Once considered one of the most esteemed and coveted prizes a filmmaker could win, the Academy Award’s luster has since dulled under the corrosive influence of time and progress.
The Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has seen massive backlash in recent decades for failing to acknowledge the contributions and achievements of artists whose visions do not conform to the narrow, highly Americanized ideals of cinema maintained by the institute. What were once considered “snubs” are now recognized as systematic dismissal of films by and starring people of color, women and artists from outside the United States, purposefully excluding them from the glitzy proceedings to prevent their work from being perceived as prestige cinema or — as is often the case of foreign films — reaching a wider audience.
This year’s nomination announcements were met with this very criticism, echoing the same condemnation the organization faced just last year for a largely white slate of nominees, and for allowing a film directed by an alleged pedophile into the ring (where it won four Oscars, proving that #TimesUp and #MeToo have done little to rectify Hollywood’s problem with rewarding serial assaulters).
There appears to be greater resentment toward the upcoming event now than the year before, when the Academy was embroiled in a new scandal every other week. Audiences have become tired of the movies they loved and connected with not receiving industry praise. The ever-increasing accessibility and diversity of cinema has transformed the standards for the medium at an incredible pace, bringing films by contemporary masters like Alfonso Cuarón directly to living rooms across the nation and widening the narrative scope to encompass every voice.
With that in mind, it only seems appropriate to view the nominees through the lens of who was deliberately left out and who the Academy will honor instead.
The Snubbed: Lupita Nyong’o
The Shoo-In: Renee Zellweger
Another familiar situation: A woman of color starring in a horror movie is overlooked in favor of a white woman’s convincing turn as a famous celebrity. Daniel Kaluuya managed to snag a nomination for Jordan Peele’s directorial debut “Get Out,” but history has failed to repeat itself with Nyong’o in spite of her knockout performance as not one but two characters. The chilling whispers of her Tethered self will likely resonate throughout cinematic history much longer than Zellweger’s fine imitation of Judy Garland. It seems that, unless she’s playing a slave, Nyong’o is invisible to the Academy as a black woman whose range expands beyond period dramas and racial torture porn.
The Snubbed: Adam Sandler
The Shoo-In: Joaquin Phoenix
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As strange as “Academy Award-winner Adam Sandler” might sound to some, many were expecting him to at least be nominated for his jittery, sweaty performance in “Uncut Gems.” While transitions from comedy to drama have previously been embraced by the Academy, Adam Sandler is no Robin Williams or Jim Carrey in the Academy’s eyes: He is the fool from “Saturday Night Live,” the lazy schlub whose cinematic aspirations seemed limited to which filming location would make the best vacation spot for himself and his famous friends.
However, Sandler more than proved himself as a gambling addict, using his obnoxious mannerisms and sometimes weasely charm to really sell his character’s desperation. This turn just couldn’t measure up to Phoenix, who lost a great amount of weight for the role (which, as we all know, is the only criteria an actor needs to meet to be considered great, despite the fact that actresses often have to change their bodies for every role they take) and danced on some stairs. Phoenix is indeed excellent as the Joker, but his reputation as a serious actor definitely precedes him, at least to the Academy.
Best Supporting Actress
The Snubbed: Jennifer Lopez
The Shoo-In: Laura Dern
Jennifer Lopez’s performance in the glittery crime-drama “Hustlers” is, in a sense, star-making. Despite already being Hollywood royalty, her captivating role as stripper Ramona was a reminder to audiences everywhere that Lopez is a star for a good reason: She is an immensely talented woman, her dramatic chops just as impressive as her ageless physicality. However, she was left out of the nominations — along with the rest of the “Hustlers” cast — presumably for the film’s uncensured depiction of sex work and Lopez’s identity as a Latina, whose reputation seems inextricably linked to her body rather than her talent.
Laura Dern’s performances in both “Marriage Story” and “Little Women” were characteristically wonderful, brimming with the snappy warmth that has made Dern so beloved, but her victory will inevitably ache when one remembers that only certain roles for women — confidant, mother — are “appropriate” for the Academy voters.
Best Costume Design
The Snubbed: “Midsommar”
The Shoo-In: “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”
The verisimilitude captured by “Once Upon A Time” was unquestionably breath-taking, from the spaghetti western costumes to the streets seemingly lifted right out of 1969. Like most winners of this award, though, the film had bountiful sources of inspiration to draw from, including photographs and movies themselves.
Why the award for Best Costume Design so frequently goes to a historical drama has remained baffling for years, especially in light of genre films that often require the creation of entirely new wardrobes. One such film was “Midsommar,” a movie that has quickly become iconic for its clean white frocks and the elaborate flower crown and dress that protagonist Dani wears upon becoming the May Queen. Horror movies rarely manage to even catch the Academy’s eye, but this snub felt especially egregious after a Halloween season that spawned countless imitations of the May Queen dress.