For Your Consideration: A Preview Of The 92nd Academy Awards
A week after Miami hosts Super Bowl LIV (Which the good lord above has blessed us with a guarantee that the Patriots won’t be taking part in it), Hollywood will have its own Super Bowl of awards shows when it hosts the 92nd annual Academy Awards, or “The Oscars” as most folks know them as (Named after the nickname the award statues are known by).
When most casual movie observers think of the Oscars, they think (And not entirely wrongly so) of a bunch of elites congratulating themselves in the making of films most people didn’t even bother seeing. That’s a mostly fair criticism. Academy Awards ratings have been dropping as time passes and less and less of the nominated films seem to stick around in the culture as classics compared to the franchise popcorn flicks that at best tend to get visual effects or maybe even screenplay nominations. Not to mention all the charged up political background of some of the film choices and actors/actresses in a time the country is becoming more and more politically polarized. But for us cinephiles who gobble up films on a weekly basis as they come out, this is about as big a deal as the Super Bowl. Granted we don’t always agree with the Academy, and yes at the end of the day this is an awards show made by industry professionals for industry professionals about a subjective art form, but it’s all a bit of fun and intrigue to see which films and performances end up getting the highest recognized awards there are in the film industry.
My personal experience has been, the more films you see the more you’ve got a rooting interest in this competition, because honestly while the Academy has its snobby biases, a good portion of these movies truly are good to great when you’ve actually watched them for yourselves. As I wrote in my last movie commentary piece, I thought overall 2019 was a great year to be any type of movie fan and thus I wasn’t surprised by how competitive just the nomination process was for the awards this year. Typically me and the Academy have our agreements and disagreements but we usually tend to agree on Best Picture in terms of a film that was among the best (Though we don’t usually agree that it was the best). Every year since 2017, I’ve created a personal Top 10 list of favorite films from the year, and since I began doing that the Best Picture winner has been a film that made my list – so clearly me and the Academy seem to be on close to the same page. So while I completely get the criticisms the Academy gets and the yearly annoyance at some snubs they’ve made, I still get a kick out of watching to see which film comes out on top.
So with the nominees for this year’s awards officially announced, I thought I’d give my two cents on the matter with some personal takes, who I’d vote for, and what I think the likely winners will look like.
– The Big Losers: The Snubbed
Before we get to evaluating those still in the game, let’s take a look at the snubbed who didn’t even get to be lucky enough to get nominated. In my piece on 2019 in film I had pointed to some critical praise and Oscar buzz for unusual contenders in Awkwafina, Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, and Jennifer Lopez. And yet NONE OF THEM were nominated for performances by the Academy. Sandler and Murphy weren’t able to shake off the comedian’s curse, Lopez was nominated in smaller award shows, and Awkwafina escaped with a Golden Globes win. While I never watched Lopez’s performance in Hustlers, I thought Sandler had the best male acting performance of the year in Uncut Gems and believed both Awkwafina and Murphy deserved nominations for their respective parts in The Farewell and Dolemite Is My Name. I understand the competition was tough this year with the trio of De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino all in the nomination talk or Zellwegger sweeping awards, but I think the Academy was way off on not giving these performances more love.
There’s also been a lot of talk about the snubbing of female directors and I must say as someone who tends to be a “woke” on social issues personally, I think the anger at the Academy here is somewhat misplaced. Of all the 66 movies I personally reviewed last year, only two films I awarded my “A” grade to were directed by women. But since that’s just one personal voice I looked over the awards shows’ nominees and found that a vast majority were directed by men. In other words, I’m not so sure its so much a snub of women in general as it is an indictment on women getting less directorial job chances compared to men for films that studios clearly are aware could be Oscar bait. Yes I know Greta Gerwig not getting nominated for a film that was nominated for Best Picture in Little Women seems strange but as someone who neither saw the film or has been any sort of fan of Gerwig’s past work I can’t get mad at the Academy for that. In my mind, if any female director deserved a nomination it was Lulu Wang’s work for The Farewell.
But the biggest absolute loser in my opinion when the nominees were announced was smaller film studio A24 which had two major contenders coming into the nomination process and instead ended up with one small nomination for a third wheel film instead. Uncut Gems was an absolute bomb when it came to awards season with very little love after critics and betting markets pointed the movie out as a clear Oscar contender for Best Picture and Best Male Acting Performance. Their other major contender in The Farewell got zero love and nominations from the Academy, even though it received some recognition from other awards shows including the Golden Globes. As someone who placed The Farewell in my 2019 Top 10 list, I think the studios’ complete snub of it and A24 in general is unfortunate. The only thing that I can figure is that A24 is still too young and too new to have mastered the politicking game that is needed to get these nominations. I hope they soldier on in the future as they’ve been on a good streak of quality film making of late.
– Best Picture: Another Argo Over Lincoln Situation?
One of the biggest and honestly most fair arguments against the Academy is that they tend to have a bias towards Hollywood-centric stories and characters. Though in their defense this isn’t anything shocking because remember this is an awards show by industry professionals for industry professionals. In 2013, the Academy was weighing Best Picture between biopic Lincoln and Hollywood story Argo. While my personal vote would have gone to Silver Linings Playbook that year, and I think probably a lot of non-Hollywood folks would have considered Lincoln more worthy (Just based on talking with others), the bias towards a film where Hollywood looked like the heroes was what put Argo across the finish line. And I think there’s a chance that happens again in 2020.
