Magazine February 10, 2020, Issue

Little Women and 1917 Should Get a Joint Best Picture

(Carlos Barria/Reuters)

After several years in which the Academy Awards felt like an auxiliary of Trump-era progressivism, this year’s nominated movies are about as unwoke as modern Hollywood gets: a raft of “dad movies” about mobsters, cars, and war, plus the infamous Joker and Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece of hippie-punching (and worse than punching), Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood.

Regrettably, not every movie in this semi-reactionary renaissance is actually good. Martin Scorsese’s much-nominated The Irishman was doomed by its terrible, CGI-enabled lead performance, while the even-more-nominated Joker is fascinating mostly for what the culture has read into it, since on its own it’s just a comic-book homage to better Scorsese movies from the past.

So I have some mild sympathy for one of the Twitter meltdowns that greeted the Oscar announcements, the outrage when Greta Gerwig was denied a Best Director nomination for her Little Women adaptation. Sure, you can make a case that Gerwig wasn’t one of the year’s five best directors, but in a slate of nominees so heavy with guy movies, a little more female representation wouldn’t hurt. More important, you can make a case that Gerwig was less deserving than Scorsese and Joker’s Todd Phillips, but you’d be wildly wrong, and to nominate them both instead of her is a failure of aesthetic appreciation as well as of show building.

My own pick for Best Picture, out of the available nominees, would be Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time, certainly the most Academy-friendly movie he’ll ever make. But the unwise slight to Gerwig and the fact that Sam Mendes’s World War I drama 1917 is cleaning up at pre-Oscar awards shows suggest a different path the Academy could take (even if, yes, the show’s voting rules make it technically impossible): In our polarized times, with even the genders divided against each other, a joint Best Picture for Little Women and 1917 is the balm our nation needs.