How Was The Lighthouse Not Nominated For Best Picture At The 2020 Oscars?

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse
(Image credit: A24)

Every year, without fail, there is at least one movie where I’m like, “How did that not even get nominated for Best Picture? How?” Forget movies like the Martin Scorsese classics Taxi Driver or Goodfellas, or something like Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, Pulp Fiction. With those films, you look back and wonder how they didn’t WIN Best Picture. No. I’m talking about modern classics like The Lighthouse starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe that didn’t even get NOMINATED at the Academy Awards. Like, how? Seriously? What the hell? Just how?

Now, as somebody who has watched every single movie to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards (which yes, means I’ve seen every Musical and every war movie), I can tell you that there are subjectively a lot of undeserving films that are up (and sometimes even win!) Best Picture. So, I wanted to shout out the movies that deserved the nomination, but didn’t receive it, like The Lighthouse.

Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse

(Image credit: A24)

Why The Lighthouse Should Have Been Up For Best Picture

Helmed by The Witch director, Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse defies definition. Is it an allegory for the frailness of masculinity, a story about myth? Homosexuality? Both? Neither? Or maybe all of the above. The Lighthouse is the kind of artsy swing for the fences movie that seems like it would have been a shoe in for Best Picture in the ‘90s or the early 2000s (I mean, it’s a period piece that’s even set in black and white, for crying out loud!).

Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe play two lighthouse keepers in New England who are slowly losing their sanity as they remain on an island together. But it’s the kind of film that’s up for interpretation from the very first scene where you’re constantly wondering what’s even reality (I’m still thinking about that ending, after all). 

It’s visually arresting, and borders on comedy at times, and delves into horror at others. But most importantly, it’s so different and unique that it’s the kind of film that people will be talking about for years. I mean, out of the movies that were nominated in 2020, I definitely think it deserved a spot. Speaking of which…

Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse

(Image credit: A24)

What Else Was Up For Best Picture That Year?

2020 was an interesting year for nominations. Out of a possible 10, we got 9. And those 9 films were: Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Parasite. Parasite went on to win Best Picture that year (and deserved it), making it the first foreign film to ever do so, but 1917 was the other frontrunner at the time. 

Now, before I get into the other nominated films, are you really telling me that The Lighthouse couldn’t be film number 10 in those nominations? Seriously? Anyway, of the other 9 films, I would say that Joker, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and The Irishman probably have the best shot of being remembered 10 years down the line, Joker for being one of the only comic book films like Black Panther to ever be nominated for Best Picture, and the other two because of their directors.

But while I liked Marriage Story, Little Women, Ford v Ferrarri, and Jojo Rabbit (actually, I didn’t really like Jojo Rabbit. I lied about that one), I don’t think that any of those four films were even remotely as interesting or even as good as The Lighthouse. So, what gives?

Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse

(Image credit: A24)

What The Lighthouse Did Get Nominated For

Honestly, when it comes to The Lighthouse, I think its acting definitely needs to be spotlighted, as the film primarily only has two characters, in Robert Pattinson’s Ephraim Winslow and Willem Dafoe’s Thomas Wake, but you know what? Neither of them was nominated for Best Actor or even Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards. The Lighthouse did, however, get nominated for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards, which it lost to 1917, which is fair, since that film really is gorgeous in all of its ugliness.

The film did however win at the Cannes Film Festival for the FIPRESCI Prize. It also won Best Supporting Male Lead at the Independent Spirit Awards, where it also won Best Cinematography. The London Film Critics gave Pattison the Award for British/Irish Actor of the Year, and the Satellite Awards gave Willem Dafoe the Best Supporting Actor Award.

So, yes, it did get recognition in some form or another (Though, it was surprisingly snubbed completely at the Golden Globes, which has nominations for both Dramas and Musical/Comedies), but still. I think a film as bold and audacious as The Lighthouse deserves more than just a Best Cinematography nod. I mean, in any other film, a farting lighthouse keeper would have been farce, but Willem Dafoe makes it a role for the ages.

Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse

(Image credit: A24)

So, Why Didn’t The Lighthouse Get Nominated For Best Picture?

And this just brings me back around to my original question of why wasn’t The Lighthouse nominated for Best Picture? I have my theories, but my main one just circles back to what I said at the beginning—The film defies definition. Is it a horror movie? Well, no, not really. And even if it was, only 6 horror movies have ever been nominated for Best Picture

Is it a gay allegory? Well, maybe, but Hollywood would likely want a clearer (and more empowering) depiction of homosexuality in this day and age. Is it a story that is about the myth of Prometheus? Well, imagery suggests it, but why not just be clearer about that as well?

In every way, I think The Lighthouse didn’t get nominated for Best Picture because it’s too different, and in a year with a masterpiece like Parasite, I don’t think the Academy could really stomach two films that went outside the norm of modern-day American movie-making. Again, this is just a hunch, but I think The Lighthouse was too bizarre to be nominated for Best Picture in 2020. It’s not its fault. But honestly, despite Parasite’s greatness, The Lighthouse was probably the most unique film of 2019, and the one that I will likely be thinking about several years down the line.

And that’s it. But what do you think? Are you a fan of The Lighthouse? For Oscar coverage or news on other artsy films, make sure to stop by here often.

Rich Knight
Content Producer

Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.