Of the nine Best Picture nominees, I’ve seen five. Of those five, three made my 2019 Top 10 list. Those three just so happen to be arguably the strongest contenders for the price in Sam Mendes’ one-shot war story 1917, Quentin Tarantino’s love-letter to the 1960s T.V and film industry Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, and Martin Scorsese’s Netflix gangster epic The Irishman. Back during Thanksgiving, all the hype was around the third one and talk of Netflix actually grabbing the biggest price in all of Hollywood was being taken serious. But after all the praise and worship of Mendes’ incredible directorial feat in 1917, and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood emerging as a top favorite by awards shows, the competition looked to have opened up. After coming up short to the other two time and time again in previous awards, I think The Irishman is honestly much less likely to win the prize barring Scorsese pulling a DeMille circa 1953 and getting sympathy votes for what was thought to be his last picture at the time in The Greatest Show On Earth (By the way it would end up not being his last picture).
Leaving 1917 and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood as the top contenders barring a real stunner like The Irishman, or a dark horse like the highly praised and lock for Best International Film Parasite winning instead. On paper 1917 should probably win. It has a stunning achievement by pulling off a real-time one-shot story that will likely make Sam Mendes a heavy favorite for Best Director. It’s a period piece which historically the Academy loves, and a war film which the Academy also appreciates. However recent years have broken the old rule that Best Director is linked to Best Picture, with the Academy becoming more and more able to differentiate the two. And while they love period pieces, remember that they may love films about themselves even more. And thus Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has suddenly shot up among some betting markets and industry insiders as the favorite to win the big prize. But I still think it’s a tossup as Best Picture is the only award where ranked choice voting occurs and its probably the big category award known for the most small to big upsets.
I’m conflicted in my rooting interest. Both films made my 2019 Top 10 list and I gave both an “A” grade when I reviewed them on social media. I personally consider Tarantino the best storyteller in Hollywood today, but I also think Sam Mendes’ directorial achievement was outstanding and he’d get my vote for the directorial award without hesitation. I would personally vote for 1917 if I were in the Academy over Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, but I’m starting to get strong vibes the latter may just have this one wrapped up.
– Acting Performances: One Standout, A Joker, A Hollywood Heartthrob, And A Divorce Lawyer
With my peace on Adam Sandler’s snub said and out of the way, out of the Best Actor nominees that the Academy has nominated I would personally vote for Johnathan Pryce’s performance as the future Pope Francis The Two Popes, another film that made my Top 10 of 2019 list and of which i’m happy to see some recognition of from the Academy. However I think the favorite is Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as the titular character in Joker – a hard-edged retelling of the origins of Batman’s ultimate nemesis. While I wasn’t as in love with the film as others were, I really appreciated Phoenix’s performance in the film and I can see why he’s catapulted himself into being on the verge of becoming the second actor to win an award for playing the character. If I had a vote, my Supporting Actor vote would go to Joe Pesci’s quiet but deadly character in The Irishman, a role i’m not used to seeing him in. However all stars are aligning for Brad Pitt’s performance as a sidekick stuntman in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood to get the award instead.
On the Best Actress front me and the Academy and anyone who has been giving out awards are all in agreement on Renee Zellwegger’s performance as Judy Garland in the film about the tragic starlet’s final days in Judy. She is the surest of locks for those making bets on Oscar winners and i’ll never forget leaving the theater after seeing the movie and turning to my wife and commenting that she would sweep all the awards shows and thus she has. On the Best Supporting Actress front, my vote would go to Kathy Bates in Richard Jewell, a film that was engrossed in controversy as the journalists who targeted Jewell were in defense mode and a controversial dramatic license was taken with one female character. I was worried Bates’ great performance in the film would go unnoticed thanks to the controversy around the film but she got the nomination anyways. However I think the award will likely go to Laura Dern who plays a divorce lawyer in a film about white people problems – I mean a couple’s divorce in Marriage Story.
– Other Notables: A Better Slate Of Animated Films And An International Sensation
My personal pick for my favorite film of 2019 is Klaus, an animated tale by Netflix retelling the origins of Santa Claus. I was worried the film would get zero love from The Academy as I watched in amazement as the just okay sequel to Frozen seemed to be running away with nominations and looking like an awards favorite instead. But to my delight the Academy favored independent animation a little more this year with the excellent Toy Story 4 being the only nominated Disney film for the award and thus Klaus made it in. Obviously if it were up to me it would win the award but I have no clue who will actually win it. Missing Link pulled off a shocking upset at the Golden Globes and Toy Story 4 could end up getting the win instead with no Frozen competition as Pixar historically dominates in this category. This one is wide open at the start but I am very happy to see Klaus get some love.
I also have to make a note of the Korean film Parasite, which everyone I know and follow on movies has completely fallen in love with. Its my 2019’s “Everyone loves it but I didn’t get around to seeing it for myself” film so I can’t comment on my own personal opinion on it. I’m not even sure what it’s about! But, the film has really resonated with the Academy and is not only a lock for Best International Film but a dark horse to perhaps keep an eye on for Best Picture, especially if Director Bong Joon-Ho upsets Sam Mendes for Best Director. As someone who has really hammered western cinema for their ignorance and disrespect at times of eastern cinema, I’m happy that its succeeding but the film itself remains a mystery to me as of this writing.
Hey look, I get it. Most people aren’t that interested in the Academy Awards and don’t need no awards show to tell them which movies they loved. But I think this year’s could be very interesting for those of us who follow these things. Tarantino could end up with his first ever Best Picture win, Sam Mendes could get recognition for a great directorial achievement, a portrayal of a superhero villain could win one of Hollywood’s biggest awards, the Best Animated Film price is actually up for grabs and not a lock for Disney, and a foreign film from Korea could end up stunning the world. I’m honestly intrigued to see what the Hollywood elites are gonna’ do this year.