Oscar Snubs Are Both Terrible and Meaningless
It sucks that your favorite was snubbed, but also, calm the $%@! down.
The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning, and the same thing happened that happens every year: the nominations were exactly what everyone predicted, except when they weren’t, leading to a deluge of online outcries re: those were snubbed. 2023’s most notable absentees were Barbie’s Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, who were not nominated for Best Director and Best Actress (respectively), but other omissions that have reasonably ruffled feathers include Past Lives’ Greta Lee for Best Actress, The Holdovers’ Alexander Payne for Best Director, Killers of the Flower Moon’s Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor and Martin Scorsese and Eric Roth for Best Adapted Screenplay, Poor Things’ Willem Dafoe for Best Supporting Actor, and the leads of both May December and All of Us Strangers (someone somewhere is also probably upset that Bradley Cooper wasn’t nominated for Best Director for Maestro… and that someone is Bradley Cooper’s mom).
Being upset about these very talented people not being recognized for their work is entirely understandable, especially if you don’t like one of the nominees who took a spot instead. I myself believe that Carey Mulligan is an incredible talent and Maestro’s sole bright spot and that it is 110% a crime that she was nominated over Lee, Robbie, and Natalie Portman, the latter of whom gives what may very well be the best performance of her career in May December. I think that while Jonathan Glazer has made some brilliant films, Zone of Interest is not one of them, and nominating him for Best Director while ignoring Greta Gerwig is next-level crazy-bananas. And had Oppenheimer’s Christopher Nolan somehow not been nominated for Best Director, I likely would have blown my top so hard as to produce a Manhattan Project-sized mushroom cloud.
So my heart truly goes out to everyone who is hurting right now.
Having said that, you should also probably take a deep breath and calm the fuck down.
Hollywood operates very much like a high school. Thus, it is both appropriate and unsurprising that the Academy Awards are like SAT scores and the coronation of prom royalty: it’s extremely important in the short-term and utterly meaningless in the long-term.
In the immediate future, winning an Oscar results in a significant pay increase and, more meaningfully, access to better projects. A filmmaker who just won the Academy Award will have a far easier time getting their new movie made, no matter what that movie is or whether or not its commercial prospects seem like a safe bet; an actor who just won the Academy Award will suddenly have their pick of roles, but can also use that clout to help a more esoteric film get made. That featureless gold paperweight opens a lot of doors…
…until it doesn’t. At the end of the day, all of these people still need their movies to make money at the box office, or these opportunities are gonna dry up. And if you don’t believe me, just ask Hilary Swank (who won TWO Oscars before she was 30!!!) or Billy Bob Thornton. Michel Hazanavicius has made five movies since winning Best Director for The Artist in 2011, and five tickets is how many each of those movies sold. Marc Norman shared a Best Screenplay Oscar with Tom Stoppard for Shakespeare in Love, and Marc Norman has not had a feature film produced since Shakespeare in Love. An Oscar is not a lifetime Get Out of Jail Free card.
More importantly, though, an Oscar does not cement one’s status in the Annals of Cinematic History.
Like I said: the Academy Awards are the prom. It’s a political campaign; in the weeks leading up to the close of voting, there aren’t just a bajillion other awards, there are a bajillion social events that are ostensibly campaign stops: luncheons and screenings with Q&As and meet and greets and the whole megillah. With all due respect to Jack Nicholson, he’s not a three-time Oscar winner because he’s the greatest actor of all time, he’s a three-time Oscar winner because he’s the coolest human being who ever lived and he’s incredible at glad-handling people and posing for photos. Roberto Benigni didn’t beat Sir Ian McKellan for Best Actor because he’s a better actor, he beat him because people found it more fun to hang out with an over-caffeinated Italian cartoon than a effete upper-crust British master thespian. As of today, Annette Bening has been nominated for five Oscars and never won (in fact, she lost to Hilary Swank twice). My guess is voters just don’t find her that charming in person for some reason. Maybe she’s bad at schmoozing. I dunno.
My point is just that 99 times out of 100, the Oscar goes to the nominee who was the year’s most-desired party guest, not the year’s most-accomplished artist.
So it makes sense that Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, and Martin Scorsese ALL HAVE THE SAME NUMBER OF BEST DIRECTOR OSCARS. But would anyone seriously assert that Costner or Gibson have made contributions to cinema as great or greater than Scorsese? For that matter… do those statues mean Costner and Gibson are better directors than Stanley Kubrick or Alfred Hitchcock or Akira Kurosawa or François Truffaut or Federico Fellini or Robert Altman, none of whom ever won? Are we to believe that the schmuck who made The King’s Speech is a superior talent to Jean-Luc Godard and Ingmar Bergman and Sidney Lumet? Writers that never won Screenplay Oscars include Elaine May, Buck Henry, and Paul Schrader. Anyone wanna argue that their work is less significant than that of Steve Tesich, who won for writing Breaking Away and spent the rest of his career penning movies 99% of the population has never heard of? Are Matt Damon and Ben Affleck better writers than David Mamet? You gonna try and tell me that Roberto Benigni is a more talented actor than not just Sir Ian McKellan, but also Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Steve McQueen? Is Hilary Swank’s work destined to outlive that of Marlene Dietrich, Natalie Wood, and Ava Gardner?
So. Yeah. It’s a bummer that an arbitrary limit on the number of people who can be nominated in a given category means some of the most talented women and men working today didn’t get the recognition they deserve. But history will ultimately decide whose work is and is not worth a place in the pantheon, long after we’ve all managed to forget that they ever made Chicago into a mediocre movie. If anything, not being nominated should be worn as a badge of honor: the snubbed are in the very best of company.