2020 Oscars: 5 takeaways from this year’s crop of nominees

‘Joker’ isn’t done conquering the culture

Todd Phillips’ stark, gloomy take on Gotham City, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the DC Comics supervillain, stirred up sociopolitical debate like few Hollywood blockbusters in recent memory. The major critics were divided over the movie’s rough-edged violence and lurid depiction of mental illness, with some accusing Phillips of exploiting cultural anxieties around incels, short for so-called involuntary celibates, and mass shooters.

But film academy voters, perhaps in a bid to draw viewers who turned “Joker” into a global box-office phenomenon, lavished it with 11 nominations — more than any other movie in the field. The hand-wringing, hot takes and Twitter feuds that accompanied the release of “Joker” in October could make a reprisal ahead of the ceremony Feb. 9.

No female directing nominees — once again

Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”), Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) and Kasi Lemmons (“Harriet”) earned glowing reviews last fall for their thoughtful dramas. But all three filmmakers were shut out of the best director category as voters, following a familiar script, recognized five men: Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”), Sam Mendes (“1917”), Phillips (“Joker”), Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”) and Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”).

The film academy has nominated a woman for the directing honor only five times in its history (including Gerwig two years ago for her debut, “Lady Bird”), and only one — Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) — ultimately triumphed. Issa Rae, who co-hosted the nominations announcement event, alluded to gender inequity. “Congratulations to those men,” Rae pointedly said.

Rebecca Goldman, chief operating officer for the Time’s Up group, addressed the lack of female directing nominees in a statement: “This is why Time’s Up exists — to ensure women in entertainment and across industries get the opportunities and recognition they deserve.”

#OscarsSoWhite just barely averted

The lack of diversity in the four acting categories has roiled Oscar telecasts in recent years, fueling the #OscarsSoWhite social media hashtag and inspiring a wider cultural conversation around racial representation in Hollywood. Oscar voters avoided another year of all-white acting nominees, though far from decisively: Cynthia Erivo, who is British Nigerian, earned a nod for her acclaimed lead performance in the biopic “Harriet.” (She was also nominated for best original song.)

Jennifer Lopez, who drew some of the finest reviews of her career for her energetic turn in “Hustlers,” was among the notable snubs in the best supporting actress category — an omission some linked to the academy’s issues with diversity. The same could be said of the exclusion of “The Farewell” star Awkwafina as well as several movies anchored by people of color, including the Eddie Murphy vehicle “Dolemite Is My Name,” the criminal justice drama “Just Mercy” and Jordan Peele’s comedic horror flick “Us.”

‘Parasite’ rides a wave of buzz to make history

Bong Joon Ho’s gleefully genre-bending tale of class warfare and economic inequality scooped up a respectable six nominations, including best picture and best director — highlighting the popularity of the sleeper hit film. “Parasite,” which centers on a poor family that infiltrates the life of a bourgeois clan, also made history, becoming the first feature to be nominated in the international film category and only the 11th to notch a best picture nod.

In a best picture race that many pundits seem to think is evenly split among “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time” and “1917,” Bong’s celebrated satire could score an upset in the top category on the sheer strength of audience enthusiasm.

Netflix leads among studios, but …

The streaming giant racked up a robust 24 nominations, including best picture nods for “The Irishman” and Noah Baumbach’s divorce drama “Marriage Story.” But for the folks at Netflix, the Oscars could be a replay of the Golden Globes, where the company stormed into the night with a commanding 34 nominations across all categories but walked away with only two wins, for Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”) and Olivia Colman’s performance in “The Crown.”

The traditional studios that Netflix has worked hard to outmuscle — Sony (“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”), Universal (“1917”) and Warner Bros. (“Joker”) — might be hard to topple at this year’s ceremony.

Pensacola naval base shooting an ‘act of terrorism,’ Attorney General Barr says

The fatal attack on a naval base in Pensacola, Florida, last month by a Saudi national who was in the U.S. for military training was an act of terrorism motivated by jihadist beliefs, officials said.

Evidence showed that the gunman held anti-American and anti-Israeli views, which he posted on social media, including just hours before the Dec. 6 attack, Attorney General William Barr said Monday.

“This was an act of terrorism,” Barr said. “The evidence shows the shooter was influenced by jihadist ideology.”

