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Breaking Down The Oscar Nominations


It's that time of year when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces its Oscar nominations. "Joker," about the Batman villain, is the big name this time around. It got 11 nominations, including one for best picture. The South Korean social satire "Parasite" also received several nominations. No women were nominated for best director. Here to talk more about the nominations are entertainment journalist Joelle Monique.

Welcome back, Joelle.

JOELLE MONIQUE: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.

CORNISH: And Bob Mondello, NPR movie critic - welcome back to the studio, Bob.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Great to be here always.

CORNISH: All right, Bob, give us a little background. How are these nominees chosen?

MONDELLO: Well, I think there's an assumption when a movie like "Joker" gets 11 nominations that people just started checking "Joker" on all of the different categories. And that's not actually how it works. There are 17 branches of the academy, and each one votes within its own category. So costume designers nominate costume designers. Actors nominate actors. So for a film like "Joker" or for "1917," to have been nominated in so many different categories, a lot of people have to like it. So there - you can't get a sweep the way that, I think, most people think you get a sweep.

CORNISH: Joelle, I want to turn to you now. As we said, because "Joker" received the most nominations, what stood out about, I guess, the 11 that it got?

MONIQUE: (Laughter).

CORNISH: And are there any other nominees that stood out to you?

MONIQUE: It was very loudly not one of my favorite films of the year. I've read maybe three versions of the script at this point, and that nomination is so confusing to me. But there's a lot to appreciate in it, especially once we are breaking it down, as Bob explained, into the individual categories. As far as nominations that stood out to me - Matthew Cherry's "Hair Love." He's, like, a former NFL player, and he made this really beautiful film about, you know, men doing their daughter's hair. He makes, like, a very lovely tale about that, so I was excited to see that get recognition.

CORNISH: All right, Bob, to you, I want to ask also about the things that are missed because there's always a conversation about what was, quote-unquote, "snubbed." What's on the list for you in that category?

MONDELLO: Well, this year, what didn't get nominated a lot was women - for instance, the best director category. Greta Gerwig - it would have been nice to have seen "Little Women" nominated. And she did an extraordinary job with it. Lulu Wang did "Farewell." It's, again, a wonderful picture. It would be nice to see her nominated. Marielle Heller did "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood." You could actually fill out that entire category with women and at no major loss in quality for the year, so that's a huge frustration.

CORNISH: Joelle Monique, you - who's missing?

MONIQUE: I'm really upset that we're not seeing any love for "Dolemite Is My Name," which has essentially all of the same calling cards as "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood."

CORNISH: And this stars Eddie Murphy.

MONIQUE: Yes, it stars Eddie Murphy. It gives us a lot of, like, new appearances from Da'Vine Joy, who's amazing. I really wish she had been nominated for best supporting actress. The list goes on for reasons - it was great. And it contains a lot of Oscar bait, as we call it. It's a period piece. It stars a comeback with Eddie Murphy, who we just saw kill on "SNL." And of course, it's also about Hollywood and making films and the non- (ph), sort of, glamorized aspects of that. So to see it completely left out, that was very disappointing.

CORNISH: Finally, are the Oscars still relevant?

MONIQUE: I am in the minority in this in believing that the Oscars remain relevant. They are an easy, accessible point for film lovers to begin engaging in film. It is where I started my film history knowledge. I think a lot of times when we ask people, you know, about film, about their love for film, where we start talking about is, oh, well, which Oscar films have you seen? - which nominated ones, which ones have won? And they sort of create a litmus test for a time period. Now, obviously, access and streaming have allowed us to venture more into what it means to appreciate smaller films. But I still want to look to the Oscars as a place where we can talk about films that mean something, that matter to us.

CORNISH: You want to see films that have people talking.

MONIQUE: At least films that, to me, feel representative of the culture and the current voices, and I don't feel like we've been able to do that for many years.

CORNISH: Bob Mondello, for you, are the Oscars still relevant?

MONDELLO: (Laughter) I feel guilty about my flip answer at this point, after a very smart answer by Joelle. Still relevant? - like they were ever relevant?

MONIQUE: (Laughter).

MONDELLO: I mean, my problem with...

CORNISH: This is completely unexpected.

MONDELLO: Yeah, my problem with the Oscars has always been that they are, essentially, a way to promote movies and that we treat them as if they are something more than that. And they are an advertising gimmick for Hollywood and have been since 1927. So sure, I think it's nice if they're relevant in some way to somebody. And apparently, they are to Joelle, which I find very encouraging, actually.


MONDELLO: It's a relief. And so there is a purpose to these things.

CORNISH: Very nice. Bob MONDELLO, NPR movie critic, thank you.

MONDELLO: My pleasure.

CORNISH: And entertainment journalist Joelle Monique, bringing us the optimism, thank you.

MONIQUE: Thank you, Audie.


Joelle Monique
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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