On 22 January the Oscar nominations for 2019 were announced. The event, which takes place on Sunday 24 February will be without a host after Kevin Hart stood down from the role following backlash against homophobic tweets that he had written in 2009 and 2010. This in itself reflects the slight oddness of the Oscar nominations this year, given that none of the films nominated rush to mind as being truly conventional contenders.
Whereas last year there was a rich selection of 10 films covering racism, sexuality, war and psychotic dressmakers nominated for Best Picture, this year the list of eight – despite the broad range of genres on offer – feels more limited. Black Panther is the first commercial superhero film to ever be nominated in this category which, although a worthy and original film itself, also shows that maybe the Oscars are attempting to seem more accessible and appealing by putting in more commercially successful films – an idea which last year’s Best Picture nominee Get Out certainly would have opened the door for.
A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody both support this idea too. The former is a very powerful film, but its commercial success definitely outdid its merit. In the case of the latter, nothing other than perhaps Rami Malek’s performance could really be described as outstanding. Neither of these films seem to be especially worthy of nomination, possibly suggesting they may only be nominated due to a scarcity of good films released this year (and the Academy may be attempting to appeal to more people with the type of films they nominate).
Yet the lack of La La Lands and Dunkirks made way for films such as Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite – both of which have 10 nominations. Roma is an authentic and artistic film, shot in black and white and set in Mexico City, following the life of a young housemaid to a middle-class family. It is neither a ground-breaking nor melodramatic story nor does it include seasoned Hollywood actors. The film has received plaudits based on its merits alone rather than the familiar faces in it or the relevance of the topic it covers. It seems that it is time for the Academy Awards to more frequently recognise films of this kind. Yorgos Lanthimos’ trademark weirdness in The Favourite has finally made it into the Best Picture category whilst his others strange yet wonderful films Dogtooth and The Lobster only made it to Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. It is, therefore, refreshing that at last his original writing and the alternative stories he tells, especially through the vessel of the court of Queen Anne in the 18th century, are recognised and credited with this nomination.
The other three nominations Vice, Green Book and BlakKklansman all look to highlight shocking and powerful stories of our recent history, all perhaps attempting to render a conclusion for the current social and political circumstances. Whilst their stories are all interesting and significant they do not have the same novelty and difference as Roma and The Favourite and they would most likely be in the running for the Oscars any other year. On the other hand, it is great to see Spike Lee and Peter Farrelly have their films nominated for Best Picture.
Unfortunately, not all things are different this year as the Best Director category reverts to being an all-male category. Similarly, the nominees in the categories of Film Editing, Original Score and Cinematography, as well as all but one nominee in the categories Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay, are men. Yet, practically all the nominees for Product Design and Costume Design are women. It is disappointing to see this cycle of gender-defined roles in the film industry and the failure of both the Academy and anyone else to determine and eliminate the reasons for this.
The most notable films which seem to have been overlooked or “snubbed” are Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk and Felix van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy. Both of these films seem to be more important than Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born yet for some unknown reason these were favoured by the Academy’s voters. This, however, highlights the question of whether the value given to films should be based mostly on the quality of the story itself, the way the story is told, or how much the story matters today – criteria the Academy is never ready to reveal.
Nevertheless, it will be intriguing to see what the Oscars will be like and who will win on 24 February. Furthermore, it will be even more intriguing to see whether those within the filmmaking industry are eager for change and evolution, or are satisfied to keep the status quo.