "Sully," and legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese whose somewhat polarizing passion project "Silence" was left out of the Best Picture race.

Making a statement

Meryl Streep earned her 20th Oscar nomination for "Florence Foster Jenkins." While her inclusion may not be a shock, her powerful Golden Globes speech that drew the ire of Donald Trump could have put her over the top. Oscar voting was still open during that ceremony, and Streep's impassioned plea for empathy may have made a difference.

Meanwhile, Hollywood could be signalling some forgiveness for former A-lister Mel Gibson, who has been on the periphery of the industry after being exposed as having made several anti-Semitic and racist remarks. His harrowing war film "Hacksaw Ridge" earned Gibson his first Best Director nomination since his victorious "Braveheart" in 1996. It also scored five other nominations, including Best Actor for Andrew Garfield and Best Picture.

Finally, the well-deserved recognition for "Moonlight" could also be seen as politically-charged embrace of its subject matter, which includes a compassionate look at a young black man and LGBTQ culture.

"This movie was made with the passion of a lot of really dedicated people," the film's director, Barry Jenkins, also an Oscar nominee as of Tuesday, told NBC News. "People respect an attempt to speak to something that’s real, that’s vital. When people go to see this film .. they're coming out with a genuine experience."

"It was written three years ago," he added. "But I think it's arrived right on time."

An eye on the future

Among the many recognizable names among Tuesday's nominees, there are a lot of fresh faces that could reshape the movie-making landscape in coming years.

Significant efforts were made this year to diversify the Oscar voting pool and, while there is no way to quantify the impact of those reforms, first-time directing nominees Jenkins, Denis Villeneuve, Damien Chazelle and Kenneth Lonergan pushed out regulars such as Clint Eastwood to stake out a place for themselves on Hollywood's A-list.

"It feel great," said Jenkins. "I think film is a relatively young medium so it's lovely to see so many new faces and voices in that category."

The Best Picture race is one of the most eclectic in years — one of the goals when the academy expanded the list of potential nominees from five to as many as 10 in 2009. A sci-fi film is up against intimate family dramas, period films, a war movie and a full-blown musical.

And while this year has its fair share of locks — Viola Davis winning an Oscar for "Fences" is starting to look like a forgone conclusion — there are going to be some tight races and potential upsets worth tuning in for when the ceremony airs Feb. 26th. And if none of that interests you, there will be Trump jokes galore.