Now that the 2020 Oscar Nominations have been released, it got us thinking a little bit. How much weight should we give to these awards? Just ask another filmmaker, and they’ll be able to give you a list of 10+ movies they believe should’ve been nominated. You could argue that it’s the academy’s short-sightedness, but 2019 was also one hell of a year for movies and you could argue it was hard to choose.
We believe the Oscars are a great opportunity to take a deeper look into mainstream filmmaking. They’re a reflection of our culture, our biases, and, at their best, they’re a reflection of the incredible talent in front of and behind the camera each year.
There are good, the bad, and surprising aspects of these nominations, so we decided to explore exactly that. If you’re looking for a hot take or an article damning the academy, there are plenty of other, more feisty, options to explore online.
But, these nominations are what they are. So, instead of getting upset about them—or even overly praising them—let’s just take a good hard look at them. Ok, here we go.
Parasite is a First
A huge shout out to Bong Joon Ho’s darkly comedic and timely film Parasite. Beyond being an incredible film, it’s the first South Korean film to be nominated for Best Picture and Best Director categories. Of course, as Vanity Fair’s Mark Harris puts it: “All he had to do was make the year’s best movie.” Sure, that may be a cynical take, but it’s also proof that if you make something as powerful as Parasite, then you simply can’t be ignored.
Three Cheers for Original Films
Now, take a break from the “major” categories and scroll down to Writing (Original Screenplay). Can we all just take a moment to give a slow clap for original films? Good. Now that we’ve done that, it’s worth mentioning that the films nominated in the category are incredible. Knives Out, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, and Parasite are emotional, funny, intense, and horrifying. And it makes them even more incredible that they were conceived out of thin air.
Joe Pesci Rides Again
For an actor who was all but retired, Joe Pesci came back with a vengeance for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. In fact, we’ll go as far as to say that he stole the movie with his calm, yet chilling portrayal of Russell Buffalino. Even though he got his Oscar dues in 1991 for Goodfellas, he’s still an underrated actor and it’s great to see him on the list this year for what will most likely be his last film. Talk about ending on a high note.
Putting the ‘Best’ in Best Picture
For a program that generally throws a few undeserving titles into its major categories, this year is a veritable list of greatness. So, we’ll say it again: 2019 was an incredible year for films. We saw impactful films from icons (i.e. Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, etc.) and saw even more films from artists who are really starting to cement their names in the zeitgeist (i.e. Greta Gerwig, Bong Joon Ho, Noah Baumbach,etc.). So, say what you will about them, but the films represented in the major categories are strong. Really strong. And we see that as a unanimous thumbs up.
Mixing it Up
And, as for the diversity in the films, we’ll touch on that later. But, the diversity in types of films is strong as well. Particularly in Best Picture, there are some predictable choices, but also some that seem to push the Academy’s sometimes rigid thinking. Films like Parasite, Marriage Story, and Jojo Rabbit may not have been considered 10 years ago and they’re all films worth considering in any era.
The Irishman is the Good Side of ‘Old School’
While all of the nominations for The Irishman aren’t much of a surprise, we’d like to take a moment to just say how great it was to see it being celebrated. In an era where attention spans are supposedly getting shorter and demand for VFX extravaganzas is growing, we were pleasantly surprised that Scorsese’s epic drama is getting the public attention it deserves. Clocking in at over three hours, this reflective thinkpiece is not a crowd-pleaser on paper, but it’s proof that we still have a thirst for cinema with a capital C.
Greta is the Snub of the Year
You’d think after the critical and commercial success of Lady Bird, it wouldn’t take much convincing for Greta Gerwig to get a Best Director nomination. Of course, she’s all over the media as this year’s biggest snub. Her take on Little Women was both inventive and celebratory of its source material, and so much of that hinges on her skill as a director. Swing and a miss for the Academy.
Speaking of Which…
Where are the female directors?! If you didn’t do a double-take when you were reading through this year’s nominees, then you didn’t see enough films in 2019. To say nothing of the quality of the films nominated in the Directing category, there were more than a few glaring omissions. For an awards show that’s desperately trying to seem relevant, this oversight is definitely a step in the wrong direction.
