Every year the Academy Award nominations leave people out who are deserving of Oscar’s golden attention. Sometimes the oversight is just annoying because someone whose work you enjoyed is off the list but you can still appreciate the people who received recognition. But other times the oversight is so egregious that it can be deemed criminal.
This year there were a number of films that received far fewer nominations than they deserved such as If Beale Street Could Talk, which nabbed a trio of nominations but none for director Barry Jenkins or for the film as best picture. Perhaps the Academy felt that Jenkins’ win two years ago was too recent or that the awards show faux pas regarding his Moonlight win was a memory it simply didn’t want brought up. There were also films that received serious attention but had certain people ignored such as Black Panther that won seven nominations but none for Michael B. Jordan’s fiery supporting turn or Rachel Morrison’s great cinematography.
Here is a list of the worst offenses; 10 films that were completely shut out of the 91st Academy Award nominations.
- Death of Stalin
Oscar has always preferred drama to comedy but at a time when the absurdities of real world politics outpaced anything comic writers could come up with, it seems that Armando Iannucci’s lethally funny Death of Stalin should have at the very least gotten a best adapted screenplay nod. This razor sharp satire skewers real dictatorial leaders and their minions who use fear to rule. Any similarities to current politics is just icing on Iannucci’s comic confection. If Vice – Adam McKay’s black comedy about Dick Cheney’s rise to power – could grab eight nominations, then the Academy should have found it in its heart to acknowledge the brilliance of Iannucci’s script or even just an acting nomination for Steve Buscemi’s hilarious turn as Nikita Khrushchev. Plus the film once again highlights that graphic novels adapted to film don’t always have to be about superheroes or action.
First time directors don’t often get Oscars attention. Orson Welles was the first to pull that off in 1941 for Citizen Kane and like him most of the other 21 debuting filmmakers to get a best director nomination were either people coming to film from prior success elsewhere (Welles had shined on stage and in radio before turning to film) or from solid careers elsewhere in the film industry (actors turning to directing make up the highest number of first time directors to not just get nominated but to win). Ari Aster’s assured first time feature Hereditary was entirely worthy of Oscar’s attention. Oscar can be forgiven for overlooking Aster (who is just starting his film career) but it can’t be forgiven for not citing Toni Collette’s searing performance for best actress. The reason for the blind eye from Oscar was likely that the film was of the horror genre and exceptionally dark. Occasionally Oscar has smiled favorably on genre films and horror, but perhaps Silence of the Lambs’ sweep in 2003 is the exception to prove the rule. Shame on Oscar for ignoring Collette.
- Sorry to Bother You
Boots Riley is another first time filmmaker who should have gotten more notice, especially since he came to film from a successful career as a rapper. In response to a deafening roar of #Oscarsowhite, the Academy made a concerted effort to recruit a more diverse voting membership. This year voters had an especially strong and diverse crop of films from African American filmmakers to choose from, and to ignore this particularly audacious new voice is a shame.
The Academy did recognize a number of black films this year and did finally right the wrong of overlooking Spike Lee for four decades by giving him his first best directing nomination and giving his film BlacKkKlansman a best picture nod. Sorry to Bother You was so much more deserving of a best original screenplay nomination than Green Book, which dealt with race relations in a way that felt uncomfortably dated especially in comparison to the vivid freshness and relevance of Riley’s script. The screenplay category has historically been a place where the Academy could graciously give some small, indie films a little love. But Oscar nominations for the first time script by Riley or the bold first time script by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs for Blindspotting would have been a perfect way to announce true change on the part of the Academy’s voting members.
- Three Identical Strangers
Three Identical Strangers provided a master class in how to weave a thrilling, suspenseful tale from documentary footage. Director Tim Wardle didn’t just document events that happened but rather he spun a fascinating narrative that delivered twists and turns worthy of an intense mystery film. This kind of beautiful storytelling needs to be highlighted and rewarded.
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor
And since we are talking about documentaries I might as well point out the Academy’s failure to nominate Won’t You Be My Neighbor, all about Fred Rogers. Oscar is usually a sucker for anything warm and fuzzy so it’s something of a mystery why it would ignore this film about a genuinely kind and caring soul like Mr. Rogers. This didn’t have the dazzling storytelling arc of Three Identical Strangers but it was a feel-good film that felt needed now.
South Korean cinema has been kicking ass for years and this exquisite film from the talented Lee Chang-dong should have gotten not just a best foreign language film nomination but also a supporting actor nod for Steven Yeun. Lee is a veteran filmmaker whose work is often dark and challenging, so it is easy to see why the Academy might shy away from recognizing him. But having The Walking Dead favorite Yeun in a pivotal role seemed a sure way to at least pick up an acting nomination. This richly complex and deeply ambiguous film was worthy of Oscar attention.
- The Other Side of the Wind
It is not often that the Academy gets a chance to posthumously correct its mistakes but this year it had an opportunity to show love and respect for Orson Welles, a genius Oscar chose to only reluctantly (a screenplay award for Citizen Kane) and belated acknowledge (an honorary award in 1971). The Other Side of the Wind was Welles’ final film and it remained unfinished until last year when Peter Bogdanovich finally got to fulfill his promise to Welles to complete the movie. There was talk of how maybe Welles could reap some honors from beyond the grave, but that was not to be the case. Not even the epic job of editing this film without its director could catch Oscar’s eye.
- Crazy Rich Asians
Returning to the #Oscarsowhite criticism of recent years, Asians once again can point to a lack of representation on the nominations list. Japan’s art house treasure Shoplifters got a deserved best foreign language film nomination but the movie that scored at the American box office and proved to be a mainstream hit was completely shut out. Again comedies are often passed over in favor of more serious fare, but Oscar is often drawn to financially successful films if only to grant them a token nomination somewhere.
Oscar should have made space for Michelle Yeoh’s imposing matriarch or Awkwafina’s hilarious turn as the best friend in the supporting actress category. The film itself was a run of the mill rom-com fantasy but those two actresses deserved attention.
Here’s another genre film, this one science fiction, that had a lot of merits. I understand why the film didn’t get any major award nominations, after all it was that rarity of a fem-centric and fem-dominated sci-fi plus it was cerebral and mysterious. None of which is likely to win a best picture nod. But the production design, visual effects, and cinematography were spectacular and should have been singled out for recognition.
- The Night Comes For Us
I conclude with a film that I know did not have a chance in hell of receiving any attention from the Academy Awards. I bring up this Indonesian action film because not only was its grueling and intense narrative overlooked for nominations in any existing categories, but it also points to the bigger oversight of Oscar refusing to acknowledge the work of stunt people. Stunt people risk their lives in order to allow us an adrenaline rush and it takes true artistry to make fight scenes work magic on screen yet the profession gets no love from Oscar. I look forward to the day when the men and women who take our breath away with their physical prowess and skill will be honored and acknowledged. With so much CGI and visual effects where the laws of physics have no bearing, Oscar should create a category to recognize the humans who can dazzle us without a blue screen and who can choreograph action in a way that brings the motion of motion pictures to vivid life.