5. Adam Sandler – Lead Actor for Uncut Gems
In Uncut Gems directed by brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, Adam Sandler indisputably gives his best acting performance in years. Playing Howard Ratner, a wheeling-and-dealing jewellery dealer in New York City’s Diamond District, Sandler finds himself in a role seemingly meant for him. From the moment the film starts, Uncut Gems never lets off the gas pedal in its depiction of men who want it all, and Sandler’s performance holds up perfectly for the duration. Ratner’s obnoxious and incessant personality never eases up as it spirals towards his ultimate downfall.
While Sandler has been an icon in Hollywood for decades now, his normal comedic choices have never garnered much positive criticism. That is why his latest role in Uncut Gems came as such a surprise to many. The Safdie Brother’s script and direction really plays to Sandler’s comedic strengths, which elevates the power of the performance. Sandler is a rather polarizing actor to most people, but whether he is loved or hated, his robust performance in Uncut Gems is undeniably entertaining. Seeing a well-known actor who has never been involved in the awards conversation such as Sandler would have been an interesting shake-up in a year of Lead Actor nominations that are rather typical of Oscar voters.
4. Awkwafina – Lead Actress for The Farewell
Awkwafina’s leading performance in The Farewell will surely catapult the musician-turned-actor to a new level of stardom after her extraordinary acting achievement. The Farewell focuses on Awkwafina’s character Billi, a Chinese-American in her late-twenties who returns to China to be with her grandmother who has been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. During this time, Billi also confronts the diverging and converging aspects of both her Chinese and American cultures. Awkwafina brings her own experiences and unique identity to the role, allowing viewers of the The Farewell to both relate to Billi’s struggle with identity and experience an Eastern culture that is not commonly portrayed in Hollywood.
Since The Farwell premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2019 it has received rave reviews from critics and experienced modest box office success for a small budget production. With the assistance of distribution company A24, The Farewell managed to stay well-within the conversation throughout the awards season, with Awkwafina even winning Best Actress – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes in January.
After Awkwafina’s huge feat at the Golden Globes, it was rather shocking when the Oscar Nominations were announced and she was not chosen as a nominee for Lead Actress. Despite her worthy performance, Awkwafina was shut out in a year where acting nominations across all categories were completely dominated by white performances, many of which are nowhere nearly as nuanced or personal as Awkwafina’s portrayal of Billi.
3. The Farewell – Original Screenplay
One of the most earnest and authentic films of 2019 came in the form of The Farewell directed by Lulu Wang. Wang wrote the screenplay based on her own family experiences and it is truly a story that feels incredibly personal and global in ways that make The Farewell hard to forget.
The Farwell is largely based on Wang’s own relationship with her grandmother. Her screenplay feels so modern and responsive to a world where the young and old struggle to maintain familial relationships as well as relationships with their cultures and personal identities.
The boldness of Wang’s screenplay seems so relevant to today’s world and the world as it continues to change. This type of forward thinking freshness that The Farewell possesses would have been an exemplary depiction of a contemporary story had it been nominated for Best Original Screenplay this year.
2. Greta Gerwig – Best Director for Little Women
One of the most distressing snubs of the 2020 Oscar nominations has been the exclusion of Greta Gerwig from the Best Director race. Gerwig’s second solo feature Little Women, an adaptation of the 1868 coming of age novel by Louisa May Alcott has been winning over audiences and critics alike since releasing over the holiday season.
The brilliant cast (Including Saorsie Ronan, Florence Pugh, and Laura Dern), the intricate depiction of time and memory, and the fiery energy bursting from each shot are just a few of Little Women’s best qualities which are all thanks to Gerwig’s fascinating direction. While the novel Little Women is seen as classic tale for young girls and has been adapted for the screen several times, Gerwig’s 2019 version truly has a raw and roaming way of exploring the source material that has never been seen before. This sort of interpretation could have easily gone all wrong for other filmmakers, but Gerwig’s innate sensibilities as a director pull it together in a way that only she could do.
Although Little Women has received six nominations for this year’s Oscars, including nods for Best Adapted Screenplay, Lead Actress for Ronan, and Supporting Actress for Pugh, Gerwig ended up shut out of the Best Director race. While Gerwig’s exclusion was shocking in respects to her one-of-a-kind directional success with Little Women, it was unfortunately one of many snubs this year made by Oscar voters during a year in favor of male-dominated films such as Joker, The Irishman, and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Had Gerwig been nominated for Best Director this year, it would have been the sixth time in the nearly-hundred year history of the Oscars for a female director to get a nomination in the category, she was the last woman to receive a nomination in 2017 for Ladybird.
1. Us – Best Picture
Out of all of the snubs and exclusions from the 2020 Oscar nominations, Jordan Peele’s Us stands out as the most ignored and forgotten about films in the award season conversation. While wildly successful on so many levels of filmmaking from acting to editing to cinematography, Us seems like a clear nominee for the most coveted award, Best Picture, as well as a multitude of other nominations.
On the surface, Us is a horror film following an upper-middle class family that is terrorized by a group of violent dopplegangers. But upon a deeper inspection of the film, it is identifiable as a serious and urgent criticism of the social disparity in the modern world. As with his breakout film Get Out, director Peele possesses a unique filmmaking ability that largely captures the cultural zeitgeist of the time.
Commercially, Us became madly successful throughout the world, and many prominent film critics have hailed the film for its ambitious craft and precise social commentary. But Us was largely excluded from the awards conversation throughout the fall of 2019, with Lupita Nyong’o’s amazing performance essentially being the only aspect that was included. But when the Oscar Nominations were released, Us was nowhere to be found. It is frustrating when a film like Us is not rewarded for its progressive vision, especially in a time where films with social commentary truly are encapsulating and critiquing the current state of the world.
While it is a common idea that awards do not matter in the end, the case is not necessarily the same when it comes to the Academy Awards. The Academy voters have never had the final say in deciding whether a film is good or bad, if it is worthy of an award or not. However, in terms of presenting film culture to popular culture, especially in the United States, the Academy Award nominations contribute to giving films a higher platform of visibility.
This year’s nominations have resulted in much backlash towards the Academy, which once again seems to be favoring largely male, largely white films. Although the Oscars voting pool is slowly diversifying, it may still be a long while before some of the creative talents who worked on the films mentioned in this list are given the Oscar nominations and awards they deserve.