Thurs, 6th Feb 2020

2020 Oscars Preview

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Adam Robertson

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With the Golden Globes and BAFTAS now out the way for another year, attention now turns to the biggest award in the industry, the Oscars, set to take place this Sunday. If you turn to my article last year, you’ll see that I described these awards, supposedly the ultimate honour for technical and artistic merit in all the different departments of filmmaking, as just as controversial as any other year. I feel a slight sense of déjà vu sitting here writing as this year is no different as debates over the lack of female and black representation within the Academy continues.

Before we turn to these issues though, let’s focus on the nominees themselves. Starting with best picture, it’s hard to see past Sam Mendes’ war drama 1917. Having picked up the Golden Globe for best drama and the Bafta, it would be unsurprising to see anything else pick up the prestigious award. In my own opinion, whilst 1917 was not necessarily my favourite film of the year; it is nonetheless the one I believe should win, not least because of its unique cinematography, but because of the way it handles such an important theme.

Of course, nothing is a shoo-in, with South-Korean drama Parasite picking up a lot of attention upon its UK release in the last week. Similarly, Tarantino’s (supposedly) penultimate film Once Upon A Time in Hollywood seem the only other likely contenders. However, Tarantino seems too divisive a figure to come away with the top prize. Best screenplay, on the other hand, is where he seems more likely to pick up an award. All this being said, I myself have only seen five of the nine nominees and so, come Sunday, I may end up being proved completely wrong.

In terms of acting, all four of the categories, like best picture, appear to have fairly likely winners. Joaquin Phoenix and Renee Zellweger look certain to win for their roles in Joker and Judy respectively. Whilst unable to comment on Zellweger, Phoenix’s performance was outstanding and, given that he should probably have already had an Oscar, this is surely his year. It’s the same story for those up for the supporting award, with Brad Pitt and Laura Dern also certain to win, the former for his role as a stuntman in Tarantino’s film and the latter for her appearance in Netflix drama, Marriage Story.

The role of Netflix continues to grow in the film industry. The streaming service, whilst it has undoubtedly grown through the success of its original television shows such as Stranger Things and The Crown, is now beginning to show it can play a part in award season as well. It accounts for two of the best picture nominees through The Irishman and Marriage Story. Of the ten actors nominated across leading and supporting roles, actors who appeared in Netflix films account for five of them, as did two of those in the actresses category.

It’s always up for debate whether or not Netflix belongs in the Academy and, to be honest, I’m not really sure why. Ultimately, filmmakers, actors, cinematographers and anybody else involved in the process should be rewarded based on the merit of their work. The cinematic landscape is one that is forever changing, and Netflix has been at the forefront of this, giving us some of the best films of the year including Scorsese’s The Irishman. Streaming services are only continuing to grow with Disney Plus set to be launched at the end of March in the United Kingdom. It only seems like a matter of time before Netflix produces a winning film.

Turning to the debates surrounding the nominees, the main point of tension has come in relation to the best director category where, once again, it is dominated by males. In particular, the snubbing of Great Gerwig for her take on Little Women seems to have caused the most anger. Whilst the Academy do make a lot of strange decisions, and I am in no way trying to defend the lack of diversity present within its walls, it is simultaneously important to remember that they can only pick from what has been made.

For instance, looking at the top ten box-office films of the year, only one woman was involved in a director’s role and that was for the animated Frozen II. As a society, it seems the films that we deem most popular and the ones we are willing to spend our money on, are those which are dominated by males. Of these ten films, excluding the two animated films, only Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Knives Out are led by female characters.

Similarly, the issue of race continues to be one which mars the Academy. Statistics might get a bit boring, but they rarely lie. Of the twenty actors nominated, there is only one black actor – Cynthia Erivo for her role in Harriet. Joaquin Phoenix spoke passionately at the BAFTAS last Sunday about the need to try and promote diversity throughout all of the film industry. What stuck out most though was his suggestion that, it is not only the industry who is at fault, but rather that we all need to start taking some sense of responsibility if we want to solve these issues that continue to take away from our enjoyment of the movies.