Like Christmas morning, the announcement of a given year’s Oscar nominees is all about anticipation. The ultimate results will be uneven at best, but allowing oneself hope for a pleasant surprise here or there is too fun to resist. I think so, anyway. Movie lovers, of course, run the gamut in terms of whether these most mainstream of film honors are really worth fussing over. The increased diversity in the voting body has arguably led to an even stranger assortment of films being recognized than is typical. If I’m in a good mood, I might even suggest that the presence of howlers in the Best Picture list makes for a more dramatic contest than the broadly agreed-upon picks of any critics organization. Villains are necessary, provided that they don’t actually win in the end. (I know I’m going to regret saying that.)
If the eight movies vying for the top award have one thing in common, it’s that I’ve seen them all. Last year, I accomplished this feat only after the nominations were announced, so I’ve done a slightly better job this time of keeping up with the contenders. I’m proud to say that this was mostly accidental, too. Only in the last two weeks did I catch up with movies (Vice and Green Book) specifically because the prognosticators all put them on their lists or on the bubble. I may have had the possibility in mind for a few of the remaining six, but mostly I was interested in them for their own sake. My newfound literacy in the awards conversation hasn’t amounted to much yet, but at least I don’t have even a slight nagging feeling that there’s an obligatory viewing in my future.
So, about those uneven results: however excited I was in anticipation of a Best Picture slate with which I was entirely familiar, now that I’ve thought a little about the actual choices, the excitement is almost entirely gone. I won’t hesitate to agree with the consensus that three of the films (including Green Book and Vice, coincidentally, and also Bohemian Rhapsody) are terrible — utterly undeserving of positive recognition in what was a particularly strong year for cinema. The other five movies are all pretty good, albeit with only one reaching my own top ten for the year. My two favorites on the list, The Favourite and Roma, lead the field in total nominations with ten apiece, so I know I can look forward to at least some happy results. In terms of “getting people to care,” I don’t think the Academy could have done a much better job of selecting some genuinely popular, accessible films. The two expected newsworthy breakthroughs both happened, with Black Panther securing Marvel’s place on the big stage at last, and Roma doing the same for Netflix. Somehow I doubt these choices will stop the complaints that the Oscars are snobbish, only selecting movies that no one has seen or can see. And for those of us already inclined to care about this stuff, there’s not much to get excited about, except perhaps the absence of a clear front-runner. A Star Is Born suddenly doesn’t look as inevitable as it once did, and Green Book appears to be a real threat.
As for the other categories, I’m more or less equally underwhelmed. No acting nomination for Ethan Hawke in First Reformed hurts the most, with the complete lack of recognition for Leave No Trace and Private Life close behind. I couldn’t expect two Netflix movies to be in the running, though, could I? Then again, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs did slightly better than I expected, securing nominations in Costume Design, Adapted Screenplay and Original Song. I’ll be rooting for Minding the Gap and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in the Feature Documentary and Feature Animation categories, respectively. Finally, to keep myself from sounding too jaded, let me reiterate that The Favourite received ten nominations. Prestige costume drama though it may be, it primarily struck me when I saw it in December as an exciting, twisted film that might get overlooked by a staid awards body. The fact that the Academy is so fully on board with it is a cause for celebration, even if you find the wide-angle lenses in the film to be distracting and hideous.
I used to itemize the major categories, but I don’t think I’ll waste my time with that anymore. This can be seen as personal growth. I don’t follow the races or the history closely enough to predict the winners, and the idea of who “should” win is even more dubious. I’m not even all that keen on watching the awards ceremony this year. This can also be seen as personal growth. For the next month, I will do a little more catch-up work. My sights are set on Cold War (nominated, like Roma, for both Cinematography and Directing in addition to its expected Foreign Language Film nod) and at least a few of the short film nominees. In the end, though, I think my increasing devotion to watching new movies has given me less reason to care about how the Oscars turn out. I’ll be ready to put the year 2018 in cinema to bed before the Academy is.