Filmdom’s battle between the haves and have-nots moved off-screen when Oscar nominations were announced earlier this month: Four films scored 10 or more nominations, with Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” leading the pack with 11, and Sam Mendes’ World War I nail-biter “1917,” Martin Scorsese’s epic gangster tale “The Irishman” and Quentin Tarantino’s retro “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” trailing a tick behind at 10 each. It’s rare for three films to land 10 or more nominations, let alone four.
These four movies, along with Bong Joon Ho’s sly “Parasite,” have been jockeying for favor ever since their respective debuts. Bong’s bloody class warfare tale, set in his native South Korea, snagged six noms and could score the evening’s top prize. It tied in the noms race with three more best picture contenders: Taika Waititi’s improbable Nazi satire “Jojo Rabbit,” Greta Gerwig’s re-invigorated “Little Women” adaptation and Noah Baumbach’s emotionally searing “Marriage Story.”
“Ford v Ferrari,” meanwhile, earned four nods overall, the lowest number of noms in this year’s best picture contenders group.
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“Joker” won the Golden Lion at Venice, and “1917” scored the Globe for drama before going on to win the PGA award for best picture, while “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” snared the Globe for comedy/musical. “Parasite” has been part of the mix since it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes; “The Irishman” has been nominated for a slew of major kudos on the road to the 92nd annual Academy Awards.
On the flip side, a number of Oscar hopefuls ended up nom-free, including Lorene Scafaria’s “Hustlers,” Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” and the Safdie brothers’ “Uncut Gems.” There were high hopes for Jennifer Lopez’s fierce turn as a stripper in “Hustlers,” Awkwafina’s acting and Wang’s directing for “The Farewell,” plus Adam Sandler’s kinetic performance as an inveterate gambler in “Uncut Gems,” but come nomination morning, they all had to take solace in recognition elsewhere amid renewed calls for Academy reform and debate about what type of film work should be considered Oscar-worthy.
Critics particularly deplored the low representation of women and people of color in key Academy categories, citing the sole acting nomination for a person of color (“Harriet” lead actress Cynthia Erivo) and the fact that female directors again struck out in the top Oscar category for their craft. Gerwig, a previous directing nominee for “Lady Bird,” was considered a possibility for another nom, along with Wang, though realistically speaking, neither secured key precursor recognition during the lead up to the Oscar nomination announcement. When there are nine best picture nominees and five directing slots, some directors whose films received a best pic nom are inevitably going to miss out.
The Academy was quick to point out that a record 63 women were nominated this year. Indeed, female directors scored elsewhere on the ballot — four out of five nominated films in the feature documentary and documentary short categories, for example, were directed or co-directed by women. Producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff pulled off a rare double in the best picture category (“Joker,” “The Irishman”), a feat David Heyman (“Marriage Story,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) also accomplished this year; they became the sixth and seventh producers in Oscar history to do so. Scarlett Johansson also scored a rare double in acting categories, nominated for her lead work in “Marriage Story” and supporting in “Jojo Rabbit.”
Also evident this year: further inroads by global nominees. One year after Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” tied with “The Favourite” for most nominations (10 apiece) and made a run for best picture, Bong’s “Parasite” is considered a serious threat to win that trophy in addition to the international feature gong. If he succeeds at the former, “Parasite” would become the first non-English language film to win the top trophy; all five previous films to receive nominations in both categories won the foreign-language honor, as the category was previously known.
In any case, Bong’s film is already a groundbreaker as the first film from South Korea to receive an Oscar nomination and the first non-English language film to win the SAG ensemble trophy, the latter’s top honor. Beyond best picture and international feature trophies, “Parasite” was nominated for directing, original screenplay, editing and production design. Its backers argue that the film merited even more Oscar recognition, pointing to the absence of acting nominees for those portraying the struggling Kim family and the affluent Park clan in the movie; the acting community’s affection for the movie was palpable at the SAG Awards, when the cast received a standing ovation.
France’s international feature nom, “Les Misérables,” also explores tensions between the haves and have-nots, in this case cops patrolling the projects outside Paris. Directed by former community organizer Ladj Ly, it shared the Cannes jury prize with “Bacurau.” Fellow nom “Honeyland,” from North Macedonia, became the first doc to receive a nod in the international feature category. The doc, which revolves around beekeepers, is the second movie from that country to receive Oscar recognition.
On Feb. 9, we will find out which nominees ultimately end up as Oscar haves and which will have to go home without a trophy of their own.