Where’s The Farewell?
Lulu Wang’s funny, personal, and heartbreaking work on The Farewell was a huge accomplishment and to see it absent in every category was a disappointment. In this director’s roundtable from The Hollywood Reporter, she talks about the difficulty she had in getting the film made because it wasn’t exactly a “foreign language film” and many studios didn’t see it as an American film. It seems the Academy didn’t know what to do with it either, because the film was left off of all categories—and that’s a shame.
Diversity is Still an Uphill Battle
Outside of the Directing category, diversity was glaringly absent from most of the nominations, too. Particularly in acting categories, only one person of color was nominated out of 20 performances—Cynthia Erivo in her role as Harriet Tubman. Roles in Hustlers, Parasite, and The Farewell were completely passed over. To look over the women and people of color who contributed to movies in 2019 seems not only offensive but also just downright strange because there were so many good films created by and featuring both.
Knives Out is Not In
Rian Johnson’s acclaimed whodunit was rightly nominated in the Writing (Original Screenplay) category, but we were surprised that this film was omitted in every single other category. If you’re looking for a film that’s pretty close to flawless and 100-percent, then this is a great place to start. With it’s ensemble cast, it could’ve been an easy shoe-in in acting categories, and we thought it deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Picture as well. Maybe it was too funny? It’s a mystery we’ll probably never solve.
Joker Rakes ‘Em In
Speaking of lively discussions, Oscar nominations never fail to generate more than its fair share. As filmmakers, we are better than anyone at arguing over films, and these yearly lists are the tinder to light the fire. Which leads us to Joker.
This film was divisive to say the least, so considering the fact that it’s been nominated for 11 different Oscars was one of the biggest surprises. The reactions from Joker ranged from celebrated to downright panned, and for it to be the frontrunner for the 2020 awards is a shocker. Not to say it’s necessarily a bad thing, but it definitely lands squarely in the “surprising” category.
The Lighthouse Got Noticed!
We were pretty amazed when we talked with Jarin Blaschke, DP for The Lighthouse. He was 100-percent committed to his work on this insane, and insanely good period piece, battling epic weather and inventing new technology. While it was one of the most striking visual accomplishments of the year, it was also one of the craziest indie movies of the year. Director Robert Eggers was not trying to win a popularity contest with this one, and we were pleasantly surprised to see it was nominated for Best Cinematography.
Jojo Rabbit is the Oscar’s Underdog
Taika Watiti’s Jojo Rabbit, while critically well-received, was a fairly quiet release in 2019, so we were surprised to see it pop up a few different times. And that’s not even considering the fact that it’s an “anti-hate” satire featuring Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. It most likely won’t take home many Oscars, but to see it alongside more mainstream features was a welcome surprise.
Netflix Aims for Oscar Glory
Netflix continues to aim for major studios, and if the Oscar nominations are an indicator, it seems to be working. The streaming platform has two releases in the Best Picture category (The Irishman and Wedding Story), as well as eight different nominations in acting categories (The Irishman, Wedding Story, and The Two Popes). Ok Netflix, we see you.
For Actor in a Supporting Role, the youngest nominee is Brad Pitt at 56 years old. Of course, he doesn’t necessarily look 56, plus Al Pacino and Joe Pesci had some digital assistance from ILM, but still—it looks like age plays in this era of Hollywood blockbusters.
So, take all of this with a grain of salt. The Academy Awards are what they are, and sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes it’s just…surprising.
Ultimately, these major Hollywood films (or independent, or international) are at the mercy of audiences. In the long run, you are in the driver’s seat. If you want to see more diversity in films, go see films that represent it. If you want to see older actors in movies, that’s oddly specific, but go see movies with older actors. If you want to see original screenplays, go see original films.
If you support great films from great filmmakers in 2020, the Academy will have to take notice. And even if they don’t, that sounds like a year well spent to us.