Ah, the fickle Oscar voters.
As the dust settles from the 2020 nomination announcement, it's clear the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences swooned for old-fashioned movie magic (1917, Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood) and dramatic, tear-your-heart-out performances (Joker), but steered clear of some of this year's most affecting and female-led films.
SNUB: Greta Gerwig for Little Women
The list of Oscar nominations for Little Women is impressive: best picture, best original score, best actress, best supporting actress, best costume design and best adapted screenplay. Guess what's missing? Somehow, the academy voters managed to celebrate Greta Gerwig's radical remix of the classic novel without nominating her efforts as the director. Yes, with Sam Mendes and Martin Scorsese, the race is a tight one, but Gerwig's fearless and insightful adaptation should have earned her a slot.
SNUB: Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems
The academy dashed the hopes of Sandler fans everywhere when they scratched Uncut Gems off the list. While the directing duo of Benny and Josh Safdie managed to create the perfect vehicle for Sandler's exuberant skill set, perhaps his performance as Howard Ratner, jewellery store owner and gambling addict, was too meshuggeneh for voters. (For his part, Sandler appears to be happy the ride is over.)
Last year, director Martin Scorsese said superhero movies aren't cinema. Now, he's competing in the best picture race against one. In fact, Todd Phillips's gritty origin story of the Batman villain has strutted its way to the top of the Oscar race with an impressive 11 nominations. While Phillips's superficial treatment of mental illness and male rage irked some critics (OK, irked me), Joaquin Phoenix's commitment was impossible to ignore.
SURPRISE: The Farewell
A remarkable film about a cross-cultural journey, The Farewell wasn't just snubbed, it was shut out entirely. Awkwafina's sincere turn as a granddaughter visiting her sick Nai Nai in China has racked up critics awards but received no love from Oscar. To add to the snub, part of what made The Farewell such a delight is director Lulu Wang's naturalistic storytelling style. At one time, I might have worried about the international appeal of this mostly Mandarin-language film. But while The Farewell got zero Oscar nominations, the Korean-language film Parasite received six.
SNUB: Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers
You want to know what is cinema? Jennifer Lopez, sitting on the roof of a Manhattan nightclub, legs splayed, covered in fur, holding court like a modern-day queen. That was just one in a series of striking moments featuring Lopez as the mother hen to a gang of scheming strippers in Hustlers. It was a performance dripping with enough poignancy and pizzazz that it should have bumped Kathy Bates's mopey mother from Richard Jewell out of the running.
SURPRISE: Jojo Rabbit
Chalk another one up to the TIFF People's Choice prize. The award voted on by filmgoers at Canada's largest film festival tends to augur well for Oscar season. Director Taika Waititi described this Second World War parable as an anti-war satire, and while some critics didn't find his mocking of Nazis to be in good taste, the comedy received six Oscar nominations, including best picture and a best supporting actress nom for Scarlett Johansson as Jojo's mom.
SNUB: Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name
What is it, Oscar, don't you like to laugh? While it's been years since Eddie Murphy has made a comedy, Dolemite Is My Name wasn't just funny, it was actually a sweet film about the perseverance of Rudy Ray Moore, a Hollywood outsider if ever there was one. Surely, if the academy can give Murphy a nomination for Dreamgirls, Dolemite deserves a shot.
The Oscar intelligentsia expected the South Korean thriller to perform well, but few predicted the movie from director Bong Joon-ho would rack up six nominations, including best picture, screenplay and director. While richly deserved, it could also be a sign of the academy evolving to a more international outlook.
The appropriately audacious story of Elton John was a welcome blast of musical naughtiness after the surprisingly safe Bohemian Rhapsody. So, there were hopes Taron Egerton's surprise win at the Golden Globes could spell a late-season burst of momentum. But while the academy made space for Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce in the best actor category, Egerton was denied. Perhaps next time he should invite some of the 7,000 voters of the academy to his place for a birthday party.