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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Are the 2022 Oscar nominations the beginning of the end?

Makayla Hernandez I The Observer
Image source: Amazon, Letterboxd, Themovieb, Tickets on Sale, Lshaulage, Pinterest

Every year, film critics and fans alike gripe about their favorite films or actors getting snubbed once Oscar nominations go public. I usually complain alongside them, since most of my yearly top 10 are left off of the list — but this year is different. Rather than lamenting the Academy’s preference for unknown films instead of crowd-pleasers, I am concerned with the sheer lack of films in general.

Scrolling through the award categories, I see four dominating films: “Dune,” “Belfast,” “West Side Story” and “The Power of the Dog.” On its own, “The Power of the Dog” was able to land 11.9% of all possible feature film nominations. Together, the top five nominated films claimed 41.5% of nominations. For context, there was more variety in last year’s nominations (41 films in 2021 vs. 37 films for 2022) during the lockdown, during which theaters were closed and barely any films were released.

This imbalance often happens when epic releases such as “Dune” dominate every category — in this case, the film in question was nominated for the Cinematography, Editing, Production Design and Visual Effects categories — but I am baffled at the lack of variety across all categories. Where are the nominations for “The Green Knight” or “The French Dispatch”? Where is Nicolas Cage for “Pig” or Jake Gyllenhaal for “The Guilty?” In the past, these films would be surefire bets to win (or, at least, to be nominated) in their categories, but now it seems they have failed to meet any of the requirements for academy recognition.

Yet on the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Netflix’s “Don’t Look Up.” Nominated for Best Picture, Original Screenplay and Editing, this by-the-numbers comedy somehow found its name next to the most prestigious category. I don’t think it deserves any of them — especially for editing — but the Academy clearly disagrees. Whether they are using the film to demonstrate their support for its shallow satire of media politics or baiting Netflix’s massive audience for TV ratings, these surprising nominations are sure to rake in new viewers. It feels like a smart move to boost demographics, but as a targeted audience member, I feel cheated.

This year’s nominations especially point out the meaning of what it takes to be “Oscar-worthy.” Films like “tick, tick… BOOM!” are ignored to elevate the overtly political, self-congratulatory story of “Don’t Look Up.” Smaller films, like “The Green Knight,” are strangely ignored as well, but in favor of entries like “The Power of the Dog,” possibly due to the latter’s unique LGBTQ+ representation. Musicals and period pieces being dethroned by comedies and an anti-Western? Something else is at play. The problem is that the Academy’s nominations are not for the “best” films; a nomination signifies the way that the Academy wants to be perceived by the world, which is apparent in their preference for stories with different voices over drama or themes.

I do not want to downplay the value of Oscar awards going to minority and international creators. It’s a beautiful sight when the cinematic establishment recognizes that film is a medium for everyone, everywhere. The show’s publicity alone incentivizes studios to produce new kinds of films never before seen. What I worry about is the public seeing “Oscar winner” as a plaque of perfectionism. I doubt it ever stood for that, but in recent years, the Academy is investing all of its nomination eggs into one basket: representation. This move is certainly admirable and important. However, decreasing the number of many films that are recognized feels contradictory, as this still results in a failure to highlight many great stories.

Realistically, this concentration of Oscar nominations is probably temporary. With representation and inclusion standards only being issued by the Academy back in 2020, films following the added guidelines for overall crew diversity have yet to be released. Until the entire industry shifts to what the Academy is promoting, the growing pains of stacked nominations will carry on, meaning some of our favorite films in the future will continue to be snubbed. I still plan to watch the Oscars this year, but if this scarcity becomes a trend, I’ll be content having a free afternoon to watch my own choices for Best Picture.