No A24 best picture nominations is awful news for cinema

The Oscar nominations have disappointed us yet again. And while every year’s Academy Awards nominations have their snubs and oversights, 2020’s nods demonstrate a particular disregard for the state of American cinema.

In particular, the failure of the Academy to recognize the stellar work distributed by A24 indicates that voters don’t understand how much responsibility the company has in keeping American cinema alive—and that the company is putting out the best films in the U.S.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the body that awarded Green Book best picture over Roma would once again let us down, but this was a particularly rough year. Only one person of color was nominated across all of the acting categories ( Cynthia Erivo, Harriet). No women were nominated for best director. Ford vs. Ferrariwidely regarded as a little more than a finely craft popcorn flick, received six nominations while many more diverse critically acclaimed films were shut out.

Renée Zellweger (Judy) received a best actress nomination while Awkwafina (The Farewell) did not. Todd Phillips (Joker) received a directing nod while Greta Gerwig (Little Women) was ignored.

These are just this writer’s particular pet injustices. A quick scan of Twitter will yield a dozen more snubs that affirm that the Oscars lag far behind the Emmys and even further behind the popular consciousness when it comes to racial and gender diversity. And we shouldn’t forget that there are real financial consequences for snubs.

When a smaller film lands Oscar nods, and in particular a best picture nomination, that increases box office potential. An Academy snub could mean tens of millions of dollars left on the table.

A24 is the best distribution company in the film business, and it has steadily expanded its slate in recent years. We don’t have access to the company’s financials but it is indisputable that the massive box office and critical success of Lady Bird (five Oscar nominations) and Moonlight (eight Oscar nods, three wins) did a lot to increase the company’s profile and pocketbook.

This year’s shutout of Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is certainly egregious in terms of representation, as director Lulu Wang, lead actress Awkwafina, and supporting actresses Zhao Shuzhen were all expected to add diversity the Academy’s list of nominees. It also hurts American cinema.

The Farewell was just one of the awards-worthy films released by A24 this year. Uncut Gems, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and The Lighthouse were all considered potential Oscar contenders, too. If the awards cycle had gone a bit differently, it isn’t crazy to imagine Midsommar, The Souvenir, or Under the Silver Lake snagging a nomination or two as well.

As it stands, The Lighthouse received A24’s lone nomination for Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography.

A24 not only produces the strongest slate of films of any company working, but A24 has also become a reliable feeder system for A-list talent in front of and behind the camera.

Gerwig and Barry Jenkins are just two of the biggest names with directorial efforts backed by A24 that launched them to bigger projects. A24 acting alums Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), and Florence Pugh (Midsommar) came to broader fame thanks at least in part to their A24 films. There are plenty of other big industry names in front of and behind the camera that can trace their Hollywood breakthrough to an A24 film.

In the era of superhero films and endless retreads of existing IP, A24, and to a lesser extent Neon (ParasitePortrait of A Lady on Fire) and Annapurna (Hustlers), bear a lot of the weight in keeping independent cinema alive. Without the films of A24, Hollywood would be much poorer in talent and quality films. The failure of the Academy to recognize A24 is to deny just how significant the company is in the current cinema landscape.

While it might be tempting to think that Oscar discourse doesn’t matter in the “real world,” that simply isn’t true. To get a clear sense of this, you just have to compare the box office fates of Lady Bird to that Uncut Gems and The Farewell.

Lady Bird opened with a cautious limited release, earning $91,000 across just a few screens. When it went wider the next weekend, it earned $1.2 million. Contrast this with Uncut Gems, which earned a whopping $18.8 million its first weekend in wide release. However, thanks to Oscar buzz, Lady Bird went on to earn $78 million worldwide thanks to Academy support.

Today, Uncut Gems’ total box office sits a little under $45 million. While the trades had predicted that Gems would surpass Lady Bird and A24’s all-time box office leader Hereditary ($79 million), an Oscar shutout means that this is now in serious doubt.

The Farewell had a similar opening to Lady Bird, boasting a high per-screen average and great word of mouth. Both films were also helmed by a promising female director and introduced much of their audience to an impressive young breakout lead actress. Without Academy support, the film will likely not receive a rerelease, topping out its box office at around $20 million. Given Lady Bird’s trajectory, we can imagine that number might have doubled if Awkwafina had received a nomination or The Farewell had been nominated for best picture.

A24 isn’t going anywhere. It had plenty of wins in and out of awards season. Uncut Gems and The Farewell still returned plenty of cash on initial budgets and films that weren’t awards contenders like Midsommar ($42.3 million) helped its bottom line. Ramy and Euphoria were big TV successes for the company and a lucrative deal with Apple will keep the lights on many times over.

All of this doesn’t change the fact that A24 and other indie distributors play an outsized role in Hollywood, and the failure of the Academy to acknowledge its films while doling out nominations to inferior work feels like a slap in the face. No matter how you look at it, a lack of nominations cost A24 tens of millions of dollars and deprived it of increased name recognition outside of the arthouse cinemas of Silverlake and Brooklyn.

Hollywood not only needs A24, but the film industry could use a couple of other companies like it as behemoths like Disney and Netflix continue to grow. Neon (Parasite is the one feel-good indie story of this year’s Oscars) was clearly inspired by A24 in its inception and distribution strategy.

If A24, Neon, and Annapurna had comprised over half of the best picture nods with, say, Parasite, Portrait of A Lady On FireHustlersUncut Gems, and The Farewell in contention, that might have been enough to sway more resources and energy toward creating these types of films.

A24 is the most important company in America when it comes to quality cinema. An Oscars without A24 films isn’t just disappointing, it is a miserable failure. You can’t celebrate the best films if you don’t nominate the best films, and this is how we lose.

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Brenden Gallagher

Brenden Gallagher

Brenden Gallagher is a politics reporter and cultural commentator. His work has been published by Motherboard, Complex, and VH1. He’s the co-founder of Beer Money Films, an indie production company. Based in Los Angeles, he works in television drama as a writers assistant.