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As Oscar rituals become ever more calcified, the biggest news when the annual nominations are announced is not necessarily who’s made the cut but rather who’s been snubbed. While a nom is worth a momentary celebration, a snub can turn into weeks, if not years, of outraged commentary. Nominations, and even wins, are often soon forgotten. But a snub can be eternal. For example, die-hard Barbra Streisand fans haven’t forgiven the Academy for denying her directing noms for either 1983’s Yentl (for which she won a Golden Globe) or 1991’s The Prince of Tides (a best picture nominee) even as it showered gold on male stars like Robert Redford (Ordinary People) and Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves) for their directorial debuts.
But not all so-called “snubs” are so obvious. In fact, the very word now suffers from overuse since it implies Academy members somehow get together and secretly decide to vote a collective thumbs-down on individual achievements. Sometimes a failure to score a nomination simply means someone didn’t attract enough votes.
But since we’re stuck with the concept of The Snub as part of the awards season lexicon, consider another possibility. Occasionally, a snub can become a real asset; by attracting so much attention, it can actually boost the chances of a nominee denied a slot in one category grabbing a foothold in another category.
This year, for instance, a prominent snub in the directing category could assist the cause of Women Talking writer-director Sarah Polley in the best adapted screenplay contest. When, despite collecting a best picture nom, Polley was shut out of the all-male directors club, the advocacy organization Women in Film issued a statement: “Once again, Academy voters have shown that they don’t value women’s voices, shutting us out of the best director nominations. An Academy Award is more than a gold statue, it’s a career accelerator that can lead to continued work and increased compensation. That’s why WIF will continue to advocate for the work of talented women directors like Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King, Maria Schrader’s She Said, Chinonye Chukwu’s Till and Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun, to be included.”
That added focus on Polley as a distaff standard-bearer could lead more Academy members to consider her work as a screenwriter, making her a favorite in the adapted screenplay race. In effect, she could benefit for what could be called a Whac-A-Mole Snub, where a snubee, dissed in one category, pops up elsewhere. That phenomenon seemingly helped boost Argo to a best picture Oscar victory in 2013; director Ben Affleck collected a DGA nom and win but was denied a directing nom by the Academy — turning his case into something of a cause célèbre.
And then there’s the case of what amounts to a Bank Shot Snub. That happens when a performance is so conspicuously overlooked by one of the precursor awards, it contributes to a rebound at the Oscars. The most famous example is that of Marcia Gay Harden, who was snubbed by both the Golden Globes and SAG Awards for playing artist Lee Krasner in 2000’s Pollock but then rallied with a supporting actress Oscar nom and win. This year, that trajectory could play out for The Fabelmans‘ matriarch Michelle Williams, Oscar-nominated for best actress. When this season’s SAG Award nominations were announced, the film’s cast was deemed worthy of a collective nomination and Paul Dano got a supporting actor nom, but Williams was left off the outstanding actress list. That omission got as much ink as any of the names of the actual nominees. And so, though Tár‘s Cate Blanchett and Everything Everywhere All at Once‘s Michelle Yeoh are still considered prohibitive favorites, Williams, with four previous Oscar noms in the acting categories to her credit, can’t be counted out.
Finally, there’s the Long Distance Snub. This one can’t be blamed on the Academy. It happens when a country fails to choose a movie as its submission for international feature honors, but the Academy then remedies the oversight with recognition in another category. In 2003, Pedro Almodóvar won the original screenplay award for Talk to Her even though Spain didn’t submit the film; similarly, in 2008, Marion Cotillard won best actress for La Vie en Rose though France hadn’t deigned the film as its official submission. This year, the beneficiary of the Long Distance Snub could well be the rousing action movie RRR; the Film Federation of India chose instead to submit the lower-profile Last Film Show, which ultimately failed to score a nomination. But RRR, which has steadily been attracting fans in Hollywood, reasserted itself with a nomination for best song, the energetic dance number “Naatu Naatu” by M.M. Keeravaani and Chandrabose. And in turn, those composers are now in a position to triumph over more famous nominees like Rihanna and Lady Gaga — they already beat them and Taylor Swift at the Globes. And if that happens, it will prove that sometimes an attention-grabbing snub is actually a blessing in disguise.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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