Special Report: An Oscar Autopsy (and Why I am Frustrated by this Best Picture Lineup)

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Let’s get out of the way right off the bat, I’m not a fan of most of these in the Best Picture lineup. It’s not that there are no good films here. In fact, I’ve enjoyed several of the nominees in theaters and, from a box office standpoint, it is heartening to see that three of the Best Picture nominees all grossed over $200 million domestically (that’s to say, people actually watched them!) as that so rarely happens nowadays. However, looking at the lineup, I’m not only sad to see that some film’s I was rooting for didn’t get in, but what got in in their place is even more disheartening. Let’s break it down.

Best Picture Nominee lineup:

  • Black Panther (Disney/Marvel)
    • Domestic Gross: $700 million
    • Foreign Gross: $646.8 million
    • Worldwide Gross: $1.3 billion
    • Other Nominations (7 Total):
      • Production Design
      • Costume Design
      • Sound Mixing
      • Sound Editing
      • Original Score
      • Original Song
  • A Star is Born (Warner Bros.)
    • Domestic Gross: $204.8 million
    • Foreign Gross: $204.4 million
    • Worldwide Gross: $409.2 million
    • Other Nominations (8 Total):
      • Actor
      • Actress
      • Supporting Actor
      • Adapted Screenplay
      • Cinematography
      • Sound Mixing
      • Original Song
  • Bohemian Rhapsody (20th Century Fox)
    • Domestic Gross: $202 million
    • Foreign Gross: $596.3 million
    • Worldwide Gross: $798.8 million
    • Other Nominations (5 Total):
      • Actor
      • Editing
      • Sound Mixing
      • Sound Editing
  • BlacKKKlansman (Focus Features)
    • Domestic Gross: $48.5 million
    • Foreign Gross: $48.8 million
    • Worldwide Gross: $89.4 million
    • Other Nominations (6 Total):
      • Director
      • Supporting Actor
      • Adapted Screenplay
      • Editing
      • Original Score
  • Green Book (Universal)
    • Domestic Gross: $42.4 million
    • Foreign Gross: $4.3 million
    • Worldwide Gross: $46.7 million
    • Other Nominations (5 Total):
      • Actor
      • Supporting Actor
      • Original Screenplay
      • Editing
  • Vice (Annapurna)
    • Domestic Gross: $39.5 million
    • Foreign Gross: n/a
    • Worldwide: $39.5 million
    • Other Nominations (8 Total):
      • Director
      • Actor
      • Supporting Actress
      • Supporting Actor
      • Original Screenplay
      • Editing
      • Make-up & Hairstyling
  • The Favourite (Fox Searchlight)
    • Domestic Gross: $22.9 million
    • Foreign Gross: $19.5 million
    • Worldwide Gross: $42.5 million
    • Other Nominations (10 Total):
      • Director
      • Actress
      • Supporting Actress (x2)
      • Original Screenplay
      • Editing
      • Cinematography
      • Production Design
      • Costume Design
  • Roma (Netflix)
    • Domestic Gross: ???
    • Foreign Gross: ???
    • Worldwide Gross: It’s estimated to be around $2.8 million, but its unclear
    • Other Nominations (10 Total):
      • Director
      • Actress
      • Supporting Actress
      • Original Screenplay
      • Cinematography
      • Production Design
      • Sound Mixing
      • Sound Editing
      • Foreign Language Film

 

The immediate and hilarious first take away that one should get from this line up is that despite having three major box office hits, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, and A Star is Born, the films that ended up getting the most nominations, in the end, are the two that made the least amount of money (one arguably made no money given that it is from Netflix). Yes, both Roma and The Favourite are tied for the most nominations at this Oscars ceremony with ten nominations each, and Roma is actually the favorite (haha, Oscar puns!) to win Best Picture this year. This is a testament to the main thing that everyone hates about the Oscars; the fact that, in the end, it is narrative and the campaign that matters more than the film’s quality. Roma is a damn good movie (there is no question there) but the fact is that Netflix, after missing the mark with past projects like Beasts of No Nation and Mudbound (both stepping stones on the way to this point), truly went to bat this season by shelling out the money and really playing the game. They’ve hosted screening after screening, press junket after press junket, and voter party after voter party. They went to every length to make sure that Roma was at the forefront of voters minds when the nomination voting period rolled around and that effort has paid off in the form of their first ever Best Picture nomination. All that said, it is worth noting that for several of the other films in the line up (and some that missed), while Roma didn’t necessarily have to worry about box office, box office performance did play a bit of a role in getting some of the nominees in, most notably with the aforementioned major three.

