By John H. Foote
After taking a day to explore and review this year’s Academy Award nominations, looking over the critic’s awards and a few other awards groups, I concede there were some pretty huge snubs. In reality there were very few surprises, but in terms of snubs, they are there. The one making the most noise seems to be Jennifer Lopez, thought to be a lock for her performance in Hustlers. Granted it was a bold, confident movie star performance, but she was playing a stripper.
When Marisa Tomei portrayed a stripper in The Wrestler (2008) she fearlessly (and realistically) went totally nude, becoming completely vulnerable to the audience and her fellow actors, and truthfully captured the reality of being a stripper. Lopez enters the film doing a pole dance, electrifying the audience with her moves and her body. But never does her top come off, never, which is entirely unrealistic in every way. Tomei was nominated for an Oscar and, in my opinion, she should have won because she gave herself over to the role in every way. Lopez, in fairness, did not. More than anything else, I think that is what cost her the nomination, her lack of courage to go all the way.
The Best Actor category could be populated, easily, by five men not nominated and still be just fine. That would of course bring howls of protest that Adam Driver in Marriage Story and Joaquin Phoenix in Joker were snubbed, but understand I am making a point. We had no less than ten actors who could have been nominated for Best Actor this year. Ten. That is a whopping number to choose from and, for the most part, the Academy did just fine, with one howling exception. Keep reading, I get to it. I was a little surprised by the inclusion of Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory because I have never thought him much of an actor, his go to looks being to glower, and to glower more. But he won at Cannes, which no doubt got him in, along with his awards from the Los Angeles and New York Film Critics’ Awards, launching him into the race and landing him his first nomination.
The actors who could have made it are Adam Sandler for his simply electrifying turn in Uncut Gems, a career altering performance that reminded me of seventies De Niro and Pacino. No question, Sandler should be a nominee. So should Eddie Murphy for his wonderful performance in Dolemite is My Name, another Netflix film with less profile than The Irishman or Marriage Story. Murphy was robbed of a Best Supporting Actor award in 2006 for Dreamgirls, an award he deserved to win but lost to sentimental choice Alan Arkin. That the two comics who turned to drama are not there is, well, kind of shameful.
Two-time winner, seven-time nominee Robert De Niro was thought to be a near certainty for The Irishman, but instead will watch as his friends vie for Best Supporting Actor. Both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci were nominees for their superb work in the film, along with Martin Scorsese for Best Director. De Niro is superb in the film and would not be out of place as a nominee. After the litany of terrible films and performances from him (Bad Grandpa), it was thrilling to see him back in his element.
Oscar winner Christian Bale was left out for his fine work in Ford vs. Ferrari, though he has been snubbed as often as he has been nominated.
THE HOWLER!!!The biggest snub in the Best Actor category (0F THE DAY REALLY!!) was the exclusion of Taron Egerton for his stunning performance as Elton John in Rocketman, a jukebox musical based on the pop star’s life. This one angered me because for my money Egerton was brilliant, vastly superior to last year’s Best Actor winner Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, possibly the most overrated film of the last 10 years. What might have played a part in Egerton being snubbed was the very fact Malek won last year and the Academy did not want to walk the familiar road again. Kind of shameful really.
In the Best Actress category, the groaning started right away when Asian rapper and Golden Globe winner Awkwafina was ignored for her superb performance in The Farewell, and let’s be clear, she deserved to be nominated. She was simply brilliant as a young woman struggling with keeping a lie from her beloved grandmother.
For Best Supporting Actor, I think they got it all about right, but I would have loved to have seen Taika Waititi nominated for his cuddly and warm Hitler in the superb black comedy Jo Jo Rabbit, and the manner in which he portrayed the dictator might have contributed to why he was snubbed. The Academy might have forgotten he was playing Hitler as imagined by a 10-year old boy who adores the dictator, is in fact a 10-year old zealot. Jamie Foxx might have been expecting a nomination after being nominated by SAG for Just Mercy, but the film was badly handled by Warner Brothers after a promising start at TIFF.
Waititi should have been a Best Director nominee too, but who gets taken out? Their achievements were all so profound! Noah Baumbach should also be in the Best Director category but again, who gets bumped? Tough category and you have to think the Academy did just fine.
The only other major snub came for Production Design where I think the wildly imaginative sets for Dumbo deserved a nomination.
Greta Gerwig, and other female directors. Women want to be treated equally in the business, to be considered the same talents as men. Fair enough. So, think on this. There were seven greater achievements by men than women this year, it is that simple. No grand conspiracy, no racist attack, no gender bashing, the finest achievement by a woman this year in directing was Gerwig for Little Women and Lulu Wang for The Farewell, and neither should be a nominee for Best Director. You want to talk about women snubbed as Best Director? How about Penny Marshall for Awakenings (1990), a Best Picture nominee? Or Marshall again for A League of Their Own (1992), one of the greatest sports films ever made? Barbara Streisand for The Prince of Tides (1991), another Best Picture nominee that apparently directed itself! Sarah Polley for the exquisite Away for Her (2007) comes to mind and Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty (2012)! Just three years after becoming the first female Best Director Oscar winner, Bigelow surpassed her achievement on The Hurt Locker (2009) with a seething study of how the CIA and Navy Seals took out Osama Bin Laden. Brilliant, troubling, stunning, but the creator of this masterpiece was left off the Best Director list! Miss Gerwig made a superb film with Lady Bird (2017) and justly was nominated, but this time, she did not make a brilliant film, she made a very good one. She has a Best Screenplay nomination, and a Best Picture nod, which is more than a lot of people got yesterday. Let’s face it, there have been years Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood did not deserve and did not get a nomination. Miss Gerwig is not alone in not deserving, there have been hundreds before her.
Lastly, the Best Picture category allows for 10 nominees but never has the Academy nominated 10 films. They should have found room for The Farewell, a sensation out of Sundance that featured a superb performance from Awkwafina but was also a poignant and lovely story about the gentle relationship between a young Asian woman and her grandmother.
RANT OVER, those are the snubs, as I see them.
One of Canada’s best-known film critics, he spent 10 years on TV as co-host of Reel to Real, and another 10 in education (still writing as a critic) as Director of the Toronto Film School, where he created the curriculum for three programs and taught film history. Film has always been his passion. He has written for magazines such as Toronto Life, Fashion and Hollywood North, been quoted in the Los Angeles and New York Times, as well as the major Toronto dailies. Online he has written for such sites as The Wrap, In Contention, Awards Circuit and The Cinemaholic. His first book Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker, was published in 2010. His second Steven Spielberg: American Film Visionary, a massive volume, has just found a publisher and he’s working on American Film Renaissance – 1967-2018 with Nick Maylor. As a critic, he has had the good fortune to interview directors and stars such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Emma Stone, Jane Fonda, and countless others. As he quips, “Everyone but Jack Nicholson!”