With the release of the 2019 Oscar nominations Tuesday morning, the inevitable debate over which films did and didn’t deserve to be honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences began in earnest on social media.
To help cut through some of the noise, we talked to four local film experts about what they believed were the Academy’s biggest oversights. All four we talked to made it clear that they were pleased with at least some of the nominations, and some recognized how hard of a job the Academy had in choosing from so many eligible films. But give a film buff the time and space to extoll the virtues of their favorite underappreciated roles, and they’ll take that opportunity any day of the week.
Note: These interviews have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity and length.
“If Beale Street Could Talk”
Loren King, member and former president of the Boston Society of Film Critics, and freelance film writer: I’m part of the Boston Society of Film Critics, and we picked “If Beale Street Could Talk” for our Best Picture of 2018. And that did not get nearly enough nominations. It got a couple nominations — Regina King is favored to win the Best Supporting Actress award — but I was disappointed. No Best Picture, and no Best Director nomination for Barry Jenkins, so that was unfortunate. To have “Bohemian Rhapsody” in there and not “If Beale Street Could Talk,” that was a missed opportunity. [The Academy] could have even had all the same nominees plus “If Beale Street Could Talk” — they only nominated eight movies when they could have gone up to 10.
Ed Symkus, film critic and features writer at GateHouse Media: I’ll admit, “If Beale Street Could Talk” kind of made me sob. [The Academy] had two extra spots for Best Picture, and they definitely should have given “Beale Street” one of them. I liked that movie so much and I went and read the book afterward. I thought it was one of the better film adaptations of a book I’ve ever seen.
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
King: I’m happy to see a couple of nominations for it, but that could have gotten much more attention. It was a fresh, original, inventive, fascinating film. I’m happy for Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, but that could’ve been in the Best Picture and Best Director race [for Marielle Heller].
Symkus: On my list of films that should have gotten a Best Picture nod, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is one of the few that didn’t get one. I thought that movie was great.
Brian Tamm, executive director of the Independent Film Festival Boston: “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” was one that absolutely should’ve been a Best Picture [nomination]. It might have been too challenging for some people. Movies like “Green Book,” I hate to say this, but it was pretty pandering. I think the voters in the Academy looked at this, saw it was about a washed-up, alcoholic writer, and thought, “This is a bit too close to home for me to get behind.”
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
Andrew Husband, entertainment editor for Metro Boston: The biggest reaction I had during the nomination announcement was that the Morgan Neville documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” wasn’t included at all. Neville has a good track record, and what they accomplished with that film was pretty damn good. I was really shocked that the Academy didn’t recognize it.
King: I was shocked when “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” wasn’t nominated. It’s a big upset, since it won so many previous awards. I know the Boston critics group picked that. It’s such a popular and likable and solid documentary. [Director] Morgan Neville is a past winner, so that was surprising. All five nominees are good films, but it was a surprising omission.
Tamm: I really assumed “Wont You Be My Neighbor?” would’ve been nominated, because it was such a popular doc. I wonder if that hurt it or not? I don’t know. I feel like I spend all this time trying to imagine what the Academy is thinking, but I don’t know why “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” didn’t get one.
Debra Granik, director of “Leave No Trace”
King: Once again, we had so many great films directed by women this year. The fact that no woman was nominated feels like one step forward, two steps back. The Boston Society of Film Critics picked Lynne Ramsay for “You Were Never Really Here.” Maybe that’s a bit too weird for the Academy, but they certainly could’ve gone with “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” or Debra Granik for “Leave No Trace.”
Symkus: Debra Granik should have gotten one for “Leave No Trace.” That was another one that left me totally engrossed for the entire run time. I didn’t know where it was gonna go. That was another one where after I watched it, I immediately went home and bought the book.
