‘Joker’ isn’t done conquering the culture
Todd Phillips’ stark, gloomy take on Gotham City, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the DC Comics supervillain, stirred up sociopolitical debate like few Hollywood blockbusters in recent memory. The major critics were divided over the movie’s rough-edged violence and lurid depiction of mental illness, with some accusing Phillips of exploiting cultural anxieties around incels, short for so-called involuntary celibates, and mass shooters.
But film academy voters, perhaps in a bid to draw viewers who turned “Joker” into a global box-office phenomenon, lavished it with 11 nominations — more than any other movie in the field. The hand-wringing, hot takes and Twitter feuds that accompanied the release of “Joker” in October could make a reprisal ahead of the ceremony Feb. 9.
No female directing nominees — once again
Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”), Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) and Kasi Lemmons (“Harriet”) earned glowing reviews last fall for their thoughtful dramas. But all three filmmakers were shut out of the best director category as voters, following a familiar script, recognized five men: Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”), Sam Mendes (“1917”), Phillips (“Joker”), Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”) and Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”).
The film academy has nominated a woman for the directing honor only five times in its history (including Gerwig two years ago for her debut, “Lady Bird”), and only one — Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) — ultimately triumphed. Issa Rae, who co-hosted the nominations announcement event, alluded to gender inequity. “Congratulations to those men,” Rae pointedly said.
Rebecca Goldman, chief operating officer for the Time’s Up group, addressed the lack of female directing nominees in a statement: “This is why Time’s Up exists — to ensure women in entertainment and across industries get the opportunities and recognition they deserve.”
#OscarsSoWhite just barely averted
The lack of diversity in the four acting categories has roiled Oscar telecasts in recent years, fueling the #OscarsSoWhite social media hashtag and inspiring a wider cultural conversation around racial representation in Hollywood. Oscar voters avoided another year of all-white acting nominees, though far from decisively: Cynthia Erivo, who is British Nigerian, earned a nod for her acclaimed lead performance in the biopic “Harriet.” (She was also nominated for best original song.)
Jennifer Lopez, who drew some of the finest reviews of her career for her energetic turn in “Hustlers,” was among the notable snubs in the best supporting actress category — an omission some linked to the academy’s issues with diversity. The same could be said of the exclusion of “The Farewell” star Awkwafina as well as several movies anchored by people of color, including the Eddie Murphy vehicle “Dolemite Is My Name,” the criminal justice drama “Just Mercy” and Jordan Peele’s comedic horror flick “Us.”
‘Parasite’ rides a wave of buzz to make history
Bong Joon Ho’s gleefully genre-bending tale of class warfare and economic inequality scooped up a respectable six nominations, including best picture and best director — highlighting the popularity of the sleeper hit film. “Parasite,” which centers on a poor family that infiltrates the life of a bourgeois clan, also made history, becoming the first feature to be nominated in the international film category and only the 11th to notch a best picture nod.
In a best picture race that many pundits seem to think is evenly split among “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time” and “1917,” Bong’s celebrated satire could score an upset in the top category on the sheer strength of audience enthusiasm.
Netflix leads among studios, but …
The streaming giant racked up a robust 24 nominations, including best picture nods for “The Irishman” and Noah Baumbach’s divorce drama “Marriage Story.” But for the folks at Netflix, the Oscars could be a replay of the Golden Globes, where the company stormed into the night with a commanding 34 nominations across all categories but walked away with only two wins, for Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”) and Olivia Colman’s performance in “The Crown.”
The traditional studios that Netflix has worked hard to outmuscle — Sony (“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”), Universal (“1917”) and Warner Bros. (“Joker”) — might be hard to topple at this year’s ceremony.