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Despite Overwhelming ‘Whiteness,’ This Year’s Oscar Nominations Show The Academy Awards Might Actually Be Fun

Oscars Leonardo DiCaprio

The announcement of Oscar nominations officially kicks film awards season into high gear and never fails to include several shocking nods and bitterly disappointing snubs. The nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced early Monday morning and left many in the entertainment industry stunned by their inclusion and others highly critical of a perceived lack of diversity among the honorees.

In fact, the list of nominees, selected by an “international community of artists,” did not include many performers, filmmakers, or film subjects that could be categorized outside the canon of “whiteness.” What the list did include, however, was a stunning list of fine films, actors, directors, and cinematographers that showed 2020 could be the return of cinema for the sake of cinema.

The Todd Phillips-helmed “Joker,” an origin movie about a sad clown-turned-Batman villain, led the pack with a stunning total of 11 nominations including Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix. World War I drama “1917,” Quentin Tarantino’s ode to Los Angeles, “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood,” and Martin Scorsese’s mafia epic, “The Irishman,” each clocked in with 10 nominations.

2019 Was the Year of the Guy Movie

As The Federalist pointed out after the Golden Globes ceremony, 2019 certainly seemed to be the year of the “Guy Movie,” a departure from leading films in recent memory. The Best Picture category also recognized the dazzling historical film about gasoline-hungry race cars in “Ford v. Ferrari” and a comedy about Nazi Germany, “JoJo Rabbit.”

While “Little Women” and divorce anthem “Marriage Story” rounded out the nine Best Picture contenders, they seemed like afterthoughts among the pack of testosterone-pumping Hollywood heavyweights in the category.

For her role as Harriet Tubman in “Harriet,” Cynthia Erivo joined Antonio Banderas as the only non-white actors nominated through all categories. Greta Gerwig’s work as the director of “Little Women” was also not recognized, leaving the Best Director category populated entirely by men. Complaints of a lack of sexual and ethnic diversity at the Academy Awards has been persistent for several years, reaching a fever pitch in 2016 when all acting nominations were given to white actors.

The outrage community made its displeasure known, demanding that the Academy of Arts and Sciences recognize performers not for their work and ability, but for their sex and skin color. Further demands included that the Academy itself diversify, adding more women and minorities. The users of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag did not specify whether these people hired based on their sex and race should be qualified as world-class graders of film and filmmaking.

The Outrage Mob Wanted More Diversity

Even before wrapping up the nominee announcement shortly before 6:00 a.m. Pacific Time, host Issa Rae pulled the thread of what would prove to be the beginning of the 2020 backlash over the lack of diversity. “Congratulations to all those men,” Rae said after reading the nominations for Best Director.

Across social media, many noted that Golden Globe-winner Awkwafina was skipped for Best Actress in “The Farewell,” Jennifer Lopez was overlooked for Best Supporting Actress in “Hustlers,” and Jamie Foxx was not considered for his work in “Just Mercy.” Host of “Top Chef” Padma Lakshmi echoed the quick math the New York Times put together, which clearly prejudged the qualification of the actors based on their skin color and the directors based on their sex.

Of course, nominating actors, directors, cinematographers, editors, hairstylists, etc. to receive the film industry’s top honor is subjective. There is no score card that all Academy members get that spells out how worthy a film or person is. It is art, after all. Members of the Academy, who are peers of their nominees, are instructed to choose the best. They are not instructed to choose more minorities, regardless of qualification, to fill a quota demanded by angry Twitter users.

It was a genuine relief to see the Academy choose such a strong group of films, filmmakers, and performers on which to bestow this year’s nominations. The only disappointment I found was the missing nod for Adam Sandler’s work in “Uncut Gems.” The man can act. I suspect his years as a goofball tainted the Academy’s opinion of his spectacular work in this film, but the “Sandman,” in typical fashion, took it in stride, congratulating his friend Kathy Bates on her nomination for Best Supporting Actress in “Richard Jewell.”

The Oscars Look Promising This Year

It is refreshing to see the Academy buck the outrage culture crying over “inequality,” and it is a delight to see films we all loved, like “Knives Out,” get recognition in a circle that seemed to have been shrinking around more and more unpopular films each year.

However optimistic, our favorites still have the potential to lose on the big night. Leonardo DiCaprio more than deserves the statue for Best Actor for his role as Rick Dalton in “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood,” but he has been notoriously snubbed for most of his career. Adam Driver and Joaquin Phoenix seem to be the leading favorites for the category. Brad Pitt, now 55 with a legendary film career, has never won an Oscar for acting, but is due to win for Best Supporting Actor this year.

Laura Dern seems like a lock for Best Supporting Actress, and Erivo as Tubman or Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland seem to be the most likely choices for Best Actress. The race for Best Director should be down to Tarantino for “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” and Sam Mendes for “1917,” but the Academy’s love for Tarantino has been notoriously fleeting. Mendes snagged the prize for “American Beauty” back in 2000.

The last award of the Feb. 9 ceremony, Best Picture, offers the most room for guessing. The inclusion of a surprising number of films that most people have actually seen makes narrowing down a favorite to win more complicated. I would consider a needless re-adaptation of “Little Women” and a tragic story about a young family splitting up in “Marriage Story” to be unlikely contenders. The category does not offer, as it typically does, a very obviously politically bent tale of marginalization and hardship that makes this writer assume a “victory via sob story.” The top prize, at this point, is anyone’s guess, but if Hollywood really loves Hollywood, Tarantino’s latest film deserves the high honor.

This year, the Oscars might actually be fun.

A full list of the nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards can be found here.