I’m starting to think that the Oscars are no longer meant for me. Every year, the Academy Awards makes one confounding decision after another that shocks audiences and makes them flare up at their nostrils. Bohemian Rhapsody winning Best Film Editing. Green Book winning Best Picture. Even during last year’s ceremony, the late Chadwick Boseman lost Best Actor for his amazing performance as an overzealous jazz musician in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom to Anthony Hopkins’ heart-wrenching performance in The Father. Don’t get me wrong, both performances were amazing, but come on guys.
Even the nominations get stranger with each passing year. Last year, the overbearingly long black-and-white drama Mank received 10 nominations despite how dull, boring, and lifeless that film was. This year is keeping with the trend by awarding The Power Of The Dog with 12 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and a whole slew of technical nominations and way too many acting nominations. Out of all 12 nominations, The Power Of The Dog deserves maybe four: Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Acting nominations for Benedict Cumberbatch and Kodi-Smit McPhee. It definitely does not deserve Best Sound. Its Hollywood couple Jesse Plemons and Kristen Dunst definitely do not deserve Best Supporting Actor nominations. And there is no way in HELL that the movie deserves Best Film Editing for refusing to shave even 15 minutes off of its exasperating 2-hour runtime. But sure, let’s just give it as many nominations as Lincoln and The Revenant because the studio paid enough money to Academy board voters. Whatever.
Now the second most-nominated Best Picture nominee, Dune, is a vastly better picture and actually earns the majority of its nominations. From visual effects to cinematography to film editing to music to costume, makeup, sound, and set design, Dune is an audio-visual odyssey unmatched not only by any other film the past year, but by several films from the past several years. To say it is a science-fiction masterpiece is a massive, massive understatement. It has earned every nomination it has amassed and deserved to sweep away the competition on Oscar night.
The biggest frustration behind Dune isn’t what it is nominated for, but rather what it isn’t nominated for. Despite how many nominations it has racked up, Dune’s director Denis Villeneuve is noticeably absent in the Best Director category, which is especially bewildering given how many recent blockbuster movie directors were recognized for their outstanding technical achievement in previous years (see Sam Mendes for 1917, George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road, Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity). What on Earth was the Academy thinking? Here is one of the most unique, creative, and immersive cinematic experiences of the last decade, and instead of giving director Denis Villeneuve his due, they instead decided that it was more important to give Steven Spielberg his 19th nomination despite already winning Best Director twice. Give me a break.
Speaking of Steven Spielberg, his remake of the classic musical West Side Story earned seven nominations right alongside Kenneth Branaugh’s Belfast, including Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song, and a slew of Best Acting nominations, including one for supporting actress Ariana DeBose. I have no problems with these individual nominations themselves, and it is nice to see Kenneth Branagh get a Best Directing nomination after not receiving one for over 30 years since his director debut Henry V. I just really, really, REALLY hate that Spielberg is nominated in the same category. Even if you gave West Side Story one less nomination, it still would have tied for the fourth most nominations out of all the Best Picture nominees. Did Spielberg really have to take the Best Director nom away from Denis Villeneuve? Really?
At six nominations, King Richard is the second Best Picture nominee to miss out on a Best Director nomination, but it more than makes up for it in other categories. Besides Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song, and Best Film Editing, co-stars Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis both locked in nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Both actors gave some of the best performances of the year and are more than deserving of their respective nominations, though I can’t help but feel Will Smith has a better chance of winning due to his sheer star power.
The next three surprises come in Nightmare Alley, Drive My Car, and Don’t Look Up. The big surprise with these isn’t just the fact that they secured four nominations a piece: it’s the fact that all three secured Best Picture nominations despite the fact that they were all considered dark horses before even entering the Oscar race. I wouldn’t expect too many wins though. With most of its nominations stacking up in the technical categories, that inevitably means Nightmare Alley and Don’t Look Up will be going head to head against Dune, and I just don’t see them winning that matchup (although Drive My Car does have solid chances winning in the Best Foreign Language film category).
The last two Best Picture nominees are underdogs that stand really good chances at winning in either of their categories. With Licorice Pizza and CODA securing Best Original Screenplay nominations and respective Best Director and Supporting Actor nominations, these two films’ windows are limited, but they’re hard-hitting contenders in their categories. It would not be much of a stretch to imagine Licorice Pizza winning in all three of its categories next month, especially when you remember Spotlight’s Best Picture win from 2015.
And in other ways, there were actually many small wins in this years Oscar nominations. For one thing, all 10 of its Best Picture slots were filled up this year, and that hasn’t happened at the Academy Awards since a full decade ago. Tick, Tick… BOOM! was nominated twice for film editing and Best Actor for Andrew Garfield, and that’s two more nominations that I wasn’t even expecting, so I was pleased about that. And of course, the biggest movie of the year Spider-Man: No Way Home earned a much-deserved visual effects nomination, which is more than you can say about other movies like Captain America: Civil War, The Dark Knight Rises, Thor: Ragnarok, etc.
But don’t get it twisted: there were still way more snubs this year than there were supposed to be. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights got a resounding zero nominations, which is especially surprising given all of its incredible costumes and set design. House of Gucci got snubbed in the acting categories, even Lady Gaga for her amazing turn as one of the most coldly calculated villains in recent memory. But the most maddening snub comes with Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, which got a resounding zero nominations across all the categories. That includes best adapted writing, cinematography, set design, costume design, editing, music: even its star Jody Comer got completely overlooked in both of the acting categories. The fact that The Last Duel and House of Gucci received Razzie nominations for Ben Affleck and Jared Leto’s performances only add insult to injury.
We’ll see how everything pans out on Oscar night, but at the moment I am feeling very unenthused about this year’s ceremony. As I say year after year, the Oscars should be about recognizing the biggest achievements in film: about honoring the best movies of the year and how they moved and changed us. This year’s ceremony seems to be about taking those nominations away from those deserving films and giving them to The Power Of The Dog instead.
– David Dunn