With Black Panther, in hindsight, the Best Picture nomination should come as no surprise. Despite opening last February, Black Panther ended up being a cultural phenomenon. With glowing reviews, a strong political subtext, and amazing word-of-mouth, the film managed to dominate the conversation for months on end and in doing so, it ended up becoming the third highest grossing film of all time domestically; a milestone with no racial qualifiers, thereby showing the film’s mass appeal. The very fact that it managed to achieve this feat caused it to burst into the award conversation very early on alongside the typical slate of prestige pictures. Three Golden Globe nominations, a Screen Actors Guild Ensemble nomination, and multiple other Guild citations later, Black Panther has officially become the first comic book adaption to receive a Best Picture nomination.

A Star is Born‘s trajectory is actually quite remarkable to witness as it combined the power of mainstream audience appeal (a la Black Panther) with Old Hollywood prestige in order to get its Academy Award recognition. It’s no secret that A Star is Born is the third remake of the 1937 Oscar winner of the same name starring Janet Gaynor and Fredrich March. Having been remade in 1954 as a comeback vehicle of Judy Garland (which earned her a Best Actress nomination) and then again in 1976 as a vehicle for Barbara Streisand, the sheer name recognition of A Star is Born has enough Oscar pedigree to at least get its foot in the door.

Of course, that isn’t to say that it was going to be easy, as this fourth iteration of the classic story of “girl-meets-boy, boy-helps-make-girl-a-star, boy-gets-depressed-about-his-own-lack-of-fame-and-and-girl-has-to-contend-with-his-alcoholism” had several key factors going against it. For one, this is the fourth iteration of A Star is Born, and thus voters might have already been sick of it. Secondly, Bradley Cooper not only was to star in the film but also to make his directorial debut. As his ability as a director was unknown at the time, there was a very large chance that this version could fall flat. And of course, there was the biggest concern: the casting of Lady Gaga in the lead. Despite having won a Golden Globe for her performance in American Horror Story: Hotel, many were (understandably) skeptical of her ability as a dramatic actress as despite her undeniable singing ability (one need only watch her Sound of Music-tribute performance at the Oscars in 2015 for proof), her musical persona gave the impression to many that her only talent as a performer was a flair for dramatic costumes.

Yet, despite all of this, A Star is Born succeeded wildly. Despite being the fourth version of this well-worn tale, Bradley Cooper and his fellow writers managed to transpose some familiar, classic Hollywood-style beats into a more grounded and less glamorized country music setting while adding in a few more modern notes to this musical which played into (quite cleverly I may add) Lady Gaga’s established image as musical artist. Cooper himself also managed to genuinely surprise with his skill behind the camera, giving the audience a backstage pass into the life of a star musician while creating the feel of a live concert in the theater, all while giving us some truly arresting moments of visual storytelling along the way. But of course, A Star is Born was to live or die by the performance of its leading lady, and Gaga fully delivered. Peeling back the operatic glamour that has characterized her for so long, Gaga’s Ally felt lived in and far from stilted in her presentation. Wearing her feelings and thoughts on her face as she grapples with her meteoric rise to fame, audiences and critics fell in love Gaga all over again. Her reviews signaled her as a frontrunner in the awards race, but the greatest testament to her popularity in the cultural landscape of 2018 was A Star is Born‘s fantastic run at the box office. We all knew that Lady Gaga starring in a feature film would surely draw in a crowd of “Little Monsters”, but from A Star is Born‘s strong box office debut to every fantastic hold it had from weekend to weekend, it’s clear that nearly everyone was absolutely enamored with the film. A Star is Born was aiming for Oscar contention from the very beginning, but having grossed over $200 million domestically and over $400 million worldwide (all on a budget of just $36 million mind you), its box office performance is what truly sealed the deal.

