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5 Hot Takes About Today’s Oscar Nominations

A morning of historic firsts and puzzling snubs. That’s how I’d summarize today’s Oscar nominations. You can see the full list of nominees at THR, and I’ll include a listing of the biggest categories at the bottom of this article. First, though, here are my 5 hot takes about what just went down.

1. It’s about damn time

At long last, Spike Lee is finally in the running for Best Director and Best Picture. When recently asked about the chances of this happening this year, he quipped that Do the Right Thing wasn’t nominated the year it came out, yet it’s in the Library of Congress now. Translation: Fuck the Oscars. He might say something different today, but maybe not. He is Spike Lee, after all. Perpetual outrage is kind of his thing. Well, that and colorful glasses and Knicks games.

Dammit. There I go trivializing the man down to the most superficial elements of his celebrity. Truth is, BlacKkKlansman is one of his best movies and he deserves all the recognition he’s getting for it.

Joining Spike Lee in either celebrating a long overdue nomination or simply trailblazing as the first of their kind to be nominated:

  • Black Panther‘s Hannah Beachler is the first black person nominated for best production design.
  • Longtime figures like composer Terence Blanchard (BlacKkKlansman), costume designer Ruth E. Carter (Black Panther) actor Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born), actor Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and screenwriter Paul Schrader (First Reformed) can finally add “Oscar-nominated” to their Wikipedia page.
  •  Roma‘s Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira are the first two Mexican actresses nominated in the same year. 

2. The Dark Knight Rule finally worked. If only it could have worked last year for Logan.

Black Panther and Roma are now the firsts of their kind – first superhero movie and first Netflix Original to be nominated for Best Picture. Not that either nomination was a particular surprise, especially based on how things had been going at all the precursors awards shows. Still, it’s nice to see Academy voters adjusting the Oscars’ historically rigid definition of what really constitutes Best Picture material. Plus, hey, it only took a decade but The Dark Knight Rule finally did its job – a critically acclaimed and insanely successful comic book movie is finally up for Best Picture.

Quibble if you want over whether Black Panther was even the best comic book movie of 2018. I’d honestly give the edge ever so slightly to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. However, Black Panther was inarguably the most transcendent, something not even the Academy could ignore.

Still, as per usual this is but a half-step. 6 of Black Panther’s 7 total nominations are in the below-the-line categories, which means that while various visual effects and crafts artists are newly nominated none of the actors, writers, or the film’s wunderkind director Ryan Coogler are. With all due respect to the 5 men actually nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger will easily outlive every single one of their characters in the average film fan’s memory. So, Heather Ledge remains the last actor nominated for a performance in a comic book movie.

3. Ted Sarandos will feast on the tears of his enemies.

As I explained last year, Ted Sarandos has wanted Oscar validation for so long he could taste it. So, with Roma he wasn’t leaving anything to chance. Various industry trades have reported Netflix spent more on its Oscar campaign for Roma than just about anyone in decades, going back to when Harvey Weinstein perfected the art of buying an Oscar. Moreover, Sarandos caved into industry pressure and put Roma into theaters for three weeks, at a complete loss to the streaming giant. That, it appears, was enough of a bone to throw to the traditionalists (ahem, Steven Spielberg) in the Academy to get them to recognize Roma’s greatness instead of writing it off as merely an excellent TV movie which should be in the running for Emmys, not Oscars.

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that the Academy entirely rejected Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation on principle. Since then, Sarandos has repeatedly tried and failed to talk his way into a position on the Academy’s Board of Governors, but still managed to chip away at the Netflix bias, picking up nominations and eventually a win in the Best Documentary category. Then, last year Mudbound broke through into supporting actress, cinematography, adapted screenplay, and song nominations. It eventually lost all of those, but considering the way The Meyerowitz Stories was snubbed entirely it truly was an honor for any Netflix Original to just be nominated.

As Sarandos told Vanity Fair, “I think it’s really important to our filmmakers to know that if they’re doing the best work of their life and it turns out to be the best film of the year, that they can compete fairly for that Oscar. The Academy should be celebrating the art of moviemaking in all of its forms, not the art of distribution and what room a movie may or may not be seen in.”

