Monday, February 6, 2023

20 Things The Academy Would Do If They Were Cool

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out 23 gold-plated statues once a year, and as the biggest night in the marathon that is the film awards season, effectively beginning in late November and running through mid-March (March 12th, 2023 this year to be exact), the Oscars Ceremony is one typically filled with a variety of emotions, broken predictions, and questionable decision-making from AMPAS, the foremost voting body for the highest honor in American cinema. While the Oscars are a night for celebration, and many nominations will certainly deserve praise, the Academy is also famous for its most questionable decisions. If you’ve ever ended the night scratching your head after all your hopes and dreams for the biggest spotlight in film led to nothing but disappointment, and you begin to channel Wooderson thinking to yourself, “Well, it’d be a lot cooler if they did…” then you’ve come to the right place. Last year, in an unofficial Twitter format, I launched what has now become an annual column listing 20 things the Academy could do on nomination morning, ranging from the likely to the impossible and everything in between that would significantly boost their cool factor. In 2022, 7/20 came true:

  • Jessie Buckley was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in “The Lost Daughter
  • Ryusuke Hamaguchi was nominated for Best Director for “Drive My Car
  • Drive My Car” was nominated for Best Picture
  • House of Gucci” was blanked for above-the-line nominations
  • Adam McKay was not nominated for Best Director for “Don’t Look Up
  • Kristen Stewart was nominated for Best Lead Actress in “Spencer
  • Flee” became the first film to be nominated for Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary, and Best International Feature

With a one-year sample size of a 35% coolness rate (justice for Ruth Negga and Renata Reinsve), this is the completely subjective and arbitrary standard by which we will have to judge the upcoming nominations! This rate is, of course, relative to the scale of likelihood by which the list is determined, but the 20 suggestions are determined with a built-in range of possibility that hopefully will even the slate year-to-year. This year I focused on the positive, with only mentions of someone getting nominated. I was far more cynical last year with multiple suggestions against a nomination. That’s growth, Academy! But alas, with further ado…

Here is the second annual pre-nomination report on “20 Things the Academy Would Do If They Were Cool,” ranked loosely in order of likelihood from most to least likely to occur.

1. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is enshrined as the film of the year by overperforming in nominations and winning Best Picture
Oftentimes the Best Picture winner is the film that best captures the ‘zeitgeist’ of a specific year in cinema. While “The Fabelmans” and “The Banshees of Inisherin” are worthy opponents with significant marketing support systems, it is hard to imagine a film better striking the narrative of 2022 than the little indie film that could, securing over $100 million in box office returns on a word-of-mouth theater run that made waves for months. As a frontrunner in Best Picture, Best Director (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), Best Original Screenplay (The Daniels), Best Lead Actress (Michelle Yeoh), and Best Supporting Actor (Ke Huy Quan), an overperformance on nomination morning would also add one (or even two) Supporting Actress nominations for Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu. Nothing this year would be cooler than seeing the “EEAAO family” take home multiple awards, including the night’s top prize.

2. “Naatu Naatu” is nominated for Best Original Song and performed live on the show
Chandrabose and M. M. Keeravani’s song is the heartbeat of this Tollywood hit with massive crossover appeal that has taken the awards season by storm with an impassioned campaign for an international film in all categories. After being shut out of the Best International Feature category by the nominating committee in India, support for “RRR” has only grown, and a live Naatu Naatu jam session should be precisely the type of entertainment that boosts the TV ratings the Academy is searching for.

3. Michelle Yeoh becomes the first Asian American woman to win Best Actress
The crowded field of lead actresses in 2022 has been seemingly narrowed to two: Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and Cate Blanchett as Lydia “Tár” in the film of her character’s namesake. Both are incredibly powerful performances deserving of award recognition. Still, for a race that includes a 2-time Oscar-winning actress and an actress who has been consistently overlooked for her entire career, two things can be true: Blanchett’s performance is wonderful and deserving, but Yeoh’s narrative is too compelling not to root for.

