Oscars So Bland Should Be New Hashtag
The 92nd Academy Award nominations are out, snubs, surprises and more
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
The 92nd annual Academy Award nominations were announced Monday morning and there were the usual snubs, undeserved nominations and very few happy surprises.
Before running through some of the nominations, I just want to say two things that color my reaction.
First, I have a love/hate relationship with the Oscars because I vehemently disagree with so much of what they do from how they stage the awards show (giving the hook to winners after 30 seconds, too much emphasis on best song, etc.) yet these are the film industry's premier awards and like it or not they have value in terms of helping a film at the box office or even being a deciding factor in whether or not a foreign film even gets released in the U.S. They also have a long history and sometimes (like letting "Silence of the Lambs" sweep) they do the right thing.
And second, I only care about one thing when it comes to movies and that's whether they are good or bad. I don't care who makes them, what their politics or gender are, what the topics are, I just want them to be good and preferably to also be original, daring and pushing the envelope in some way. Now the idea of good or bad reflects personal taste so I know lots of people will argue with me about what is good and what is bad, but that's a whole other discussion.
The big winner of the 2020 Oscar nominations is the DC Comics-inspired "Joker" with 11 nominations. In a year where the Academy barely survived another #oscarsowhite, "Joker" seems to be its way of heaping praise on a white-male centric cast and crew under the guise of being edgy, arty and populist. The Academy received a lot of criticism and even expanded the number of best picture nominees in order to respond to the mainstream public complaining about more popular films not making the cut. Marvel's "Black Panther" was the first comic book superhero film to break into that best picture category and now DC gets one in.
Trailing "Joker" with 10 nominations each are Martin Scorsese’s aging mobster tale “The Irishman,” Quentin Tarantino’s valentine to movies and reimagining of the Manson Family “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and Sam Mendes’ digital one-shot World War I drama “1917.”
As for diversity, Antonio Banderas represents Latinos in the acting field with his best actor nomination for Pedro Almodovar's "Pain and Glory" while Cynthia Erivo is the only black performer with her best actress nod for "Harriet."
The best acting category, as with most of the nominations, had choices that just weren't exciting. Adam Driver ("Marriage Story") and Jonathon Pryce ("The Two Popes") were fine but it would have been great to see Eddie Murphy's work in "Dolemite Is My Name" honored or the aggressively grating work of Adam Sandler in "Uncut Gems" singled out.
The best actress category was even worse with Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”) and Saoirse Ronan (“Little Women”) giving predictably earnest performances while Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”) crossed into the uncanny valley playing Megyn Kelly and Renee Zellweger (“Judy”) chewed scenery and nervously ticked her way through an impersonation of Judy Garland that would play well in a Saturday Night Live skit. But what was missing from the list was Lupita N'yongo's searingly spectacular double role in "Us." Ignoring her as well as Florence Pugh in "Midsommar" is just plain criminal and I hope the Academy feels embarrassed by its exclusion of her. Other breathtaking work I knew had no chance included Honor Swinton Byrne in "The Souvenir" and Aisling Franciosi in "The Nightingale." Awkwafina's absence is also a shame.
The embarrassing exclusions from the supporting categories include Zhao Shuzen, "The Farewell" and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, "Dolemite is My Name" for the women; and Willem Dafoe, "The Lighthouse;" Wesley Snipes, "Dolemite is My Name;" Taika Waititi, "Jojo Rabbit;" and the entire supporting cast of "Just Mercy."
It is also frustrating to see an actress like Pugh nominated for her fine but unchallenging work in "Little Women" yet ignored for her truly daring and grueling work in "Midsommar."
Although Bong Joon Ho’s "Parasite" has been collecting armloads of nominations and awards from critics it only nabbed six Oscar nominations but it did make history by being South Korea’s first film to win a nomination for both best picture and best international feature film.
Although women directors like Lulu Wang ("The Farewell") and Greta Gerwig ("Little Women") have been acknowledged with best-directing nominations elsewhere they along with all other female directors were shut out from the best director’s category, which remained an all-boys club. The nominees are: Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman;” Todd Phillips, “Joker;” Sam Mendes, “1917;” Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood;” and Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite.”
Many expressed rage on Twitter that Gerwig was left out but I was glad to see the omission. Her work on "Lady Bird" was so much more impressive and fresh. Seeing her go from that indie film to the "beloved" classic "Little Women" to her next project "Barbie" is frustrating and I don't want to see it encouraged. I hope she eventually goes back to more personal and original projects.
Again, I wish the Academy had included at least one other daring choice besides Bong Joon Ho, perhaps Terrence Malick for "A Hidden Life" or Ari Aster for "Midsommar" or Robert Eggers for "The Lighthouse." And rather than Gerwig, how about considering true female originals such as Jennifer Kent for "The Nightingale" or Joanna Hogg for "The Souvenir." I know those picks are way out of the mainstream but I would love to see some genuine originality honored now and again. You rarely see films that pull people out of their comfort zone acknowledged so I do take great joy in seeing "Parasite" get some recognition from the stodgy Academy.
The streaming service Netflix, with its two key entries "The Irishman" and "Marriage Story," scored big with 24 nominations beating out any other Hollywood studios. Perhaps the Academy is regretting its decision to let Netflix into the club.
