The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced their 2020 Oscar nominations this week, and for film fans there were plenty of reasons to celebrate and rage about (if you're so inclined, you can re-watch the live nomination announcement online.
The Academy Awards remain the most prestigious honor in Hollywood, though they tend to get things wrong at least as often as they get them right. But there's no denying that the Oscars are still have a cultural power, and getting recognition (either a win or nomination) automatically boosts the visibility of a film. And I can't help it: the awards are so much fun to argue about.
Leading the pack for nominations was "Joker," Todd Phillips' gritty comic book origin story about Batman's most famous adversary, with 11 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director for Phillips and Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix.
That film was trailed by Quentin Tarantino's nostalgic ode to 1960s Los Angeles "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," Martin Scorsese's gangster epic "The Irishman," and Sam Mendes' war drama "1917" with 10 nods a piece. Those films, along with "Ford v Ferrari," "Jojo Rabbit," "Little Women," "Marriage Story" and "Parasite" will compete for Best Picture.
The AMPAS has been making efforts toward diversity over the past few years, working to expand the pool of voters to include more women, as well as more non-white and international voters. Still, this year's nominations demonstrated a frustrating lack of imagination and as a whole, the films deemed worthy of nominations had a certain safeness about them. But such is the way with large voting bodies.
Female filmmakers were once again entirely shut out of the best director race. Not for a lack there of options, of course. Perhaps the most notable absence was Greta Gerwig for "Little Women" (nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Lead and Supporting Actress — a combination you'd think would yield a directing nomination as well).
Only five women have been nominated for best director in the Oscars' 92-year history. It's worth noting that the sole winner (Kathryn Bigelow for "The Hurt Locker") did so with a war film, a side effect of the Academy's tendency toward viewing dark, violent filmmaking as a qualifier of "serious" work.
Some other female directors I'd have loved to see in the mix: first-time filmmaker MatiDiop for her film "Atlantics," Jennifer Kent for "The Nightingale," Alma Har'el for "Honey Boy," or Céline Sciamma for my beloved "Portrait of A Lady On Fire."
The biggest shock to me was the complete shut out of Lulu Wang's lovely "The Farewell," which for my money should have been competing for the picture, director, actress, and supporting actress awards. And aside from Tom Hanks (who received his first nomination in 19 years) for Supporting Actor, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" missed out on any number of deserved nominations, including for Marielle Heller's inventive direction.
There was also a disappointing lack of recognition for performances from people of color. Only the presence of Cynthia Erivo, who played Harriet Tubman in the film "Harriet," avoided another #OscarsSoWhite situation. Erivo is only the 12th black actress ever to get an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Halle Berry ("Monster's Ball") is the only winner in that category. Ever.
Again, absence of performers of color wasn't for a lack of possibilities. Jennifer Lopez missed out on a widely-expected (and deserved) supporting actress nomination for her role in "Hustlers." Also missing was Eddie Murphy and Da'Vine Joy Randolph for the wildly entertaining "Dolemite is My Name" (which also deserved recognition for Ruth Carter's flashy '70s costumes).
Despite earning a record-breaking number of nods, none of the wonderful ensemble of Bong Joon-ho's twisty class thriller "Parasite" made their way into the acting categories. Lupita Nyong'o was left out for her excellent work in Jordan Peele's "Us," which also had the Academy's continued lack of respect for the horror genre working against her. See also: nothing for Ari Aster's great "Midsommar."
And perhaps most frustrating of all was the absence of Alfre Woodard's phenomenal turn as a death row prison warden facing a crisis of conscience in "Clemency." My personal pick for the performance of the year, Woodard's work somehow went largely overlooked this awards season.
Despite the disappointments, there were also some bright spots. "Parasite" became the first Korean film ever to earn a Best Picture nomination. The strong overall showing for that film, in combination with the success of "Roma" last year, shows that foreign language films are being taken more seriously by the AMPAS membership than ever before.
Martin Scorses's masterful "The Irishman" was deservedly shown a lot of love when in terms of nominations, though I suspect it may go home empty-handed come Oscar Sunday. And it was great to see Antonio Banderas make the Best Actor cut, for his subtle performance in Pedro Almodóvar's "Pain and Glory." Considering the Academy's tendency to reward "most" acting instead of "best," that nomination seems something of a miracle.
The wonderful film "Honeyland" — about the lonely life of a Macedonian beekeeper — received a documentary feature nod, and surprised by also making the cut in the international feature category (previously Best Foreign Language Feature).
I was thrilled to see the sweet, heartfelt "Hair Love" receive a nomination for animated short. And in the feature animation category, it was nice to see recognition for "Klaus," Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martínez López's extremely charming (and gorgeous looking) hand-drawn Christmas tale.
You can see this year's full list of nominees here. Winners will be announced when the 92nd Academy Awards are broadcast live on ABC on Sunday, February 9.
Adam Lubitow is a freelance writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.