The gunman was identified as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a member of the Saudi Air Force, after the attack left three service members dead. Investigators did not offer a motive. Alshamrani died after exchanging gunfire with sheriff’s deputies who responded to the shooting.

Eight Americans were injured in the attack, which lasted about 15 minutes.

Authorities said there was no evidence that Alshamrani acted with the assistance of other individuals or groups, though the government is working to unlock two Apple iPhones belonging to him.

“During the gunfight with the first responders, the shooter disengaged long enough to place one of his phones on the floor and shoot a single round into the device,” Barr said. “It also appears the other phone was damaged.”

The FBI’s crime lab has been able to reconstruct the phones, but faces serious encryption challenges in collecting evidence off the devices. Investigators have obtained a warrant to search the phones but Apple has “not given any substantive assistance” to the government in bypassing the phones’ security.

Barr would not comment on whether the government plans to take Apple to court to try to force the company’s cooperation.

In a statement, Apple said that it learned about the government’s inability to access either phone only a week ago. The company said it was subpoenaed for information from the second phone two days later — a request that it said it responded to “within hours.”

“We are continuing to work with the FBI, and our engineering teams recently had a call to provide additional technical assistance,” the statement said. “Apple has great respect for the Bureau’s work, and we will work tirelessly to help them investigate this tragic attack on our nation.”

The statement added that Apple had quickly complied with several earlier requests for access to iCloud backup material, account information and transactional data.

“The queries resulted in many gigabytes of information that we turned over to investigators,” the company said. “In every instance, we responded with all of the information that we had.”

Alshamrani was scheduled to complete a three-year U.S. Air Force Foreign Military Sales training program in August. The training, which includes English language coursework and aviation and pilot instruction, was funded by Saudi Arabia.

At least 21 other Saudi nationals who were in the country for military training were found to have possessed “derogatory material.” Investigators found that 17 of the nationals had jihadist or anti-American content and at least 15 of them had “some kind of contact with child pornography,” Barr said.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has unenrolled the 21 members from their programs and will be reviewing each case under the country’s own military and criminal codes, according to the attorney general.

“Further, the kingdom has assured us that if we later decide to charge any of those being sent back to Saudi Arabia in connection with this counterterrorism investigation, they will be returned for trial,” Barr said.

Barr added that the kingdom has cooperated with the investigation and assured the United States that it will be given access to any person or any documents needed in the case.

‘Bridgegate’ scandal comes to the Supreme Court. Did prosecutors overreach?

The saga known as Bridgegate created monumental traffic jams in 2013 on the George Washington Bridge — the nation’s busiest — and tarnished the image of New Jersey’s Republican governor at the time, Chris Christie. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will decide whether the two state officials behind the scandal should go to prison.

Their attorneys say that if the court upholds the convictions for lying about why they shut down two lanes on the bridge, “it would transform the judiciary into a Ministry of Truth for every public official in the nation.”

A federal jury convicted Bridget Anne Kelly, who was Christie’s deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, who was the deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge. The jury found that they shut down two of the three bridge lanes coming out of Fort Lee, New Jersey, to punish its mayor for refusing to endorse Christie’s re-election.

Prosecutors said the two committed fraud under federal law in lying about their reason for closing the bridge by claiming that they were conducting a traffic study, which allowed them to hijack Port Authority resources. “A public official commits fraud when he lies to divert agency resources that he could not otherwise control,” the Department of Justice said in its Supreme Court brief.

What makes the case controversial is that fraud cases typically accuse public officials of diverting public resources to line their own pockets, and there’s no such claim in this case. That doesn’t matter, prosecutors said, because the state’s property was misused, specifically payments to workers who would not otherwise be on duty and wages paid to salaried employees who were roped into the scheme.

But the defense attorneys said that if the Supreme Court upholds the convictions, it would open the door to charging any public official with fraud by asserting that he or she lied in claiming to have acted in the public interest. That might include a city official who orders potholes repaired to reward the mayor’s political base while justifying it on policy grounds.

Such a reading of the law “would readily enable partisans not just to harangue and harass political opponents — but to prosecute and jail them,” the lawyers said.

