This year's Academy Award nominations include some welcome surprises. Rachel Morrison is the first woman nominated for Best Cinematography for Mudbound; Saoirse Ronan has now become the second youngest actress behind Jennifer Lawrence to receive three Oscar nods; and James Mangold's Logan is up for Best Adapted Screenplay, a breakthrough moment for comic book movies in the wider industry. Yet among these accolades, it's the recognition for Jordan Peele's Get Out that stands as the most pleasant revelation. The former Key & Peele actor's directorial debut is in the running for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Actor, a historic set of accolades that prove the Oscars aren't completely stuck in their ways.
Get Out is a film whose prominent inclusion breaks almost every established rule of “Oscar-bait” there is. It's a horror movie, for a start, a genre the Academy tends to quietly ignore, and a directorial debut from a relative outsider to the world of cinema whose general release came a full 11 months ago, right before last year's ceremony took place. Heck, unlike similarly meager-budgeted awards darlings like Lady Bird, anyone living in a major market has actually had ample chance to see Get Out (an opportunity most enjoyed, driving box office takings of $254.7 million on a $4.5 million budget). The only thing the film really has in common with some more obvious Oscar-hopeful peers is the invocation of political themes relevant to modern America, in this case deep-seeded racism within the American upper-middle-class.
Related: Get Out’s Ending Explained
What makes Jordan Peele's socially-conscious chiller getting so many nominations truly shocking is that it's the rare occurrence of consensus between the Academy and the general populace. Nominees in major categories are scarcely without critical backing, the chatter of the movie press between various festivals like Sundance and Cannes and reviews from press screenings in big cities being a driving force in carrying work to the attention of the Hollywood elite. Wider audiences, however, are often left waiting for distribution to find their area so they can verify the good buzz for themselves. By current systems, this can take months, even if something is making healthy money, sometimes frustrating people to the point they request a filmmaker leak their movie so they can see it.
And access aside, the awards-season favorites tend towards releases that don't draw much mainstream attention to begin with because of their more art-house or otherwise non-blockbuster nature. In other words, what gets nominated isn't always what most people like to watch, creating further discrepancy. One can usually chalk the contention between "critics" and "fans" up to unruly fandom disliking a difference of opinion, but the space between the two parties takes a more tangible form around awards because the movies up for the gold are regularly things not everyone's had a chance to see nor desire to. The Academy has a reputation for being a conservative-minded institution that favors blowing its own horn above all else and most years it does little to shake this perception.
Get Out bridges these gaps. There's been no shortage of critical appraisal for the film while audiences saw it and kept seeing it. Of course, the overwhelmingly positive reviews helped, but Get Out was always likely to gain attention just because of what it is. Horror draws a crowd, particularly new horror that looks weird and tackles dark subjects; if nothing else, genre fans will see it on the big screen as a novelty because so many go straight to digital or only get limited releases. And that's without going into how the space has always fostered some of the most interesting, liberating output in film full stop.
Peele's work here is almost goading awarding bodies. It's a story about race and privilege chock full of politically-charged imagery executed in a Stepford-Wives-meets-John-Carpenter style psychological thriller with some strong laughs to boot. At first glance there's more in common with Sam Raimi's Evil Dead than recent racially-themed big winners Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave or Barry Jenkins' Moonlight. But really, both schools are equally present. One can interrogate the movie as a tribute to the anarchic absurdist terror of classics such as They Live and Bad Taste and as a cutting exposé of the indignant truths about white liberalism in the modern day. One of the great qualities of the film is in how it resists giving in to one or the other, demanding that both be taken sincerely in order to appreciate the whole, standing defiantly political and defiantly horror.
To be fair, this has happened before – 1991's The Silence of the Lambs released in February of that year before winning all five of the major Oscars, Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Adapted Screenplay in '92. But consider that statistic a moment: Silence is still the only horror movie to win Best Picture and it's taken 26 years for one of the industry's most revered celebrations to recognize something of the genre so extensively. There have been flirtations here and there: Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan was up for Best Picture, Director and Actress, scoring Natalie Portman the statue for the latter in 2010, and Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water actually leads the charge on nominations this year with a whopping 13, including Director and Picture. But it's important to note these are and were seasoned creators whom the Academy had already taken a liking to. For Del Toro, it's taken a decade and now four films to graduate from Best Foreign Language in 2006 for Pan's Labyrinth to consideration for the topmost gold.
Jordan Peele is one nomination off potentially equaling a record set by The Silence Of The Lambs on his first production. He's the third person in history, behind Warren Beatty and James L. Brookes, to be considered for Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay on his debut film. For something adored by both the theater-going public and critics, whose stature followed it for almost a year, generating and maintaining its award hype rather than the other way around. The Oscars so often feel like an unscrupulous formality buoyed only by its own history. Get Out shows there's still ways to shake them up – it just helps if you're as good as Jordan Peele.