Oscars 2020 Snubs and Surprises
We examine the biggest surprises, both happy and problematic snubs, amongst this year’s Oscars nominees.
The 92nd Annual Academy Awards nominations are here, and with the Oscars comes the seasonal series of snubs and surprises. Among the latter is one that’ll put bounce in many a genre geek’s step: Joker leads the pack with the most Oscar nominations. We unpacked what that means here, but in addition to getting expected nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor (deservedly so due to Joaquin Phoenix’s transformation), Joker also overperformed with its full 11 nods, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Yet it is also the Best Director category that is causing the most introspection and head-scratching. In what was one of the most crowded Best Director fields of the decade, 2019 saw masterworks from respected auteurs like Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood), and Sam Mendes (1917). All three were locked in, as was another auteur operating at the height of his talent, Bong Joon-ho, who was nominated for Parasite to my happy surprise. But that only left one slot available for what many, including ourselves, hoped would be Greta Gerwig’s second directing nomination. Yet Gerwig’s refreshing take on Little Women was shut out in favor of Phillips, as was Noah Baumbach for Marriage Story and Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit. This leads, once again, to a Best Director category dominated by five men.
Indeed, Oscar nominee announcer Issa Rae not so subtly dinged the Academy after the Best Director nominees were announced by saying, “Congratulations to these men.” Intriguingly, this mirrors one of the themes Gerwig picked up on and expanded in her Little Women adaptation, which sees protagonist Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) struggle mightily to be taken seriously by men in the literary world. Her own publisher often condescends and dismisses the importance of stories about female relationships.
The cast of Little Women has since commented on the surprise snub, with Florence Pugh, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, saying, “I think the most important thing—and I’ve said this all along, ever since the Golden Globes started it off—is Greta made a film about women and their relationship with money, and their relationship with men in a man’s working world. And it’s just highlighting the point. It’s just completely underlining how important this film is, and how the themes are still apparent now.”
Another major snub was Jennifer Lopez going ignored in the Best Supporting Actress category for her work in Hustlers. Despite picking up nominations at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, and Critics Choice Awards, Oscar gave Lopez the cold shoulder in favor of Kathy Bates in Richard Jewell. But Scarlett Johansson impressed this year in that category and Best Actress. Before this morning, Johansson had never been nominated for an Oscar; now she has been nominated twice for her movie-stealing supporting work in Jojo Rabbit and again for leading Marriage Story. This makes Johansson the first actor to pull off double nominations since Cate Blanchett did the same in 2008—all the more impressive in a year where she also starred in the highest grossing movie ever, Avengers: Endgame.
Best Actress, however, also had some bitter surprises, including the absence of Awkwafina for The Farewell. Similarly, my own personal favorite female performance of the year, Lupita Nyong’o in Us, went equally overlooked, although that was always a long shot given she starred in a horror movie, a genre the Academy traditionally ignores. Instead a surprise nomination went to Cynthia Erivo for her movie-elevating work in Harriet. Erivo being nominated after the BAFTAs infamously nominated only white performers in its 20 acting slots is refreshing—but only by a little bit since the other 19 Oscar nominees in these categories are still all white.
In fact, the Best Actor category also saw its share of upsets and surprises, including Eddie Murphy’s convincing candidacy for Dolemite is My Name going overlooked. Perhaps this is because the Academy still appears wary of over-rewarding Netflix films and already had Adam Driver in that category for Marriage Story? Then again, nah. The Academy wound up giving the fifth nomination to Jonathan Pryce for another Netflix film, The Two Popes, so it must be something else. Pryce also got in at the expense of Taron Egerton in Rocketman and Adam Sandler, the latter of whom was a long-shot candidate for his career-defining turn in Uncut Gems. Also despite starring in one of the most nominated movies of the year, and one that he personally pushed for a decade to get made, Robert De Niro went strangely omitted here.
Other snubs include Frozen II missing out on Best Animated Feature, Lee Smith’s editing of 1917 going ignored, and Beyoncé’s original song for The Lion King remake also getting passed over.
David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.