Oscar snubs 2019

And the nominees aren’t: films that the Academy rejected this year

Oscar snubs 2019

From festival season all the way to the end of the year, 2018 was a great year for movies. Critics and viewers alike celebrated films from a wide range of genres, including horror and animation, with films like Hereditary and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Unfortunately, this success was not reflected by the 2019 Oscar nominations.

Though the nominees for the 91st annual Academy Awards, to be held on February 24, had plenty of surprises — The Favourite, one of the best movies of the year, to name one — the Oscars ultimately fail to give recognition to movies that truly tear apart and redefine elements of cinema.

So here is a list of some snubs that, despite their lack of Academy love, deserve your time.

Blindspotting — directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada

By far my favorite movie of the year, Blindspotting is an inventive and ingenious study on gentrification, following Collin (Daveed Diggs) as he attempts to finish his final three days of probation without getting into any trouble.

From green juice to vegan burgers to Uber, Blindspotting’s stances on the social and economic landscape of America are incredibly insightful and refreshing. Blindspotting does not beat around the bush: racial profiling, police brutality, and the nuanced use of African-American vernacular are all key themes of the movies — brought together by Collin and Miles (Rafael Casal) who, sooner rather than later, will be cemented in the pantheon of loveable on-screen duos.

Hereditary — directed by Ari Aster

Toni Collette makes Hereditary. It’s as simple as that.

Collette’s character, Annie Graham, is the centre of the film, which is as terrifying and shocking as it is mind-numbingly tragic.

Hereditary is hard to put into words: it seamlessly dismantles so many tired tropes and clichés in the horror genre, effectively paving a way for a new era where monsters and boogeymen are replaced by strained familial dynamics and an absence of serotonin. Hereditary doesn’t blur lines in its approach to mental health: seek help, take care of yourself, don’t ignore your symptoms, or literal horror will ensue.

You know a horror movie is effective when the terrifying demeanor of demons and cults is second only to the fraying family dynamic helmed by the matriarch Collette depicts on screen.

First Reformed — directed by Paul Schrader

First Reformed does actually have an Oscar nomination: Paul Schrader is nominated for best original screenplay. But Ethan Hawke gave such a startling performance in this film that this list would be remiss without mention of him.

First Reformed attempts to cut the cord between religion and environmentalism, to separate interests of faith from interests of the planet. Hawke’s Reverend Ernst Toller grapples with reconciling what he knows, what he believes, what politicians say, and what science proves. Hawke delivers a performance that is frenzied, frustrated, but, most importantly, urgent. To divulge anything else would be a disservice to you.

You Were Never Really Here — directed by Lynne Ramsay

Lynne Ramsay is one of the most exciting directors working today. We Need to Talk About Kevin, her previous film, garnered critical and international acclaim. However, last year’s You Were Never Really Here has unfortunately fallen under the radar.

The film follows Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, who tracks down missing girls for a living. Ramsay is sharp and cold in her directing. Her handling of brutal violence is effortless, allowing the movie to progress in a sequence of events that alarmingly raises the stakes the further it runs. You Were Never Really Here is very challenging but extremely rewarding ­— Ramsay deserves all the praise.

Shirkers — directed by Sandi Tan

In 1992 Singapore, a teenage Sandi Tan directed and filmed an indie movie, assisted by her film-loving group of friends and her American mentor Georges Cardona. Once the movie was done, however, Cardona vanished with all of the footage.

The film is recovered 20 years later, and thus begins Shirkers, a documentation of Tan’s personal odyssey of coming to terms with her younger self’s vision, excitement, and ultimate betrayal. Shirkers stitches together snippets of Tan’s original movie — also called Shirkers — and her present-day journey, making for a memorable tale about ambition, one that both celebrates and cautions against the youthful naïveté all of us are familiar with and, at times, still susceptible to.

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Why Are The #OscarsSoWhite?

A member of the Academy weighs in on the controversy surrounding the 88th awards

Why Are The #OscarsSoWhite?

“The Academy has not been deaf to the controversy this year,” a seasoned member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who asked to remain anonymous, tells me over email. A relief to hear considering the backlash surrounding the noticeable lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominees, summated by the #OscarsSoWhite campaign.

Upon releasing their nominations for the 88th Academy Awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has become the subject of criticism after its list of nominees contained only white actors for the second year in a row. Last year, a meaty catalogue of films — such as Creed, Straight Outta Compton, and The Force Awakens — featured black actors in prominent roles, yet, none of them received nominations. Now, movielovers within and without the industry are questioning whether quality of performance is in fact the only thing the Academy is evaluating.

