The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked to the past for its 2020 Oscar nominations, favoring nostalgic throwbacks from established masters (The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), handsome works set during the World Wars (Jojo Rabbit, 1917), and a comic-book movie rooted in the gritty crime dramas of the 1970s. In fact, Todd Phillips’s Joker received the most nods of the day with 11, encapsulating an Oscars already defined by controversy, in part because it nominated just one actor of color and an all-male Best Director lineup.
There were some bright spots, perhaps the most heartening being the tremendous success of Bong Joon Ho’s twisty thriller Parasite. It received six nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Astonishingly, it was the first Korean film to even receive an International Feature nod, but after a year of critical acclaim and strong ticket sales, Parasite also managed to vault into the main category, where it is a threat to win. The Best Picture favorites, however, appear to be Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Sam Mendes’s 1917, two original and lush epics that triumphed at a 2019 box office mostly dominated by franchise features.
Ahead of the 92nd Oscars, which will air on ABC on February 9 without a host, the biggest conversations will likely revolve around the homogeneity of the acting categories. The Academy has made strides in recent years toward radically updating its voting base, which is overwhelmingly white and male and skews older. Still, the entire awards season hinted at another potential “#OscarsSoWhite” moment; the British Academy is already promising an overhaul after unveiling a BAFTA slate with 20 nominations for white actors. In the end, the Oscars gave Cynthia Erivo a Best Actress nomination for Harriet, but overlooked several other prominent contenders of color, including Lupita Nyong’o for Us, Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen for The Farewell, Eddie Murphy for Dolemite Is My Name, and Jennifer Lopez for the smash hit Hustlers.
Then there was the all-male Best Director category, with Greta Gerwig (whose Little Women received six nods, including Best Picture) being perhaps the most prominent omission. Only five women (Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow, and Gerwig for Lady Bird) have ever been included in the category in Oscar’s 92-year history, with Bigelow still the only winner, for The Hurt Locker in 2010. Last year featured several critically acclaimed hits directed by women, including Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, and Kasi Lemmons’s Harriet, but those films managed only three nominations total between them.
Though Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (which has won the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award for Best Picture already) remains the safest bet for the top prize, attention should be paid to the most-nominated film of the bunch, Todd Phillips’s Joker. It’s only the second comic-book movie to receive a Best Picture nod, after Black Panther last year, and it could easily sweep the technical categories, along with Joaquin Phoenix’s expected Best Actor win. In an industry ruled by superhero movies, the Oscars have grown comfortable with giving them some of its biggest accolades, and Joker’s artsy sheen (it was made on a mid-budget scale and is heavily indebted to old crime movies) helped push it over the edge.
Joker also grossed more than $1 billion worldwide—in fact, most of the Best Picture nominees were financial successes that have outperformed expectations at the box office. The notable exceptions, of course, are the two produced by Netflix (The Irishman and Marriage Story), which had limited theater runs before debuting online. Though both initially seemed like potential front-runners, now the only major category where I’d predict a win for either is Best Supporting Actress (for Laura Dern, in Marriage Story). The Academy still has a preference for theatrical releases; despite producing a hugely expensive, critically beloved gangster epic from Scorsese, Netflix will likely still have to wait to nab the biggest Oscar of all.
Since precursors such as the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards have already aired, the only major indicators left for potential winners are the Screen Actors Guild Awards, on January 19, and the BAFTAs, on February 2. After February 9, another Oscar season will begin, with its own thrills and disappointments to follow.
Best Documentary Short
In the Absence
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
Life Overtakes Me
St. Louis Superman
Walk Run Cha-Cha
Best Animated Short
Best Live-Action Short
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors’ Window
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