The Academy’s response, much like the Democrats’ current position in the government shutdown, was pretty stern: put your movies into theaters and then we can talk. In fact, some members felt so strongly about this they tried to pass new eligibility rules which would instantly disqualify any movie which premieres on streaming either first or on the same day it hits theaters. No such rule passed, but Sarandos finally blinked, putting Roma, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and also Bird Box (for some reason) into theaters weeks prior to streaming.

The result: 10 nominations for Roma (including 2 acting nominations, which is 1 more than expected) and 3 for Buster Scruggs even though most expected it to get none, maybe 1 tops.

There is a fair counter argument that too much is being made of the distribution bias. Instead, Netflix had been snubbed simply because it had yet to actually make its first masterpiece. Roma changed that calculus considerably. Putting it into theaters certainly simply helped get the point across.

Either way, Ted Sarandos is responsible for more movies and TV shows at Netflix than all other traditional studios combined. Given that volume, it was only a matter of time before something broke through. Roma happened to be the movie to do it, and we might be here again next year if Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman lives up to expectations.

4. The snubs, oh, the snubs

No other film awards entity has a membership body quite like the Academy’s, with its complete grab bag collection of prior nominees, industry legends, and diverse new voices who’ve been invited to join in recent years despite seriously suspect resumes. It’s not just women and people of color who’ve been asked to join in light of #OscarsSoMale and #OscarsSoWhite; it’s also a lot of international voices.

All of this guarantees the Oscars will break with the precursor awards shows in surprising ways. Of course, that’s always been true. Remember the Academy’s puzzling love for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? However, now some of the shocks will come from the Academy favoring more esoteric choices which though surprising are hard to argue with. Phantom Thread, for example, disrupted last year’s awards race by overperforming with 6 Oscar nominations, but damn if it isn’t one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s best movies.

This is my best explanation for why the Academy shockingly snubbed Bradley Cooper for Best Director, nominating Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite) and Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War) instead. You could not find a better example of a perfectly directed, old-fashioned studio picture this year than Cooper’s work on A Star is Born. Snubbing Peter Farrelly for Green Book is more understandable, but ignoring Cooper feels entirely reminiscent of when Ben Affleck was snubbed for Argo because the director’s branch simply didn’t like an actor moving in on their territory.

But I haven’t seen Cold War yet. Hardly anyone has. It’s only playing in 39 theaters. I’m willing to bet that once I do see it I’ll have to concede I don’t know who I would take out of the Best Director category to make room for Cooper. They all seem really worthy.

Except Adam McKay for Vice. Actually, yeah, leave him out and put Cooper in. Or maybe leave him and needless-whip-pan Lanthimos out and put in Cooper and You Were Never Really Here’s Lynne Ramsay, Eighth Grade’s Bo Burnham, Leave No Trace’s Debra Granik or Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler. (Not that any of them have a shot against Alfonso Cuaron.)

That’s not how it works, though. The Academy voters make the choices and there’s no haggling with them to change their mind. If so, you’d have a damn good case that:

  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor should have been nominated for Best Documentary
  • Burning should be up for Best Foreign Film
  • Ethan Hawke’s First Reformed performance should be nominated
  • Ditto for Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade, Toni Collette in Hereditary, and Emily Blunt for either A Quiet Place or Mary Poppins Returns.
  • Other snubbed actors include: John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman), Timothee Chalamet (Boy Erased)

5. Not a good year for small movies, apparently

Every Oscar season has an odd momentum all its own and December surprises which disrupt what we thought we knew. This year’s story, however, is mostly about how few actual December surprises there were. Those movies which were meant to either define the Oscars race or change it at the last minute – First Man, Widows, The Front Runner, Mary Queen of Scots, Welcome to Marwen, Mary Poppins Returns, On the Basis of Sex – disappointed. Only Vice seemed to transfer a true end-of-the-year release into a successful Oscar campaign. Green Book and The Favourite did the same with late-November releases.

Still, with more misses than hits out of the traditional Oscar bait, there was some hope that extra consideration would be given to smaller films which came out earlier in the year. Eighth Grade, Sorry to Bother You, Hereditary, You Were Never Really Here, Leave No Trace, The Rider, First Reformed, and A Quiet Place (which made a ton of money but still had a small budget) all seemed to have legitimate shots. Other awards bodies, especially, but not limited to the Indie Spirit Awards, seemed to agree.