“All of a sudden, you feel like we’re moving in the wrong direction,” actor George Clooney recently told Variety. President Barack Obama asked, “are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?”

The Oscars assume the unique role of praising a group of films that supposedly reflect or embody the zeitgeist of our time. Surely one would expect a wider diversity of talent, stories, and performances to be awarded by a ceremony meant to represent a world as diverse as ours. 

The Varsity recently spoke a veteran of the industry with a career spanning three decades. They spoke on topics such as the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, how the Academy will be reshaping moving forward, and how the film industry has changed in the last 30 years.

The Varsity (TV): What would you say of 2016’s film lineup? In your opinion, are the right pictures being recognized?

Academy Member (AM): The ‘right’ pictures? [It’s] hard to qualify that, really. Every year there are fantastic films that never have a prayer of making it into the sights of the Academy members, simply because their advertising and promo campaigns aren’t as visible. That does not mean that the films nominated don’t deserve to be there; they do. These films are top quality on all levels. It is also important to know that all members from all branches nominate for Best Picture, and then each branch nominates in their area: Actors nominate actors, directors nominate directors, make-up artists nominate make-up artists, etc.

TV: What do you make of the controversy surrounding the lack of diversity at this year’s Academy Awards?

AM: Diversity is an issue. It starts with what gets written – and more importantly, what gets greenlit – and ends often with very ‘white’ nominations, in part due to the lack of diversity in what films get made. That said, the Academy has not been deaf to the controversy this year. The president of the Academy (an African-American woman) has made some changes to the membership moving forwards. Active voting eligibility for each member will be reassessed every 10 years instead of the lifetime privilege it has been given up until this year.

TV: If you consider the controversy to be a problem, is this a problem within the Academy, or do you think this controversy is relates to a bigger diversity issue within the whole industry?

AM: I think diversity is a problem in the world, not just in the film industry. The film industry is in the unique position of being able to bring the issue to a higher level of visibility, and is able to keep the conversations going.

TV: In what way(s) have you seen the film industry shift from an insider’s perspective since your time in it?

AM: Television and online media are now as valid a creative medium as film is. Film used to be the only star. No longer. The quality and caliber of the content streaming to a laptop or tablet near you is often on par with the best films released today. Theatrical film producers take fewer risks (and there’s a lack of diversity as a result) because of the difficulty in getting people into theaters. Sequels reign supreme because they are pretty safe bets. Most of the interesting, daring, risky projects are happening on the smaller screens. And yet, I still believe in the magic of sharing a great movie experience with an audience in a theater: images thrown onto a gigantic screen, a killer immersive sound system, and of course, all cell phones off.

TV: In your opinion, is the Academy’s response to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy enough? How helpful do you think this will be for diversity in the film industry?

AM: I think it is absolutely a step in the right direction. Is it enough? Probably not. However, the issue is deeper than ‘Oscars So White.’ What is needed just as much as a more diverse Academy membership is more diverse, theatrical content, and opportunities for talented people of all descriptions.

TV: Why are academy members’ voting eligibility now being reassessed every 10 years? Do you think this policy will be beneficial?

AM: I don’t think it will hurt. If the active voting members can accurately represent the array of talent that is currently working [in the film industry], I can’t see how that would hurt. Hollywood is very good at spreading different points of view, and waking people up to these issues. It is high time for diversity in its own ranks to be scrutinized. That said, when being judged, or comparing creative talent, I only want to be nominated based on my talent. I do not want to be nominated because I am a person of color, a woman, plus-sized, gay, or any other minority.

TV: Do you think there’s more that the Academy should be doing to increase diversity in Hollywood?

AM: The Academy honors theatrically released films. Its members can do more by hiring people in all cinematic art forms that do not look like they do. They can green-light stories with roles written for people that are of all sizes, genders, and colors. And the movie going public can support all these efforts by going to see the films embrace these people.

Science in brief

A round-up of the top science stories from around the university

Science in brief

Are smart people less racist?

This year’s lily-white Oscar nominations list has once again sparked a new debate on racism in Hollywood. A new study from the University of Toronto is adding to this already searing-hot debate by indicating that, while the smarter population of white people are less likely to be prejudiced against black people, they are no more likely to support policies that remediate racial inequality.