Of the three Best Picture box office hits, however, it is Bohemian Rhapsody that has got to be most surprising. It has been (and continues to be) no secret that this Freddie Mercury biopic was plagued with production problems, most notably the ousting of director Bryan Singer. Alongside his numerous sexual assault allegations, Bryan Singer flat-out disappeared from the set after Thanksgiving break, and after a plethora of speculations and a variety of disagreements between Singer, his management, and 20th Century Fox, he was promptly fired from the production with production deal with Fox not being renewed. The last few weeks of production, as well as the following post-production period, were helmed by Eddie the Eagle director Dexter Fletcher (who, interestingly, is following this film up with an Elton John biopic, Rocketman, for Paramount) which Fox likely hoped would help to wash off Bryan Singer’s stink off the film. However, their hopes were dashed by the Directors Guild of America which decided to award Singer sole credit for directing the film anyway. Fast forward to the week before the film’s release were Bohemian Rhapsody would suffer another major blow as reviews for the film would drop to reveal a thoroughly mixed reception from critics (that’s being generous) who derided the film for historical inaccuracies and criticized the portrayal of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality. To honest, the film looked dead on arrival.

Then came opening weekend. Predictions originally saw the film grossing a maximum of $30 million but changed upped their predictions to $35-$40 million as the weekend progressed and the film’s momentum unexpectedly spiked. However, no one would’ve been able to call the film opening over $50 million, yet by the time the actuals rolled in, Bohemian Rhapsody had raked in a whopping $51.1 million in its opening weekend, the second highest opening weekend gross for a musical biopic after Straight Out of Compton. What pundits and critics failed to consider was just how much people love Queen. Even the harshest of review singled out the appeal of the music as well as the incredible recreation of the famed Live Aid concert that the production team was able to pull off. Like A Star is BornBohemian Rhapsody played like a live concert and audiences couldn’t resist. What critics also failed to consider was the appeal of Rami Malek. Even with their harshest criticisms, no critic was able to dismiss the performance of Malek in the lead role of Freddie Mercury, calling it more than a performance, rather an “embodiment”. Early word on the film had singled Malek out has a Best Actor contender, but no one expected the well-respected, but not as a widely-known actor to succeed so spectacularly in his portrayal. In 2007, Marion Cotillard portrayed famed singer Edith Piaf in the French biopic La Vie En Rose to astounding critical acclaim, with Stephen Holden of the New York Times writing in his review:

“…the most astonishing  immersion of one performer into the body and soul of another I’ve ever encountered in a film.”

While no one has been nearly this poetic in their assessment, the critical consensus on Malek’s portrayal of Mercury reads much like this statement. This intense level of intrigue and acclaim surrounding his performance also fueled interest in the film and has led it to not only gross over $200 million in the States, but also over $800 million worldwide.

This incredible success, alongside the immense support of Malek’s performance by audiences, industry members, and the media, is the only possible explanation for how Bohemian Rhapsody got into the Best Picture lineup. While Malek’s performance was practically a given in the Best Actor lineup, it was the film’s surprise showing at the Golden Globes that first put it on the path to Best Picture glory. American critics clearly had divisive feelings on the overall film, but as one can see via the numbers, Bohemian Rhapsody was incredibly well-received overseas (having made over 74% of its gross internationally). This explains not only its showing at the Globes, with not only a Best Actor nomination for Malek but also a Best Motion Picture-Drama citation, but also its surprise wins in both of those categories given that the Globes are awarded by the Hollywood foreign press. Because of the mixed reviews, these wins were a shock to many; they also, however, provided an incentive to many moviegoers who were holding out to see it, boosting its box office gross even more. Whether you love the film or hate it, this momentum at the box office, in tandem with its wins, fueled the film and allowed it to pick up even more nominations from various guilds, finally culminating in the Best Picture Oscar nomination it has now (along with four other nominations).

