By Bo Nicholson – Managing Director
Such is the way with subjective matters; there will always be debate about the Oscar Nominations. There’s always the ‘lock’, the little independent film that could, the foreign language movie that gets 1 obligatory nomination when it deserves more, the critical darling, the crowd-pleaser. Despite the rinse and repeat nature of the Academy’s voting habits and all of the study into precursors and indicators, there are always huge surprises and massive snubs. Let’s take a look at some of these below.
Roma earns 10 nomination
In a perfect world, the Academy Awards would be a meritocracy; setting aside the limits enforced by politics and campaigning in a quest to find the best work done in each category, regardless of the language spoken, the gender of the director/writer/lead character or the colour of anyone’s skin. Sadly, we’re not there yet. With Roma, we have a fine candidate for the best film of the year, with Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Gravity) crafting one of the most stunning slice-of-life films this writer can ever recall seeing. It calls to mind the Italian Neorealism film movement, deploying a non-professional actress (Yalitza Aparicio) to lead the film through seemingly mundane activities before the plot arrives at moments that are nothing short of breathtaking. But it doesn’t hold a lot of appeal to the average filmgoer.
With its easy access on Netflix and a whopping 10 nominations, the Academy has no doubt inspired literally millions of people to look into a movie they otherwise wouldn’t have bothered with. Cinema has so much more to offer than just whatever Hollywood is producing at any given time, so hordes of people watching a film from Mexico can only be a good thing in my eyes.
Paul Schrader (First Reformed) nominated for Best Original Screenplay
Paul Schrader, the legendary screenwriter of classic films Taxi Driver & Raging Bull, wrote and directed the stunning First Reformed last year and it simply didn’t receive the love it deserved. Containing probably the best performance of 2018 from Ethan Hawke (despite his snub from the Academy) and some of the sharpest writing about faith, environmentalism, extremism, mortality, love, hope and despair that has ever been punched through a typewriter (or perhaps a word processor these days), First Reformed is one of those films that will be adored by cinephiles for years to come despite lacklustre Box Office and Awards season results. Schrader probably won’t win the statue (The Favourite and Green Book look likely to steal that away from him), but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be a worthy recipient should his name be on the envelope.
Lucasz Zal (Cold War) nominated for Best Cinematography
It’s always nice when the Academy extends some love to foreign cinema in categories other than Best Foreign Language Film, so seeing Zal’s name on the ballot was a pleasant surprise. Pleasant, because when watching the monochrome beauty of Cold War, I was completely taken aback by some of the photography. It was never showy, but every shot felt thoughtful and purposeful. The lead performance from Joanna Kulig is tremendous and Pawel Pawlikowski’s direction tied the whole thing together brilliantly (wonderful that he was also nominated for Direction) so there are plenty of reasons to see Cold War. In fact, its omission from the Best Picture race is a damn shame, because it is one of this year’s best.
First Man misses out on Score and Cinematography nomination
First Man received largely positive reviews from critics but left some viewers feeling a little cold. Perhaps the fact that we knew the ending of the film before it began meant that we weren’t able to fully engage in the drama? What can’t come into question, though, is how brilliant the work of Linus Sandgren and Justin Hurwitz was in cinematography and composing, respectively. Both received Oscar love for their stellar work in La La Land and in Chazelle’s ode to human sacrifice for progress, both brought their A-game, particularly Sandgren, whose photography of the moon landing scene sits high on the list of best shots of the year. It’s unfortunate that they won’t receive the recognition they deserve from the Academy this time around.
Sam Rockwell beats Michael B. Jordan to Best Supporting Actor nomination
Yeah, yeah; Black Panther is just a superhero movie, but hear me out.
Michael B. Jordan is quickly establishing himself as one of the most promising actors of the new generation, courtesy largely to the depth of the characters created by director Ryan Coogler. Casting Jordan as Killmonger in Black Panther gave Marvel exactly what they’ve always needed to take their films to the next level; a damn good villain. His presence on the screen demands your attention, his acting during his backstory scenes creating an empathy with his plight, his imposing physique makes him an ominous threat, his charisma and good looks enhance his likeability. It was perfect casting and a damn fine performance.
Sam Rockwell, brilliant actor that he is, delivered a George W. Bush impersonation as good as anything you’d see from a comedian on a skit show. It was fine. It was not on Jordan’s level. The Academy missed a trick here.
The Utterly Embarrassing
Bohemian Rhapsody receiving 5 nomination
*** There is a lot to be said about the allegations against Bryan Singer (the director of Bohemian Rhapsody). Instead of commenting on him as a human, I’ll leave this article from TIME so that you can make up your own mind about whether you would choose to support this film or not. ***
Aside from the aforementioned allegations against its director, there are plenty of reasons to find Bohemian Rhapsody receiving 5 Oscar nominations sincerely embarrassing for the Academy as an organisation. The nominations are for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.
I will concede that despite the fact that it’s a sincerely low quality piece of work, nominations in the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing categories make some sense, particularly when you read into how they doctored Malek’s singing voice to make him sound like Freddie Mercury. The best part of the movie is the Live Aid finale, so I can’t begrudge them those nominations. Malek himself gives a good impersonation, but even his nomination is frankly nonsense when you consider those that haven’t been nominated, namely Ethan Hawke for First Reformed and John David Washington from BlacKkKlansman.
What is particularly baffling is that somebody looked at this movie, with the way it drags along in its painfully boring middle as it touches on but doesn’t delve into about 5 different plot lines, and thought now that’s some damn good editing! And not just somebody, but a bunch of people who should know better! Are they even watching movies this year?
What that leaves us with is a Best Picture nominee (beating an impossibly large list of far more worthy films) that simply does not deserve to be there. In fact, on reflecting on every nominee for Best Picture since 2000 (there’s been 134) – Bohemian Rhapsody lays claim to being the absolute worst of the entire lot.
There’s a lot of vitriol among film fans about the love shown to movies like Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice and Green Book and Bryan Singer’s personal life is likely to steal a fair share of limelight heading into the final stretch of the awards season. But sometimes we need to remind ourselves that it is just an awards show and that a lot of great work in film will hopefully be recognised, as well as encouraging cinema-goers to check out something they may not have previously.
What did you find good, bad or embarrassing about the Oscar Nominations this year? Or even about Bo’s article? Let us know in the comments below!
Bo Nicholson is a Managing Director at The Pioneer Australia. For the record, he’s hoping for Roma to win Best Picture and Director.