The big loser was diversity.
Now that the 2020 Oscar nominations are in, the requisite analysis can begin. You can’t learn a lot about movies from the Oscar nods, but you can learn a lot about the movie industry — what it prioritizes, who it favors, who it ignores over and over again. And this year’s nominees provide plenty of fodder for that analysis.
Here are the winners and losers of the 2020 nominations and what they mean for the February 9 ceremony — and for the future of Hollywood.
Alongside “most controversial movie of the year” and “highest-grossing non-Disney movie of the year,” Joker is now the “most Oscar-nominated” movie, too, which isn’t too surprising. The movie started its path to the Oscars by winning the coveted Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in early September. It also earned solid reviews and had the biggest October box-office opening of all time. And it’s been raking in awards all season, especially for star Joaquin Phoenix, who even the movie’s detractors generally agree merits recognition for his body-contorting performance. That’s a huge showing for director Todd Phillips, who until 2019 was best known as for helming the Hangover trilogy.
The only thing standing in Joker’s way — at least from the standpoint of industry insiders who vote on the Academy Awards — is that it’s based on a comic book property, which still carries the whiff of “unserious” to some. But movies like 2008’s The Dark Knight and last year’s Best Picture nominee (and similarly high earner) Black Panther have paved the way in that regard. And given that Joker self-consciously, if clumsily, mimics two classic movies made by Martin Scorsese (whose own film The Irishman earned 10 nominations), its “serious” bona fides seem well-established. The big question now is whether the Academy loves the movie enough to actually send it home with trophies. — Alissa Wilkinson
Loser: Anyone who isn’t a straight, white American
The Oscars have never had a sparkling track record with nominating people of color in the biggest categories. The omissions are particularly glaring this year: While Bong Joon-ho scored several nominations for his unforgettable film Parasite, the only non-white nominee in the acting field is Cynthia Erivo. And Erivo is recognized for her turn as Harriet Tubman in Harriet — stellar work, to be sure, but it’s hard not to find it dismaying that the one black person with a big-deal Oscar nod played a slave.
When it comes to ethnic and LGBTQ diversity, there are almost no non-Americans and no self-identified queer nominees this year. Again setting aside Bong’s recognition for Parasite, Antonio Banderas is the one international star to pick up a nomination, for Best Actor in Pain and Glory. And almost every one of the Best Picture nominees probes the fascinating, unsung trials and tribulations of … being a white man in society.
As Vox’s Emily VanDerWerff put it in her more in-depth explainer on the lack of diversity among the 2020 Oscar nominees, this homogeneity is not for a lack of strong candidates:
It’s not as if there were few other options for Academy members to turn to! Performers of color who’ve received major nominations at precursor awards like the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and Screen Actors Guild Awards include everybody from Jennifer Lopez of Hustlers (nominated for all three!), Awkwafina of The Farewell (a Golden Globe winner), Lupita Nyong’o of Us (winner of the most lead actress awards from critics organizations this awards season), Eddie Murphy of Dolemite Is My Name, Song Kang-ho of Parasite, Zhao Shuzhen of The Farewell, and Jamie Foxx of Just Mercy.
For as great as many of the nominated films and actors are, #OscarsSoWhite — and straight, and American — has reared its head once more. — Allegra Frank
Since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where it picked up the festival’s biggest prize, the Palme d’Or, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite has been like a snowball, picking up plaudits, awards, and audience fervor along the way. A taut, funny thriller with a chilling social conscience, Parasite seemed poised to step into the gap left by Roma last year: the rare non-English-language film that attracts the attention of subtitle-averse American audiences as well as the Academy.
And it delivered. Though none of its cast was nominated, Parasite still picked up six nominations: Best Picture, Best International Feature, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Production Design. That’s a huge deal for South Korea, which has somehow never had a film nominated for Best International Feature (let alone Best Picture). And it’s a big deal for Bong, who’s been a genial presence on the awards circuit, gently poking fun at the “1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles” and continuing to carve out space for “foreign” films on the Oscar stage. — AW
Loser: The cast of Parasite
Though Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite enjoyed many nominations, its cast was left out in the cold. This usually tends to happen with movies that are positioned as directorial achievements, as Parasite was. But Parasite was every bit a character-driven story as its fellow Best Picture nominees, centering on how poverty and inequality pushes the Kim family to nefariously worm its way into the lives of a richer family. The primary cast — Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam — delivers performances that make you question morality and root for them despite their shameful scheme.
The acting snubs are a reminder that the Oscars have never been great at honoring non-white actors; in 2015 and 2016, all 20 acting nominees were white, which inspired much backlash. — Alex Abad-Santos
Netflix poured money into its movies this awards season, beginning with the production budget for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (which reached nearly $160 million) and continuing with lavish parties and campaign events to make sure Academy voters were thinking about its prestige films. Having joined the Motion Picture Association of America — the trade association of the six largest Hollywood studios — last year after the Oscars, it seemed Netflix was determined to prove itself a worthy contender among its five peers.
