What to watch at the Oscars


LOS ANGELES — The 92nd Academy Awards will be a showdown between old and new Hollywood: Netflix amassed a leading 24 nominations on Monday, including best picture honors for “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story,” but traditional studios were only a heartbeat behind.

Despite a plethora of diverse films competing for Oscar attention this year, the 9,000-member Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences largely maintained its traditional point of view, handing out the most nominations to four very male, very white movies. “Joker” (Warner Bros.), which portrays the DC Comics villain as sharing the psychological traits of real-life mass shooters, led all films with 11 nominations, including ones for best picture, director (Todd Phillips), actor (Joaquin Phoenix) and score (Hildur Gudnadottir).

Sam Mendes’s visually dazzling World War I epic “1917” (Universal-Amblin) and Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Sony) each received 10, including best picture recognition. “The Irishman” also collected 10, with Martin Scorsese receiving his ninth nomination for best director. 

The best-picture category can have as many as 10 or as few as five nominees, depending on how voters spread their support. This year there were nine. Joining “Joker,” “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story,” “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” and “1917” were “Ford v Ferrari,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Little Women” and “Parasite.” 

Little diversity in the acting categories

Black actors and actresses were largely sidelined, with the British-Nigerian actress Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”) as the sole nominee. (Erivo was also nominated for “Stand Up,” a song she wrote for the movie with Joshuah Brian Campbell.) Overlooked in the acting categories were Lupita Nyong’o (“Us”) and Eddie Murphy (“Dolemite Is My Name”), among others. 

The academy has mounted an effort to double female and minority membership, in large part by inviting in more film professionals from overseas. But even after four years of the initiative, the organization remains 68 percent male and 84 percent white. The director’s branch again left out women, bypassing acclaimed work from Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”) and others.

“The gender and racial diversity of the nominations continue to be clearly lacking, which continues to be disappointing,” said Thomas E. Rothman, chairman of Sony’s Motion Picture Group. “In particular, I’m disappointed for Greta as a director — that’s a pure mistake.” Sony released “Little Women,” which was produced by Amy Pascal and received six nominations in total, including one for Gerwig’s adapted screenplay.

Gerwig would have made history as the first woman to become a two-time directing nominee. Only five women have ever been nominated for best director in the history of the Academy Awards, with Gerwig having been recognized for “Lady Bird” in 2018.

Even so, the academy showed signs of progress with its recognition for Bong Joon Ho’s drama-comedy-horror mash-up “Parasite, which earned six nominations, including its best-picture nomination — the first-ever for a South Korean film. “Parasite” also figured into the director, original screenplay and international film categories (The academy retired the “best foreign-language film” name after last year’s ceremony; the prize is now called the best international feature).

The academy said that 62 women were nominated across all categories, a record. The documentary branch nominated four feature-length films that were directed or co-directed by women: “American Factory,” about a Chinese billionaire who reopened an Ohio automotive plant; “The Edge of Democracy,” which focused on Brazilian politics; “For Sama,” about a woman’s life in war-torn Syria; and “Honeyland,” which looks at a female beekeeper in the Republic of North Macedonia. The fifth documentary nominee was “The Cave,” the story of female physicians in Syria who treat patients in an underground hospital.

Nominating “American Factory” was the equivalent of sending an Oscar invitation to Barack and Michelle Obama. The former president and first lady have a multiyear production deal with Netflix, and “American Factory,” produced with Participant Media, was their first release.

Over the last decade, the Academy Awards have become a bit superfluous, with a torrent of precursor ceremonies leaving fans (and honorees) exhausted and the contents of the envelopes unsurprising. The academy’s board of governors, alarmed by sharp declines in television ratings, decided in 2018 to move up this year’s ceremony. It will be held on Feb. 9, two weeks earlier than the last go-round, a seemingly small truncation that nonetheless has the movie capital in a tizzy.

ABC, which broadcasts the Oscars, said last week that the ceremony, viewed by roughly 30 million people in the United States, would not have a host for the second year in a row. Hosting is a thankless job that many celebrities turn down; fully vetting a host (scrubbing their social media accounts for potentially offensive comments) is time-consuming and far from foolproof, and last year’s host-free show stopped the rating free-fall.

The Netflix slate stretches to the best-animated film

With its dump truck of campaign cash and numerous films in contention, Netflix had a very good showing— especially considering how new it is to the Oscars. The streaming service only received its first best-picture nomination last year (“Roma”). The first time it won anything was in 2017, when the Syrian bombing rescue film “The White Helmets” collected the Oscar for best documentary short.

In a surprise, two Netflix films, “Klaus” and “I Lost My Body,” received nods for the best-animated feature. Netflix has aggressively moved into animation over the last year, in part because Disney, the company that has traditionally supplied much of Netflix’s most popular programming for children and families, has introduced Disney Plus as a streaming competitor. The other animated nominees — a list that noticeably did not include “Frozen II” (Disney) — are “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” (Universal), “Missing Link” (United Artists) and “Toy Story 4” (Disney).

Walt Disney Studios, which includes divisions like Fox Searchlight (“Jojo Rabbit”) and National Geographic (“The Cave”), rounded up 23 nominations in total, the best result for a traditional entertainment company. Sony was second, with 20, underscoring a turnaround. Sony has not won a best-picture Oscar since Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor” collected the prize 32 years ago.

This is everything new all of you reading this should expect at the 92nd Annual Oscars. Don’t miss it.


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