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Oscars Nominations 2024: Of The Year Gone By

Image by Walt Disney Television

Staff Writer Anwesh Banerjee looks at the recently announced Oscar nominations and muses on the year gone by through the lens of cinema – big and small.

If the prospect of Jimmy Kimmel returning to the Dolby Theatre for a bleak fourth time (remember the time he said Oscar was a good man because he had no penis?) as the host of the 96th Academy Awards was groan-inducing enough – no one was ready for the nominations that were announced by the Academy early on Tuesday. Announced by Zazie Beetz and Jack Quaid live from Film Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre on Tuesday, the 2024 Academy Award nominations were supposed to be a fulfilling list of representative progressions. This expectation came right in the heel of a recent update in the Academy’s voting procedures that required all nominated films, including those for Best Picture, to adhere to at least two out of an outlined four set of criterion relating to representation and inclusion at levels of content, creation and distribution of the film in question. This, especially in the wake of the Academy’s recent trend of awarding Best Picture to non-English language films like Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite had raised hopes in the hearts of multiple cine-goers for a future award-space that would be more cognisant of non-English language cinema from across the world. 

Expectations of such high order were also befitting for the year that was. Beginning with the Sundance Film Festival we saw Netflix purchase Chloe Dermont’s shocking feature Fair Play and A24 pick up Celine Song’s heartbreaking debuts Past Lives — which soon generated enough buzz to become one of the strongest contenders for the forthcoming awards season of the year. The Cannes Film Festival, whose jury was headed by Ruben Olsen this year, saw one of its best seasons in years with dramatic masterpieces like Anatomy of a Fall (the screenplay of this Palme D’or winner truly deserves a cult of its own) and the chilling Zone of Interest. Other fascinating projects featured from regular auteurs like Todd Haynes (serving the darkest comedy of the year in the form of May December) and Martin Scorcese (and the three hour long magnum opus called Killers of the Flower Moon). This soon paved way for the summer which despite the travails of the SAG-AFTRA strike saw audiences across the world return to the cinema in a celebration that disappeared from our lives in the post-pandemic entertainment space.

As the digital world united and divided over the phenomena called “Barbenheimer” much discourse and commerce was generated over Christopher Nolan’s epic on the creation of the atom bomb and Greta Gerwig’s ode to corporate feminism and consumerism through a story of the world’s most famous doll. As the box office boomed, the audience prepared themselves for the onslaught of the “Fall Festivals” which saw the arrival of Poor Things – Yorgos Lanthimos’ second collaboration with Emma Stone – as well as Maestro – Bradley Cooper’s love letter to the luminescent Carey Mulligan among other features.

In a year that saw one of the longest lasting union demonstrations in entertainment history, with the SAG-AFTRA coming out in solidarity with their WGA colleagues, 2023 was most certainly a year that saw a celebration of the joy that has been our cinema. From epic visions of auteurs and the tracking of the most complex histories of the world to the most intimate lenses of first time film-makers, 2023 was any cinephile’s fever dream. Yet, the inevitable end to this dream, the pinnacle of the awards race, the singular Academy Awards is – from the looks of its nominations – already gearing up for another year of disappointment and controversy. 

I thoroughly was relieved that student journalists don’t get in-person invitations to the nominations announcement, because had I been there, my gasp at the omission of Charles Melton would have surely halted the speakers on stage. One of the strongest contenders in a category that has long-been tipped to be Robert Downey Jr.’s final claim to victory, Melton’s omission from the category was one among the many categories in which Todd Haynes’ May December was overlooked by the Academy voters. A pitch-black comedy and deconstruction of the follies that make our human condition, the film stars Melton as a deeply conflicted man – torn between the force of his love and the burden of the abuse it entails. Melton, who shot to overnight fame after essaying the recurring supporting role of Reggie Mantle in CWC’s Riverdale, brings an unexpected depth to this performance. Despite Downey’s masterclass in restrained villainy, it is Melton’s vulnerability that sticks with the promise of a singular talent. No matter how hot that blonde hair and those abs are, one cannot help but wish that the Academy had considered nominating the quiet pathos of performers like Melton or even Paul Mescal’s quietly moving turn in Andrew Haigh’s All Of Us Strangers over Gosling’s comic theatricality. 

