While the Oscar 2020 nominations are a sight edgier than the Bafta shortlist, with nods to a range of brilliant women and indie gem Parasite, Robbie Collin remains relatively uninspired.
A British actress being nominated for an Academy Award should be a source of national pride, but in the case of Cynthia Erivo, I just found myself cringing. Not at Erivo herself, you understand. The 33-year-old, RADA-trained Londoner, who was nominated for her performance as the abolitionist Harriet Tubman in Kasi Lemmons' Harriet, deserves to be in contention every bit as much as Scarlett Johansson, Renee Zellweger, and her other fellow nominees.
The cringe stems from this. If Erivo's so good – and she really is – why on earth didn't the British Academy notice her? It takes some doing to be shown up by the Oscars as narrow-minded, but somehow this year Bafta has managed it. The American awards body also managed to nominate Little Women and Marriage Story for Best Picture – what a tonic either of those would have been in Bafta's absurdly macho Best Film category – and found space in its Best Actor line-up for Antonio Banderas, who gives the performance of his career in Pedro Almodóvar's Pain and Glory – a film which, horror of horrors, happens to be in Spanish.
The Academy's new willingness to cast its net a little wider than the Hollywood frog pond could also be seen in its fondness for the South Korean satirical thriller Parasite – whose six nominations, compared to four at the Baftas, may just have made it this year's Best Picture frontrunner by stealth. If it does go on to become the first foreign-language Best Picture winner in the Oscars' 92-year history, that will be the best sign since Moonlight's surprise victory three years ago that one of Hollywood's most venerable institutions has recovered the spring in its step.
Still, for those of us getting increasingly desperate for awards season to shake itself out of a rut so narrow you now have to inch down it sideways, today's nominations are not, on the whole, an inspiring crop. The Academy of 2020 is as monolithically obsessed as Bafta with the same quartet of titles: Joker, 1917, The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which between them soaked up 41 of the 89 nominations across the mainline categories.
Whatever the films' respective merits – and I personally think the latter two are terrific – the mad fixation on squeezing them in wherever they'll fit only gives the impression that voters didn't see that many films in the first place.
Fine alternatives were right there for the plucking: not least Jennifer Lopez for her blazingly charismatic supporting turn in Hustlers, Lupita Nyong'o's mesmerising dual role in Us, or Adam Sandler's career-best work in Uncut Gems, all ignored by Bafta and also here. Then there was Greta Gerwig's direction of Little Women: an ingenious, dazzling yet controlled take on a classic novel that at once felt utterly faithful and of-the-moment.
Thanks but no thanks, said the Academy. We'd rather just chew on the big four yet again, plus Parasite. At a time when cinema is more multifaceted than ever before, it must take real effort to be this unimaginative.