Views are Changing Towards “Oscar Fodder” Yet Some Actors, Filmmakers Still Can’t Catch a Break

GyllenhaalHanksOScarsLionsgate / 20th Century Fox

This was originally going to be two separate features about the current Oscar season and the Oscars in general that I’ve decided to combine into one article, so please bear with me. Some of my opinions and thoughts here might not be popular, but I like writing about trends, and I certainly have found one.

It’s already been discussed quite a bit that this might be a groundbreaking year at the Oscars due to the 1,000 or so new members that hope to bring more diversity and variety to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, hopefully to end the myth that it’s made up solely of older men. While that might be the case for the 90 years that Oscars have been given out, more women and filmmakers of color were invited to join this year, including in the tech categories. Even so, there doesn’t seem to be a vast wave of sweeping change compared to previous years based on the nominations, but one thing I noticed this season is that it seems like critics especially are trying to break away from typical Oscar fare and the Academy is following suit… mostly.

This year, we have nine Oscar Best Picture nominees fairly well divided between common “Oscar fodder” and choices that are a bit off the beaten path. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Steven Spielberg’s The Post and Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour are definitely more in line with movies that have either been nominated or even won Best Picture before. Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird break away from the norm, maybe because they’re the three most “indie” films in the race.

Phantom Thread Review

Focus Features

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread fall somewhere in between, because while they aren’t conventional Oscar fare, there’s elements to both of them that made them obvious choices. (Oddly, many Oscar predictors I know had Phantom Thread in their early predictions until people started seeing the movie, in which case it was swiftly removed, and yet, it still received a Best Picture and other nominations.)

I’m not sure where to categorize Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, but it only seems like it might be considered “Oscar fodder” because it’s a well-made evocative film full of emotions. Oh, and it’s written by multiple nominee James Ivory, who probably has the best chance of winning on Oscar night.

It’s not too uncommon for film critics to rail against what’s considered obvious “Oscar fodder” and even ultimate winners like The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire and others didn’t find that much critical support compared to other movies. Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King and the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men are three rare exceptions in recent memory that fared equally well among critics group and awards voters, but they’re all over ten years old. Things have already started changing in the last five years before the new members joined, mainly due to the expanded Best Picture nominations.

It’s long been known that one can’t make their own personal Oscar predictions based solely on what critics are supporting, for reasons mentioned above, although both Get Out and Lady Bird especially have gotten a huge boost from their positive reviews.  You would think that critics would be more unanimous in their praise of films like Dunkirk and The Post. Personally, I’m more shocked by how many critics downright hated Darkest Hour, which made my top 10, but it goes back to the idea of “Oscar fodder” being so flagrant that those who regularly have studios foisting awards swag on them may deliberately be railing against the obvious.

TIFF

Lionsgate

Another change I hoped to see this year was that maybe the Academy would stop being so biased against certain actors and filmmakers. Yes, two actors I’m thinking of specifically are indeed white men, but how many times can Tom Hanks and Jake Gyllenhaal give such great performances as they did in The Post and Stronger last year and be so thoroughly snubbed? This isn’t the first year either, as Hanks gave noteworthy performances in both Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks one year and didn’t get nominated for either, and Gyllenhaal’s choice of roles and performances are getting better each year. His performance in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler was ignored by the Academy, and just to rub it in, Denzel Washington’s decent but non-memorable role as Roman Israel, Esq. was nominated.

Listen, Tom Hanks probably needs another Oscar like I need another hole in my head, but Gyllenhaal has only been nominated once for Brokeback Mountain, and he’s done so much better work since then.

It’s also hard to imagine there might be a bias against a filmmaker like Christopher Nolan, but it’s taken this long for him to finally receive an Oscar nomination as a director, and he’s not even thought of as the possible frontrunner that he was when Dunkirk came out last July. I’m not sure what Academy members’ dog (or dogs) was killed by Joe Wright, but he can’t get a directing nomination even when he’s doing his best work (which Darkest Hour most definitely is.)

And then there’s Roger Deakins, a cinematographer with easily one of the best photographic eyes on the planet, who has now been nominated 14 times for an Oscar without winning. It’s something that’s mentioned almost every time he’s nominated, this year for Blade Runner 2049, and if he didn’t win in 2008 for two great-looking films, including the Coens’ Best Picture No Country for Old Men, what hope is there for a science fiction sequel that received mixed reviews? Giving Oscars to Blade Runner would certainly go against the obvious (which would probably be Dunkirk) but one wonders whether Academy biases or just a desire to not be told who to vote for might spoil Deakins’ chances once again.

It’s fair enough to say that more than enough white men have won Best Actor and Supporting Actor over the years, and there have been plenty of white male directors and technicians nominated and winning Oscars as well. Unfortunately, the Oscars seem to be becoming more about “Let’s make changes and show how diverse we can be” instead of actually nominating those who are the most deserving of recognition for their accomplishments. I’m not saying that Greta Gerwig or Jordan Peele are any less deserving for their popular and entertaining movies, but this goes back to the idea of whether Oscar voters are trying to evoke change by making less conventional choices like Lady Bird and Get Out, or do they really think those are the most Oscar-worthy because they break away from the norm?

