TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 2021
Portrait of an age: We're still happy for Pretty Young Woman, Emerald Fennell's first film.
Yesterday morning, it was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Fennell herself was nominated for Best Director and for Best Original Screenplay.
Seven other films were nominated for Best Picture. According to the New York Times, here's the complete total list:
Best Picture nominees:
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Those are the eight nominees for Best Picture. It's a widely varied list. We'll offer two statistical tales:
First, as soon as Oscars nominations are announced, the pundit corps starts telling us which actors, director and films have been "snubbed." They do it every year!
Our pundit corps seems unable to grasp an elementary point—everyone can't get nominated! Did Person A or Film X fail to get a nomination? That doesn't automatically mean that the person or film got "snubbed."
That said, victimization is everything now, and so is the concept of snubs. The mathematical problematics are especially pronounced in the Best Director category, a category in which only five nominations are allowed.
Mathematically, if eight films get nominated for Best Picture, and there are only five Best Director noms, at least three directors of nominated films will have to be left out.
That is simple arithmetic! It will be years before our overwrought pundits are able to figure this out.
Our second tale goes like this:
Of the eight Best Picture nominees, only two failed to be listed as a "Critic's Pick" when reviewed by the New York Times.
One was The Trial of the Chicago 7. In a long, even-handed review, A. O. Scott said, perhaps correctly, that the film "is a mixed bag...I don’t think, on balance, that this is a very good movie."
The other NYT snub went to Promising Young Woman. It wasn't reviewed by either of the Times' two front-line critics. In a relatively short review, Jeannette Catsoulis trashed it harshly from her first sentence on.
("A hard candy with a sour center, 'Promising Young Woman' turns sociopathy into a style and trauma into a joke." Later: "Buried beneath blonde curls and sheepdog bangs, Mulligan lends depth and sensitivity to a character that’s little more than a vengeful doll.")
There's no "correct" review of this movie, or of any other film. That said, Promising Young Woman has met with a great deal of resistance from major critics. Hopefully for the last time, we're going to tell you why:
The film's protagonist is reacting with horror to a terrible moral outrage. Perhaps more importantly, she's also able to see a key point:
Nobody else even cares.
Reviewers have often failed to see, or to sympathize with, the second part of that equation. They're uncomfortable with the protagonist's moral outrage. They seem to be much more comfortable with the characters who don't care, with the fact that nobody does.
This can be seen as a portrait of the values of our modern, upper-end career journalism. It might be seen as a brilliant capture of a largely uncaring, highly performative age.
Have you ever noticed that nobody cares? We'll guess that Fennell has.
The film's protagonist is doubly outraged. Some film critics are not.