First off, let’s get the stats of our predictions out of the way. If spoilers are counted, ANCX did splendidly. If we’re going the stringent, purist route, ANCX did…still pretty good!
PICTURE: All our eight predictions in, plus Ford V Ferrari.
DIRECTOR: All predictions correct except for Marriage Story’s Noah Baumbach. Joker’s Todd Phillips took his slot.
ACTRESS: All predictions correct.
ACTOR: All predictions correct except for Taron Egerton. Jonathan Pryce (who is in my spoilers) took his slot. Take note, I said that Taron’s awards season dominance felt too good to be true. Rami Malek rode that train last year.
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Two predictions off. A shocking snub for Jennifer Lopez and a pie in the sky wish for Zhao Shuzhen. Scarlett Johansson (who is in my spoilers) and Kathy Bates (who isn’t) took their slots.
SUPPORTING ACTOR: All predictions correct except for Song Kang Ho from Parasite. Anthony Hopkins (again, in the spoiler) took his slot.
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: No Lulu Wang (in fact, The Farewell was totally shut out). The screenwriters of 1917 (in the spoiler) took that slot.
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: All predictions correct.
ANIMATED FEATURE: No Frozen II! (If they cared about stuff like this, you can almost hear the squall of protest from 10-year-old girls.) Klaus from Netflix in.
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM: Two predictions off: No Atlantics from Senegal, no Those Who Remained from Hungary. Instead, Corpus Christi from Poland and Honeyland from North Macedonia (which is in our spoiler list) are in.
So what do this year’s crop of nominations mean? First, the good news: For the second year in a row, it looks like the Academy’s push to internationalize its ranks is paying off. Last year, Roma was all abuzz as the film to beat, until White Messiah nostalgia trip Green Book came along to spoil its race to the finish line.
This year, despite a lack of acting nominations from its ensemble, Parasite came roaring into the arena with six nominations. What’s even more stunning? Parasite hails from a country—South Korea—that had never figured in the foreign-language film race before.
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Still, I have learned that it is a fool’s errand to assign year-to-year trends in Oscar nominations. How many foreign-language films can be directed by the likes of Alfonso Cuarón and Bong Joon-Ho, auteurs who have experience working in Hollywood? How many subtitled films can summon the buzz of Roma and Parasite, which generated such universal excitement that even a Parisian bodybuilder (whom I follow on Instagram—don’t ask) giddily posted a photo of a ticket to an afternoon screening? It’s all well and good to laud the Academy for its global perspective now, but it could very well be business as usual next year.
In many respects, it felt like business as usual this year. Three years ago, when Moonlight, Lion, Hidden Figures and Fences were in the running for best picture, seven of the 20 acting nominees were people of color. This year, there is exactly one (Harriet’s Cynthia Erivo). Despite Parasite’s triumphant showing, it seemed the Academy wasted no opportunity to waste every opportunity to recognize a person of color in the acting roster. And it is extra frustrating because there is no shortage of performances to recognize: from Lupita Nyong’o in Us to Awkwafina in The Farewell; from Alfre Woodard in Clemency to, yes, the entire cast of Parasite (which, tellingly, got a best ensemble nod from the Screen Actors Guild).
But the most egregious oversight had to be Jennifer Lopez who, despite a critically acclaimed turn as the brains of a criminal stripper gang in Hustlers, got snubbed by Oscar for a spot in the supporting actress category. Exactly what sin is JLo guilty of to merit such a slight? Is she guilty of playing a role too close to her sassy Latina persona? That’s never stopped a megastar like Tom Cruise who amplified his megawatt-smile and go-getter persona all the way to a supporting actor nomination for Magnolia. In fact, that probably won’t stop Brad Pitt from claiming the supporting actor statuette for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, a performance that built its foundations on the actor’s laid-back, aw-shucks charisma.
Or is Ms. Lopez guilty of leaning into the role’s highly sexualized nature? Its unsympathetic shadings? Its unapologetic claim to agency and power? It might be a stretch to condemn the Academy for extolling retrograde views of womanhood, but it doesn’t feel like a stretch to charge Oscar for enforcing a purity test on its female actor nominations. This year, the nominated performances include an anti-slavery crusader, two TV personalities standing up to sexual harassment, a devoted mother fighting for the right to raise her child in the city where she works, and two Civil War-era sisters champing against the constraints on their gender. The message seems to be: It’s okay to ask for what you want, just don’t be so intimidating about it.
Yes, it seems like it’s business as usual this year. Women were once again shut out of big-ticket categories like directing. But what makes this year feel slightly pernicious is a sense pervading the entire culture that white male privilege itself is under assault. The Irishman, Ford V Ferrari and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood are exercises in nostalgia, centering on bygone eras when white men were doing important, history-shaking things, eras ultimately imperiled by larger forces of change. 1917 is literally about imperiled white men. And Joker, leading the pack with 11 nominations, is about a white man whose crimes, so the film argues, aren’t his fault.
That’s why my heart bleeds for performances like Antonio Banderas’ lived-in portrayal of a film director in the twilight of his years in Pain and Glory, who takes clear-eyed stock of a life replete with mistakes—and finds the strength to do something about it. That’s why my spirit jumps for joy at a film like Little Women—its central speech by Saoirse Ronan’s Jo March, decrying the belief that women are only good for love while embracing the human need for it, beautifully encapsulates the film’s complexity. Some day, Oscar might recognize the variety and vitality of human experience. But as this year’s nominations reveal, he’s still taking a step back for every two steps forward.