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Since I’m not an Oscar voter and only have a fleeting bit of interaction with them each year, I’m not sure I can fully answer the question posed in the subject of this feature. Many movie writers, myself included, might spend their entire lives trying to figure out what voters are thinking when they fill out their ballot.  I think there’s as much bias against Oscar fare and certain people in Hollywood than some Academy members might freely admit. That’s the only reason I can explain why Meryl Streep gets nominated every year whether she deserves it (as she does with The Post) or not (remember that awful movie Florence Foster Jenkins?)  I should be happy that the always-wonderful Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins are recognized once again, as well as Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson for Three Billboards, but Michael Stuhlbarg was in three of the Best Picture nominees without receiving any love.

Listen, I’ll be more thrilled than anyone if one of my favorite directors Guillermo del Toro wins Best Director this year, and Gary Oldman’s performance in Darkest Hour is also a deserving fave of mine. I’m not sure I can continue to marvel and praise the exemplary work of Gyllenhaal and Hanks (and others) only for them to be completely overlooked only because they may be the most obvious choices…. You know, because they’re giving great performances. (Don’t even get me started on Melissa Leo’s snub for Novitiate. I guess I’ll have to be content with the fact that Alexander Payne’s bizarre Downsizing and its awkward Asian stereotype played by Hong Chau wasn’t nominated instead.)

 | East Coast Editor
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7 Responses to Views are Changing Towards “Oscar Fodder” Yet Some Actors, Filmmakers Still Can’t Catch a Break

  1. I can’t speak for Gyllenhaal in Stronger (haven’t seen it yet), but if you think Tom Hanks in The Post deserved a nomination over Denzel Washington in Roman J Israel, Esq, I thank the lord you aren’t an Academy voter, because your ability to judge the merits of a performance is appalling. Tom Hanks was doing the same thing he always does. Playing solid, dependable Mr America. Honorable decent blahblahblah. Hanks is a fine actor, but you need to start showing different sides to yourself or the Academy will just move on. He doesn’t challenge himself enough as an actor. The Post was a solid performance from a solid professional. Denzel Washington was actually doing something unique for him.

    Washington is constantly challenging himself, and that’s why he’s rewarded. His role in Roman J Israel, Esq, far from being “non-memorable”, is easily one of the most unique and memorable roles in his incredible career. When was the last time you recall Denzel, the ultimate alpha, being this much of a beta male? The contrast with Fences is incredble. As Roman, he’s a nerd, he’s vulnerable, he’s neurotic. Qua . lities rarely associated with Washington. With this one role, he just expanded his percieved range exponentially

  2. I agree with the previous comment in regards to how Tom Hanks was fine in ‘The Post’ but the performance really wasn’t much of a stretch for him as he was once again playing a morally solid relatable character. I do think that he deserved a nomination for ‘Captain Phillips’ but from what I recall the ‘Best Actor’ line up was very competitive that year. Denzel Washington’s film didn’t do well critically or commercially but the performance was fairly well reviewed, and like what has been commented on, he gave a performance that was very different to what we’ve seen him do before.

    Jake Gyllenhaal is a weird case. In the 12 + years since ‘Brokeback Mountain’ he’s given consistently great performances but has constantly been overlooked for recognition by the Academy. I thought he should have been in the conversation more for a supporting nomination for his role in ‘Prisoners’ but he absolutely deserved, and should have been nominated, for his performance in ‘Nightcrawler’. I went back and looked at who was nominated for ‘Best Actor’ for that year and think that Gyllenhaal should have gotten in over Bradley Cooper for ‘American Sniper’ (however, ‘American Sniper’ was a late release so was fresh in the minds of AMPAS voters and made a lot of money at the box office so I guess that explains why he was nominated). Gyllenhaal’s performance in ‘Stronger’ received good reviews but it was released in September and did poorly commercially. So I suppose in Gyllenhaal’s case it’s a combination of poor box office performance for some of his films and having movies with great performances be released in highly conpetitive years for ‘Best Actor’.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jeff!

      • And you as well, Cris!

  3. I adored the performances of Aubrey Plaza in Ingrid Goes West and Anne Hathaway & Jason Sudekis in Colossal. I would have Oscar- nominated their performances over most of the current nominees. Neon did a horrible job marketing those films. They put all their finances in ” I, Tonya”, an overpraised film- the bodyguard in that film gives the best performance and he wasn’t even nominated.

    • Actually, this isn’t entirely true because Neon bought and released Ingrid and Colossal before I, Tonya was even on their radar. It’s probably true that they put all their awards budget into I, Tonya because they felt it had the best chances, but that’s also to do with the fact that it premiered later in the year. I can’t remember if they sent a screener for Colossal to voters but pretty sure I got one for Ingrid, which actually did pretty well.

  4. And what about Hugh Jackman? He was spurned in Les Miserables yet Russell Crowe suggested that Hugh was worthy of the win because of “the character arc” ( Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean narrative) and “the difficulty of delivering such a performance” ( a dramatic musical with a live sing-through format). There is an earlier mention of PRISONERS in one of the replies here — and the performance here by Hugh Jackman was an enduring picture of a man obsessed with finding his kidnapped child at all costs!…This Oscar season, his LOGAN had one of the highest ratings because of the evolution of the genre and the dramatic portrayal from Jackman. It was also a commercial hit! In the second part of the season, his triple-threat performance as the titular character in THE GREATEST SHOWMAN has led many people to call him as arguably the most versatile actor around. As to its commercial viability, it is one of the best Cinderella stories in box office history! That both of these recent movies are his passion projects also points to his commitment to the film art and to his total professionalism in giving his best portrayals in two very different types of films! Shouldn’t the AMPAS start recognizing actors who can give us such a range in different film genres? Oh, he can also do excellent Oscar awards hosting!

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