This awards season has been an excruciating roller coaster ride, zigging past worthwhile contenders in favor of zagging into Bryan Singer’s trophy shelf. If the Golden Globes marks the start of a slow climb up the hill of anticipation, the announcement of the Academy Awards nominees marks the summit. This peak, reached this morning, punctured all those weeks of cautious excitement and sent the riders down an anticlimactic slope of mediocrity and unsurprising snubs.
We can’t be blamed for having hope. In a year of genre standouts — from the action thriller “Widows” to the horrifying smash hit “Hereditary” — there were thinkpieces aplenty about the potential for an awards ceremony that would honor more than just dramas and biopics. Looking at the crushingly bland contenders set to clinch nominations, one couldn’t help praying that maybe the academy would look beyond the usual suspects and honor some more unconventional performances and films. Could Toni Collette earn a nomination for her unforgettable role in “Hereditary”? Would Bo Burnham’s excellent cringe-comedy “Eighth Grade” be recognized for its perfect depiction of middle school drudgery? Was there a chance — any chance at all — of a woman earning a Best Director nomination?
Of course not. A computer that had been fed the outcomes of this year’s lesser award shows could have predicted this roster and saved poor announcers Kumail Nanjiani and Tracie Ellis Ross an early morning. Perhaps the only surprise is that Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” and Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Favourite” are the scoreboard leaders with 10 nominations apiece, edging out “A Star is Born” and “Vice”, which pulled in a still impressive eight nods each. These four films are also up for Best Picture, along with “Black Panther”, “BlacKkKlansman,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book”. Most notably left out of this coveted category is Barry Jenkins' “If Beale Street Could Talk”, his highly praised follow-up to 2017 Best Picture winner “Moonlight."
The rest of the categories are largely a jumble of these eight films, a depressingly homogenous docket. What exceptions there are fail to surprise: Melissa McCarthy’s performance in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is up for a Best Actress award, which should shock no one familiar with the extensive praise she received for this dramatic role, and Willem Dafoe’s turn as Vincent Van Gogh in “At Eternity’s Gate” will likely see an award as the Academy tries to rectify its horrifying snubbing of his work in “The Florida Project”. Some might consider “Black Panther”’s Best Picture nomination a bombshell, but with the stupefying amount of acclaim and cultural clout the movie earned virtually overnight — as well as the Academy’s past failures to honor superhero films such as “The Dark Knight Rises” — there was little question about its fate.
The narrow field of films competing is especially depressing given how many sincerely excellent movies were released this year. In addition to the exclusion of “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Damien Chazelle’s efficient Neil Armstrong biopic “First Man," Ethan Hawke’s performance in “First Reformed” and the previously mentioned “Eighth Grade” more than earned a place on this list. The nominations feel safe, striving to satisfy audiences who thought a 10-minute reenactment of Queen’s “Live Aid” performance stapled to the end of a crushingly boring biopic and the movie "Green Book," in which structural racism was vanquished by good ol’ Frank Vallelonga and his thick-as-pastrami Jersey accent were the cinematic highlights of a stacked year.
This list seems rather fitting for an Academy Awards ceremony that likely won’t have a host. In fact, the computer that generated these nominees could just take over and distribute the awards in 10 minutes, saving everyone the posturing and pageantry of sitting through three hours of fangless sketches about “Oscars So White!” performed by guilty white celebrities and Lady Gaga performances just to watch “Green Book” take the award for Best Picture. The Academy Awards are nothing if not predictable: One can only hope that another “La La Land”/”Moonlight” debacle occurs and makes this year’s ceremony at all worth remembering. Otherwise, this will be yet another thrill-less drop in the roller coaster before the cart rolls back into the station to recharge for future award seasons.