When you write a weekly Oscar column, you tend to get a lot of similar questions every week: Why aren’t you mentioning [movie title]? The answer is usually simple — because I didn’t think they were likely to get nominated. Why a film doesn’t hit with the Academy can sometimes be a complicated topic. (My friends Chris Feil and Joe Reid have a whole podcast about it.) Still, in the wake of Tuesday’s nominations, I thought now was the right time to offer a brief overview of why a few of this year’s contenders were unable to collect even a single solitary nomination. The intent is not to spit on their awards-season graves but merely to offer an explanation to those less attuned to the ups and downs of the race why voters snubbed the films they loved.
In the Heights
As the writer Daniel Joyaux has noted, there was a double standard in how 2021’s muted box office affected the Oscar race. Films that came out early and underperformed wore the stench of that failure all season long. Once it became clear that Spider-Man: No Way Home was the only thing making money, late-season flops like Nightmare Alley were less affected, but those early-season films never got a reconsideration … even if, like In the Heights, they outgrossed all but two of the eventual Best Picture nominees! Furthermore, while I’m hesitant to ascribe too much to the colorism controversy, I do think it’s plausible the kerfuffle made Hollywood’s white liberals feel awkward about stumping for the musical.
The Green Knight
The Academy can go for arty and weird — hello, Spencer — but you need to lead them by the hand. And A24’s priority was always The Tragedy of Macbeth.
The Last Duel
See: In the Heights, box office. Critics might have been able to power Ben Affleck to supporting-actor consideration, but influential groups like the NYFCC flocked to Kodi Smit-McPhee instead, while Affleck himself pegged The Tender Bar as his awards play. Jodie Comer, too, was swimming upstream in a stacked Best Actress category.
The French Dispatch
Probably should have gotten a Production Design nomination at the very least. Why the hell didn’t it? My best guess is the crafts branches have been a bit more groupthink-y recently — this year’s Production Design category overlapped entirely with Cinematography — making lone nominations less likely.
Female-driven stories have a higher bar to clear for Oscar recognition, and I suspect that goes double for stories fronted by Black women. (In the post-2009 era of the preferential ballot, only three films with a Black female lead have ever been nominated for Best Picture.) Passing was not helped by its subtle, brooding vibe, nor by being Netflix’s fifth priority behind The Power of the Dog, Don’t Look Up, Tick, Tick … Boom!, and The Lost Daughter — the last of which also happened to be working the “beloved actress makes her directorial debut” narrative.
Despite solid box office and Aretha Franklin’s blessing, the Jennifer Hudson vehicle was unable to make the case that it transcended the music-biopic formula mocked so many years ago in Walk Hard. Hudson did get a SAG nom, but ultimately Oscar voters flocked to artier fare.
The Palme d’Or winner got the honor of becoming France’s official selection (probably because of the fact that Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux sits on the nominating committee). But it ran out of gas early. While Titane was tailor-made for festival audiences, who left the Croisette raving about its in-your-face body horror, the leisurely Drive My Car was the Cannes contender that proved to have staying power over the marathon of awards season.
My crazy theory is that Mia Hansen-Løve’s film might have had a better shot if it wasn’t in English. Then it could have been Sweden’s official selection and been able to draft behind The Worst Person in the World. How many languages does Tim Roth speak?
Blame the fact that Asghar Farhadi has already won the international-film award twice. Leave some Oscars for the rest of the world!
Similarly, the Documentary branch has an eye-catching habit of snubbing apparent frontrunners. The fact that the team behind this acclaimed Thai cave rescue doc also made recent winner Free Solo likely hampered its chances.
Pig and Red Rocket
Omicron prevented the Nicolas Cage and Simon Rex charm offenses from going the distance. The indie dark horses may have cannibalized each other a bit too — each would have had a better shot if the other wasn’t in the race.
See: The Green Knight and Passing. Also remember that the Academy tends to like hypercontemporary films only when they’re made by Adam McKay.
Mike Mills’s parenting drama was going to go as far as star Joaquin Phoenix was willing to carry it, and since Phoenix already went through the whole rigmarole two years ago for Joker, that wasn’t very far.
Sorry, Apichatpong Weerasethakul — there was only room in the race for one slow-paced rumination on human existence.
The Souvenir Part II
As they said about The Madness of King George III, “Will you still like it if you haven’t seen the first part?”
Even in a season in which everybody I knew suddenly started watching Yellowjackets, going straight to Showtime was a kiss of death.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
In summer 2020, the Academy extended the eligibility deadline for the following year’s Oscars to February 28, 2021. Barb and Star hit VOD on February 12. So you actually need to get mad at last year’s voters for this one!