After months of prognostication and guesswork, the 2023 Academy Award nominations are out in the world. As is the case every year, those nominations bring with them a slew of excitements and frustrations. Stephanie Hsu making into Best Supporting Actress after many voting bodies unfairly ignored her is a delight. Dolly De Leon losing out on a slot in the same category is a development in the opposite emotional direction. Not to mention that in a year of remarkable films directed by women, not a single one scored a Best Director nod. The Academy’s proclivity for narrow-casting cinema undercuts the joy of seeing an achievement like TÁR welcomed with open arms. An especially galling angle on that narrow-casting is the continuation of the Academy’s wide-ranging dismissal of horror.
Stepping back to look at the totality of 2022 in film, it is impossible to deny horror’s starring role. Small-scale and inventive original stories such as Smile and Barbarian were critically-acclaimed surprise hits. Ti West and Mia Goth jointly blew the roof off the year with the one-two of X and Pearl. Bones and All was a minor sensation, anointing Taylor Russell to a new level of stardom while securing Timothée Chalamet’s place as a versatile movie star. Nope was a properly innovative blockbuster from one of the most inventive directorial minds working today and the Academy deigned to bestow it a grand total of zero nominations. Horror is a multi-faceted and wide-ranging genre, one that requires immense amounts of cinematic renovation to pull off. These movies radiate craft worthy of recognition.
Of course, this is nothing new for the Academy. The last, and arguably only, time the voting body embraced horror beyond the occasional nomination or win was the shocking “big five” sweep pulled by The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Yes, that film is a staggering achievement. No, it is not the only horror film released during the Academy’s tenure that fits the definition. It’s not even as though one can make the argument that the Academy is too squeamish. This is an organization that just nominated the brutal All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) for nine awards, a move that falls in line with their long-standing love affair with war films (unless of course those films center Black stories). The only reasonable deduction is that the Academy clinging to threadbare concepts of high and low culture for justifying exclusions.
Horror is not the only genre labeled as low culture suffering from this injunction. Comedy and science fiction are bedfellows in the realm of the Academy’s self-righteous dismissal. Playing out the horror issue though, the absurdity of it all bubbles up all the clearer. Considering just the 2022 nominees, there are easy parallels between unrecognized horror films and their nominated counterparts. Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water are adrenaline and effects-driven blockbusters just like Nope. Ana de Armas’s work in Blonde is of the same tortured flavor as Mia Goth’s in Pearl, except that Goth operates on a level far beyond anything de Armas achieves. Zach Cregger’s Barbarian script is a leaner and funnier attack on the themes at Ruben Östlund skewers in Triangle of Sadness. On and on, horror films from 2022 match or exceed nominees.
The idea here is not that the Academy should suddenly devote categories to recognizing horror to mend the inequity. What this year’s nominees assert, especially when taken in conjunction with the previous 94 sets, is that Academy members either don’t watch horror, or they are watch it and dismiss it. That is an infuriating reality either way it breaks. An organization devoted to celebrating and preserving cinema should be ashamed of continuously writing off a genre integral to the art form’s development and success. Add to that the fact that horror is the rare beast that continues to be successful and draw audiences all year long (see: M3GAN), and the Academy’s rejection of the genre amplifies the elsewhere clear reality that they are ignoring creativity simply to hold onto a dusty idea of what acceptable cinema should be.
So, please, for the love of cinema and all that is holy (or unholy), members of the Academy; spend some of your time and energy in 2023 reflecting on your collectively turned-up noses. The rest of us can only sit here and hope that good sense makes it through one of these years.
Devin McGrath-Conwell holds a B.A. in Film / English from Middlebury College and is currently pursuing an MFA in Screenwriting from Emerson College. His obsessions include all things horror, David Lynch, the darkest of satires, and Billy Joel. Devin’s writing has also appeared in publications such as Filmhounds Magazine, Film Cred, Horror Homeroom, and Cinema Scholars.