And it paid off. With 24 nominations, the streamer narrowly beat out Disney — Disney! — for the biggest Oscars haul. Among those are two Best Picture nominees (Marriage Story and The Irishman); multiple acting and craft nominations (including for movies Marriage Story, The Irishman, and The Two Popes); a documentary nomination for American Factory; and animated feature nods for Klaus and I Lost My Body.
Whether this will translate into the most statuettes come Oscar night is another story. There are reportedly still many voters in the Academy who harbor an anti-Netflix bias, believing that streaming services are wrecking the traditional movie industry. But with Netflix doing everything it can to prove otherwise (including a long-term rental of New York’s historic Paris Theater to show Netflix titles), this could be the year the Academy finally caves and decides Netflix is truly one of its own. — AW
Every competition has its underdog, and the Oscars are no exception. And though the Academy tends to favor “obvious” choices for its awards — movies about Hollywood or history; movies with big, showy performances — sometimes underdogs break through.
Not this year. The stressful, hilarious, devastating Uncut Gems gained some momentum throughout awards season for star Adam Sandler and directors Josh and Benny Safdie, but left the nominations empty-handed. Similarly, Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers earned acclaim, lots of money, and audience praise — and Best Supporting Actress buzz for star Jennifer Lopez — but the Academy didn’t nominate the movie in any categories. And though Parasite received many nominations, its entire cast was shut out of the acting categories.
Perhaps the most glaring omission was Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, a stunner of a family drama that netted star Awkwafina a Golden Globe for her performance. It’s possible The Farewell stumbled because it wasn’t as showy as some other entries, or because much of the dialogue is in Chinese. Still, these omissions show that although the Academy has been working toward celebrating a broader and more diverse range of stories, particularly from younger directors, it still has a long way to go. — AW
Winner: Florence Pugh
It’s been a very good year for Florence Pugh, who until 2019 was still flying under most audience’s radars (despite unforgettable performances in movies like Lady Macbeth and shows like AMC’s The Little Drummer Girl). This year changed all of that. Her performance in Midsommar as Dani, a grieving and put-upon girlfriend who finds a kind of rebirth in a very creepy Swedish village, was indelible — who can forget her wails?
She followed it up with a stunning performance in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women as Amy March, the youngest of the four March sisters who’s often remembered as kind of a brat. Amy is probably the hardest of the four March sisters to portray, since she starts the story as a child and ends as a woman, growing from immature imp to composed and sophisticated adult. And Pugh pulls it off masterfully, imbuing Amy with a humanity that hasn’t always been granted her in other adaptations.
Pugh is next set to star alongside the doubly nominated Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow, due out in May 2020. And with an Oscar nomination under her belt, she’s sure to be one of the stars to watch in non-franchise fare over the next few years, too. — AW
Loser: Women directors
Same song, same verse. Once again, women directors were entirely locked out of Oscar nominations, which Issa Rae slyly pointed to during the announcements:
Issa Rae, after announcing the Best Director category: “Congratulations to those men.” pic.twitter.com/Sf8KHGRMGJ
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 13, 2020
The Academy has an abysmal history of nominating women in the director category. When Greta Gerwig received a nod in 2018 for Lady Bird, she was only the fifth woman to be nominated for Best Director in the more than 90-year history of the Oscars. The other four are Kathryn Bigelow (who won in 2010 for The Hurt Locker), Lina Wertmüller (nominated in 1977 for Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (nominated in 1994 for The Piano), and Sofia Coppola (nominated in 2004 for Lost in Translation).
That Gerwig wasn’t nominated this year for Little Women — which earned six nominations, including Best Picture and a Best Adapted Screenplay nod for Gerwig — seems like a real snub. But talented directors of plenty of other critically acclaimed and audience-loved films were also left out in the dark, like Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Alma Har’el (Honey Boy), Olivia Wilde (Booksmart), and Mati Diop (who won the Grand Prix at Cannes for Atlantics).
There’s plenty of speculation about why women continue to be shut out of the category, year after year. But it’s obvious to any observer that it doesn’t have to do with the quality of direction; other elements are at play here. And though the Academy has been working hard to diversify its membership, it’s a large voting body with a lot of old habits that will take more than a few years to fix. — AW
Winner: The stars of Bombshell
Bombshell was not a good movie, earning mixed-to-negative reviews from critics. Yet the story of some very recent history still garnered two coveted nominations in acting categories: Charlize Theron for Best Actress and Margot Robbie for Best Supporting Actress. Theron uncannily channels Megyn Kelly, nailing (for the most part) her appearance and the timbre of her voice. Robbie, meanwhile, played a composite character who, along with Kelly and Nicole Kidman’s Gretchen Carlson, tackles the systemic sexual harassment at Fox News.
These nominations came without Bombshell getting recognized in other major categories (including writing, directing, and Best Picture) — and very much in spite of performances (see: Awkwafina in The Farewell and Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers) and movies that garnered more praise along the way. — AAS
Author: Alissa Wilkinson