Thoughts on the 2020 Oscar Nominations

The Academy and I disagree on some things. After writing about my favourite movies of 2019, I wanted to discuss the films I did not like, but a post about “the worst movies of 2019” didn’t seem right. There are of course many movies that are unquestionably ‘worse’ than these, but in my opinion, some of these contain troublesome messages and so can do more harm than your classic ‘bad’ film. Unfortunately, films like this frequently make it onto the Oscar nomination list and even win (cough cough Greenbook). A couple of the movies I talk about received a tonne of nominations, others just 1. But these are, in my opinion the bad films of last year that are worth talking about.

** Disclaimer: I have not seen every movie that came out last year. Also, these contain spoilers.

Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood #

This was a way overrated movie that was nominated for a lot of awards. It was kind of boring and Tarantino’s foot fetish was mildly off-putting, but after learning of the events that really occurred that night ie Sharon Tate’s murder, I was much more disturbed. Even though the real crime was centred around her, the film follows around a couple of bro-ish guys who save the day. Tate is barely afforded a line and spends her only scene galavanting around watching herself in movies. As someone who wasn’t aware of the true story when I watched the film, I was confused why she was even a character at all. She seemed to have nothing to do with anything. Is not giving Sharon Tate a voice really the right way to tell this story?

An enraging moment of the film is when Brad Pitt beats up the Bruce Lee character. This white guy strolls in and with almost no effort at all beats up one of the most notable martial artists in history. It is demeaning, racist and once again takes the voice away from the deceased.

Tarantino’s quirky style certainly distinguishes him from other directors, but ultimately, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is just another Tarantino film. Moral ambiguities included.

Joker #

What an absolute joke of a film (see what I did there?). And the one with the most oscar nominations. I really was excited for this one going in. It is supposed to be the origin story of the joker: one of the most conniving and intelligent super-villains. I was preparing myself for some serious trauma and psychological exploration. But there was none. We are supposed to believe that the joker is born from some of your average schoolyard bullying, when some teenage boys beat him up. Then, even after he becomes ‘the joker’, he is a hopeless mess. Nothing like the smart, psychopathic character we see in the batman movies. His crimes are boring and so are his motives. Oh and of course even though it makes absolutely no sense, they manage to squeeze some Bruce Wayne action into the plot. The joker randomly appears outside his house and squeezes his cheeks for a bit, and then his parents die… again. The timeline doesn’t even make sense, by the time Bruce grows into an adult won’t the joker be an old man? Joker was marketed as super arthouse and super deep, but really the underlying message was as simple as ‘watch batman & give us money’.

Ad Astra #

Ad Astra was probably the worst movie I saw all year. In fact, I think I enjoyed the monstrosity that was ‘Cats’ more than I enjoyed Ad Astra. It only appears once in the Oscar nominations under the category for ‘sound mixing’. But even that is too much. A visual effects nomination I would understand. But sound design? Lighthouse far outshined this movie in that domain. Ad Astra was a poorly organised, slow moving, repetitive mess of a film. I almost never feel the urge to leave a theatre mid way, but this one was a close call. The protagonist of the film, portrayed by Brad Pitt is infuriating. He spends the entire film brooding and narrating everything from what he is feeling and what he is doing to what other characters are feeling and what they are doing. It’s as if the team watched it in post and thought they better make it accessible to the blind. Which would be totally cool! But I suspect that was not their intention. The story is absolutely nuts. There are characters who are introduced only to leave 2 minutes later, a pack of evil monkeys who hijack a spaceship and kill everybody, and a protagonist who embarks on the same mission as another team, but decides he would do a better job than them so kills them all and goes alone. There are no consequences to his actions and after swimming through space back to his ship (something which he apparently gains magical abilities to do at the end) he suddenly appears back on earth, where he is of course, a hero. Never-mind his murderous tendencies.

Richard Jewell #

While Ad Astra was the most terrible movie of last year, this one was the most infuriating. While I have nothing against the Kathy Bates' supporting actress nomination for this film (I think all the actors did a pretty good job) my issue is with the message it portrays. It is a movie about the unfairness of the justice system. Told through a white man who suffers a few months of unpleasant media attention. If you would like to watch something that explores the topic of injustice, I strongly recommend watching the ‘Watchmen’ TV series, ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ or ‘Just Mercy’. In these pieces, the injustice is truly horrific, rather than a few months of some unpleasant press. While watching Richard Jewell I couldn’t help but keep thinking back to the trailer ending on this sentence: ‘the world will know his name…’. As if this guy was some kind of hero. Ultimately, he just did his job and called in a suspicious package. Something I’m sure many security guards and airport attendants have had to do. It is so infuriating that the film paints him as such a victim even though he had his name cleared and went on to live a good life where he achieved his dream of becoming a policeman. He didn’t even have to go to trial. In comparison to others who have experienced discrimination in the legal system, this was absolutely nothing. All that aside, it gets worse… there’s sexism too! The main reporter in the film who is a woman, is painted as a slut who will sleep around to get a story. She is the villain of the film. Yes her. Not her male co-worker who had just as much to do with the publication as her, and not the leader of the FBI who decided to investigate Jewell in the first place. It’s her. I already felt rotten about how her character was portrayed and blamed while watching the film. But afterwards I discovered she was based on a real person, Kathy Scruggs, who passed away in 2001. For a movie that is all about the lies of the press and inaccurate portrayal of a person, how hypocritical of them to do this exact thing to Scruggs, someone who can’t even defend themselves. The heroic acts in this film include resisting the advances of evil women, reporting a suspicious backpack and surviving some bad press. It really exposes the suffering and victimisation of white men.

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