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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

Well done Black Panther and Roma, but here’s why you shouldn’t take the Oscar nominations seriously

The Academy made history on Tuesday with the Oscar nominations, and while Black Panther and Roma’s recognition deserves to be celebrated, here’s why you shouldn’t take the Oscars too seriously.

hollywood Updated: Jan 23, 2019 09:11 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
In this file photo taken on March 1, 2018 Oscars statuettes stand on display during a preview for the Governors Ball during the 90th annual Academy Awards week in Hollywood, California.
In this file photo taken on March 1, 2018 Oscars statuettes stand on display during a preview for the Governors Ball during the 90th annual Academy Awards week in Hollywood, California.(AFP)
         

The comedian Ricky Gervais has an unflappable logic that he applies to writing material. He says that there is no scenario in which the comedian doesn’t end up offending someone or the other. So the best option, always, is to go with your gut. The Academy seems to operate under the same beliefs. It’s no wonder then that the nominations for the 2019 Oscars were a joke.

Announced early evening Tuesday (India time) by actors Kumail Nanjiani and Tracee Ellis Ross, the Oscar nominations instead of celebrating the greatest cinematic ‘achievements’ of the year, did a bang up job - as always - of putting everyone in a bad mood.

It’s foolish to expect an organisation that applies such questionable voting methodology to do right by the underdogs, and although Roma’s acting nominations were unexpected, they rightly recognised the fine performances of its two lead stars.

This image released by Netflix shows Marina de Tavira, centre, in a scene from the film Roma, by filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron.
This image released by Netflix shows Marina de Tavira, centre, in a scene from the film Roma, by filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron. ( AP )

But by the time the nominations were announced, Roma was no longer the tiny black and white foreign language upstart that it started its campaign as. It was the film to beat. The New York Times reported that Netflix spent approximately $20 million on Roma’s awards campaign - a staggering amount, considering the film’s $15 million production budget. It shows just how badly the streaming giant wants that Oscars validation, especially since its main rival, Amazon, beat Netflix to the punch in 2017.

Unlike, say, Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody - easily the most controversial of the eight Best Picture nominees - Roma thoroughly deserves the praise it is getting. And even though Netflix put all its eggs in the Roma basket, it was rewarded for its brave creative model with the surprise love shown to The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the Coen Brothers’ oddball Western anthology movie that ended up with three nods, each of them unexpected.

Steven Spielberg might not agree - he has said in the past that Netflix films should be eligible not for Oscars consideration but for the Emmys instead - but history was made nonetheless.

This image released by Disney shows a scene from Marvel Studios' Black Panther.
This image released by Disney shows a scene from Marvel Studios' Black Panther. ( AP )

For Marvel Studios, though, the seven nominations given to Black Panther arrive after a strong and sustained awards campaign that forced them to make the difficult decision of severing the chances of its other big contender, Avengers: Infinity War. While hardly the cultural milestone that Black Panther is, Infinity War could have presented unnecessary competition in the technical categories, for which it was swiftly removed from the equation, lest any Oscar voters be struck by last minute confusion.

It is in the below-the-line categories, however, that the Academy’s most grievous mistakes are revealed. Mission: Impossible - Fallout, without doubt one of the most exciting action films of the last 10 years, failed to score a single nomination, despite being a firm favourite in the weeks leading up. It was a similar situation for Oscar-winning composer Justin Hurwitz, who, despite walking away with the Golden Globe, the Critics’ Choice Award, and the Satellite Award in the run up, was shockingly snubbed for his stunning work in First Man.

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Ryan Gosling in a scene from First Man.
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Ryan Gosling in a scene from First Man. ( AP )

In fact, First Man is a tremendous example of just how arbitrary the Oscars race can be. On paper, it was exactly the sort of movie that the Academy laps up - an unconventional biopic that served as a hotly anticipated follow-up for the youngest ever Best Director winner, Damien Chazelle. But if First Man’s lacklustre box office killed its chances in the main categories, the ridiculous decision to nominate Mary Poppins Returns robbed it of what would have been its best (and only real) shot at gold.

Not only was Chazelle robbed, so were his stars, Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy; his editor, Tom Cross; and his cinematographer, Linus Sandgren.

But perhaps more than Chazelle, the Best Director category’s biggest snub was Bradley Cooper, whose nominations at the Golden Globes, the Baftas, the Critics’ Choice Awards, and most crucially, the Directors Guild Awards, couldn’t quite ensure recognition at the Oscars. To think of it, a day ago pundits were wondering if he could pull an Orson Welles and score the most nominations in a single year.

This image released by Focus features shows Topher Grace, left, with director Spike Lee on the set of BlacKkKlansman
This image released by Focus features shows Topher Grace, left, with director Spike Lee on the set of BlacKkKlansman ( AP )

Funnily enough, his omission and the inclusion of Pawel Pawlikowski - for the beautiful Cold War - gives the Best Director category the air of a Cannes showdown, with three of the five nominees having made their names with foreign language cinema. The other two are Alfonso Cuaron and Yorgos Lanthimos. Bafflingly, this is Spike Lee’s first Best Director nod, despite having already won a lifetime achievement Oscar in 2015, and being one of the most influential filmmakers of his generation.

It also seems as if Natalie Portman’s sly remark at last year’s ceremony - she made it a point to note, much to Ron Howard’s discomfort, that all the Best Director nominees were in fact men - fell on deaf ears. Marielle Heller, Tamara Jenkins, Chloe Zhao, Lynne Ramsay and Debra Granik, the women behind some of the year’s most acclaimed films, weren’t good enough for the Academy, it would appear - or at least for the director’s guild, the primary voting branch for the directors category.

This image released by Fox Searchlight Films shows director Marielle Heller, left, and Melissa McCarthy on the set of Can You Ever Forgive Me?.
This image released by Fox Searchlight Films shows director Marielle Heller, left, and Melissa McCarthy on the set of Can You Ever Forgive Me?. ( AP )

It’s difficult to complain about the Best Visual Effects category, though - each of the five nominees seems to be deserving, and on the bright side, there’s no sign of Fantastic Beasts - but the omission of Aquaman, a film that was kept afloat by its stellar effects, hurts.

As does the exclusion of Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade from the Best Original Screenplay category; and Three Identical Strangers and Won’t You Be My Neighbour from the documentary category.

Also read: Oscar nominations 2019: Here’s the complete list of nominees in all categories

Unlike most years, the Oscars in 2019 haven’t yet boiled down to a two-horse race. The possibility of Green Book or Bohemian Rhapsody winning is shudder-inducing, to be sure, but amid all this confusion, we seem to have missed the main point. None of this, in any way, will solve the Academy’s biggest problem: ratings. Without a big contender to draw in the viewers, and with no host to sustain the show, don’t be surprised if the 2019 Oscarcast registers another decline in viewership. Serves them right.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar