How Rotten Tomatoes may have radically skewed the Oscars’ Best Picture race

For a certain class of Oscar viewers, the Best Original Screenplay category has always been the one to watch. That’s where the best films end up — the movies too smart or creative to be fully appreciated by the broader Academy, and certainly not widely accepted enough to get into the Best Picture race. It’s the category for movies that challenge traditional notions of filmmaking. In the 1950s, it was where arthouse icons like Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, and François Truffaut received their first nominations. In 1989, it was the category that recognized two huge game-changers of American cinema, Do the Right Thing and Sex, Lies, and Videotape. And in the 2000s, it became the refuge for the favorite films of a new generation of cinephiles — films like MementoEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Pan’s Labyrinth.

But these films are no longer getting segregated into the screenplay categories. Now, they’re Best Picture nominees, and even serious contenders for the award. Spike Jonze’s 1999 movie Being John Malkovich didn’t receive a Best Picture nomination, but his 2013 movie Her did. Wes Anderson didn’t get a Best Picture nomination for 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums, but he did for 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. And Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 hit Boogie Nights wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, but his Phantom Thread is a nominee this year. These are all cases where young, disruptive directors have gradually become more accepted and familiar to the Academy over time. But their nominated films are just as wonderfully weird, uncompromisingly specific, and personal as the films that missed out a decade or more earlier. And their modern equivalents, first-time solo directors Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele, are starting their directorial careers with Best Picture nominations for their own idiosyncratic personal visions.