4. The entire Best Actor lineup is composed of first-time nominees
According to most predictions, it appears that four slots are locked in are Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin“), Brendan Fraser (“The Whale“), Bill Nighy (“Living“), and Austin Butler (“Elvis“). The fifth slot is considered a wild card with a few possible options, but why not fill it with another first-time nominee, someone like…

5. Paul Mescal is nominated for Best Actor
There are a handful of potential options in that fifth Best Actor slot. Still, with the career trajectory that Paul Mescal is taking, an Oscar nomination would continue his career momentum. His performance in “Aftersun” alongside sensational breakout Frankie Corio is delicate and nuanced, a quiet role that traditionally would not gather enough attention for a nomination, but in a year with a wild card slot available, Paul Mescal would be extra cool.

6. And “Aftersun” is recognized in another category…or two
One of the most critically well-received films of the year, Charlotte Wells’s directorial debut is a magnificent and devastating work of filmmaking utilizing the medium to translate emotion in a way that feels wholly unique and singular. If the Academy were cool, “Aftersun” would see nominations in Best Original Screenplay, Director, or even Picture, but why not throw it in Best Film Editing too?

7. International films make nomination appearances outside of Best International Feature Film, such as…
With the expansion of Academy membership in recent years to include more international voices, limiting international films to the Best International Feature category feels restraining, especially in a year that features a shortlist of 15 remarkable films in which any combination of five nominations would be well-earned. These films deserve to be considered in categories below AND above the line. That would be extra cool.

8. …Park Chan-wook’s “Decision to Leave”
Park’s neo-noir crime mystery is one of the most romantic films of the year. The overdue Korean auteur has never been nominated for an Oscar despite a long career of sensational work. It’s time the Academy paid its dues to Park, who should be considered for Best Director in a film that should also be nominated in cinematography and editing. Few filmmakers are achieving anything close to what Park is putting to screen in “Decision To Leave.”

9. A surprise nomination outside of the usual suspects for Best Cinematography, maybe a genre film such as “Nope” or “The Batman?”
Two of the most prominent visual spectacles of the year come from the cameras of Hoyte Van Hoytema (“Nope“) and Greig Fraser (“The Batman“). The Best Cinematography category is certainly crowded by a mix of major blockbusters and usual suspects (sorry, Roger), but even ‘cooler’ choices would be the Academy taking a closer look at these two genre films shot by two of our greatest working cinematographers.

10. At least one woman is nominated for Best Director
With all of the Academy’s efforts to add diversity to their internal ranks as well as among their nominees and two consecutive female Best Director winners in a row, it would be incredibly ‘uncool’ to see the lineup filled with five men yet again as has been the case for an overwhelming majority of Oscars history. This year features directorial work by Sarah Polley (“Women Talking“), Gina Prince-Bythewood (“The Woman King“), Charlotte Wells (“Aftersun“), Laura Poitras (“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed“), and Chinonye Chukwu (“Till“), among others. FYC. Please recognize them.

11. More than one Asian American woman is nominated for Best Supporting Actress
With Stephanie Hsu (“Everything Everywhere All at Once“), and Hong Chau (“The Whale“) all garnering various levels of attention at awards precursors, it is not impossible for more Asian American women to see their names appear in the Oscar five. All of these actresses are essential components of their respective films and should receive as much recognition for their work as their lead counterparts. Not to mention there have only been TWELVE nominations for people of AAPI descent in the entire 94-year history of the Oscars. To call this statistic uncool would be an understatement.

12. “Women Talking” re-enters the conversation among the year’s best films
Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’s novel of the same name has faced an awards trajectory undertaken by far too many female filmmakers: initial Best Picture hype before the forces of a patriarchal system sideline it to a single screenplay award and exclude the filmmaker from the Best Director conversation. In addition to the Best Picture deflated trajectory, the film has also lost momentum for its entire ensemble, which has been consistently rewarded with Best Ensemble nominations (Critics Choice Awards, SAG) where possible but has lost all traction in rewarding any individual female performances from the likes of Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, and Judith Ivey. To add to the irony, Ben Whishaw, as the sole male figure in the film, still has Best Supporting Actor hopes alive. Vote splitting or not, this cast deserved better. So does Polley.

