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Oscar blunders

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

It is officially Oscar season, the time of the year between the nomination being announced and the awards actually being handed out, which means it's the season when we all pile on the Motion Picture Academy for what they got wrong or what they got really wrong. And it is also a time to reflect on the mythological power the Oscars hold on our culture, and also look at some of the great works that have been honored or maybe haven't been honored over the years. Between now and Oscar night, which is March 10, we will take time each weekend to talk about our most loved and hated award show, as well as the movies that it's focused on over the years.

This year, the "Barbie" snub was the first Oscar conversation that seemed to grab hold of the nation, with Greta Gerwig not being nominated in the best director category and Margot Robbie being passed over for her star turn as Barbie.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

MARGOT ROBBIE: (As Barbie) What do I have to do?

KATE MCKINNON: (As Weird Barbie) You have to go to the real world. You can go back to your regular life or you can know the truth about the universe. The choice is now yours.

DETROW: But Oscar history is full of notable absences from Oscar voters' ballots. Think of Jennifer Lopez in 2019's "Hustlers."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HUSTLERS")

JENNIFER LOPEZ: (As Ramona) We got to start thinking like these Wall Street guys. You see what they did to this country? They stole from everybody. Hard-working people lost everything.

DETROW: Many critics called the performance the finest of her career, but despite nominations at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild, Lopez missed out on an Oscar nod. And while this year, Christopher Nolan may be the frontrunner to win best director for "Oppenheimer," he missed the directors' lineup altogether for his 2008 superhero epic "The Dark Knight."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE DARK KNIGHT")

HEATH LEDGER: (As Joker) Why so serious?

DETROW: That film was also passed over for a best picture nomination, which helped spur the academy to expand the number of nominees in the category, which is one way that perhaps an Oscar snub can be a good thing long term. To talk about some of these cases, as well as the Oscar snubs we can still not get over, we brought in Aisha Harris, host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, as well as culture writer and podcaster Jordan Crucchiola. Hey to both of you.

JORDAN CRUCCHIOLA: Hello.

AISHA HARRIS, BYLINE: Hello.

DETROW: We mentioned J.Lo in "Hustlers," "The Dark Knight." What are some other famous snubs or maybe snubs that you're still bothered by?

HARRIS: Well, I want to flash back to the night of the Oscars in 2019, when Spike Lee finally won his first competitive Oscar for best adapted screenplay for "BlacKkKlansman."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAMUEL L JACKSON: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott and (inaudible).

SPIKE LEE: Let's do the right thing. You know I had to get that in there.

HARRIS: Now, that is not a snub, clearly. He won. But my thing is that we have to flash back even earlier to when "Do The Right Thing," his magnum opus, this crowning achievement of his career, went home empty handed. Now, Danny Aiello was nominated for best supporting actor. He lost to Denzel in "Glory." That's OK. Spike Lee lost out to Tony Schulman (ph) for "Dead Poets Society" in the original screenplay category. My big issue with this is the fact that "Do The Right Thing" was not even nominated for best picture that year or director. And, you know, instead, "Driving Miss Daisy" won best picture, and we all know how frustrating that is. But what I like about the fact that a few years later, Spike Lee finally won, is that that award for "BlacKkKlansman." felt like sort of a culmination of his entire career.

DETROW: So, Jordan, "Do The Right Thing" Being passed over is one of the all-time blunders. Is there anything that you think about that maybe isn't in that Hall of Fame reel of Oscars screw-ups?

CRUCCHIOLA: I want to tell you two things. One, that I - like, my favorite snub, like, historically viewed as a snub, is Kevin Costner winning best director for "Dances With Wolves" over Martin Scorsese for "Goodfellas." And I honestly, like, I love that because, you know what?

HARRIS: Yeah.

CRUCCHIOLA: Kevin wasn't going to win that again. Like, when was Kevin Costner going to win best director again? But when could Martin Scorsese win best director? Maybe every other year. And when he finally did, it was a similar Spike Lee situation where it feels like a - and now, Mr. Scorsese, we honor your lifetime, decades of work. But he's sort of like a Meryl figure where, like, any given thing he does could be nominated and could compete to win. So I think, yeah, you know what? Good for Kevin. Good for Kevin.

DETROW: Hey. "The Postman" or "Waterworld" could have...

CRUCCHIOLA: If we lived in a world where Kevin Costner was a two-time best director winner for the Academy Awards and Martin Scorsese he had one, like, that would be a whole different framing of this conversation - and LOL (ph). But the one I'm still bitter about, and I know it hasn't been that long, but, like, I don't know if the bitterness will ever go away for me, Lashana Lynch should have been nominated for best supporting actress for "The Woman King."

HARRIS: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WOMAN KING")

LASHANA LYNCH: (As Izogie) Your family was cruel, as was my mother. It is enough to make you cry. But it is better to laugh.

CRUCCHIOLA: "The Woman King" should have been nominated for a host of Academy Awards and it was not. That movie did really strong numbers at the box office, got phenomenal critical reviews. Lashana Lynch was so powerful and compelling. In that movie, like, when that - I didn't think it was like a likely thing to happen, but it's being overlooked for, like, the whole run of the awards march was something that still, like, personally stings to me today. So on the scheme of, like, outside historic overlooking, I think the Lashana Lynch overlooking for "The Woman King" is a true crime of awards voting.

DETROW: And I know we're talking more about nominations here, but I feel like, honestly, not a month goes by where I don't have a conversation about "Crash" beating out "Brokeback Mountain" for best picture.

CRUCCHIOLA: Well, and also that year was - it was like, oh, it beat "Brokeback Mountain." It also beat "Capote." It also beat "Munich." It also beat, I think, like, "Good Night, And Good Luck." Like, I remember somebody asking me, what do you think...

DETROW: What a good year for movies.

CRUCCHIOLA: Yeah. They were like, what do you think will win best picture this year? My answer to everyone was literally, oh, anything but "Crash." Anything but "Crash."

HARRIS: Yeah. I mean, but again, the thing about "Crash" winning is that, like, now it has - it may have the Oscar, but it does have also the reputation now of being the one that, like, one of the most undeserving wins. And obviously, "Brokeback Mountain" stands up. All of those other movies stand up in the test of time in a way that "Crash" never could and never will. So I'm trying to look on the bright side, you know.

CRUCCHIOLA: A snub that lets everybody know how bad a movie really was because we just keep talking about it every year.

HARRIS: Exactly.

DETROW: Do either of you see any trends to what the academy gets wrong?

CRUCCHIOLA: I mean, you got - there are a lot of people who aren't white contenders, so it's probably going to come up short. Like, I feel like that's still the drumbeat of the Academy Awards. It's - I feel like things are, you know, there's incremental moves toward that being less the case. But that's still the case to me, cut and dry.

HARRIS: Yeah. I mean, this year, I mean, to be honest, this year, I don't really have that much to complain about. I think we do have, like, you have Lily Gladstone, you have Colman Domingo, Danielle Brooks all being nominated. There are other POC who have been nominated in these categories as well. But it's not even just about that. It's about the types of movies that are often overlooked or at least don't get nominated in the categories that you would expect them to. It's often the movies that are the historical dramas, the war movies that get all the attention. That, I think, is the sort of trend that we often see that's kind of annoying to see but is the way Oscars are going to Oscar.

DETROW: That's Aisha Harris, a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, as well as Jordan Crucchiola, a culture writer and the host of the podcast "Feeling Seen" on Maximum Fun. Thanks so much to both of you.

HARRIS: Thank you very much.

HARRIS: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Aisha Harris
Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.