Now, with all this said, it has to be pointed out that despite these films’ immense success at the box office, clear resonance with audiences, and (mostly) critical acclaim, none of them have much of a chance of winning Best Picture. Yes, it would seem that the Academy is up to its usual snobbish ways, shunning anything that is “popular” or “mainstream”. You can see this in how despite their Best Picture nominations, all three films failed to garner a Best Director nod as well, something which typically goes hand-in-hand with a Best Picture win. Moreover, only A Star is Born was able to garner multiple above-the-line nominations with its citations for Bradley Cooper in both the Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay categories, Gaga in Best Actress, and Sam Elliot in Best Supporting Actor. Meanwhile, outside of a sole Best Actor nod for Malek, both Bohemian Rhapsody and Black Panther only have technical nominations outside of their Best Picture nods, something that is generally unheard of and highly unlikely to translate into a Best Picture win. This gives the impression that these nominations were merely moves to pacify fans and potentially draw in viewers on Oscar night with empty promises.

On the other hand, I can admittedly understand why and in some ways agree with the idea that these films are not necessarily Best Picture material. Having seen both Black Panther and A Star is Born, I can say that really enjoyed the both of them and feel that they are both very well made and not without significant artistic merit (particularly A Star is Born with Bradley Cooper’s directing). However, at the end of the day, Black Panther simply doesn’t read like Best picture material to me (especially when put up next to a film like Roma); more so, it feels like an entertaining and surprisingly thoughtful blockbuster. On top of some spotty CGI work and some admittedly preachy storytelling, Black Panther feels more like a very good Marvel movie than a great movie overall. With A Star is Born, the artistry and polish of the production and performances certainly get it closer to that upper echelon of filmmaking (I for one actually feel that Cooper was robbed of a Directing nod). However, A Star is Born is hampered as a Best Picture winner in my eyes by the fact that it is a remake, thus it doesn’t stand on its own merit, and by the fact that, above all else, it is a star vehicle, a showcase for Cooper’s directorial prowess and a Gaga’s talent as an actress rather than a film with something new to say.

As for Bohemian Rhapsody, I can’t fairly judge it because I haven’t seen it. However, I would have to say that it isn’t Best Picture material because not everyone is on board. Last year, the Best Picture Oscar went to The Shape of Water which I feel was a big mistake. The film itself I thought was good (if slightly overrated), but my main issue is that it wasn’t a good representation of 2017 as film year. Like A Star is Born, it was a vehicle (in this case to get Guillermo del Toro an Oscar). Meanwhile, Get Out, which was acclaimed by both critics and the media, widely embraced by audiences (as denoted by its immense success at the box office), and was a cultural conversation point for the whole year thanks to its showcasing of a newly emerging talent in Jordan Peele as well as the fact that it had a real message and expressed that message in a new way. If anything deserved Best Picture, it was Get Out because everyone was on the same page regarding that film. Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t have that luxury given the divisiveness between critical and audience opinions. The film’s best shot at an Oscar win is for Rami Malek’s performance, and given its universal acclaim (everyone is on board with it) I’d say the odds are in his favor.

Now, I’ve been saying a lot of positive stuff about these movies up until now which may beg the question of why I am unhappy with this lineup as a whole. That reason once again revolves around everyone being on board. This lineup only includes eight films, three popular and five arguably niche. Given the sliding scale that the Best Picture lineup has, being able to accommodate a potential maximum of ten nominees to represent the best films of the year, the lack of use of the two leftover spots represents two glaring omissions that could have been filled with films that everyone would have been on board with. Instead, most of the films in the lineup are films that most people haven’t seen.

