The Academy may see fit to pay tribute to No Way Home for that reason alone, plus the fact that nominations for the biggest movie of the year and the only theatrical release that became a genuine cultural event during the pandemic would potentially do a lot to boost the hideously sinking ratings of the Oscar ceremony itself. News has also come to light that the Academy has even explored having Tom Holland host the event, further strengthening Spidey’s presence.
But aside from the circumstances surrounding its release and its undeniable impact on a pandemic-torn marketplace, does No Way Home deserve to be nominated or even win for any of the headlining awards based solely on the merits? That’s subjective, of course, but this writer would argue that there’s a very good case to make for Holland to get a Best Actor nod, and either Molina or Andrew Garfield to make the list for Best Supporting Actor.
A Best Adapted Screenplay nomination isn’t out of the question either: the work by credited writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers–balancing three Spider-Men and five villains, along with supporting personnel May, MJ, Strange and Ned, giving everyone something to do and a character arc while also incorporating concepts like the multiverse plus powerful emotional and thematic beats–is as good as, if not better than, the writing for any number of “prestige” films that don’t feature grown men swinging on webs or brandishing mechanical tentacles.
Best Picture or Best Director? As capable as Jon Watts is, there’s nothing truly exceptional either visually or esthetically about No Way Home to warrant a special nod for him. As for Best Picture, the last time the third movie in a series was nominated–The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2004–it won not just Best Picture, but everything else it was up for. Again, however, there was a sense that the Academy wanted to honor Peter Jackson and company for the sheer achievement of getting the Tolkien classic onto the screen as a whole, across three films shot back-to-back, and not for the individual merits of the final chapter.
No Way Home did not get recognition for its ensemble cast in the just-announced Screen Actors Guild award nominations–usually a strong bellwether of the Oscars, as it’s often indicative of what the overlapping actors wing of the Academy is thinking. But our intuition tells us something similar to the LOTR situation is afoot: even if No Way Home makes it to one or more of the major categories, that will be more about the Academy acknowledging its enormous popular appeal and less about the quality of the work itself.
In this case, the work arguably does deserve such consideration. That’s the next line for the Oscars–and still quite a few film observers and critics–to cross: an acceptance that superhero movies, just like horror or sci-fi films, can be superb filmmaking and storytelling on their own terms, as well as box office saviors and populist crowdpleasers.