The longest awards season ever got a boost this morning with the nominations for the 93rd Annual Academy Awards and the results were … not bad! For the most part, the Oscar voters chose films, performances, and craftspeople that were expected, but there were a few incredibly welcome surprises: LaKeith Stanfield for Judas and the Black Messiah! Paul Raci for Sound of Metal! Ramin Bahrani for the screenplay of The White Tiger! Of course, the Academy voters will never get it completely right — and there were more than a few headscratchers and disappointments this morning too, including a couple that felt like they played into the less-than-stellar history of the organization. These are the nine films and people who should be angriest this morning. We feel your pain.
One Night in Miami for Director and Picture
Coming off a recent win for Best Supporting Actress, Regina King seemed like the kind of Oscar favorite who would naturally ascend from an acting category to the directing one. The fact is that the Academy had a chance this morning to nominate a black actress’ directorial debut for one of the most acclaimed films of 2020 … and they chose not to take it. Yes, it’s wonderful that Emerald Fennell and Chloe Zhao broke some of the ceiling in the directing category that has led to only one woman ever winning the Oscar, but there could have and should have been three extremely worthy female nominees this year. And there was space in Best Picture too, another place that nearly everyone thought King’s drama — about the night that Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and Cassius Clay (soon to be known as Muhammad Ali) hung out in the Sunshine State — would land. This one is easily the most shocking omission of the day.
Aaron Sorkin for Director, The Trial of the Chicago 7
For weeks, the assumption has been that Academy voters would eventually swing back to the old-fashioned-yet-timely flavor of this courtroom drama when it came time to pick a winner for Best Picture (if it’s not Nomadland). That theory lost some momentum this morning when Aaron Sorkin was shockingly left off the Best Director nominations list. Sure, the film landed in Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Sacha Baron Cohen), but the lack of nod in this category arguably no longer makes it a frontrunner. Sorkin has been nominated four times now for his writing (winning for The Social Network), but the Academy clearly doesn’t feel as strongly about his directing. He should sue somebody.
Da 5 Bloods
With Netflix putting all of their awards season weight behind The Trial of the Chicago 7, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Mank, the eventual snubs for Spike Lee’s searing Vietnam epic felt kind of inevitable … but they still hurt. And while it was wonderful to see Terence Blanchard’s score show up in its category, the general dismissal of Spike Lee’s masterful filmmaking hurts. Most people expected Chadwick Boseman to become the first ever posthumous double nominee, but he missed the second part of that equation (nominated for lead only for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom). Worst of all, one of the most unforgettable performances was completely ignored by skipping Delroy Lindo, who should have been in the conversation to win Best Actor. Instead, he was left entirely off the list. Was it too long ago? Did the MAGA hat throw them off? The missed opportunity to recognize the breadth of his entire career stings.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom for Director and Picture
Maybe there was just too much Netflix? Since it premiered, George C. Wolfe’s adaptation of the August Wilson play was perceived as a force of Oscar nature. It’s the kind of film that would have appeared across the board in normal times, much less with the reduced slate produced by a pandemic. And it did get an impressive five nominations, including Best Actor and Actress, so the Academy clearly liked it — just not as much as everyone thought they would. Again, even in a year filled with diversity among the nominees, one has to wonder if the organization’s history with black filmmakers didn’t rear its ugly head here. And given that they nominated only eight films for Best Picture when they could have gone with nine or even 10, the omission makes it feel like even more of a sharp, intentional snub.
News of the World
Paul Greengrass’s elegiac Western seemed timely and yet old-fashioned in a way that Academy voters used to love: a generation ago, it would’ve been a major contender to win across the board. So maybe the lack of nods is a sign of progress from an organization that has been accused of being behind the times? The well-reviewed Universal film was nominated for four Oscars (Sound, Production Design, Score, Cinematography), but missed in all of the “major” categories: Best Picture, Director, Actor, and, most of all, Supporting Actress, where it really felt like newcome Helena Zengel might be embraced. Had this been 1997, she almost certainly would have been in contention.
Jodie Foster and Tahar Rahim for The Mauritanian
It’s funny how much the awards season wheel can turn. Kevin Macdonald’s The Mauritanian wasn’t considered much of a player a few months ago; it then quickly built up more than enough steam that many pundits were predicting nominations this morning for stars Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster, who hadn’t been nominated since 1995. After all, they were both Golden Globe nominees, and Foster even won that prize. It also appeared prominently enough in the BAFTA nominations (Best Film, Best Leading Actor, Best Screenplay) that people naturally presumed it would show up somewhere for the Academy this morning. Nope.
Dick Johnson Is Dead
The Documentary branch of the Academy continues to make baffling decisions. Every year, there’s a major film or two missing from this category — and the big shock for 2021 is that the branch ignored the great Kirsten Johnson’s personal, funny, and unforgettable critics darling. The director turned her affection for her ailing father into an experimental and blackly comic love letter, one that pushes the envelope of what should be expected from non-fiction filmmaking. Maybe that’s why it was skipped over? Poor Dick Johnson never stood a chance.
Mank for Screenplay and Editing
This is another case of a film performing well, and yet still missing in places that have to upset its publicists this morning. One of the big stories behind David Fincher’s Mank was the screenplay by his father Jack, who died in 2003 but had done enough work on the original draft to earn the credit. A talented son turning his deceased father’s work into a Best Picture and Director nominee feels like the kind of story that the Academy loves. Yet somehow, this Old Hollywood drama missed not only there but also for its highly praised editing, which could mean it may be weaker than folks thought re: winning any awards on the big night. Discuss amongst yourselves if it’s ironic that a film about screenwriting credits failed to land a nomination for its screenplay.
The Early 2020 Indie Sector: The Assistant, First Cow, Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Listen, no one really expected some of the most bold, daring and unique independent film darlings of 2020 to show up big this morning — Oscars still gonna Oscar. But it felt like there was more of a chance this year for some of the more daring, outside-the-box American movies to come out in 2020 because of the overall lack of competition. The blockbusters got out of the way in 2020, so why not award the films that could really use the push? The truth is that the Academy could have (and should have) taken the chance to dig deeper than normal and really elevate films like First Cow, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, The Assistant, and other films that didn’t play on a major streaming service first. Some of the films nominated this morning will get that push and find audiences they wouldn’t have otherwise: see Sound of Metal, Minari, The White Tiger, and the Danish drinking dramedy Another Round. But it really feels like being low budget, too esoteric and too far away from the nomination deadline may have meant the kiss of death for these films in terms of Oscar chances.