Some Thoughts on the 94th Academy Awards
All things considered, 2021 was a pretty damn good year for movies. I saw a lot of fantastic films over the past year, and I've still got plenty more to catch up on. Of course, just because a year is good for movies doesn't mean that the Oscars are going to reflect that. Far too often the Academy will overlook the truly great stuff released within a year in favor of a bunch of generic crap that no one will remember ten years on. But luckily, that largely doesn't seem to be the case with the 94th Academy Awards, at least from my perspective.
As always I'd like to start with a disclaimer about the movies from 2021 I haven't seen yet, and there are a lot of them! These include overlooked films like Titane and Passing, as well as contenders like CODA, Drive My Car, The Worst Person in the World, The Lost Daughter, Flee or Licorice Pizza. Hopefully I get the chance to catch up with some of these soon (or, in the case of movies already available on streaming, get around to actually watching them), but for now I'll keep them out of my assessment for the year. With all that out of the way, let's take a look at The Good, the Bad and The Snubbed for the 94th Academy Awards!
After months of suspense and snubs from some pretty major precursors, the world was finally able to breathe a collective sigh of relief when it was announced that yes Virginia, Kristen Stewart is an Oscar nominee. I won't pretend that I've been a longtime Kristen Stewart fan or anything (to my discredit, I have yet to see most of her more critically acclaimed performances), but her performance as Princess Diana was by far and away the best one I saw this past year. Even if she doesn't win, it's a worthy nomination. In a just world, Spencer (which was also my favorite movie of the year) would be veritably drowning in nominations, but I suppose it's not a typical Oscar film. Getting recognized at all is a win in my book.
Out of the bigger contenders, it was far less surprising (but no less gratifying) to see a good showing from Belfast. Kenneth Branagh's quasi-autobiographical coming-of-age-story has been bizarrely slotted into this year's obligatory villain slot, which continues to baffle me. (I mean, Being the Ricardos has been right there this whole time.) Nevertheless, it seems pretty unlikely to unseat The Power of the Dog's status as frontrunner, and while that wasn't my favorite film of the year, it would still be a pretty cool winner. Leading the charge in twelve nominations (including a pleasant surprise nod for Jesse Plemons), The Power of the Dog certainly stands to win it all. Perhaps the biggest shock for me in regards to The Power of the Dog is how much I find myself pulling for Jonny Greenwood to win Best Score. I haven't been a huge fan of Greenwood's film work in the past, but between this and Spencer, 2021 seems to have been the year he finally clicked for me. In some ways it feels like the film is a bit underrepresented (nothing for Makeup?), but twelve nominations is nothing to sniff at. Perhaps even more impressive is the ten nominees for Dune, probably the most unexpected success of 2021. Villeneuve's hard work and willingness to trust in the audience's intelligence certainly paid off for him, and I think it's fair to expect a total sweep in the technical categories come Oscar night.
Outside of the major players, the slate was full of pleasant surprises and worthy nominees. We all knew Denzel Washington and Andrew Garfield were going to be recognized, but seeing The Tragedy of Macbeth and The Power of the Dog in other categories was nevertheless a nice bonus. Nightmare Alley making the Best Picture lineup was also pretty cool, even if it wouldn't have made my personal list. And hey, they even nominated Spider-Man for something! I mean, it's just Best Visual Effects (I hope Sony didn't pour too much money into that Best Picture campaign), but still.
I suppose I should be grateful. While I had anticipated Being the Ricardos becoming this year's Mank, Sorkin's overstuffed biopic only managed to rack up three nominations. But what a baffling set of nominations! Nicole Kidman was inevitable, I suppose, but Javier Bardem stands out like a sore thumb in this year's lineup. Even if I don't think Will Smith lives up to the hype he's been getting, he's still significantly better than Bardem's wholly unconvincing portrayal of Ricky Ricardo. And where on Earth did J.K. Simmons' nomination come from? I mean, I love J.K. Simmons as much as anyone else, but I don't remember him getting any buzz for this. Personally I blame Spider-Man for reminding everyone how much they love the guy, resulting in everyone deciding to give him Mike Faist's slot instead.
Speaking of, boy am I god damn sick of West Side Story. It was an undeserving Best Picture winner in 1961, and making it slightly less racist doesn't magically make it any more worthy of the insane amount of praise it continues to get. Yes, Spielberg's direction is impeccable, but there's only so much even he can do with such flimsy foundation. I know I'm in the minority on this one, but hopefully we can finally be done with that show altogether after this. It's frankly amazing in a year in which In the Heights managed to spark weeks of endless Discourse, fucking West Side Story managed to completely avoid any. I suppose that's par for the course though.
Finally, I was hoping that by completely ignoring Don't Look Up, the Academy would follow suit. But alas, it was not to be, and now I'm going to have to watch the fucking thing just to continue my tradition of seeing every Best Picture nominee before the ceremony. What's even worse is that they couldn't at least nominate it for Best Original Song, thereby preventing us from being able to use the phrase "Academy Award Nominee Ariana Grande". And that's just terrible. I mean, we got "Academy Award Nominee Beyonce", but that was just inevitable. She's Beyonce for God's sake, it's crazy that she hasn't been nominated before. I suppose there's a chance that it'll be good, but nothing about Adam McKay's smug new direction in his career makes me think it will.
Most of this year's snubs were completely unsurprising or happened to films I haven't seen. Sorry Lady Gaga fans, but I didn't see House of Gucci so I have no opinion on her not getting nominated! Really the only true shock for me was seeing Judi Dench getting nominated over Caitriona Balfe for Belfast. Dench was good (I mean, she's Judi Fucking Dench), but Balfe was the heart of the film and it's strange to see her ignored like that. Maybe they should have pushed her for Lead? But that category was competitive and unpredictable enough this year, and that probably wouldn't have gone any better for them.
It was far less shocking (but no less disappointing) to see Nicolas Cage's work in Pig getting ignored. It was a long shot to be sure, but it's a shame no matter how you slice it. Similarly, while I knew it was pointless to hope for any of the actors in Mass to get recognized, I was hoping it might at least get a Screenplay nod. (I blame Adam McKay for this.) But what can you expect from a film which gets released in a whopping four theaters? The only film with a worse strategy was Cyrano, but at least they managed to get recognized for something.
Of course, a wider release is no guarantee for a nomination, as the total shutout for The Last Duel demonstrates. As a millennial, I have been assured that the film's commercial failure is entirely my fault, but once I looked up from my phone to watch the movie on streaming, I found it one of the most thrilling films of the year. Similarly held back by its box office failure was In the Heights, which probably could have made it into some craft categories if the Academy were capable of recognizing more than one Latino film at a time. And while it was by no means a major awards contender, it was still a shame to see The Suicide Squad get no love from the Academy. I mean come on. Now I have to watch Cruella.
Finally, while I'm sure it "wasn't eligible to be nominated" and therefore "wasn't technically snubbed by the Academy", I think it's a downright travesty that All Too Well didn't get nominated for Best Live Action Short Film. It's like we're never gonna get Oscar Nominee Taylor Swift or something! Therefore I am left with no choice but to declare this the Worst Oscars Ever. Of course I'm still gonna watch it.
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