Not the Academy. Between those 8 movies, they end today with a total of 2 Oscar nominations: Best Original Screenplay (First Reformed) and Sound Editing (A Quiet Place).

(This is why the Academy should really bring back the Best Newcomer/Best Breakthrough Performance category. Academy voters just can’t help themselves sometimes. You need to give them an outlet to celebrate the Elsie Fisher’s and Thomasin McKenzie’s of the world.)

Crazy Rich Asians was also completely snubbed, though. So, the smaller movies don’t have the exclusive on justified disappointment today, and The Favourite is hardly a world-beater, grossing a mere $21m despite consistent awards buzz. However, we started this knowing the Academy wanted a Best Popular Film category, and now it has mega-hits like Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born competing for the right to lose to Green Book or Roma.

Best Picture

  • BlacKkKlansman
  • Black Panther
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • The Favourite
  • Green Book
  • Roma
  • A Star Is Born
  • Vice

Best Director

  • Alfonso Cuaron (Roma)
  • Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
  • Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
  • Adam McKay (Vice)
  • Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)

Best Actress

  • Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
  • Glenn Close (The Wife)
  • Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
  • Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
  • Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Best Actor

  • Christian Bale (Vice)
  • Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
  • Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
  • Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
  • Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Amy Adams (Vice)
  • Marina de Tavira (Roma)
  • Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
  • Emma Stone (The Favourite)
  • Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
  • Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
  • Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
  • Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
  • Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Best Costume Design

  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Mary Zophres)
  • Black Panther (Ruth E. Carter)
  • The Favourite (Sandy Powell)
  • Mary Poppins Returns (Sandy Powell)
  • Mary Queen of Scots (Alexandra Byrne)

Best Sound Editing

  • Black Panther
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • First Man
  • A Quiet Place
  • Roma

Best Sound Mixing

  • Black Panther
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • First Man
  • Roma
  • A Star Is Born

Best Film Editing

  • BlacKkKlansman (Barry Alexander Brown)
  • Bohemian Rhapsody (John Ottman)
  • The Favourite (Yorgos Mavropsaridis)
  • Green Book (Patrick J. Don Vito)
  • Vice (Hank Corwin)

Best Original Score

  • Black Panther (Ludwig Goransson)
  • BlacKkKlansman (Terence Blanchard)
  • If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell)
  • Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat)
  • Mary Poppins Returns (Marc Shaiman)

Best Documentary Feature

  • Free Solo
  • Hale County This Morning, This Evening
  • Minding the Gap
  • Of Fathers and Sons
  • RBG

Best Foreign-Language Film

  • Capernaum (Lebanon)
  • Cold War (Poland)
  • Never Look Away (Germany)
  • Roma (Mexico)
  • Shoplifters (Japan)

Best Production Design

  • Black Panther (Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart)
  • The Favourite (Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton)
  • First Man (Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas)
  • Mary Poppins Returns (John Myhre and Gordon Sim)
  • Roma (Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez)

Best Visual Effects

  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Christopher Robin
  • First Man
  • Ready Player One
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Cinematography

  • The Favourite (Robbie Ryan)
  • Never Look Away (Caleb Deschanel)
  • Roma (Alfonso Cuaron)
  • A Star Is Born (Matty Libatique)
  • Cold War (Lukasz Zal)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Border
  • Mary Queen of Scots
  • Vice

Best Animated Feature

  • Incredibles 2
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Mirai
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters and Eric Roth)
  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)
  • BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott)
  • If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty)

Best Original Screenplay

  • The Favourite (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara)
  • First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
  • Green Book (Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly and Nick Vallelonga)
  • Roma (Alfonso Cuaron)
  • Vice (Adam McKay)

Best Original Song

  • “All the Stars” (Black Panther, written by Kendrick Lamar, Al Shux, Sounwave, SZA and Anthony Tiffith) Performed by Kendrick Lamar and SZA
  • “I’ll Fight” (RBG, written by Diane Warren)Performed by Jennifer Hudson
  • “The Place Where Lost Things Go” (Mary Poppins Returns, written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) Performed by Emily Blunt
  • “Shallow” (A Star Is Born, written by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt) Performed by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
  • “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, written by Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch) Performed by Tim Blake Nelson and Willie Watson

Full list of nominees, including the short film categories, here.

