- Reading the list of 2020 nominations was a scroll through the expected.
- The Oscars annual list does unfold some odd choices and some startling exclusions that are a dull realisation that the awards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences despite annually losing a big part of its audience still remains the most significant global barometer of cinematic significance. C
For years it was my biggest annual TV event. I’d stay up the whole night to watch the red carpet, followed by the main event. It was a splendid extravaganza for a starstruck film lover like me. In the solitude of my room, my eyes glued to the screen, the anticipation of hearing the names of actors I hoped would win, the disappointment of watching my favourites lose, and the loud cheering at the desired result made the experience of watching it come alive in an intimate glow. One day I stopped watching the Oscars. I kept rooting for the actors and movies that I thought were brilliant. I still do.
Reading the list of 2020 nominations was a scroll through the expected. The lists of the chosen ones of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, BAFTA and Golden Globes strip that of the most important cinema awards event of any real excitement. Except that the Oscars annual list does unfold some odd choices and some startling exclusions that are a dull realisation that the awards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences despite annually losing a big part of its audience still remains the most significant global barometer of cinematic significance. Cynics and critics may wish the world to believe otherwise.
Bagging an Oscar still retains more prestige than receiving a dozen coveted awards at various film festivals that celebrate cinema like the precious gift that it is for those who love a movie as an art that is a priceless part of their life.
I haven’t watched all the films that have been nominated in the Best Picture category, but the ones that I have seen make me hopeful as a film enthusiast that in 2019, the finale of another decade, films that appeal to a global audience still form the diverse array of cinema. Despite some obvious choices like Sam Mendes 1917 and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, and the expected one like Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, there is the delightful inclusion of Jojo Rabbit, and that stunning South Korean movie that elicited a global gasp: Parasite.
Todd Phillips’ Joker is the most-nominated film with eleven nods, making it only the second comic-book cinematic adaptation to bag a best movie nomination, Black Panther being the first one. A dark, twisty, macabre tale of a social reject who despite his cavernous desire for acceptance and love slowly transforms into a maniacal sociopath, Joker is a gritty, microscopic representation of all that is wrong with the world today. Joaquin Phoenix’s award-winning Arthur makes him an easy choice for the best actor Oscar; breaking bad has rarely been so meticulous and heart-breaking as that of Phoenix’s Arthur.
Parasite was in many best-films-of-2019 lists, and I watched it because of my son’s profuse recommendation. A film that starts with a dullness that is artfully subtle about its tumultuous middle and shocking end is a glorious manifestation of that untitled, elusive quality of cinema that has ensured its longevity in a world marked with transient likes and ephemeral loyalties. Acclaimed South Korean film maker Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite is so good it has not only garnered a place in the Best International Feature category, it is also included in the Best Picture one. A splendid juxtaposition of minimal encapsulation of the maximum, Parasite is a celebration of the fusion of an impeccable screenplay, a great cast, brilliant cinematography and editing and a dénouement that takes your breath away. In a deeply melancholic way.
The other film that I found utterly wonderful was Fernando Ferreira Meirelles’ The Two Popes. The conversations between Anthony Hopkins’ Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio/Pope Francis are fascinating in multi-faceted significance: dogma versus reform, the conservative versus the pragmatic liberal, the rigid old versus the new that is essential for an ever-changing confusing world. Relevant to a world that is divisive, xenophobic and intolerant, and in need of an adhesive, inclusive, kind religious guidance, The Two Popes is a simple narration of a true story that is startling in its potency for many reasons, the brilliance of its principal actors being the major one.
Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, a 2019 adaptation of Louisa May Alcot’s one hundred and fifty-year-old novel is a beautiful expression of the unchangeability of human emotions. Headlined by the utterly talented Saoirse Ronan, the brilliant Gerwig’s Little Women stands singularly tall in a list of best films made by very talented men. Gerwig didn’t make it to the Best Director list. In Oscars’ Hollywood, omission of women in that category is not an exception, it is the norm.
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Women and the Oscars
In the ninety-two-year history of Oscars, there have been only five women–Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow and Greta Gerwig–in the best Director category. In the ninety-two-year history of Oscar, there has only been one woman to win the award: Kathryn Bigelow. One best woman director in almost hundred years of the Academy’s history. One.
The reason why I thought of writing on 2020 Oscars nominations was not merely to express my delight at a few of my favourites making it to the much-awaited list, it was about the exclusion of Jennifer Lopez for her role in the delightful Hustlers from the Best Actress in a Supporting Role category. Having seen Scarlett Johansson in films since she was a little girl who as an adult was turned into a highly sexualised femme fatale, it’s so good to see her being taken seriously for her acting prowess and not her gorgeous, sexy face. And that makes her nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role for The Marriage Story well deserving and long overdue. What is bewildering is her second nomination as the Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Jojo Rabbit.
The double honour is rare, and despite its hugeness as a recognition of talent, it is symbolic of much that is wrong with Hollywood’s “Oscars So White” and so exclusionary of talent that doesn’t tick all the boxes. The invisible boxes that are mostly indescribable. Johansson is splendid in both her roles, but to nominate her twice terminated the opportunity for another very deserving contender of the honour: Lopez. There are only ten nominations, and two of them going to one actress is simply unfair. Period.
Much more to say about the nominated films and actors and actresses, but there is a reason why newspaper op-eds have a word limit. Terseness is highly underrated.