13. Brian Tyree Henry celebrates a year full of scene-stealing supporting work with an Oscar nomination
Henry is easily one of our most versatile and under-talked-about actors who has received his most critical acclaim for his work in TV but has honed his performance skills in film, television, and theater. In his best year in film since his spectacular turn as Daniel Carty in “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018), Henry steals scenes in “Bullet Train” and steals hearts in “Causeway,” the latter of which should be attracting more Best Supporting Actor attention. His cool factor as James is top tier.

14. Andrea Riseborough’s last-minute grassroots campaign ends in a nomination
Essentially as the clock struck midnight and Oscar nomination voting had begun, a tidal wave of celebrity campaigns for Andrea Riseborough’s performance in “To Leslie” took over social media, giving predictors one last landmine to navigate in an already fluid category. The film is small with a micro marketing budget, but isn’t an underdog story turning into a first-time nomination exactly the type of cool energy we would love to see…?

15. But does not replace two Black lead actresses: Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler
…as long as the last-minute Riseborough campaign does not interfere with the potential of two brilliant performances from Viola Davis (“The Woman King“) and Danielle Deadwyler (“Till“), who are as deserving as any this year. Two nominations for fearless performances from Black women this year would define ‘cool’ at a time when awards criticism needs to be held accountable for its history of exclusivity.

16. “Bones and All” proves cannibalism isn’t too strong of a taste for Academy voters
Nobody expects Luca Guadagnino’s carnal road trip romance to perform on any Academy Award-level platform. Still, the work of the entire cast and crew for this film ranging from the adapted screenplay of David Kajganich to the score of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to the ensemble of stellar performances including Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, and even whatever the hell Mark Rylance is doing in this film is worthy of recognition. The cool factor of “Bones and All” is through the roof. “Life is never dully with Sully,” and neither would the Oscars with Bones and All representation.

17. “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” wins, but Phil Tippett’s “Mad God” is also considered for Best Animated Feature
We all know “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” will have a date with destiny on March 12th, and its likelihood for coolness on its own should be far higher than 17 on this list. But another stop motion film from this year should be in the same conversation because “Mad God” is a magnum opus from a master visionary. The fact that a distributor outside of the decade-long Disney juggernaut is going to win should be a ‘cool’ victory in itself, but a “Mad God” nomination would be even cooler.

18. Mia Goth gets attention in the Best Actress conversation
The Academy and avoiding the horror genre like the plague is a tale as old as time. 2022 is no different. Genre films, particularly thrillers, science fiction, and horror, always face an uphill battle with voters, but Mia Goth’s effort helming the first two films (and playing multiple characters) in Ti West’s sexy slasher trilogy with “X” and “Pearl” should be recognized regardless of genre.

19. Park Hae-il and Tang Wei. Enough said.
One of the best on-screen dynamics of the year is executed between Jang Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) and Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei) in one of the most seductive crime dramas you will ever see. Both performances in “Decision To Leave” are sharp and filled with tangible chemistry that radiates nuance. The coolness of this tragic pair is arguably the highest from this entire year of film. See #8 for further details.

20. “X” is re-considered for Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Listen, I know it wasn’t even shortlisted, and that is why it is at the bottom of this list because impossibility is *quite* hard to overcome. But if the Academy were cool, there would be zero doubt surrounding the incredible work done by the makeup artists and hairstylists to transform Mia Goth into both Maxine and Pearl.

BONUS: Marcel the Shell presents an award with his shoes on because we all know this ceremony could use less violence and more stop-motion mollusks.

What nominations are you hoping to see from the Academy tomorrow for the Oscars? Do you think any of these twenty cool wishes will come true? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar nomination predictions here.

You can follow Danny and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @dtjcinema

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