The 2020 Oscars in Conversation

Feb. 7, 2020, 1:21 a.m.

Thoughts on the nominees

JONATHAN: The Academy should be ashamed of their nominations this year. 

They did do a few things right. Antonio Banderas getting Best Actor for his career-best performance in “Pain and Glory” is a relief, as is Florence Pugh’s presence in Best Supporting Actress for “Little Women.” It’s always appreciated when Oscar voters recognize talent in foreign language films like Banderas’s film, as well as young and rising talent in people like Pugh. There are a few other surprises and victories in the nominations. (Recognition for Jarin Blaschke’s criminally underrated black-and-white cinematography in “The Lighthouse” and Thelma Schoonmaker’s eighth nomination in Best Film Editing for “The Irishman” immediately come to mind.)

The exclusion of women and people of color in a multitude of categories, however, is nothing short of disgraceful. The most glaring omission can be found in the Best Director category. It works as a list of great directors like Todd Phillips’s “Joker,” but there’s not a single woman in the lineup. Critics of this argument love to fire back with the age-old adage: “Then women should have made better movies!” This year, there is no excuse. Some of the most critically acclaimed films of the year (if not the decade) — “Little Women,” “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” “Hustlers,” “Honey Boy,” “The Farewell” — were all directed by women. With these trailblazing 2019 movies, the Academy had a great opportunity to recognize the ever-important work of female directors. They blew it. 

The last entry on that list, “The Farewell,” is a particularly interesting case. Regarded by both audiences and critics as one of the best movies of the year, it was completely shut out by the Oscars. Writer-director Lulu Wang was not recognized, nor were actresses Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen. The latter snub points to a much larger problem: the Academy’s failure to recognize people of color, especially in the acting categories. Where are the nominations for Song Kang Ho and Park So-dam, carrying the heart and soul of “Parasite”? Where is the nomination for Lupita Nyong’o, giving the best performance of the year in “Us”? Eddie Murphy in “Dolemite is My Name”? Jennifer Lopez in “Hustlers”? The fact that the only person of color nominated in any acting category plays a slave says a lot about how Hollywood views these artists. (Not to detract from Cynthia Erivo’s performance in “Harriet” — she is one of today’s greatest working actors.)

This sends the message to young people everywhere that if you are a woman, you can only succeed in film if you stick to certain categories and that if you are a person of color your odds of succeeding are slim to none. What a discouraging message for the future generation of filmmakers. 

ISAAC: I’d echo all the above points, and emphasize that I think it’s a travesty that “The Farewell” received zero nominations this year. It at least deserved a Best Director nomination for Lulu Wang, if not a Best Picture nomination. What a disgrace. 

HANNAH: As has been mentioned, there’s a serious dearth of Greta Gerwig from the Best Director category, which comes as simultaneously surprising and not at all. In nine decades of Oscars, only one woman has won the award: Kathryn Bigelow for her film “The Hurt Locker” back in 2009. Not many more women have even been nominated, which is why, over ten years later, the total exclusion of Gerwig from the category comes across as nothing short of an insult. With all the other nominations and accolades “Little Women” is in the running for, why did it suddenly stop short at Best Director? Have we forgotten how many historical dramas Steven Spielberg has directed and (usually deservedly) received at least a nomination for?

Another notable but maybe not as problematic a snub is Robert De Niro from the Best Actor category. Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Martin Scorsese are all riding happy, just like the old days. In a similar vein as “Little Women,” imagine the film you worked on and all your coworkers just lapping up the nominations and yet your name is just … absent. Yikes. 


JONATHAN: Best Picture looks like a three-way race between “1917,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and “Parasite” — they have all the precursor awards from different guilds and critics societies.

On the other hand, barring some sort of massive surprise, the acting awards all seem to be locked in (Joaquin Phoenix, Renee Zellweger, Brad Pitt and Laura Dern). 

“Parasite” also seems like a lock-in for Best International Feature Film, especially following its box-office success and five other Oscar nominations. 

It’s also worth noting that Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”) and Sam Mendes (“1917”) are neck-and-neck in Best Director, and that Greta Gerwig’s script for “Little Women” will probably win in Best Adapted Screenplay (unless the Academy chooses to award “The Irishman” or “Jojo Rabbit” in this category). 

ISAAC: While “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has earned praise across different awards mediums, one factor we have to consider is just how often the academy tends to lean towards historical dramas (that is, choosing “The King’s Speech” over “The Social Network” for best picture in 2011). For this reason, I’d place “The Irishman” alongside “1917” as two of the top contenders for Best Picture this year. Not only is it an excellent film, but it plays in an arena that the Academy tends to favor, which can’t be said for most of this year’s nominees. Selecting “The Irishman” would also give the academy an opportunity to honor Martin Scorcese and his decades of legendary work in the industry, for which he has never won an Oscar for Best Picture. I think that, by extension, “Little Women” may also have some sway here given its setting; although, I wouldn’t place it in the top tier of candidates given the other categories in which it’s been snubbed (that is, Best Director). The last film that I would add to the top tier of candidates is “Parasite,” whose success is as shocking as its plot, given the tremendous praise it’s already achieved in other critical circuits. For the rest, I’m decently confident that “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” won’t win because of its over-the-top ridiculousness; “Jojo Rabbit” won’t win because of its controversy; “Marriage Story” because of its small scale in comparison to other nominees; “Ford v. Ferrari” because it’s arguably the most forgettable nominee on the list; and “Joker” not only because of its controversy but also simply because of its comic-book origins, which have led films to be repeatedly and sometimes heinously snubbed throughout Oscars history (think: no best picture nomination for “The Dark Knight”). This is not to say that these characteristics of their respective films are weaknesses (ridiculousness in Tarantino’s films is a strong stylistic pillar), nor is it to say that these characteristics make them lesser films. These characteristics are simply things that make them less attractive candidates specifically for the Oscars. 

Now, as for specific predictions, I’m predicting that “Parasite” will win Best Picture this year. Not only is it exceptionally written, directed and acted, but it’s also a brilliant meditation on the timely subject of class and privilege, which speak to issues faced in the modern world in a way that almost none of the other nominees do. 

As for the other categories, my only solid predictions are that Joaquin Phoenix will win Best Actor for “Joker” (a role that has already proven to be Oscar bait), and that Sam Mendes will win best director for “1917,” which took a tremendous amount of planning and skill to direct given its construction as a one-shot film. 

Contact Hannah Blum at hannahbl ‘at’, Isaac Vaught at ivaught ‘at’ and Jonathan Arnold at jarnold1 ‘at’

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