Researcher Geoffrey Wodtke analyzed the data from a survey of over 44,000 white respondents, conducted over the period between 1972 and 2010. The survey showed that white people with higher verbal ability are less likely to hold anti-black prejudice and more likely to support racial integration in principle. For example, 46 per cent of respondents who scored the lowest on the verbal ability test think that “blacks are lazy”, while only 29 per cent of those who scored the highest agreed with that. 

There is, a catch however; the same white people who had been deemed smarter were found to be no more likely to support remedial policies, such as government aid for black people, tax incentives for businesses to move to largely black areas, and increased funding for predominantly black schools. They are even less likely to support preferential hiring policies.

So, are the smart ladies and gentlemen who voted in the white-only Oscar nominees racist? This study suggests that there is no simple answer to this question.

— Hariyanto Darmawan


For seniors, poor sleep may increase stroke risk, study says

If you are not yet convinced that lack of sleep and physical health are intimately intertwined, yet another study has come forward, this time showing a new link between stroke risk and a poor night of rest.

The study, which has contributions from the University of Toronto, showed how sleep fragmentation — waking repeatedly during sleep — is associated with brain blood vessel damage and increased stroke risk.

The study assessed sleep fragmentation and brain blood vessel damage in 315 autopsied individuals. On average, participants experienced seven disruptions per hour of sleep.

The team, which was led by Dr. Andrew Lim, an assistant professor of neurology at U of T, found that sleep fragmentation was associated with arteriole (small arterial blood vessels) wall thickening and tissue death. This effect was due to inadequate blood flow in an area of the brain called the subcortex.

Lim and his fellow researchers noted that such associations remained statistically significant even after controlling for factors such as total daily rest and activity, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, pain and depression.

Lim explained in a press release that the types of damage observed can result in chronic progressive cognitive and motor deterioration in addition to increased stroke risk.

Lim however cautioned against inferring a causal relationship between sleep fragmentation and blood vessel damage. According to Lim, it is possible that the blood vessel damage caused the sleep disruptions, or that there was an underlying mechanism that was the cause of both issues.

— Hannah Fung


Did Your Child Learn to Lie Early? This May be Why

In our society, the ability to lie can be harmless and sometimes – as in the case of white lies – necessary for social interactions in adulthood. Typically, lying emerges in children aged two-to-three years old, and develops rapidly from the third to the seventh year. But how is it that lies come about, and why are some children more likely to verbally deceive than others?

A team of researchers, including Xiao Pan Ding and Dr. Kang Lee from U of T’s Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study, are among the first to link lying in children to their understanding of individual mental states. 

According to their recently published study, the more a child grasps that their own beliefs, desires, intents and perspectives differ from others, the more they will lie.

In the study, three-year-old children who were initially incapable of lying were split into two groups, where half had mental state training in the form of story-telling, verbal exercises, games and executive-functioning tasks, and half had non-mental state training involving more quantitative tasks. After twelve days of training, follow-up tests determined that the mental-state training group had a significantly higher likelihood of lying than the control group. The effects of lying persisted for a month after the practise.

  Laura Nguyen


Cheap jewelry; high cost

While you think you’re paying a low price for the latest trendy jewelry at Aldo and Ardene, you may actually be gambling with your health.

In a recent investigation by CBC Marketplace involving researchers from the University of Toronto and École Polytechnique de Montréal, 50 pieces of costume jewelry from different stores were tested for cadmium, a carcinogenic heavy metal. Seven pieces from Aldo and Ardene were found to contain between 15 and 7000 times more cadmium than deemed child-safe by Health Canada. A pendant hanging from one Ardene necklace was comprised of almost pure cadmium — the highest quantity Canada has documented for an object like this.

The risk does not lie in wearing the jewelry, but in chewing or ingesting it. If chronically exposed to this toxic metal over a period of time, issues such as kidney failure and bone loss could arise. Cadmium can also damage the central nervous system, affect blood pressure, and cause other complications. Cadmium exposure is particularly dangerous for children, as their bodies absorb cadmium more easily. An Aldo bracelet charm, which contained 79 per cent cadmium, would be enough to release dangerous amounts of it into the body of a small child if consumed. According to Health Canada, there have so far not been any reported cases of sickness from ingesting cadmium jewelry.

Regardless, Aldo has still stated that it would remove the toxic jewelry from stores, while Ardene said it would look further into the matter.

— Sophia Savva