New from Every Movie Has a Lesson by Don Shanahan: EDITORIAL: Five surprises and snubs from the 92nd Academy Award nominations

(Image: Oscars.org and YouTube)

(Image: Oscars.org and YouTube)

Leave it to the annual early morning Oscar nominations to always find a way to rock our worlds. Earlier this morning in an excellent show of upfront diversity, Searching actor John Cho and Insecure TV star Issa Rae presented the names and films looking for validation and immortality come the night of February 9th in front of a (thankfully) host-less crowd for the second year in a row. I know I chase this race every year on my Awards Tracker page, but there are always swerves. Here are five knee-jerk snubs and surprises from the nominees:

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

This is the second year in a row this exact sentence makes this column space. For all of the so-called efforts of weening out inactive members and adding diversity, the results aren’t showing it between Green Book winning last year and this list of extremely plain nominations. Go ahead and get the #OscarSoWhite swag out again. The Academy deserves to be called out for this kind of thing.

The only person of color nominated in the acting categories was a mild surprise, that being Cynthia Erivo for Harriet, and not the overwhelming awards season Best Actress front-runner Lupita N’yongo for Us. Black wasn’t the only color stiffed. Zero total nominations for The Farewell and zero acting nominations for Parasite left out supporting actress Zhao Shuzhen, lead actress Awkwafina, writer/director Lulu Wang, supporting actor Song Kang-ho, and any of three women from Parasite in supporting actress from adding deserved diversity.

Speaking of women, one bright spot is Hildur Guðnadóttir’s nominated score for Joker, a rare spot for a woman. However, matching the Golden Globes and the Directors Guild of America, we have a Best Director field without a female. The flag-bearer there should have been Greta Gerwig for Little Women. When you give that film screenplay and Best Picture nominations, the solid is to honor the director for combining that work. But Greta is just one of many between Lulu Wang for The Farewell, Olivia Wilde for Booksmart, Kasi Lemmons for Harriet, and Melina Matsoukas for Queen & Slim. Where those women made films is also a point of contention.

If you look at what was nominated and from what studio they came from, you will see money and favoritism talking. The movies backed by the distributors with the deepest pockets and most lavish “For Your Consideration” campaigns (especially Netflix and their quartet of The Irishman, Marriage Story, The Two Popes, and I Love My Body) scored the spots. If you were little and independent, like A24’s Uncut Gems, The Farewell, and Booksmart, you were ignored. Those losses are consistent top to bottom and not just in the major categories. Take a snub like Wild Rose’s original song “Glasgow” being skipped as one of many spots where superior independent films were trounced by bigger entities.

It’s a minor miracle little shingle NEON squeezed what it could out of Parasite (6 nominations) and Lionsgate got anything at all for Knives Out and Bombshell. If this were politics, we would be talking about the equivalent of “campaign finance reform” from studios buying unfair favor and nominations. Maybe it’s time to open the ledgers and put some rules and limits on that.

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

This is also a verbatim repeat from this column last year. Last year, Roma and its Oscar success challenged and then broke the glass ceiling of debate for the streaming giant’s seat at the grown-up’s table. Now, it’s sitting nearly at the head of it. Once the worshiped Martin Scorsese brought his “cinema” to Netflix, any nose-holding after Roma went away in a hurry. Just look at The Irishman’s blanket treatment getting 10 nominations. The true power is demonstrated in the cache for Netflix to get even more. Five nominations for Marriage Story and three surprises for The Two Popes showed the glow, an effect that could have grown even more had Dolemite is My Name nabbed spots in Best Actor, Best Costume Design, and Best Makeup and Hair-Styling. Once they win a Best Picture Oscar, and they have a real chance this year much like last year, you know they’re never going to let the industry forget about it.

#3: The Academy needs to clarify or clean out their documentary department.

Granted, I get that the documentary market is a bathtub of obscurity to 90% of casual filmgoers, but every year there are one or two docs with high quality that earn mainstream success. They deserve recognition for that engagement and success. For the second year in a row, the Academy egregiously snubbed the film that has dominated the category the entire awards season. Last year it was Won’t You Be My Neighbor. This year it’s Apollo 11, which is arguably the best big screen experience of the year, regardless of film classification. No documentary film has won even half as many awards in this category than Apollo 11. It deserved to have a chance at the big one. Instead, head-scratchers and obscurity win.

#4: The juggernaut that is Joker is something to marvel.

Enjoy that comic book company dig! For Joker to lead the field with 11 nominations is one heck of an impressive victory. Because of its artistic and technical quality, I knew it was going to score big, but to hit 11 sure stirs the pot. The most polarizing film of the year that has been called “trash” by some and a “masterpiece” by others gets to swing its clout hard. How will it do? Gosh, I don’t know at this point. I could see it pulling a American Hustle where that film to got 10 nominations and won zero. The Irishman has that same collapsing look about it where it’s a front-runner nowhere out of its 10 nominations. Joker could easily end up like that or, like it keeps on doing, it could surprise us all. Never count Joaquin Phoenix out and laying in the weeds with their own 10 nominations each are Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and 1917. The Sam Mendes war epic in particular is peaking at the right time.

#5: Parasite has a better chance than Roma did last year to elevate foreign film.

It may not have the gaudy totals of Joker, 1917, Tarantino, or Scorsese, but Bong-Joon-ho’s South Korean thriller Parasite is in a perfect position to become the biggest winner of the night. It’s tracking just like Roma did last year by cleaning up the vast majority of critics awards and topping “year-end” (and even “decade-end”) lists. The respect is there, unlike Marriage Story and Little Women, where Parasite is nominated in all three top leadership spots (picture, director, screenplay) to be a worthy winner for Best Picture. If the polarity of Joker burns itself, if 1917 doesn’t have enough fresh favor, and the push-back against out-of-touch white men keeps fading for The Irishman and Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, there sits the universally loved Parasite with all the polish in the world. It would take a great deal of push-back support and screening room politics, but it could legitimately and deservedly win the last award of the evening. This will be fun to watch!

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