Now, that doesn’t mean that most of them have not earned their place. Roma is the frontrunner for Best Picture and I feel that it is deservedly so. The film is a technical marvel with an emotional (if slightly nebulous) story that seems to captivate all who listen with the universality of its themes. As I mentioned above, Netflix played the Oscar game well in order to get this film nominated, but I feel that it was worth it because the actual film has merit to spare. The Favourite and Green Book are two films that also played the game well. Both have strong reviews, particularly for their performances (with Olivia Colman and Mahershala Ali both being deserved frontrunners in their respective categories) and each was positioned with immaculate precision. The Favourite opened at the Venice Film Festival to sterling reviews and walked away with a Best Actress win for Colman, establishing her as a Best Actress contender. The film also bowed at the New York Film Festival, continuing to receive praise before opening in limited release for a fantastic per-theater-average (one of the year’s highest). Despite not grossing very much overall, Fox Searchlight has handled the film’s theatrical expansion with great skill, slowly upping its theater count every weekend to keep the per-theater-average high as it garnered more and more awards and nominations, finally culminating in a Best Picture nod and nine more Oscar citations.

Green Book, despite getting off to a slow start, managed to maintain its momentum thanks to its nature as an overall crowdpleaser. Debuting in Toronto and winning the People’s Choice Award, the film has had loads of goodwill to offset any negative press. It also has maintained a semi-wide release in under 1,000 theaters for most of its run and in doing so has had a very steady stream of interested audiences coming to see it which has kept it afloat at the box office via fantastic weekend-to-weekend holds. Expanding readily with every new award win has only boosted its profile and with this new Best Picture nomination, it is now the primary challenger to Roma. That said, there is a sense in me that not everyone is on board with these nominees. Sure, The Favourite and Green Book are critical gems and awards juggernauts, but looking at their box office (no matter how great their release strategies), it is impossible to deny that none of these films are widely known. Of the three, Green Book has the most popularity as it has continuously flirted with the top ten (and even entered on a few occasions) for the past two months. However, the fact is that in the grand scheme of things, interest in Green BookThe Favourite, and Roma, is primarily being driven by their awards nominations and wins. Both their popularity as talking points and their box office performances each see notable spikes whenever one of them wins an award. This is as opposed to their popularity, interest in the films, and critical and audience reaction, dictating whether or not they should win awards. The conversation surrounds each of them sounds more like “this movie needs to win so more people will see it” rather than “this movie was great and should win for that”.

BlacKKKlansman is an interesting case as it skirts the line between mainstream and niche, prestige picture appeal. On one hand, it was a small film from Focus Features that quietly debuted in mid-August before making off with a tidy profit and strong reviews. This movie was well-received and could’ve easily coasted into some Oscar nominations on the strength of its story (that of a Black Man who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan) and the name recognition of Spike Lee. However, what many seem to forget is that for what kind of film this is, BlacKKKlansman was actually a bit of hit. Instead of going for a limited release that would expand later on, Focus decided to go wide immediately in over 1,000 theaters for the film. Clearly, they were banking on the name recognition of not only Spike Lee but also Jordan Peele, who produced the film and whose name is plastered over every single poster. While it may not look like it at first glance, the fact is that this approach worked as the film opened to $10 million in fifth place in an overall crowded market, a big win for a potential prestige film. Not only that, but BlacKKKlansman reps the third biggest opening weekend gross of Spike Lee’s career as well as his biggest opening weekend since Inside Man back in 2006. What’s more is that such a large opening (relatively) drove intense interest in the film, allowing it to hold well weekend-to-weekend and driving it to a total domestic gross of $48.5 million and a worldwide gross of $89.4 million (all on a $15 million budget). With this in mind, we see that BlacKKKlansman actually had audiences attention alongside media and critical respect. Despite having the conversation die down a bit after it left theaters, BlacKKKlansman was still on people’s minds when nominations came around as surprise showings at the Golden Globes and shocking SAG Ensemble nomination made the awards conversation for the film roar back to life. In the end, the film fits the criteria I set for a Best Picture nomination as everyone seems on board.