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9 comments

  1. So befuddling to me that Vice and Bohemian Rhapsody are Best Picture worthy. They’re fill-ins to be sure, but in my mind movies like Can You Ever Forgive Me, First Reformed, First Man, and Beale Street could easily take their place. Hell, idk why the Academy didn’t push for 10 slots. If they can nominate Extremely Loud or fucking Avatar, there’s no reason these films or the films you mentioned should be shut out.

    All in all, I’m feeling the glory of Black Panther’s nominations so I’m gonna lead with that for the rest of the week. Or the month, really.

    1. One of the recurring arguments I’ve seen in other hot takes about the nominations is the Academy is now clearly a house divided against itself, that there are probably nearly as many members who detest Vice and don’t understand how glorified VH1 Original Movie Bohemian Rhapsody ended up in the Best Picture conversation as there are those who adore both of those films. Looking at all of the nominees, that seems right to me, which would normally then favor whichever film is not the consensus opinion for most loved but instead least hated. Which Best Picturee nominee will hardly get any #1 rankings on the preferential ballots but enough #2’s and #3’s to win, the ultimate “Yeah, that one was pretty good, I guess.” The answer to that would probably be Green Book. Still, I think it’s Roma’s category to lose as beyond latent Netflix-bias I don’t see a strong hate against it.

      Not that Roma should be going up against such unworthy competition. As you argued here and on your site, there are some damn fine films which not only went snubbed but also never seemed to have much of a realistic chance.

      “All in all, I’m feeling the glory of Black Panther’s nominations so I’m gonna lead with that for the rest of the week. Or the month, really.”

      A healthy, positive reaction, I’d say.

  2. I just wish that the nomination had gone to a comic book movie I truly considered the best of the year…Black Panther might not even in my top three.

    But it really SHOULD win for best costume design.

    Kind of sad that Infinity War got snubbed. Unpopular opinion, but I think juggling so many characters in a script is a skill which deserves some acknowledgement. And I will be extremely upset if it doesn’t win in the one category it is nominated in. It deserves it for Thanos alone.

    Strangely I am upset about the foreign movie category…but that isn’t really the fault of the academy. I think that Germany should have pushed for “Brecht’s Dreigroschenfilm”, but they didn’t even put it on the shortlist. The movie which ended up nominated is more “edgy” – and I somehow doubt that it has a chance….

    1. Black Panther sort of became larger than itself. They’re almost not even nominating the film itself but the larger cultural meaning and importance of the movie. But, if it came down to simply nominating a comic book movie on its merits alone I’d side with you in picking something – okay, Into the Spider-Verse – over Black Panther.

      Agreed about Costume Design.

      Infinity War – I agree that it is clearly the most impressive nominee this year. The work with Thanos alone is arguably a Two Towers-Gollum level advancement of the form. However, Marvel has 8 nominations in this category since 2008 and not a single win. The Academy has it out for them, for some reason.

      “I think that Germany should have pushed for “Brecht’s Dreigroschenfilm”, but they didn’t even put it on the shortlist. The movie which ended up nominated is more “edgy” – and I somehow doubt that it has a chance….”

      I’m always a little fuzzy on the details when it comes to how exactly the Academy picks Best Foreign Film. Don’t the parent countries have to submit their selections for potential nominees? Does that mean Brecht’s Dreigroschenfilm wasn’t even given that chance? Or do I have that wrong?

      1. Well, to be fair, Disney often lost against itself in the Special effects category. Like, Doctor Strange was psychedelic and would have been my pick in many years, but Jungle Book was honestly more impressive. But I am still bitter about the year in which Star Wars got it. Urgh!

        Germany put eleven movies up for the Academy this year, but it didn’t push for the Dreigroschenfilm, so it didn’t even made the shortlist – much to my annoyance.

  3. I thought the Academy wanted to make Oscars “popular” again, and yet apart from a couple of popular films thrown into the pile with the Best Picture nominees, they have not done much. In fact, I think they alienate people even further with their present selection, especially with no female directors, etc.

    1. They did want to make them popular again and it is highly likely we haven’t heard the last of the “Best Popular Film” category. Industry trades reports the Academy wants to retry that next year, in a more clearly defined kind of way.

