It goes without saying that we want to congratulate everyone who woke up to the news that they are Academy Award nominees this morning. This has been, and continues to be, a bizarre awards season, but the films that are represented across the board do adequately reflect the best and brightest that found its way in front of an audience in 2020. We ended up with eight Best Picture nominees ranging from Minari and Mank to The Trial of the Chicago 7. We’ll discuss the odds of the favorites as we get closer to the show.
This morning, we focus on the folks who didn’t get the call, the Snubs that held Oscar hopes, only to have them dashed in the wee hours of the morning, Pacific Coast Time. These are movies, actors, directors and craftsmen who had been told at various stages of the race that this would be their year. For some, it could have been career-altering. For others, it’s a blip on an already seasoned stint in the business. So, who was left on the outside of the Oscar bubble, looking in?
Da 5 Bloods
Such an egregious snub, the movie gets its own category at the top of this list. Simply put, the Academy didn’t care for Spike Lee’s searing examination of post-war PTSD, the Trump effect on our nation’s psyche, the power and urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the stirring treasure-hunt thriller that Lee rolled into one devastating package. While the film’s lone Oscar nomination went to Terence Blanchard’s heroic film score, thet means that the Academy snubbed Da 5 Bloods in Best Picture, Best Director for Spike Lee, Best Actor for Delroy Lindo (an absolute crime), and Best Supporting Actor for the late Chadwick Boseman. One has to wonder if Oscar voters even bothered to watch their Netflix screener?
One Night in Miami
Regina King’s stirring and provocative One Night in Miami is another film that probably expected a lot more love on Oscars morning, and woke up holding a half-empty bag. The movie did collect a few key nominations, with Kemp Powers landing a Best Adapted Screenplay nod for his words and ideas, and Leslie Odom Jr. getting into the Best Supporting Actor race. But that excluded his co-stars, all of whom were integral to One Night in Miami working as well as it did. Choosing one performance over the others is very difficult. While Picture seemed in play, it didn’t happen, but what I really regret is that Regina King isn’t joining Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell in the Best Director category, because she deserved to be there after juggling the issues and performances at the heart of this film.
Zendaya, Best Actress
The Best Actress category this year might be the most stacked of all the races. Four extremely talented and worth nominees are going to go home empty-handed, and we will live in a world where Viola Davis or Carey Mulligan might not win for their amazing performances in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom or Promising Young Woman just because Frances McDormand is THAT good in Nomadland. Zendaya, though, didn’t even get into the conversation, and she belonged there. Her work opposite John David Washington in the contentious Malcolm & Marie showed a soul-baring side to the actress that many are still waking up to (watch Euphoria, people), and a nomination would have pushed her further into the spotlight of respect.
Jared Leto, Best Supporting Actor, The Little Things
The thing about Jared Leto is that he’s extremely popular. And he takes big, bold risks with his performances. This allows him to get nominated and actually win for Dallas Buyers Club. It also makes him a lightning rod for controversy when he tries something like The Joker. His turn as a menacing weirdo in The Little Things for early awards buzz, picking up nominations the HFPA and the Screen Actors Guild (a big deal). An Oscar nomination seemed possible, but Leto’s turn proved a tad too elusive for Academy members to fully embrace.
Palm Springs, Original Screenplay
As streaming services generate far more Oscar-worthy films, Hulu found itself in the race for a number of deserving movies this year. Palm Springs should have been one of the them, and I’m more than a little shocked that it didn’t find its way into the Best Original Screenplay category. This was the year, because of the bizarre nature of film distribution, that the Academy could have shone a brighter light on mainstream fare that connected with audiences while still elevating the craft of filmmaking. Palm Springs is clever, hysterical, heartfelt and fun. When Borat 2 got a nod, I got hopeful, only to have those hopes dashed.
Soul, Best Picture
As long as the Best Animated Feature category exists, no animated feature will ever win Best Picture at the Oscars. The Academy basically considers that category to be “enough,” as evidenced by Disney Pixar’s Soul not even getting into the Best Picture race, which is a crime. Pete Docter’s fascinating exploration of the afterlife and our purpose here on this planet plumbed emotional and spiritual depths not seen in any of the live-action films in the Best Picture category. Soul also breached difficult conversations about depression and anxiety, as well as the freeing power of music and musical composition. It’s an endlessly rewarding film that’s as vibrant and beautiful as it is funny and sad. But it’s animated, so it never really had a shot at the category in which it belongs, did it?
Ludwig Goransson, Score, Tenet
A score can complete a movie. It can serve as a character, an audio propulsion that comes around exactly when the story needs it. This is what Ludwig Goransson achieves with Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, a time-twisty thriller that plays forwards and backwards but gets anchored by the musical cues provided by Goransson. The composer already has a track record with the Academy, having picked up an Oscar for his work on Black Panther. His work on The Mandalorian was brilliant, and could have contributed to the Academy just giving Goransson the nod for his body of work. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Mank, Original Screenplay
Personally, I don’t think that Mank deserved a nomination in this category. I fear that David Fincher’s Old Hollywood homage is the least interesting story in the brilliant filmmaker’s filmography. But what IS interesting is the story behind Mank, where Fincher’s late father, Jack Fincher, had a script that delved into the making of Hollywood’s greatest drama -- Citizen Kane -- but gets lost in the exploration of the battle between screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Oscar nominated Gary Oldman) and media tycoon William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance). I thought that maybe the story of Mank would get the screenplay a nomination, but no dice.
Jodie Foster, Best Supporting Actress, The Mauritanian
Because of the unusual nature of this year’s Oscar race, we saw a handful of films that were released in 2021 connect with the different critics groups that can be bellweathers for the direction that the Academy is going to go. And that turned out to be the case for Judas and the Black Messiah, which earned six Oscar nominations, but not so much for The Mauritanian. While that drama played well for the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes (where Jodie Foster won over Glenn Close, Olivia Colman and Amanda Seyfried, the Oscars weren’t having it, and the Foster slot likely went to Maria Bakalova for Borat 2 instead. No real complaints here!