Tamm: Debra Granik is one of several women directors who isn’t getting enough attention, and she absolutely deserved a nomination this year. She discovered Jennifer Lawrence! What else does she have to do to get money to make more movies? I like to say that the Academy Awards don’t matter, but in a way they do. Because if the Academy isn’t recognizing female filmmakers like her, that can have a real effect.
Tamm: I didn’t see any love for “Eighth Grade,” which probably bummed me out the most. We obviously love that film — we opened with it at the festival last year, and I thought it was an incredible debut feature [by director Bo Burnham]. An incredible performance from Elsie Fisher. As much as I love Amy Adams, I don’t know that her work in “Vice” was that great, and certainly nothing like Elsie Fisher’s revelation in her first role. It’s obviously a smaller film from a smaller distributor, but I know our audience connected with it, and it got other awards and critical buzz, so I thought it had a chance. Apparently not.
“A Quiet Place,” and the horror genre in general
Husband: Just like last year, where Jordan Peele won a screenplay nod for “Get Out” but basically nothing else, the Academy ignored horror as a genre. Last year, we saw really great performances from Toni Collette in “Hereditary” and Emily Blunt in “A Quiet Place,” but nada for them this morning. I’m not even the biggest horror fan, but those are two really good movies with great female lead performances. Even “Annihilation” with Natalie Portman, which is kind of halfway between horror and hard sci-fi. That one got released much earlier last year, and it didn’t get crap. Alex Garland, who wrote and directed it, was great. Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, most of the cast did great work. The only horror and sci-fi that ever gets in the mix is when a director that’s already established branches out, like Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity.” It sucks, but it’s also not surprising.
Julia Roberts in “Ben Is Back”
Symkus: Julia Roberts was totally forgotten for some reason. Just a searing performance from her in “Ben Is Back.” Honestly, she’s a good actress, but I didn’t know she was capable of the depths she hit in this one.
Michael B. Jordan in “Black Panther”
Husband: I’m glad that all the discussion on “Black Panther” probably led to it getting a Best Picture nomination. And that’s great, plus it got a lot of technical nods. But Michael B. Jordan in “Black Panther” absolutely deserved a nomination [for Supporting Actor]. He’s not just playing a hammy comic book villain. That was one of his better performances, and one of the better performances of this year. The Academy gave it a Best Picture nod and a bunch of technical nods, but of course they didn’t give it anything in the acting categories. At this point, I’ve been covering this stuff for so many years, I’m always ready to be disappointed by the Academy, but am never surprised.
John C. Reilly in “Stan & Ollie”
Symkus: I would have loved to have seen John C Reilly nominated for [Best Actor in] a Leading Role. The Boston film critics picked him for Best Actor this year. He didn’t just look like Oliver Hardy, but he captured his essence. It was a thrilling thing to watch him perform in that movie. He was Oliver Hardy.
Claire Foy in “First Man”
King: I thought Claire Foy would squeeze in a Best Supporting Actress nomination for “First Man,” because that film was overlooked for so many things. I didn’t think she would win — I think Regina King owns that category — but I thought they’d give that as something substantial for the movie. The five nominations in that category are fine with me except for Amy Adams in “Vice.” I love her, but that role wasn’t Oscar-worthy.
David Lowery, director of “The Old Man & The Gun”
Symkus: I thought “Old Man & The Gun” was a strangely complicated yet simple movie, if that makes sense. He had a nice flair for comedy in that — he wrote and directed it.
“Sorry to Bother You”
Tamm: “Sorry to Bother You” was my favorite movie last year. It’s so aggressive and in-your-face that a lot of people just rejected it. There’s so much I love about the film, but I think the thing I love the most is it feels like someone who knew he might never get to tell this story again, and put everything he felt — about capitalism, race, and class — into a film, because if he didn’t do it now, he wouldn’t be able to do it again. It’s hilarious and terrifying and unrelenting in its savage takedown of capitalism. Again, that’s not something the Academy is looking for. There’s no way it would have won anything, but like “Do The Right Thing” back in the day, its absence from the nominations says a lot.