It’s hard to drive anywhere in Hollywood this time of year without plowing into another stack of awards. Honorary hardware practically falls from the sky in January. But all of those awards and honors culminate in the biggest awards show of all: the Oscars. Nominations for said awards were unveiled Monday morning.
If you’re interested in a full list of potential honorees, click here, but as a quick recap: Nine films landed in Oscar’s Best Picture category: 1917, Ford V. Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Marriage Story and Parasite. Joker led the pack with 11 nominations. The Irishman, 1917 and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood snagged 10 apiece. And Netflix—you know, the streaming service we typically associate with television—led all “studios” with 24 nominations, thanks to The Irishman, Marriage Story and The Two Popes.
Aaaand with that little tidbit, we dive into an inescapable element of the Oscars almost as traditional as the Oscars themselves: controversy.
Ever since Netflix pushed into awards-bait movies (here’s a handy chart to see how that push has grown ever stronger in recent years), it’s been pushing to upend the motion picture business, too. Recently, the streaming service has been giving its highest-profile award-hopefuls a traditional theatrical release to qualify for the Oscars, but one that’s usually far shorter than the 90-day exclusive window that most theater chains push for. As a result, AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas are both refusing to screen Netflix’s bevy of nominated movies in their chains.
But we’re just getting started. Pundits had plenty to grouse about when the nominees were released, especially the omission of Greta Gerwig, once again, in the Best Director category. If there was an awards category for Most Aggregious snub, Gerwig would be the clear front-runner. Given that her film, Little Women, earned five other nominations, including Best Picture, Slate asked, “Does the Academy Think Little Women Directed Itself?”
Gerwig also became something of a poster child for the lack of female recognition in the category as a whole. Only five women have ever been nominated in the Directing category, and just one (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker) has won. Many pundits noted that this was a particularly rich year for female-directed films (including the directors for awards-season darlings The Farewell, Hustlers and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), which made the omission all the more noticeable. Even as the awards were being rolled out, announcer Issa Rae drew attention to the omission, saying “Congratulations to these men.”
The Oscars also narrowly avoided another full-throated #OscarsSoWhite controversy, though many have noted that the acting categories still were notable for their lack of diversity. Harriet’s Cynthia Erivo was the only person of color to be nominated, and Los Angeles Times’ film critic Justin Chang said that this year’s class felt like a “return, in a lot of ways, to a kind of white male nostalgia.” Those sorts of controversies muted the awards success of Parasite, a dark South Korean comedy that racked up six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director.
But pundits took issue with plenty of other, um, issues too. Some wondered why The Irishman snagged nominations for two Best Supporting Actors (Al Pacino and Joe Pesci), but the Academy snubbed Robert DeNiro as Best Actor. Jennifer Lopez and Eddie Murphy were seen as glaring omissions, too. Adam Sandler, who earned rave reviews for Uncut Gems, was passed over as well—though Sandler took it in stride by congratulating Kathy Bates (nominated for her work in Richard Jewell), who played his mother in Waterboy. (“I love you my Bobby Boucher!!!” Bates tweeted back, referencing Sandler by his Waterboy character name; “You was robbed!! But Mam loves you!!!”)
Slate’s Dan Kois thinks it’s an outrage that Joker (which he said was “as dumb as h—“) stole 11 nominations. L.A. Times’ Sonaiya Kelley can’t figure out why horror films never seem to be in the running. And so it goes.
But honestly, it’s amazing that we still have time to pay so much attention to the Oscars, given that the television industry churned out 532 shows last year. That number’s expected to go up next year. Many of those shows seem to reflect how uneasy we feel with the real world these days, and Salon’s Melanie McFarland noted the rise of existential TV. Name-checking such shows as Netflix’s Russian Doll, Amazon’s Fleabag and NBC’s The Good Place, McFarland writes:
Existentialist themes in our shows invite us on an alternate journey to the typical one offered by TV. People who call it a waste are talking about the series that numb us, that give us a means of escape without offering much in the way of intellectual nourishment in return. But the shows mentioned above ask the audience to tune in not merely to the mechanism but to the message, its moral and its spiritual marrow.
But who needs deep existentialism when you can watch the Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time? The showdown between the game show’s three biggest winners probably has snagged more viewers than all McFarland’s mentioned existentialist shows combined. Indeed, the competition averaged 15 million viewers through the first three shows—more than any other non-sports show this television season. (And even many sports events are lagging. The 2019 NBA Finals and the 2019 World Series both earned lower ratings than Jeopardy’s GOAT event boasted.) Alas for ABC, the tourney is over now, with Ken Jennings winning three out of four events and being dubbed Jeopardy’s greatest champion ever.
I guess that’s one award not in doubt.