But being snubbed in the Supporting Actor category was only the beginning of the many woes a film like May December was going to face even more shocking snubs in other categories. Helmed by Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman, the film was also overshadowed in both the Supporting and Lead Actress categories – most likely by the nominations scored by the Netflix-backed film Nyad. Starring Annette Bening and Jodie Foster, Nyad is one of Netflix’s strongest contenders in the awards season this year, and one whose nomination scores in the Lead and Supporting Actress categories made sure that Haynes’ gutting comedy only ended up scoring a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

While much joy is to be had from well deserved recognition that has befallen both Anatomy of a Fall and Zone of Interest, I will never forgive the Academy for its omission of the singular legend Greta Gerwig this year. One of the highest grossing films of all time, and definitely the highest grossing film in cinema history to be ever helmed by a female director, Gerwig’s absolutely bonkers deconstruction of the Barbie phenomena was a lot of things – but not something to be ignored. Despite an idea that works in parts, falters in some and soars in patches, the film deserved to be celebrated for its two hour long take down of a globally celebrated piece of plastic and its enduring legacy. Despite the category throwing up Martin Scorcese with a nomination for his late career magnum opus, making him the most nominated director in Academy history, Gerwig’s omission felt like a personal blow to everyone. The Academy in the past has always had a tricky relationship with female directors – with the first female director (Kahtryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker) being awarded as late as 2009. Gerwig, who has already carved a distinct style and genre for herself in the competitive scene of Hollywood has repeatedly delivered films which have been singular and definitive in their vision (remember the time Emma Stone presented the award in 2018 with the line, “These four men and Greta Geriwg”) and Barbie with its trappings of immense corporate investments was no different. Although conversations surrounding other snubs such as Celine Song and Sofia Coppola are already brewing all over the twitterverse, Gerwig’s Barbie-snub will surely go down in Academy history as one of the greatest failures to recognise artistic vision of a singular auteur. 

While much dismay was expressed over Di Caprio, Andrew Scott and Barry Keoghan’s omission from the Best Actor category, celebrations were due elsewhere. If Lily Gladstone’s nomination as the first Native American actress in the Best Actress category warranted celebration, then even bigger booing is in order for the other big snub of the Oscars 2024. Margot Robbie, who produced and starred in Barbie, was omitted in the category in favour of Annette Bening and her turn as a swimmer in the Netflix-backed Nyad. While Bening is undoubtedly one of the finest actresses of her generation (who can forget her shattering yet rip-roaring turn in Sam Mendes’ American Beauty), Robbie’s contribution in headlining a production that frontlines immense female talent and tells the story of one of the world’s most-loved dolls is the stuff of biopics. In a recent statement released following the nominations, Ryan Gosling reportedly said that he was “beyond disappointed” at Gerwig and Robbie’s snubs from their respective categories. According to him, the phenomena of Barbie would have never existed had the formidable talents of Gerwig and Robbie not come together to make the film on their own artistic terms and conditions. While Gosling’s statements are surprisingly bold and refreshingly pleasant, it still points to the depths to which the roots of patriarchy run in the film industry. Recently at the Golden Globes earlier this month, immense criticism and censure was directed towards the host Jo Koy for his deeply sexist jokes concerning the Barbie film, which he labelled as a mere film about a plastic doll with “big boobies”. Despite valid criticisms of a white-washed worldview, Gerwig’s film was a deeply meditative take down on unreal corporate beauty standards and the violence of patriarchy that harms men and women. Even in a film that is all about her, it is Gosling who lands a critical recognition and Robbie who gets snubbed. Despite structural changes and expansions which have been underway for the past few hours, the voting base of the Academy needs to clearly go a longer way before this Barbie stops being just Kenough. 

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