Snubs and Surprises: in which Kent compares Oscars to participation awards
Disappointment is inevitable when reading awards show nomination lists; it’s ridiculous to think that a film or a performance can win “best art.” These lists are less about honoring artistic achievements and more about recognizing valiant efforts. Ignoring for a moment the fact that these awards are determined by million-dollar campaigns and heavily biased against genre films, the nominations are still reliable indicators of quality — especially if they are determined by peers in their respective industries. Observe the recognition given by guilds: Screen Actors, Directors, Editors, Producers, Production Designers, etc. The Oscars ceremony is a culmination of these guild nominations, creating a compromise that mostly benefits the network by nominating and rewarding popular films in order to secure higher ratings.
Amid these compromises, filmmakers get left out — not because they are less deserving, but because there is no room. Take the race for best director. I would have liked to see the visionary behind “Leave No Trace,” Debra Granik ’85, nominated. The Brandeis alumna did a phenomenal job directing her poignant film. But none of the current nominees are worthy of being bumped. Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” is powerful, Pawel Pawlikoski’s “Cold War” is visually entrancing, Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” has the best acting ensemble of the year, Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” is a technical masterpiece, and Adam McKay’s “Vice” is an entertaining voyage through modern history.
One of the more personal disappointments of the year is Ethan Hawke’s snub for his subtle performance in “First Reformed.” But once again, there isn’t an actor I’d remove from the category — maybe Bradley Cooper from “A Star is Born” since he’s only there to make up for his snub from the race for director. Of course, the other acting categories have their own snubs, but the subjectivity of art makes each outrage unique to the reader. “First Reformed” is lucky to even get an original screenplay nomination for writer-director Paul Schrader. However, if “Roma” sweeps as much as I predict it will, Schrader won’t go home with the win.
The category that is truly a surprise is best documentary. Fan favorites like “RBG” and “Minding the Gap” are nominated alongside projected winner “Free Solo.” But where is the heartwarming peek at Fred Rogers in “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Or the summer hit “Three Identical Strangers”? What about Sandi Tan’s odyssey regarding her 25-year-old stolen film in “Shirkers”? These are impressive submissions that should have been nominated as well.
Among the “mainstream films,” you really don’t see much recognition. Sure, “Black Panther” is nominated for Best Picture, but none of the other main categories (writing, acting directing, editing) are included. This is obviously a move to pander to general audiences. If they actually took the film into genuine consideration, it would have garnered more recognition. Granted, “Black Panther” doesn’t deserve the nominations — “Infinity War” and “Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse” deserve the spot if it were reserved for comic book movies. Even the more modest popular films, like the charming “Paddington 2,” should have been nominated for visual effects, especially if “Christopher Robin” is included in the category.
These awards don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of the quality of art pumped out of Hollywood, let alone in our society. It’s an industry award used to increase box office and DVD sales. The ceremony is fun — just don’t take it too seriously.