It is that point that brings us to our most dubious nominee this year, Vice, a film that I feel doesn’t necessarily deserve its nomination. If nothing else, what Vice does deserve to be applauded for is the execution of its awards strategy. Annapura Pictures (the studio behind it) is headed up by Megan Ellison, daughter of Larry Ellison, aka the fifth richest man on Earth. In so, Ellison has a very large amount of money to draw on for her films which has allowed her to rub elbows with tons of Academy voters. Her awards Rolodex is huge, and she used it well this season. Packaging a project with prestige written all over it (a Dick Cheney biopic, written and directed by Big Short director Adam McKay, starring Oscar winner Christian Bale as Cheney, Oscar nominee Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, and newly minted Oscar winner Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush), Ellison made sure that the details of the film were kept far from the public eye for months. It was only in mid-November that early screenings were held for the film, after which the conversation was corralled by Annapurna so that only praise of Christian Bale’s “transformative performance” really leaked out. Annapurna also made the incredibly slick move of holding the review embargo for the film until after the Golden Globe nominations were announced, upon which by the time that reviews had dropped, Vice already looked like an Oscar juggernaut with six Globe nods (the most of the ceremony), all without even having been released in theaters. By this point, Ellison had created the perfect storm of awards hype and it was completely inevitable that Vice would be getting nominated for a ton of Oscars (and it did, with eight nominations).

So what’s the problem? Well, the fact is that Vice is not actually a good movie, at least not based on the reviews. The reason it was slick for Megan Ellison to hold back reviews until after the Golden Globe nominations dropped is clear. If reviews had come out before the nomination announcement, there is a distinct possibility that Vice would’ve gotten just one nomination (for Bale). Yes, when looking at the reviews for the film, they are not uniformly positive, instead being notably and thoroughly mixed. On the positive side, the performances in Vice are being held in generally high regard, particularly those of Bale (for whom the hype is to be believed) and Adams (who apparently makes for a great Lady Macbeth), though Rockwell’s performance is highly divisive. The film’s editing and style are also being praised, however, the praise pretty much stops there. To my surprise, the complaints about Vice don’t actually focus on the formal aspects of the film; instead, they focus on McKay’s directorial voice, stating that the true potential of the film is lost in his clearly blind hatred of Cheney. The lengths he goes to in order paint the former Vice President as an absolute monster seem to come at the expense of making a complete film with coherent story and something to say about American politics. This reportedly makes for a quite unpleasant viewing experience (among other problems ranging from the film’s treatment of women to the discussion of Cheney’s daughter’s homosexuality) that is just barely redeemed by Bale’s genuinely powerful performance.

This lack of a positive response to the film is further echoed in its box office. Much note made of the film’s role in potentially bankrupting Annapurna and how it needs to win awards so that more people will see it so that it will break even. However, the fact remains that Vice is bombing at the box office. Having opened on Christmas day, the film has only managed to gross $42 million on a budget of $60 million, and not even boosts from Bale’s acting award wins are likely to get it anywhere near is break-even point of $120 million (not counting advertising). As much as the trades will float out how the film is over-indexing on the coasts, this is all just further proof that Vice is not well-regarded and doesn’t really belong in the lineup. Take a film like On the Basis of Sex as a counterexample. This Ruth Bader Ginsberg biopic didn’t have the critical support necessary to get any Oscar nominations, yet its reviews were noticeably stronger than that of Vice, praising the story and uplifting tone and message of the film. Furthermore, both Vice and On the Basis of Sex opened on Christmas day, yet while Vice barely made a dent at the box office, On the Basis of Sex opened in limited release to a fantastic per-theater-average which it then proceeded to maintain as it expanded into wide release. People actually like and respect On the Basis of Sex as shown by its box office and how its audience has continued to grow since its release, giving it a stronger claim to a spot in the Best Picture lineup than Vice, which has had to hold on for dear life as it slips further and further into financial trouble. Once again, with On the Basis of Sex, more people, be audiences, media, and/or critics, are on board.

