It’s that time of year again. The Oscar nominees are out, and in a year of stacked candidates, there are bound to be some deserved, undeserved, marginal, and questionable nominees.
When I was younger, I sort of looked to the Oscars as a Holy Grail. The ultimate artistic achievement. Because when an artist is truly deserving and recognized, not only for their work, but for their greater service to the story, there are few moments as inspirational and as illuminating for a creative.
But when you feel a person or a film hasn’t been recognized the way they should, either as a nominee or as a winner, it’s even more polarizing. You want to shout from the rooftops and tell people how wrong they are.
As you get older, you start to see the system of numbers and politics behind the machine. The voting system for Best Picture is statistically weighted, based on a greater than 50% rule, and inherently biased from a demographic standpoint. Outdated, not unlike our very own Electoral College. That much can’t be refuted from a pure mathematical standpoint.
So while individual categories have those specialists voting in their own respective field, for larger categories like Best Picture, you’re going to see the heavy representation of an older, extremely white, male demographic. Sound familiar?
And while certain films like Moonlight have been able to breakthrough that mold, films like Green Book and Ford v. Ferrari show us that it’s just as easy to take a step backward, as it is to go forward.
Here are the 10 biggest snubs of the 2020 Academy Awards:
#10. Lupita Nyong’o – Best Actress in a Leading Role
There are few actresses that can bring themselves to a primordial level. To become something feral. Unhinged.
Lupita Nyong’o has about as much range as any actress on the planet, and while it’s been easy to forget about Us amidst this recent tidal wave of great films, just imagine any other actress playing the dueling role to it’s full extreme, and it’s even harder to imagine anyone living up to Nyong’o.
#9. Jennifer Lopez – Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Cast anyone else in this role, and they don’t live up to J-Lo’s mystique. Her sexiness. Her allure.
They might be more polished, but they don’t have that edge. And we all know none of them can live up to J-Lo on the pole.
#8. Robert DeNiro – Best Actor in a Leading Role
You tellin’ me that Pacino and Pesci are gonna get a nomination, but DeNiro is gonna get snubbed? No no, Frank Sheeran wouldn’t have that. He’d go around and knock on a few doors. Maybe paint a few houses.
Even though they’re all brilliant in The Irishman, I have to give it up for who goes the furthest in the film, even though Pesci’s restraint and subtlety is a masterclass of acting. So for me it goes Pacino, DeNiro, and Pesci, in that god-tier order.
#7. Apollo 11 – Best Documentary Feature
One of the greatest historical documentaries of all-time has been left off this year’s ballot without a nomination. But this is nothing new.
Last year, Won’t You Be My Neighbor was also left off the list of nominees, despite it being for my money, the best documentary of the year next to Free Solo, and by far, the most emotional. There are few real-life luminaries like Fred Rogers, and that film was more moving than any documentary I’ve seen in recent time.
And while a shame, it’s good to at least see Honeyland getting nominated this year, which along with For Sama, have my vote for Best Documentary Feature.
#6. Willem Dafoe – Best Actor in a Supporting Role
As Shakespearean of a character as I have seen on the silver screen, Willem Dafoe casts a haunting spell in The Lighthouse.
Monomaniacal and with the energy of a-thousand-suns, Dafoe channels his Captain Ahab with the whimsical eloquence of a foregone scribe, and the foulness of a mangy old sea-rat.
#5. Taron Edgerton – Best Actor in a Leading Role
Taron Edgerton was better in Rocketman than Rami Malek was in Bohemian Rhapsody, and Rocketman is a better film than Bohemian Rhapsody, but the masses usually go with what’s easy. And Bohemian Rhapsody is very much those things: fun, fast, quirky, distilled, sanitized. It only shows you the bright and glossy side of a fiercely misunderstood and polarizing artist.
Rocketman is all about Elton at his origin, his most vulnerable, so that you see someone else come out on the other side. A boy who was broken, who had to put himself back together, and eventually aimed for the sky.
#4. Adam Sandler – Best Actor in a Leading Role
There is no better single casting decision in 2019 than Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems. One of the most well-liked, easy-to-root-for, and inherently positive actors that we’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing as an audience, playing one of the most degenerate, despicable, and slimy characters this side of the Manhattan.
It creates a dichotomy that is electric. Where every choice, every decision is like re-wiring a fucked up ticking time bomb. The Safdie brothers have already showed their promise with the breakthrough Robert Pattinson film, Good Time in 2017, and now the box-office draw and worldwide appeal of Adam Sandler will open them up to every hardworking, red-blooded American just looking to relax on a Saturday night with an Adam Sandler movie. And oh, are they in for it.
#3. Awkafina – Best Actress in a Leading Role
America doesn’t know many great Asian-American actresses.
They’re out there though. Waiting for a chance to prove themselves. But their stories have yet to be told.
And so one day, a young comedian and actress gets the chance to step into a role that many couldn’t necessarily see her playing. And for one of the few times in her life, she gets to tell a story much like her own.
So she shines. She provides a bridge to a world much like our own, but on the other side of the world. I saw some of my own childhood and my own days spent at my Grandparent’s, in one of the few reflections of the Asian-American experience brought to the silver screen.
#2. Uncut Gems – Best Picture
I understand why some people don’t like Uncut Gems. It’s anxious, it’s grimy, it’s slimy. It’s about sick people doing sick things to one another. It’s about falling victim to cycles of abuse and addiction. And so people won’t like the film because of the way it makes them feel. The world it exposes you to. I’ve heard the phrase “felt physically ill” more often than I can count in regards to the film.
But just like medicine, and hear this in your best Adam Sandler-voice: “It’s not always going to taste good, but it’ll be good for you. Now open your mouth.”
Uncut Gems is like a stone uncovered, broken apart to show you a glimpse of another world. An underworld, that exists beneath us at all times. Whether we choose to look is another question.
#1. The Farewell – Best Picture
The Farewell is one of those films that can start a movie movement. It’s the sort of film that can change the dialogue of what’s being made and what stories are being told. And it already has.
But those films aren’t as powerful when they’re silenced, and a single Oscar nomination means more for future films yet to be made, than it does for the film itself being celebrated.
So while it’s pretty disappointing to see films like Ford v. Ferrari being voted in by the masses, it’s not surprising. Another Green Book nominee, a movie that caters to and is nearly built for the older, white male demographic that dominates the overall Best Picture voting pool. I’m not saying Ford v. Ferrari doesn’t have the quality to be a nominee, it’s a solid, exciting, and well-executed movie itself. I’m just saying we’ve seen that movie before. And there are too many films that soar over it.
The Farewell reminded me of what it’s like to be Chinese, living in a Western world. How we approach family and old age. How we attempt to share the burden of death, so that it may be lighter on us all. There is a wisdom that I’m discovering to that lack of self, when you start to see beyond yourself. A belief held onto throughout centuries and used a guiding light for future generations to come.
So while we look towards recognizing the past and what’s behind us, we ironically miss out on what’s right in front of us. Man’s greatest fallacy. Uncut Gems and The Farewell are films ahead of their time, and we’ve seen films ahead of their time not rewarded when it comes to Oscar night.
But that’s okay. Time will be the ultimate judge, as it always is. And so some of these films will fall by the wayside and others will rise above them, as they always do.