At first glance, Monday’s 2020 Oscar nominations look like a populist revolution.
The movie with the most nominations, “Joker,” has made more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office — the first film to achieve that feat since 2009’s “Avatar.”
Several other Best Picture nominees have made over $100 million (“Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood,” “Ford v Ferrari,” “Parasite” and “Little Women”), or are far along the road to doing so (“1917”). Two other nominees are popular Netflix titles (“The Irishman” and “Marriage Story”), and the final contender, “Jojo Rabbit,” has raked in just $30 million less than Taylor Swift’s “Cats.” Power to the people!
Or is it? Because there is still something average folks adore that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sneers at, views with utter contempt, believes to be as artful as Guy Fieri’s donkey sauce: comedy.
Just look at Monday’s most notable Oscar snubs and you’ll see a unifying funny factor: Eddie Murphy in “Dolemite Is My Name,” Adam Sandler in “Uncut Gems” and Awkwafina in “The Farewell.” None of those lauded performances was nominated. That’s strange, because they’re all coming off of other big accolades.
Sandler was named best actor by the National Board of Review, Murphy was nominated for a Golden Globes and won a handful of prizes from critics’ groups, and Awkwafina won best actress in a comedy at the Golden Globes. But ohmygosh Charlize Theron sounds soooo much like Megyn Kelly!
The Oscars, which favors impersonations, snot-tears and Meryl Streep, is a Sahara for humor.
For god’s sake, two of the funniest Best Picture nominees this year are “Little Women,” which includes an infant death, and “Jojo Rabbit,” which is about the Nazis. Slightly silly “Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood” features a massacre and the Manson family. The two actually laugh-out-loud films of 2019, “Booksmart” and “Knives Out,” were clever and universally acclaimed, but had not a single hipster Hitler or real-life serial killer. Maybe next year, guys!
But probably not. Are creative types BSing us when they say they believe “Dying is easy; comedy is hard”? I think so. When it comes time to decide what’s “best,” snobby voters almost always eventually conclude that funny performers are a better fit for Vegas. Heck, in the minds of the stuffiest members, that might include working the Strip. Sure, the people love them, but the people also love Doritos and Dr. Pimple Popper. Says Oscar: The people cannot be trusted.
For my money, just two broadly comic performances have ducked under the Oscars’ velvet rope in recent years: Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder” and Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids.” But so many more have been overlooked in favor of prosthetics, wigs and screams. Tiffany Haddish in “Girls Trip,” Hugh Grant in “Paddington 2,” Kristen Wiig in “Bridesmaids,” just to name a few.
It’s common practice during the doldrums of January for viewers to catch up on the Oscar nominees they missed over the past year. Go for it. There are many worthy nominated films and actors in the field. But don’t skip “Uncut Gems,” “Dolemite Is My Name” and the sublime “The Farewell.” You’ll see that the laugh’s on the Oscars.