Lucy pulls the ball away once again! What’s amazing about the Oscars is that, for movie fans, Lucy can do this twice in the span of a month or two. (Less than a month, in this case, with the show airing on February 9.) The two-faced nature of the nominees is especially stark this year — everything’s either really good or really bad, with little in between — and I wouldn’t bet on the really good movies coming out on top in February. But yes, I’ll still watch the show just in case. Charlie Brown is all of us.
If I can mount a defense of getting up to watch the nominee announcements every single time for the last several years, I would say there’s a grim fascination in watching two very talented people whose job is to read the names (this year, John Cho and Issa Rae) when it is simply too early in the morning to be successfully funny about it. These two did as good a job as anyone could. Rae’s comment about the directing nominees (“Congratulations to those men”) deservedly got the most attention on Twitter. She made the point succinctly and with more subtlety than anyone should expect before the sun comes up. As Mark Harris wrote on Friday, Greta Gerwig was the only female director who had a chance in that category, so the fact that she probably just missed the cut speaks more to the larger Hollywood culture, which didn’t give enough attention to a wealth of possibilities at the outset, than to a specific snub by the voters. This sounds like splitting hairs, but it’s a good reminder that, in a voting situation, it’s always tempting to construct a straw man monolith when the real culprit is more amorphous. Getting mad at the Oscars is like trying to punch a cloud and like trying to kick Lucy’s football. I’ve got all the metaphors today.
I’ll get the cloud-punching out of the way quickly. Lupita Nyong’o, Adam Sandler, Terrence Malick, Yorick Le Saux, Greta Gerwig, Apollo 11, Song Kang-ho, Robert De Niro, Elisabeth Moss, Zhao Tao, Beyoncé’s Homecoming, Claire Denis. I list those non-nominees (to be clear, Gerwig got a nod for her screenplay, which is good) sort of in order of actual snubs-to-my own personal wishlist that was never going to happen. Any one of these people or films getting more love from the Academy would increase my interest exponentially. Flipping the coin over, the eleven nominations for the truly loathsome Joker is by far the most egregious outcome so far. (The other “bad” choices in the Best Picture field — Ford v Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit and 1917 — were much less infuriating to me personally. They all have at least something going for them.) When the Oscars make bad choices, the sheer pandering of those choices is always plain to see.
In more neutral news, just last year I quipped about Netflix only getting one Best Picture nomination. Well, that was only the beginning. As expected, both The Irishman (ten nominations in all) and Marriage Story (six) did very well. The Two Popes also had a pretty good morning, and both American Factory (documentary feature) and I Lost My Body (animated feature) were named. I look forward to seeing how this trend develops in the new decade. One trend that has failed to materialize in the eleven years since The Dark Knight is superhero movies getting their moment in the sun à la the big 1960s musicals. I might be speaking too soon if Joker becomes the big winner in February, but I honestly don’t expect that to happen. The talk last spring of Avengers: Endgame breaking through has rightly evaporated. Ripping off The Return of the King proved to be a less effective Oscar-bait strategy than ripping off Martin Scorsese, for whatever that’s worth. Scorsese himself being nominated alongside Todd Phillips is the most ruefully fascinating fact of the day.
Now at last for the good news! Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, my favorite movie of the year, is nominated for Best Picture and five other categories. It is the very first Korean movie to get into the top category and is a lock to win the newly christened Best International Feature award. If it only wins that one, fine. In the Best Picture category, the good movies outnumber the bad ones. The Irishman, Little Women, Marriage Story and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood are all very good. Florence Pugh’s, Joe Pesci’s and Tom Hanks’s supporting role nominations are lovely — as is Rian Johnson’s screenplay nod and the appearance of For Sama with the aforementioned American Factory in the documentary category. Cynthia Erivo, Roger Deakins and Toy Story 4 are more in the realm of mixed blessings (because of the specific movies being honored, not the quality of the work to be found therein), but I’d be happy with any of them winning.
That will certainly do for now. As much as I’d like to defend awards shows against conservatives who moan about celebrities having opinions if and only if they disagree with them, I’m sure I’ll cringe multiple times at this year’s host-less ceremony. But you’d better believe I’ll watch it, because I’m Charlie Brown and I’m not ashamed to admit it.