This is where my problem with the lineup really crystallizes since there was potential for films to get in that were simply more worth nominating, but were instead shut out due to the Academy only filling eight slots and not taking advantage of the potential ten. An example of a great nomination in my mind would have been A Quiet Place. Some may disagree given its nature as a genre film, but if you actually look back at how the film performed, you’d find that it has everything. Despite more minimal expectations,  A Quiet Place was a sensation when it debuted, with some even labeling it “this year’s Get Out”. It received phenomenal reviews across the board for its original take on the thriller genre, the strong execution of its premise, the performances of its cast, and John Krasinski’s ability as a director (all of which I highly agree with). Not only did the film receive acclaim from critics but audiences also responded enthusiastically as well. A Quiet Place became another cultural touchstone last year with everyone talking about it; in so, it was powered to an incredible $340 million worldwide gross on merely a $17 million budget. The film even managed to make a dent with awards season as it received citations from the Writer’s Guild, Producer’s Guild, and Screen Actor’s Guild along with a win at the Critics Choice Awards. If anything deserved a spot in the Best Picture lineup, A Quiet Place was it. Sadly, other more “Oscar-y” films ended up muscling it out, even dashing its chances at a Best Original Screenplay nod (a nomination for which I am convinced A Quiet Place was egregiously snubbed), despite the fact that everyone was clearly on board with the film.

Even films that debuted late in the game could’ve have been recognized. Take Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was admittedly off to a wobbly start when it debuted over Christmas. Still, the film had the audience and media interest prior to release given its depiction of an Afro-Latino superhero in the lead, and eventually saw a swell of critical support once reviewers were allowed to see the film. Once reviews were released, Spider-Verse became (rightfully so) one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2018, seeing praise for its unique and boundary-pushing animation, its comics accurate portrayal of characters, the scope and ambition of its storyline, and its witty use of meta-humor. And despite having an underwhelming opening, the film has managed to grow its audiences considerably, as it is now under $1 million away from becoming Sony Animation’s highest grossing film the US. Thankfully, Spider-Verse has everyone on board when it comes to winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar, but one has to be a bit disappointed that a film which is widely considered to be one of the best of the year was shunted from the Best Picture lineup thanks to a bias against animation.

Most outlets, when discussing snubs, seem to be focused on films like First ReformedFirst ManHereditaryMary Poppins Returns, and Crazy Rich Asians. However, of those entries, only Crazy Rich Asians, in my opinion, could’ve had any real claim to a Best Picture nod. Personally, I don’t think the film is Oscar-worthy (not that I think it is a bad film-I actually seriously enjoyed it-I just don’t feel that it is at all as groundbreaking as the media has made it out to be; outside of its genuinely groundbreaking all-Asian cast, the film is highly formulaic, so much so that it plays like parody at points). However, once again, it certainly was more worthy than something like Vice, with great reviews, great box office, and genuine resonance with audiences in 2018 (it also, like A Quiet Place, got major awards nominations at the Globes, PGA, and SAG awards, yet still came up short). Meanwhile, First Reformed and Hereditary connected strongly with critics but not audiences (though Hereditary, to its credit, had strong box office and everyone on board with a Best Actress citation for Toni Colette; a true snub in the Best Actress lineup), First Man failed to connected to audiences and was a financial flop upon its release, and Mary Poppins Returns ended up not being as highly regarded by critics and audiences with both deflated box office and middling reviews.

So there you see, the main issue with the Best Picture lineup as it stands is that it doesn’t really reflect films that people really liked this year. It has three films that everyone saw in Black PantherA Star is Born, and Bohemian Rhapsody, which will fill the “popular quota” and maybe bring in some extra viewers to the telecast of the Ceremony. Meanwhile, the rest of the films, in one way or another, are there more so on the basis of the fact that their distributors ran a good campaign as opposed to their actual filmmaking merits. Their inclusion in the lineup (as well as any awards they win) will serve the purpose of getting more people to watch them rather than as an acknowledgment of what they achieved on their own. Meanwhile, great films that actually captured the imaginations of everyone this year, be it critics, the media, audiences, and the industry at large, will go home without more meaningful recognition because they were films that dared to stand on primarily on their own merit.

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