The best and worst of the 2020 Oscar nominations

From the welcome shout-outs to the perverse omissions.

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It used to be that the Baftas followed a week or so after the Oscars in the awards season calendar, with the result that they looked like warmed-up leftovers. Moving them to the week before the Oscars has had an unusual effect, at least this year: the oversights and oddities among the Bafta nominations, including the well-publicised omission of non-white acting talent and female directors, has turned that ceremony into a kind of human shield for the Oscars. Whatever misjudgements or omissions there were among the Academy Award nominations were likely to be softened by last week’s catastrophe over at Bafta, where it seemed that the voters would have excluded women from the Best Actress category altogether, had it been at all possible to do so.

When Issa Rae and John Cho appeared before the cameras earlier today and revealed which Oscar nominees we are all going to be whining and tweeting about between now and the ceremony on 9 February, it did indeed feel like a pretty good spread of votes by comparison. The six nominations for Bong Joon-ho’s breathtaking satirical comedy-thriller Parasite (which I’ll be reviewing in the NS next month) made it seem possible that this really could be the first Best Picture winner not in the English language. Failing that, Bong is in with a shout for the Best Director prize, where filmmakers outside the US and UK usually stand a good chance: previous two-time winners include Alfonso Cuarón, Ang Lee and Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Alongside the anticipated and deserved recognition for Marriage StoryThe Irishman and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, there were welcome shout-outs that had been by no means guaranteed: Cynthia Erivo as Best Actress for Harriet, Rian Johnson for his twisty Knives Out screenplay, Jarin Blaschke for his black-and-white cinematography for The Lighthouse, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce for The Two Popes and, in the Best Documentary Feature category, For Sama (to which – credit where it’s due – Bafta gave a welcome four nominations).

Oscar voters didn’t get everything right. Seeing six nominations for Jojo Rabbit made me howl with laughter, which is more than I can say for the film. If there really had to be votes for an oddball movie with animals in the title, I would have preferred to see production design and costume nominations for Cats – at least that picture was bewitchingly odd and original, far more so than the tidal wave of blindly catty reviews would have had you believe. (“James Corden was robbed for Cats!” said one commenter under the YouTube broadcast of the nominations. Well, quite.) 

There were still no women in the Best Director category. No one realistically expected Joanna Hogg (The Souvenir), Mati Diop (Atlantics) or Celine Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) to be slugging it out in that category with the likes of Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood) and Martin Scorsese (The Irishman). That isn’t how Hollywood works, however much we want it to. But for the superb adaptation of Little Women to be recognised in the categories of Best Actress (Saorise Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Florence Pugh), Best Costume (Jacqueline Durran), Best Score (Alexandre Desplat) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Greta Gerwig) without a corresponding nod for Gerwig as Best Director feels perverse. Issa Rae even seemed to acknowledge that any sort of recognition at all was touch-and-go when she remarked with relief after the Best Adapted Screenplay announcement: “Greta slipped in there.”

It’s not as if Academy members didn’t get around to watching their awards screeners: they saw Little Women, and liked it just fine, even deviating from Bafta by putting a nomination Ronan’s way. And still they felt that Gerwig’s attentive, dexterous directing fell below the standard of Todd Phillips’s sledgehammer work on Joker. Decisions such as these are what the initials “FFS” were made for.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.

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