It's raining men all over the Academy Awards, again.
Female directors, conspicuously "Little Women's" Greta Gerwig and Lulu Wang of "The Farewell," got the cold shoulder Monday morning, as the white male directors of dominant best picture nominees "Joker" (11 nominations) and, tying with 10 apiece, "The Irishman," "1917" and "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" sucked most of the air out of the room where it happens.
Most, but not all. The South Korean sensation "Parasite," a critical and popular success, scored six nominations. If director and co-writer Bong Joon Ho's wily parable about the capitalistic divide wins the top Oscar Feb. 9, it'll make history as the first foreign-language best picture winner in 92 years.
Whether that will be enough to make up for "Green Book" winning over "Roma" last year is another, purely subjective matter.
Nineteen of the 20 nominated actresses and actors were white, the exception being Cynthia Erivo in the leading actress category, for the Harriet Tubman biopic "Harriet." Leading contenders in the best actress category include Renee Zellweger's turn as Judy Garland in "Judy" and Scarlett Johansson in "Marriage Story." Johansson was also nominated in the featured actress category for the Nazi Germany WWII satire "Jojo Rabbit."
The triumph of "Joker," director and co-writer Todd Phillips' morose smash hit, has now secured itself a spot on several movie trivia lists. It's the second-ever movie derived from comic books (and the first R-rated one) to be nominated in the top category; "Black Panther," a Marvel property vs. "Joker's" DC Comics origins, was the first. If Joaquin Phoenix wins for best actor in a leading role, he'll be the second-ever win in a comic book adaptation. Heath Ledger won a posthumous supporting actor Oscar for his Joker in "The Dark Knight" (2008).
And if "Joker" ekes out a best picture win, what will that prove? It'll prove that with the right brand name and a built-in, devoted fan base, you can make a harsh, unrelenting movie that earns a billion dollars worldwide. And a billion dollars does not hurt in relation to the Academy Awards.
I suspect another popular fantasy, Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood," has a better shot at the top Oscar, for its own set of reasons. Hollywood tends to reward movies about the movies. Hollywood likes movie stars, especially now, since they're legitimately scarcer. And surely, the surest sure thing Feb. 9 will be the moment the name "Brad Pitt" is announced as winner in the supporting actor category for Tarantino's film.
In recent weeks, though, director and co-writer Sam Mendes' WWI drama "1917" has established itself as the spoiler in this Oscar race. It's a marriage story, though not one-tenth as good a film as "Marriage Story." It marries a flashy visual strategy -- its action is staged, digitally stitched and edited to unfold as a single, continuous two-hour blur of life-and-death peril -- with the simplest possible scenario, minimizing its human component in favor a first-person gamer's approach to horrific real-life trauma. "1917" is wartime trauma without the trauma, which is partly why audiences are going for it. It's a movie you play, rather than watch.
The surprises this year include "Ford v. Ferrari" sneaking in with a best picture nomination. The old-school presence of Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins in the leading and supporting actor categories for "The Two Popes" reminds us that sometimes the most acting is the acting that matters most around Oscar time. More happily, Florence Pugh is richly deserving of her featured actress nod for "Little Women," a best picture nominee that handed director Greta Gerwig an equally deserving adapted-screenplay nomination, though not one for direction.