“Titane,” writer-director Julia Ducournau’s body-horror film, didn’t get Oscar nominations Tuesday.
That’s a mistake because it was the most inventive and memorable movie of 2021.
It also highlights the Academy’s tendency to make safe, boring choices.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominations for the 94th Oscars on Tuesday — and they were predictably boring.
It’s not to say that the nominated films aren’t excellent and award-worthy. They are. “The Power of the Dog,” “Belfast,” and “Dune” are incredible cinematic achievements and should be regarded as such.
They’re also extremely obvious choices. A psychological-thriller Western, a coming-of-age dramedy, and a sci-fi epic are not anything we haven’t seen before.
In contrast, writer-director Julia Ducournau’s “Titane,” a shocking, perfectly crafted body-horror film, was completely shut out in all categories. And that’s a shame.
Yes, ‘Titane’ is that movie about a woman who has sex with a car
“Titane” follows a woman, Alexia, who has a titanium plate fitted into her head after a childhood car accident, becomes a serial killer as an adult, and yes, has sex with a car, all before posing as a fire captain’s long-missing son.
It was extremely divisive when it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in July 2021. An Insider reporter, who attended Cannes last year, wrote that he’d overheard one audience member remarking about how great it was, while another called it the “worst film” they’d ever seen.
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It wasn’t just divisive among its audience. Critics also couldn’t agree whether the film was genius or a mess.
The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw called the movie “labored and crudely directed” with a “feeble” final scene in his two-star review, while David Ehrlich of Indiewire praised Ducournau’s disturbing tale and said “Titane” is “the work of a demented visionary in full command of her wild mind,” giving it an A- review.
In the end, “Titane” went on to win the Palme d’Or, the film festival’s highest prize, in 2021. Later, it would go on to win the Toronto International Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award in the Midnight Madness category and be named one of the top five foreign-language films of the year by the National Board of Review, among other awards.
Currently, it’s nominated in four categories, including best director for Ducournau, at the César Awards, France’s version of the Oscars, and for best director at the BAFTAs, the British equivalent.
Yet somehow, “Titane” didn’t even make the shortlist for best international feature film at the 94th Academy Awards.
‘Titane’ is a triumph from one of the most daring filmmakers working today
Ducournau, who’s only 38, is on track to become a legend in a very specific niche: the body-horror genre.
Her first film, “Junior,” a short about a girl who sheds her skin like a snake after contracting a stomach bug, won the Petit Rail d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Her first full-length feature, the deeply unsettling and expertly crafted 2016 coming-of-age/cannibal film “Raw,” currently sits at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes with Rolling Stone’s David Fear calling it “a contender for best horror movie of the decade.”
“Titane” takes all of Ducournau’s disturbing sensibilities and ratchets them up another notch or 12. Like her earlier work, this isn’t a film that’s shocking and nauseating just for the sake of being shocking and nauseating.
It’s a provocative and often difficult to watch fable about gender, sexuality, and trauma, grounded by two stunning lead performances from newcomer Agathe Rousselle as Alexia and the iconic (and Cannes favorite) French actor Vincent Lindon as the fire captain whose son Alexia impersonates.
It’s a lot. But it’s also the film that’s stuck with me the most since I screened it over six months ago.
The Academy needs to be less afraid to go against the grain of commerciality
There’s a reason why the phrase “Oscar bait” exists.
It’s a term among film critics and moviegoers to indicate when a film appears to have been made to appeal to the very specific voting sensibility of Academy members. Often, that means it’s a biopic, a social-problem drama, a historical epic, a coming-of-age movie, or some combination of those things. It’s not usually a horror movie, or a film in a language other than English.
By that token, it’s not atypical for the film, dubbed Cannes’ best, to have little to no overlap with the Oscars. But when 2019 Palme d’Or winner “Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho’s mesmerizing Korean-language thriller, pulled off a surprise win for best picture at the 92nd Oscars, it seemed a bit like the Academy was starting to recognize that less-commercial, more thoughtful, unique films can, and should, be recognized as best in class.
Of course, “Parasite” and “Titane” have basically nothing in common, other than that they’re both deeply metaphorical, and the former is more easily digestible by far.
But as filmmakers become ever more daring, inventive, and shocking, it’s time for major awards organizations to take them more seriously.
Some of these films, and the leading actress performances in them, should be among the 2023 Oscar nominees, but I’m not holding my breath.
It seems sadly likely that the Academy will, by and large, continue to stick to its safe favorites. But luckily, it doesn’t seem like that’s slowing down the up-and-coming crop of genre filmmakers.
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