On Tuesday, January 23, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed its nominations for the 91st Academy Awards to a resounding, “Huh?”
The last few years have been turbulent for Academy members following the #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2015, #MeToo in 2017, buzz around a lack of female representation in the 90th Oscars, and intense backlash regarding the announcement
of a “Best Popular Film” category in 2018, which was subsequently nixed. As a result of declining ratings, the show’s producers were replaced. Finally, after announcing that Kevin Hart would host the ceremony in December, the comedian withdrew after allegations of homophobia.
In an effort to diversify its voting pool, the Academy extended a record 774 new membership invitations in late 2017, many to women and minorities. Here at the 91st Oscars, we’re beginning to see the effects of this shift—and it has resulted in one of the most schizophrenic ballots in recent memory.
Leading with 10 nominations each are Alfonso Cuarón’s quiet tribute to feminine triumph, “Roma,” and Yorgos Lanthimos’s acid-tongued costume drama, “The Favourite.”
“Roma” in particular marks a shift in Academy voting, premiering on Netflix and being the
first foreign-language Best Picture nominee in nearly 20 years. Bradley Cooper’s crowd
pleasing Hollywood melodrama “A Star is Born” and Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice” also emerge as strong contenders, with 8 nominations each.
A look at the Best Picture nominees reveals a split in Academy voting. Ryan Coogler’s formulaic Marvel blockbuster “Black Panther,” Peter Farrelly’s middling “Green Book,” and Graham King’s critically panned surprise-hit “Bohemian Rhapsody” are nominated alongside more eccentric and individualistic titles like Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” as well as the aforementioned “Roma,” “The Favourite,” and “Vice.”
Nominations are sharply divided between audience favorites and critical darlings, with little crossover. As the Oscars attempt to diversify the palate of nominations, it seems the current voting bloc is at odds with itself, resulting in an eclectic and somewhat baffling list of contenders.
The nominations hold other surprises this year, as well. Despite a push for increased diversity, no women are nominated for Best Director. Legendary director Spike Lee earns his first Best Director nomination for “BlacKkKlansman,” as does Polish
director Pawel Pawlikowski for “Cold War.” Melissa McCarthy picked up a Best Actress nod for her turn as literary forger Lee Israel in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” as well as first-time Mexican actress and schoolteacher Yalitza Aparicio for her role as a housekeeper “Roma.”
Additionally, Willem Dafoe enters the running for Best Actor after his role as Vincent Van Gogh in “At Eternity’s Gate,” ahead of expected contenders Ethan Hawke for “First Reformed” and John David Washington for “BlacKkKlansman.”
Finally, in a win for streaming services, Netflix has landed another big nomination with an Adapted Screenplay nod for the Coen brothers’ western anthology film, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” This year’s nominations are a mixture of expected choices and out-of-left- field choices, an indicator of the current Academy’s divided mindset.
After the success of 2016’s “La La Land,” Damien Chazelle couldn’t strike gold twice, as his Neil Armstrong biopic “First Man” failed to earn any major award nominations. Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight follow-up “If Beale Street Could Talk” also underperformed, leading to speculation on Twitter that academy members felt there were already too many “black films” in contention. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” thought to be sure-fire contender for Best Documentary Feature, was shut out entirely, as was comedian Bo Burnham’s critically acclaimed “Eighth Grade” and Lee Chang-dong’s sleeper-hit “Burning.”
When the now-hostless Academy Awards air from Dolby Theater on February 24, it will be interesting to see if the voters swing in a more crowd or critic/friendly direction. Until then, viewers will be scratching their heads, trying to make sense of the nominees.