With one big exception, which Duana will be posting about later, this morning’s Oscar nominations are almost entirely acceptable. 2018 was a GREAT year for film, so for sure one of your faves didn’t get nominated. Eighth Grade got shut out, for instance. And Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Three Identical Strangers didn’t get nominated in the Best Documentary category (although I heard some compelling arguments against Strangers and its structure from documentarians so I’m not terribly surprised by that one). And they left two open spots on the Best Picture possible-field-of-ten which DEFINITELY should have been filled this year. But on the other hand, Spike Lee scored his first Best Picture nomination with BlacKkKlansman. And Black Panther made history (more on this later). And Roma and The Favourite led the way with ten nominations apiece, and both of those movies only feature men in supporting roles, so this is maybe the first time the Oscar leaders are women’s narratives. Overall, this is not as enraging an Oscar year as times past. Let’s break it down.
First, this is year the Netflix broke through. Roma has ten nominations, including Best Picture, tying The Favourite for most of the year. Alfonso Cuaron landed four nominations himself (producer, director, writer, cinematographer), which puts him in company with Warren Beatty, the Coen Brothers, and Alan Menken for most-nominated individual for a single film. And Roma also landed both actress nominations, with breakthrough performer Yalitza Aparicio getting a Best Actress nomination and Marina de Tavira scoring in Best Supporting Actress. That both women got nominated tells me a lot of Academy members actually watched Roma, because Netflix wasn’t pushing de Tavira as much as they were Aparicio. She wasn’t as prominent or prevalent on the Oscar campaign, so you actually had to watch Roma to see how great she is, and how both performances feed off each other.
Clearly, the Academy does not have a Netflix bias any longer. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs scored three surprise nominations, so Roma is not a one-off, and Netflix racked up thirteen total nominations, including their first Best Picture nod. The Academy went in on Netflix this year. It turns out, all they needed to do was hand carte blanche to prestige filmmakers, and suddenly they’re in the big club. And though Netflix did put both movies in theaters—in a very limited, four-walled way—I wonder if the convenience of their release platform actually worked in their favor this time. Both movies were available at home over the holidays. Academy members did not have to get dressed up for a special event or stand in line for an Academy screening to see these movies. They could just watch them at home. And I wonder if the comparative ease of that is ultimately what put these movies in front of so many eyeballs. Also, with SO many creatives booking Netflix deals these days, you have to imagine the actors, directors, and increasingly producers, don’t really care about streaming bias. Netflix is paying them in a way studios rarely do anymore.
It should be noted that Marina de Tavira’s nomination means Claire Foy did not get in for First Man. The fifth spot in Supporting Actress was open (after you figure Amy Adams, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Regina King as locks), and it looked to be Foy’s, but that nomination did not materialize. As much as I like Claire Foy, I will not call this a “snub” because one, the competition was STACKED so inevitably SOMEONE wasn’t getting in, and two, I’m not bothered if the Academy is finally over its Stressed Wife obsession. Claire Foy is great, but her role in First Man is so representative of what women had to settle for when roles weren’t as rich as those in Roma, The Favourite, Vice, and If Beale Street Could Talk. The limitations of her role can’t stand up to the expansiveness of those other parts, and more and more it looks like First Man will be dinged forever for stranding such a talented actress in such a small, conventional part (Damien Chazelle can’t write women well, perhaps he should consider collaborating with more women).
But First Man did still sneak in with four nominations (both sound categories, production design, and VFX). I expected it to compete in the craft categories despite losing momentum as an overall leading contender, though I am surprised it didn’t get a score nomination. Justin Hurwitz just won a couple Oscars for La La Land, so perhaps the Academy thought he’s had his moment, but the First Man score is a real standout. That’s a little bit of a headscratcher, but indicative of the overall competition this year.
The Oscar race is wide open. A Star is Born didn’t get as much love as expected, Green Book is in contention but Peter Farrelly didn’t get a directing nomination, while Spike Lee did AND got his first Best Picture nomination. The 2018 Oscars can do what the 1989 Oscars didn’t and recognize Spike Lee as one of the best American filmmakers working today. It would be nice to think that both Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody aren’t our problematic favorites anymore, but the reality is, though they’re outstripped by The Favourite and Roma in total nominations, they’re still in it. It feels less sure, now, for both of them, but they still have good odds. They both have their fans, though I wish the Academy would keep in mind that rewarding Bohemian Rhapsody is rewarding Bryan Singer. He won’t be at the ceremony and no one will thank him, but his name is still attached to the film. He still benefits.
But I refuse to give any more bandwidth to that mediocrity. This is the year we could get #JusticeForSpike, the year a weird lady-led historical drama about gossip could win big, the year we’re almost guaranteed another magnificent Regina King speech, the Year Of Black Panther, the year the Academy finally embraced the future of film. A few months ago, we thought A Star is Born was the assured frontrunner. This morning, it is anyone’s race.