But the big take away for me from the 2020 nominations is just how bland the bulk of the nominations were. Even the nominations that imply diversity like "Harriet" and "Little Women" are films that play relatively safe and predictable within genre boundaries compared to more daring and exciting films such as "A Hidden Life," "Uncut Gems," "The Souvenir," "Waves," "Last Black Man in San Francisco," "Dolemite is My Name." "The Lighthouse," "Midsommar." Nominated films like "Parasite" and "Jojo Rabbit" that push genre boundaries and artistic conventions are the exceptions that prove the rule.
Even the craft categories reveal safe choices. Rian Johnson's script for "Knives Out" was entertaining but did not reveal a lot of artistry. On the other hand "The Lighthouse" transported us to another time with its salty old school language and films such as "A Hidden Life," "Waves" and "Last Black Man in San Francisco" redefined narrative structure. Similarly, nominating "Ford v. Ferrari" in multiple craft categories rewards conventionality over the innovation of films such as "Uncut Gems," "Waves," and more.
Playing it safe is what the Oscars are usually about. Occasionally it surprises but these are industry awards given mostly by people to their friends. Just think about the awards your workplace would give out and think about who would win and then maybe you’ll understand why the awards can feel so frustrating to outsiders, especially outsiders with very different tastes in film. But I will have the Cinema Junkie Awards to present next week and you can argue with my choices.
I will continue my love-hate relationship with the Oscars as ABC airs the 92nd Academy Awards on Feb 9.
Here is the list of 2020 Oscar nominations.
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes”
Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”
Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”
Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”
Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”
Renee Zellweger, “Judy”
Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”
Al Pacino, “The Irishman”
Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Kathy Bates, “Richard Jewell”
Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”
Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit”
Florence Pugh, “Little Women”
Margot Robbie, “Bombshell”
Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”
Todd Phillips, “Joker”
Sam Mendes, “1917”
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite”
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” Dean DeBlois
“I Lost My Body,” Jeremy Clapin
“Klaus,” Sergio Pablos
“Missing Link,” Chris Butler
“Toy Story 4,” Josh Cooley
“Dcera,” Daria Kashcheeva
“Hair Love,” Matthew A. Cherry
“Kitbull,” Rosana Sullivan
“Memorable,” Bruno Collet
“Sister,” Siqi Song
“The Irishman,” Steven Zaillian
“Jojo Rabbit,” Taika Waititi
“Joker,” Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
“Little Women,” Greta Gerwig
“The Two Popes,” Anthony McCarten
“Knives Out,” Rian Johnson
“Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach
“1917,” Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino
“Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho, Jin Won Han
“The Irishman,” Rodrigo Prieto
“Joker,” Lawrence Sher
“The Lighthouse,” Jarin Blaschke
“1917,” Roger Deakins
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Robert Richardson
Best Documentary Feature:
“American Factory,” Julia Rieichert, Steven Bognar
“The Cave,” Feras Fayyad
“The Edge of Democracy,” Petra Costa
“For Sama,” Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts
“Honeyland,” Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov
Best Documentary Short Subject:
“In the Absence,” Yi Seung-Jun and Gary Byung-Seok Kam
“Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone,” Carol Dysinger
“Life Overtakes Me,” Kristine Samuelson and John Haptas
“St. Louis Superman,” Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan
“Walk Run Cha-Cha,” Laura Nix
Best Live Action Short Film:
“Brotherhood,” Meryam Joobeur
“Nefta Football Club,” Yves Piat
“The Neighbors’ Window,” Marshall Curry
“Saria,” Bryan Buckley
“A Sister,” Delphine Girard
Best International Feature Film:
“Corpus Christi,” Jan Komasa
“Honeyland,” Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov
“Les Miserables,” Ladj Ly
“Pain and Glory,” Pedro Almodovar
“Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho
“Ford v Ferrari,” Michael McCusker, Andrew Buckland
“The Irishman,” Thelma Schoonmaker
“Jojo Rabbit,” Tom Eagles
“Joker,” Jeff Groth
“Parasite,” Jinmo Yang
“Ford v Ferrari,” Don Sylvester
“Joker,” Alan Robert Murray
“1917,” Oliver Tarney, Rachel Tate
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Wylie Stateman
“Star Wars: The Rise of SkyWalker,” Matthew Wood, David Acord
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
“The Irishman,” Bob Shaw and Regina Graves
“Jojo Rabbit,” Ra Vincent and Nora Sopkova
“1917,” Dennis Gassner and Lee Sandales
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh
“Parasite,” Lee Ha-Jun and Cho Won Woo, Han Ga Ram, and Cho Hee
“Joker,” Hildur Guðnadóttir
“Little Women,” Alexandre Desplat
“Marriage Story,” Randy Newman
“1917,” Thomas Newman
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” John Williams
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” “Toy Story 4”
“I’m Gonna Love Me Again,” “Rocketman”
“I’m Standing With You,” “Breakthrough”
“Into the Unknown,” “Frozen 2”
“Stand Up,” “Harriet”
Makeup and Hair:
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”
”The Irishman,” Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson
“Jojo Rabbit,” Mayes C. Rubeo
“Joker,” Mark Bridges
“Little Women,” Jacqueline Durran
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Arianne Phillips
“The Lion King”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”
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