And the winner is ... a less predictable Oscars night
A diverse nominations list signals end of the era when movie moguls could muscle and spend their way to glory
One of the main problems with the Oscars has always been the grinding predictability of the annual awards race, but this season has brought a refreshing change. In an ordinary year, there tends to be an accepted narrative that trundles along, gathering momentum as it goes and dictating which films are award-worthy. With it, the possibility of genuine surprises falls away. But it hardly needs stating that this has been no ordinary year and, as a result, the usual awards narrative has been derailed to some degree.
The most obvious beneficiaries have been female directors. Chloé Zhao’s nomination for Best Director hardly comes as a surprise, given Nomadland, her gorgeous, elegiac portrait of life off the grid and on the periphery of US society, has been a deserved front-runner since it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival last year. But Emerald Fennell’s nomination for Best Director is more unexpected. Promising Young Woman is her feature debut and it’s a bracingly divisive picture: prickly and provocative, with a barbed wire and bubblegum aesthetic. It’s unlikely to win, but it’s exactly the type of invigorating presence the stultifyingly conservative Academy Awards needs to stay relevant (and, crucially, commercially viable).
Perhaps the real surprise should be that it has taken the entire 93-year history of the awards for two women to be nominated for Best Director in the same year. But given there have been only five in total previously (Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Kathryn Bigelow and Greta Gerwig), and only one female winner (Bigelow in 2009 for The Hurt Locker), the painfully slow inch towards gender parity is not quite as shocking as it might be...