In recent years, Oscar nominations have been scrutinised with a very particular level of attention. They have become the barometer to assess where the industry’s politics are at. If there is one thing that the Oscars love more than a great movie, it’s a great story wrapped around a great movie.
For instance, Argo was the film that legitimised Ben Affleck as a director. Meryl Streep’s win for The Iron Lady had very little with the clunky vehicle that she was starring in, and had more to do with the fact that she hadn’t won in nearly thirty years and was overdue for another moment in the spotlight.
This week, the nominations for the 90th Oscar ceremony have been announced. They contained surprises that were altogether not unpleasant, and may indicate that the most dissected award ceremony in the world is getting better at representation.
Recognition of Women in Film
For the past few years, the film industry has clearly been going through a phase of reckoning when it comes to parity and equality for women in the industry. #TimesUp for abusers. That has meant equal pay (as All the Money in the World proved, we’re not there yet) as well as award recognition. Thankfully, and shockingly, this year has brought us the first (ever) nomination of a woman -Mudbound’s Rachel Morrison- in the best cinematography category. (This category is Roger Deakins‘s to lose.)
The major question ahead of the Oscar nominations was around Greta Gerwig’s outstanding work on her debut, Lady Bird. Natalie Portman famously called out the Golden Globes for having nominated only men in the directing category in 2018. One of the best-reviewed films of the year, it wasn’t as showy or bombastic as Dunkirk or Darkest Hour, which were more obvious candidates for Oscar love. In the end, she ended up being nominated, one of the very few women to ever be selected in this category. While BAFTA have hidden behind the usual excuse of the fact that their all-male nominations reflect the current situation, it’s also refreshing to see awards illustrate the change that’s needed.
No Oscar Nomination for Wonder Woman
This is a time when women are speaking up and changing the power structure of the film business from the very top, and the Oscars are recognising this. However, they haven’t recognised one of the most beloved films of the year, Wonder Woman. This film broke box office records and was highly anticipated, as it was the first female-led superhero film. The film was a major blockbuster and crowdpleaser and was helmed by a woman, Monster director Patty Jenkins. All those facts may have led the Academy to recognise the film as a landmark moment in popular cinema. After all, it was a landmark for audiences.
Yet male superheroes get nominated
Before we get to comparing superhero films, let’s not forget that popular films rarely get nominated for anything at the Oscars. Blockbusters rarely receive any nods beyond the technical categories. The notable exception is Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, for which Heath Ledger received a posthumous award. Now, two major superhero films this year didn’t receive the same number of nominations.
While the cornerstone of empowerment of women in film that is Wonder Woman wasn’t nominated, another superhero film was. The latest, gritty, and powerful incarnation of Wolverine, Logan, was nominated for best adapted screenplay. Granted, it was a terrific film and certainly deserves recognition from the industry. It should also inspire filmmakers, in the mainstream as well as on the indie scene, to boldly subvert genre.
So a mainstream, male-led superhero film that was unusual received a nod. A mainstream, female-led, landmark film that had also spoke about representation and spurred a conversation about women in film, didn’t receive any. While the Oscars have improved when it comes to representation, there is still some way to go.
The Post underwhelms
Maestro Steven Spielberg took many by surprise when he announced that, while in post-production for his next blockbuster, he’d be making another movie, to be released before the other one. The Post has had an unusual journey to the screen. Written on spec by an unknown writer, Liz Hannah, the screenplay was bought by the former head of Sony Amy Pascal and brought to Spielberg soon afterwards, who greenlit it in a few weeks’ time.
This film is clearly meant to be Spielberg’s way of giving the finger to the US president. When the press, one of the pillars of contemporary democracy is under attack, making a movie about the virtues of free speech and the need for an independent press is as unsubtle as it gets.
Released in the heart of awards season, The Post was bound to get a lot of attention. It is political in extremely polarised times, and was created by Steven Spielberg, Amy Pascal, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, some of the most influential figures in Hollywood. Yet the film only received nods for best picture and its female lead. It seems that, after a very political awards season in 2016-2017, right after the US election, the film industry is focusing on bringing about change.
Get Out surprises at Oscar Nominations
Get Out was one of the most original, relevant films of the year. It was also anticipated to not get a lot of attention come awards season, due to a number of factors. Not only is it horror, a genre that awards don’t honour very much, the fact that it spoke so boldly about race relations in the United States could have led to industry bodies to dismiss it. We remember that Selma, a historical film about an iconic moment in the civil rights movement, only received two nominations and many considered the lack of nomination of its director Ava DuVernay an intersectionally racist and sexist snub.
It very well could have been that Get Out followed the same path. But there has been change since #OscarsSoWhite. The film received nominations in major categories, writing, acting, directing and best picture. It is one of those rare moments when a film that is politically relevant, artistically realised, and entirely original receives recognition from industry bodies. Whether it’s going to win anything during the ceremony is another matter entirely.