With Tenet being the most expensive film of 2020, it came as a shock to many to see the infinity-loop thriller score only 2 Oscar nominations this year. Instead, the black-and-white drama Mank, about the Golden-Age of Hollywood, received 10 nods and Paul Greengrass’ epic western, “News of the World,” earned four.
Despite being known for his Oscar snubs in the past, (particularly with The Dark Knight), Christopher Nolan has received 5 nominations – most recent nods being for Best Picture and Best Director for Dunkirk. He also scooped Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay nominations for Inception, a rare sci-fi/genre title to gain traction at the award shows. Nolan has yet to win an Academy Award. This year, in fact, the Tenet received only craft nominations – Best Visual Effects and Best Production Design. How did this happen?
As reported by IndieWire, Nolan had pushed the Warner Bros. studios to invest more capital in extending Tenet’s stay in the cinemas, instead of funding its Oscar campaign. As a result the Warners bypassed all traditional methods such as For Your Consideration ads and screeners. After Tenet received its two nominations March 15, Academy voters who clicked on the screening portal for links to the film saw that Tenet was “unavailable.” That meant the voter would have to find a DVD or a theater playing the film, which reaches HBO Max May 1 — six days after the Oscars ceremony April 25.
Nolan finally relented; Tenet will be uploaded to the Academy portal March 29. “While we actively chose not to campaign the film,” said one Warners source, “at the filmmaker’s request, we will be supporting the nominations by putting the film on the AMPAS platform and passing members through the theaters.”
The Warners decided to give Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah a push for the Academy campaign instead. Judas premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews; two weeks later, it debuted on HBO Max and in 1,888 U.S. theatres. Star Daniel Kaluuya won the Supporting Actor Golden Globe, and then won again at the Critics Choice Awards. The movie landed WGA and PGA nominations, and now is up for SAG and BAFTA awards as well as six Oscars, including Picture, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Song, and both of its leads in the Supporting Actor race.
Nolan’s disregard for the Oscar campaign also made sense. For starters, Tenet is a spectacle-driven, mind-bending thriller that is meant to be viewed on the biggest screens for the best cinematic experience. Watching the film on your laptop or smart TV screens would be an insult to the insane efforts put towards the visual effects. Moreover, Nolan has been excessively vocal about the importance of movie theatres in America’s social life. He has also largely supported multiplexes during the pandemic. His reservation of Tenet for a longer theatrical release (Tenet is now playing in newly reopened New York and Los Angeles theatres), allowed for the sustenance of struggling theatres, revealing this to be a far better investment than the Oscar campaign.