      For now, we’re stuck with what we got this year, and I hear what you’re saying but at the same time this is, collectively, the highest-grossing collection of Best Picture nominees in years. Granted, it’s top heavy with Bohemian Rhapsody, Star is Born, and Black Panther, but there have been years not too long ago where only one or maybe not even a single nominee grossed over $100m. The highest grossing Best Picture winner of the last half-decade, last year’s Shape of Water, had only made $30m when the nominations were announced and topped out at $63m when all was said and done.

      So, the Academy’s efforts to include more films people have actually seen? It’s actually progressing. In prior years, for example, I don’t think there’s a chance in hell Bohemian Rhapsody actually gets a Best Picture nomination. However, the types of films which win awards remain the ones most people don’t actually want to watch, and the Academy has to cater to both the cinephiles who adore The Favourite and the populist movie-lovers who hope Black Panther at least wins something. It’s a real “you can’t please everybody” situation.

      The no female directors thing is, as Patty Jenkins argued, likely a reflection of how very few female directors get to vote. Every Best Director nominee gets invited to join the Academy and vote in that category, and when something like only 5 women have ever been nominated for Best Director that’s calling on an almost entirely male voting pool to champion some potential female nominees.

      Making matters worse is the fact that female directors are more likely than men to defect from features to documentaries or to end up directing micro-budget features which win critical acclaim but lack the budget or box office grosses to support a sustained Oscar campaign. When your movie can’t even make back its marketing costs at the box office, it’s a huge risk to then hire an expensive awards consultant to try to lobby your way into the awards conversation. By comparison, the 5 men nominated this year had Netflix (Roma) and Amazon (Cold War) money behind them, traditional studio backing (BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite), or the bottomless pockets of a billionaire’s movie-loving daughter (Vice).

      As a result, it’s not exactly stunning to see females snubbed again largely because they’ve all been snubbed by just about precursor awards shows. Leave No Trace, The Rider, You Were Never Really Here (which, to be fair, also had Amazon money behind it), and other potential nominees this year never really made any noise outside of The Indie Spirit nominations. That doesn’t make it right or any less divisive, of course.

  4. Why do I feel that there is more of an inherent bias regarding Disney/Marvel and ABC and the Academy this year?
    Like… Was Incredibles 2 actually worthy of full length Animation, or was that a lazy slot?

    Also, Kudos for Stefani Germanotta for the Academy First she managed in lead Actress and Best Song. She’ll win for Shallow and lose Actress this year… But might be back a different year.

    1. “Also, Kudos for Stefani Germanotta for the Academy First she managed in lead Actress and Best Song.”

      I was going to say Barbra Streisand beat her to it with The Way We Were, but turns out Babs was only directly nominated for Lead Actress (and lost). The film’s titular song actually was nominated and won, but since Babs only sang the song and didn’t write it she wasn’t directly nominated for the award. Then years later when she did her version of A Star is Born she won Best Song but was snubbed for a Best Actress nomination. So, I guess Lady Gaga (your post is the first time I’ve ever heard her real name) really did set history.

      “Why do I feel that there is more of an inherent bias regarding Disney/Marvel and ABC and the Academy this year?
      Like… Was Incredibles 2 actually worthy of full length Animation, or was that a lazy slot?”

      That’s less about any kind of Disney/Marvel/ABC synergy bias than it is about Pixar being a rubber stamp Best Animated Feature nomination every year. Ever since the award was introduced, the only Pixar films not to be nominated are: Cars 2, Cars 3, Monsters University, Finding Dory, and The Good Dinosaur. Clearly, Incredibles 2 joins Toy Story 3 as the only Pixar sequels to be nominated. However, considering the critical and fan reaction to Incredibles 2 it’s been considered a lock for not just a nomination but also probably a win ever since it came out. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse changed that conversation and is the new front-runner, but Incredibles 2 has always been in the conversation for best animated film of the year (even though, personally, I enjoyed, but didn’t love it).

      Also aiding in all of this: the Academy changed the voting rules for Animated Feature two years ago. Whereas the nominees used to be picked exclusively by the animation branch now all Academy voters get to select the nominees. The change is meant to favor more mainstream titles and edge out some of the lesser-known foreign titles the actual members of the animation branch tend to champion. The rule, as you might expect, hasn’t gone over well with the animation branch.

      Truthfully, though, it’s pretty much always just a race for the right to lose to Disney, which hasn’t lost since 2011 when Rango won and Disney’s only two animated films that year – Cars 2 and Winnie the Pooh – weren’t even nominated.

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