New from Every Movie Has a Lesson by Don Shanahan: EDITORIAL: Five surprises and snubs from the 91st Academy Award nominations

(Image: oscars.com)

(Image: oscars.com)

Leave it to the annual early morning Oscar nominations to always find a way to rock our worlds. Earlier this morning, Kumail Nanjiani and Traci Ellis Ross read off the names and films looking to win some hardware on the host-less 91st Academy Awards airing on February 24th. Let’s take a look at the trends, swerves, and surprises.

#1: Ethan Hawke and Toni Collette were robbed.

If you head over to my Awards Tracker, you will see the absolute consensus and dominance of Ethan Hawke giving what many people consider to be a career-best performance in First Reformed. The same goes for the very competitive standing the non-nominated Toni Collette has maintained for Hereditary. The Golden Globes snubbed Hawke and, now, so have the Oscars. The film and Hawke deserved better than the participation ribbon that is Best Original Screenplay, though it has a decent chance to possibly win against The Favourite, especially with some post-snub backlash support. The omissions of Hawke and Collette speak to a bigger problem.

#2: The Academy still too often overlooks independent film and diversity.

The voters have shown annually to run really hot and cold when it comes to U.S.-made independent films, many often by minority talent. For every year where Get Out, Moonlight, or Whiplash become Oscar darlings, you get a year like this where First Reformed, Eighth Grade (Elsie Fisher!), Leave No Trace, Blindspotting, The Hate U Give, You Were Never Really There, and others films with their artists can’t get a seat at the table. Small victories are here and there, like the five nominations for Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, but many will ask where are the rest and where are the women. Once again, you’ve got a Best Director field with zero women and just two women (The Favourite and Can You Ever Forgive Me) among the two screenplay fields. In the saddest slight of all, the celebrated and endearing Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was egregiously omitted. The Independent Spirit Awards, which take place the night before the Oscars, are looking more and more like a real night of awarding the true best of film that is out there. I’d rather walk that red carpet than the Oscar one right now.

#3: The Academy loves themselves some foreign fare.

As expected, Alfonso Cuaron’s brilliant and personal Roma led the charge with 10 nominations, a number matched by respected Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. When you combine Cuaron and Lanthimos with the three nominations for Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War and Mirai’s nod in Best Animated Feature and you have 22 nominations in main categories outside of Best Foreign Language film going to non-domestic films. That’s some strong international flavor.

#4: The perceived Netflix bias doesn’t exist.

If you thought the strong showing for Roma was a step towards stamping out that perceived Netflix bias, you were right, but there’s more. The Academy will never fall out of love with the Coen Brothers, two of the most decorated filmmakers in Oscar history, as evident by the inclusion of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs in three categories, including screenplay. That was a film way down the Oscar radar, but the name recognition gave it play. The streaming giant’s CEO Reed Hastings needs to thank Joel and Ethan Coen as much as Alfonso Cuaron for breaking glass ceilings.

#5: Disney is becoming the New England Patriots of the Oscars.

We all know politicking happens (just look at all the Weinstein love for the better part of two decades). The “For Your Consideration” pushes are becoming bigger and blunter every year. As long as the Oscars are broadcast on ABC television which is owned by Disney, people are going to created hunches and whisper about fixes and conspiracies in the same way NFL fans do about Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Black Panther deserves to be a Best Picture candidate and earned its six other technical/artistic nominations, but how much guilt-tripping was attached to the glad-handing? Look past Black Panther and the usual animation entries (Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet) for the convenient extra volume, namely the three family nominations for Mary Poppins Returns and a surprise inclusion of Christopher Robin in visual effects over more qualified snubs like Aquaman. I’m not mixing the Kool-Aid and lighting up the pitchforks to march on Orlando, Anaheim, or Emeryville, but things look very cushy for the studio with the biggest wallet.

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