The Supreme Court’s announcement in July that it would hear the case signaled that at least some justices believe the government overreached in bringing the fraud charges. If the court throws out the convictions, it could further weaken the ability to prosecute public officials for fraud.

Both former officials were sentenced to prison. Kelly has been allowed to remain free while the case is on appeal. Baroni began serving his sentence in April but was released on bond when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

A decision will be announced by late June.

North Carolina man sought for allegedly pistol-whipping girlfriend who wouldn’t break into house with him

A North Carolina man who allegedly pistol whipped his girlfriend after she refused to break into a house with him is on the run.

Alexander Wayne Gillett fled on foot after the alleged assault in western Orange County Friday morning, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s office.

The 27-year-old woman, whose identity has not been disclosed, sought help around 11 a.m. following the alleged assault. The woman said she and Gillett received a ride to the area Thursday night and Gillett told her they were going to camp out and hunt coyotes. On Friday morning, she said Gillett informed her of his plan to break into and burglarize a home. The woman said Gillett told her that he saw on Facebook that there were valuable items inside the home.

The woman said she argued with Gillett after she refused to participate in his plan to break into the house and he hit her several times with a handgun. He also damaged her cellphone by submerging it in water, according to the sheriff’s office.

Gillett should be considered armed and dangerous, the sheriff’s office said.

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood advised people be cautious about what they post on social media platforms.

“The suspect in this case saw valuable items listed for sale on Facebook,” Blackwood said in a statement. “He searched for an address associated with the seller’s name and arrived at a very specific target. I encourage people to avoid such risks.”

Investigators have filed warrants against Gillett for assault with a deadly weapon, assault on a female, interfering with emergency communications and possession of a firearm by a felon. Gillett is also wanted in Guilford County on multiple charges, including burglary, safecracking, kidnapping and assault by strangulation, the sheriff’s office said.

Gillett is six feet tall and was last seen wearing a black beanie, gray hooded jacket, gray pants and camouflage knee-length boots. His hair is short in the back and long in the front.

Eight injured in Colorado stabbing spree; victims detain suspect in random attacks

A man suspected of unleashing a stabbing spree in and around downtown Colorado Springs early Monday was arrested after some of his victims helped to detain him, according to police.

Eight people were wounded in the attacks, which the Colorado Springs Police Department described as random as there was no known connection between the suspect and the victims.

Police first responded to reports of a stabbing downtown at about 1:30 a.m. and found two victims, according to police.

Witnesses told police that the attacker had fled on walking trails through America the Beautiful Park. Officers headed in that direction, and while they didn’t find the man, they did discover more victims with stab wounds.

About an hour after the initial call, police were told that more people had been stabbed near a downtown bar called Tony’s. Officers responded and found the attacker, who was being held down by some of the people he had attacked, police said.

Abby Huntsman departing ‘The View’ to run father’s gubernatorial campaign

Abby Huntsman announced on Monday that she is leaving “The View” to help run her father’s campaign for governor of Utah and to spend more time with her family.

The show’s executive producers, Hilary Estey McLoughlin, Candi Carter and Brian Teta, shared the news in a note to staff.

“We have some bittersweet news to share. Abby Huntsman is leaving ‘The View’ to help run her father’s campaign for governor of Utah and to spend more time with her young family,” the note said.

The producers said Huntsman, who is mother to 2-year-old Isabel Grace and 7-month-old twins William and Ruby, “made the tough decision to move on over the holiday break.”

Huntsman, 33, joined the program in September 2018.

Jon Huntsman announced in November that he would be seeking a third term as Utah governor. It’s been 10 years since he last held the post. He’s spent time as U.S. ambassador to Russia in the interim. Abby Huntsman will be a senior adviser to the campaign.

Huntsman said she is thankful to have been a co-host on “The View” and to ABC for believing in her.

“It was always a dream to sit at ‘The View’ table,” she said in a statement to People. “I have the deepest gratitude for all of my co-hosts and the team at ‘The View’ who don’t get enough credit for what they do every day — I’ve learned so much from each of them and this will always be a special place to me.”

Over the weekend, Huntsman shared a photo on her Instagram of her and her father with the caption: “Back to my Utah roots campaigning with this guy. Democracy in action.”