Well, that was a thing that happened.
The nominations for the 91st Academy Awards have been unveiled and they are quite awful, depending on who you ask. Unless you were solely concerned about Joker‘s chances at nominations (spoiler alert: it did exceedingly well), there was a lot to be upset about. Snubs were in abundance this year: some not-so-surprising (Adam Sandler), others very disappointing (Lupita Nyong’o), and others infuriating (Jennifer Lopez, Greta Gerwig, The Farewell). Pundits were quick to point out how, in a year that had a broad selection of well-received films with diverse casts and stories, the Academy went in the opposite direction. Others noted how utterly safe and uninteresting the nominations were, potentially leading to the least exciting Oscars ceremony in years (nowhere near as dramatic as Moonlight‘s shocking win three years ago). Personally, this year feels especially uninspiring, and were it not for Parasite‘s six-nomination triumph, this season could pretty much end today and I would be just fine.
But alas, we’ve got about a month of prognosticating, so here are the key takeaways from this year’s slate of nominations:
The Academy really liked Joker
A few years ago, the Academy giving a comic book adaptation the lion’s share of Oscar nominations would be unfathomable. And yet, despite tepid reviews and furious debates about the film’s subject matter, Joker is the year’s most nominated film, with nods for Best Picture, Directing, Lead Actor, Adapted Screenplay and a bevy of technical notices, totaling 11. While being the most nominated film doesn’t guarantee Best Picture (see last year’s The Favourite), it does show that people outside of the DC fanbase may have underestimated the appeal of Todd Phillips’ depiction of a mentally ill clown murderer. The big prize still feels like a long shot compared to a safer bet like Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, but considering the fury over The Dark Knight’s snub a decade ago, at least there’s progress on that front?
The Academy’s Netflix chill is thawing (somewhat)
The Academy hates Netflix, but the streamer’s awards entrants were too big to fail (there was no way in hell they could get away with snubbing a Martin Scorsese film). The Academy grit their teeth and bestowed multiple nominations on Netflix films The Irishman, Marriage Story and, surprisingly, The Two Popes. All in all, Netflix landed 20 nominations, a record for a studio that was brutally ignored just a few years ago. The question is whether those nominations will convert into actual wins, especially against tough competition like Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and Joker. After this month’s brutal Globes snubs, the Academy could decide to remind Netflix that they will never really belong in Hollywood with a shut-out of their own and reasonably claim plausible deniability.
The Academy also really liked JoJo Rabbit and (thankfully) Parasite
JoJo Rabbit, Taika Waititi’s dramedy about a Hitler Youth befriending a Jewish girl, thrilled the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, but hasn’t exactly captured the public’s imagination since then. It did excellently with the Academy though , landing six nominations, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Scarlett Johansson (her second this year alongside Best Actress for Marriage Story). Also scoring six nominations is another festival sensation, Parasite. It is the first South Korean film to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture, while also getting nods for Directing, Original Screenplay, Production Design, and Editing. The wave of support couldn’t secure any acting nods (a la Marina de Tavira for Roma last year), but Parasite is well-poised to make even more history as the first foreign language film to win Best Picture.
The Best Supporting Actress category is pure chaos
Speaking of Best Supporting Actress, the category offered the most shocking snub of the morning, with Jennifer Lopez’s critically lauded performance in Hustlers being passed over for Kathy Bates in Richard Jewell. Aside from a Globe nomination, Bates has been virtually absent from the awards conservation, while Lopez was everywhere: magazine covers, roundtables, voter screenings, media profiles, and key nominations at the Globes and SAG. Whatever the factors at play were – racial ignorance (see below), preconceived notions about her talent, preconceived notions about Hustlers as an Oscar-worthy film – Lopez’s shut-out is an egregious oversight. If Lopez couldn’t convince voters of the worthiness of her performance, or if voters couldn’t get past her broader pop culture persona, there were other nominees worthy considering, like Zhao Shuzhen in The Farewell or Park So-dam in Parasite. Bates’ nomination feels needlessly random in comparison.
The Academy just barely skates past an #OscarsSoWhite fiasco
After last week’s BAFTA nominations, there were concerns that the Academy would follow suit and ignore performances by people of color, setting the stage for another #OscarsSoWhite controversy. The Academy just barely sidestepped the furor by acknowledging Cynthia Erivo in Harriet for Best Actress, a nomination that was thrown in doubt after the BAFTAs snubbed her. Still, 19 of the other nominees are white, and after high-profile snubs of Lupita Nyong’o in Us, Awkwafina in The Farewell (had she been nominated, she would’ve been the first Asian actress to make the category ever), Song Kang-ho in Parasite, and the aforementioned Shuzhen and Lopez, the Academy still has a long way to go in expanding the performances it deems worthy of recognition.
Women didn’t direct films this year (if you ask the Academy)
Where one diversity controversy is avoided, another rages. As many feared, this year’s Best Directing category is filled with men, despite plenty of critically acclaimed films led by women. The biggest missed opportunity is Greta Gerwig of Little Women, which received six nominations including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Had she made the shortlist, she would’ve been the first woman to be nominated twice. Other well-regarded nominees included Marielle Heller for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Lorene Scarafia for Hustlers, and Lulu Wang for The Farewell. Once again, the Academy has apparently confirmed that it either doesn’t see the accomplishments of women filmmakers, or doesn’t care to acknowledge them when there are more comfortable options available. As presenter Issa Rae said after reading the list of names, congratulations to all the men.
Flashy campaigning flamed out
Anyone who follows the Academy Awards understands that campaigning are as important as a film’s actual merit. However, two of the year’s hardest-working campaigners came up short when the names were announced. Aside from Lopez, Taron Egerton hit the pavement hard for his excellent performance in Rocketman and seemed poised to be rewarded after the Golden Globes, SAG, and BAFTA gave him nominations for Best Actor. Sadly, his efforts didn’t pan out in a notoriously difficult category. It’s likely that Egerton suffered from bad timing, coming only few months after Rami Malek won the same award for Bohemian Rhapsody. Still, it would’ve been nice to Egerton’s soulful portrayal of Elton John sneak in (even if he lost to Joaquin Phoenix).