The Hustler’s Oscar Snubs and Surprises 2020

Breaking down which films the Academy loved and which films it overlooked

Photo+courtesy+Warner+Bros

Photo courtesy Warner Bros

Sam Roberts

On Monday morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released its nominations for the best in film for 2019. As usual, there were plenty of well-deserved nominees and a few head-scratchers — here’s how the Hustler Life staff broke down the Academy’s choices: 

 

Surprise: “Joker”

The rise in popularity of superhero films over the past decade set the stage for the delivery of a prestige comic book film. “Joker” finally scratched that itch this year in the first R-rated movie ever to cross $1 billion at the international box office. It didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but it certainly seemed to please the Academy this year. It led the field with 11 total nominations, ahead of movies such as “The Irishman,” “1917” and “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.” Some of the movie’s nominations were well deserved, such as Best Actor and Best Original Score. Some proved more difficult to justify, like Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. No matter what you think of “Joker,” it’s hard to deny that this signals a paradigm shift for comic book movies as a whole.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in “Rocketman.” Photo courtesy Paramount Pictures

Snub: Taron Egerton (“Rocketman”)

Last year, Rami Malek won Best Actor at the Oscars for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” His portrayal raised an otherwise mediocre movie to five Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture. The backlash from Rhapsody set a low bar for “Rocketman,” an Elton John biopic from the same director. Despite being a more interesting and well-made movie, “Rocketman” was largely shut out this year, securing just one nomination for Best Original Song. Egerton’s absence, in particular, is rather egregious, since he infuses his portrayal of John with a level of emotional depth that Malek never quite reached and goes above and beyond by actually singing all the music throughout the film. Despite all these factors (and a Golden Globe win), Malek was shut out from one of the most competitive Best Actor categories nationwide.

 

Surprise: Rian Johnson (“Knives Out”)

After “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” many pundits speculated on how Rian Johnson would recover from a movie that angered so many members of one of the most passionate fan bases in the world. It’s safe to say he knocked it out of the park. A modern take on the whodunit genre, “Knives Out” is one of the most entertaining films of the year. Anchored by an all-star cast, the film is driven by a razor-sharp script tinged with satire that was undoubtedly inspired in part by Johnson’s experience with toxic fandom. The Academy doesn’t often reward films like this one, more often deferring to period pieces and intense dramas, so it’s great to see “Knives Out” get its due as one of the smartest, most well-written films of the year.

Adam Sandler in “Uncut Gems.” Photo courtesy Safdie Brothers

Snub: “Uncut Gems”

No movie put audiences on edge this year quite like the Safdie brothers’ “Uncut Gems” did. The thriller plunges us into the seedy underbelly of New York’s Diamond District as a grimy, unrecognizable Adam Sandler makes bad decisions in an effort to pay off debts to a loan shark and his bookie. The film should have been a strong contender for editing, cinematography and technical sound categories, not to mention potential for Best Actor and Best Picture. However, “Uncut Gems” was completely shut out at this year’s ceremony. Perhaps not enough members saw it given the mere two-week gap between its wide release and the close of voting, or perhaps the Academy would rather recognize the titans of cinema over the past thirty years instead of two newcomers to Hollywood and the star of “Grown Ups 2.” Maybe the voting body full of old men didn’t appreciate the anxiety that the film delivered for upwards of two straight hours. Whatever the reason, it’s a shame that the movie was not recognized for its phenomenal achievement; many movies claim to be “thrillers,” but “Uncut Gems” delivers constant thrills in a way that few other movies can.

 

Surprise: “Parasite”

Despite a rich film history, South Korea has never had a movie nominated for Best International Feature. “Parasite” has taken America by storm, becoming one of the highest-grossing foreign language films in U.S. history. Despite its commercial and critical success, there was some fear that the genre-defying masterpiece by Bong Joon-ho (“Snowpiercer”) wouldn’t get its due this year. Those fears were assuaged; “Parasite” was nominated for six awards, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. This is a surprise, not in the sense that no one saw it coming, but rather that its success is largely unprecedented in Academy Award History. Very few foreign movies achieve this level of recognition, and those that do are typically in more widely spoken languages, like Chinese (“Crouching Tiger,” “Hidden Dragon”) or Spanish (“Roma”). “Parasite” is one of the best movies of the year, and it deserves every nomination it received.

 

Snub: “Avengers: Endgame”

This movie was never going to win Best Picture, nor should it have. Despite the boatloads of money it made at the box office and no matter what MCU diehards will tell you, it simply doesn’t reach the same level as most of the nominees this year. However, the exclusion of “Avengers: Endgame” from the Best Picture race does saddle it with an ignominious bit of trivia. Since “Gone with the Wind” in 1940, ten movies have held the title for highest-grossing movie of all time. “Endgame” now joins “Jurassic Park” as the only two on the list who were not nominated for Best Picture.

Florence Pugh has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Little Women.” Photo courtesy Sony Pictures

Surprise: Florence Pugh (“Little Women”)

Florence Pugh has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress after having one of the fastest rises to stardom in recent memory. Largely unrecognized just last year, she has continuously been the best part of the movies she’s acted in throughout 2019. She elevated “Fighting with My Family” from a simple WWE propaganda piece into one of the year’s better sports movies. In “Midsommar,” one of the year’s best horror movies, her portrayal of true grief is one of the most upsetting things in a movie that covers themes like Swedish cults and ritual suicide. She capped off the year with “Little Women,” where she has the most complex and impressive performance in a movie that also stars Saoirse Ronan, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep. Her meteoric rise is rewarded here, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what she does next.

 

Snub: Jennifer Lopez (“Hustlers”)

This was perhaps the biggest shock out of all the announcements. No supporting actor or actress this year owned a movie quite like Lopez did in “Hustlers.” The moral ambiguity and depth to her performance as Ramona Vega, a stripper-turned-criminal ringleader made you root for a character who would have seemed like an out-and-out villain in almost any other movie. She had secured nominations in almost every other ceremony this year, and was considered one of the favorites to win the category outright. Instead, the Academy chose to recognize performances by Kathy Bates and Scarlett Johansson who, while memorable, just were not on the same level as Lopez.