Tenet was robbed
The Oscar nominations will always disappoint someone. Maybe it's Jennifer Lopez being left off last year for her performance in Hustlers, or The Master getting passed over for Best Picture in 2013, or Bradley Cooper failing to earn a directing nod for A Star Is Born (okay, that one is still hilarious to me, personally).
This year, though, I'm outraged at the unforgivable snub of Christopher Nolan's Tenet in the major categories.
It's a strange position to find myself in; last spring and summer, I was pretty down on Tenet! The studio's marketing campaign was irritatingly vague, and Nolan's insistence that his film get a release in physical theaters — mid-pandemic! — felt like a pompous bid to play hero and "save the movies" (it also backfired). By the time I finally got around to watching Tenet, ponying up $19.99 for the digital release a few days before Christmas, I was prepared for a dumb "in-law to Inception" — that is, an intentionally bewildering and pretentious "puzzle-box" film (needless to say, I'm a Nolan skeptic, and was hardly flying across the country to find a theater where I could see his new movie when it was finally released last August).
But then ... I loved it? Though Tenet isn't tender like Minari, or politically important like The Trial of the Chicago 7, or poetic like Nomadland, it was one of the only true blockbusters to be released after March of last year, once all the other contenders (No Time to Die, Dune, West Side Story, etc.) fled to the greener pastures of 2021. Tenet's time-bending sci-fi environmentalist premise was enormously ambitious, and not always successful, but also an unceasing good time — heck, Nolan blew up a real 737 to make it! There's a reverse high-speed chase that I only sort of understood! Elizabeth Debicki is a very tall human being! I repeat, why is this movie not nominated for Best Picture?
Instead, on Monday the Academy relegated Tenet to just two nominations, for "visual effects" and "production design," both being unfairly minor categories that are sometimes used by voters to acknowledge movies for visibly "trying" (former nominees include The Godfather Part III, Passengers, and … Cats). Tenet didn't even net a nomination for best score, although the film includes composer Ludwig Göransson's most impressive work to date.
I'd previously argued that by not postponing the 2020 Oscars, the Academy would be forced to evaluate the kind of films that, in normal years, voters pass over in favor of bigger, flashier movies with higher-budget awards campaigns. But rather than select more meditative and artistic works like First Cow or Never Rarely Sometimes Always or Vitalina Varela, Oscars voters this year opted for a mid-budget middle-ground. I perhaps somewhat naively believed that by being deprived of blockbusters due to the pandemic, the Oscars would turn into Cannes, the crown jewel of the European arthouse film festival circuit. Instead, this year shows what the Oscars are actually good for: highlighting the biggest and best and glitziest of Hollywood. And in 2020, that movie was Tenet.
The Oscars are, of course, subjective; no one is ever going to be perfectly happy with all the nominations, much less the winners. There are even bigger offenses this year, too, than Tenet's exclusion (where is Delroy Lindo's nom?!). But Tenet being left out of the major categories suggests that the Academy Awards are in the midst of an identity crisis — or, at the very least, have forgotten how to have fun.