Eddie Brock and Venom may be losers on their home planets, but Tom Hardy won’t get the chance to be one on ours: On Tuesday, Academy Awards voters overlooked the actor’s antihero performance, leaving him off the list of Oscar nominations for Best Actor.
Hardy wasn’t on the shortlist of likely nominees in the days leading up to the Oscars, nor did he earn any love from either critics groups or the Golden Globes, which had the chance to throw him a Best Actor - Comedy nomination. Hardy’s full-force, full-body zaniness is one of the best performances of the year, and yet, even the most casual awards prognosticator knew full well that the Oscars would never recognize it — but why not?
There’s no scorecard for Academy Award “Best” worthiness, but Hardy’s dual performance as Eddie Brock, a Newh Yawk investigative journalist who now chases stories in San Francisco with the verve of Monster Energy Drink, and Venom, a symbiotic alien who imbues words like “pussy” with Shakespearean gruff, checks some boxes for me, longtime Oscar viewer. The case for Hardy begins with the transformative power of his performance; based on early word from Sony Pictures, longtime Spider-Man producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach, and director Ruben Fleischer, Venom was supposed to be a gritty alternative to Peter Parker’s high-flying adventures, similar to the violent mode of The Dark Knight. Hardy had other ideas, mainly that a sentient goo parasite from outer space would stick a symbiotic hand up the rear of its human host and play him like a puppet.
The result is a warped interpretation of a fawned-over comic book character that allows Hardy to star in his own versions of Contagion, Liar Liar, and The Wolfman all at once. The actor throws himself into the performance — and into walls, and into lobster tanks — to sell the crippling effects of living with Venom. The movie can’t keep up, and suffers as corporate demands trudge toward a CG-splattered finale. That doesn’t stop Hardy; like Eddie Brock’s face ripping through the Venom flesh to prove a dichotomous existence, every second of the actor’s performance tears through the superhero movie playbook. (Sony would eventually embrace this relabeling of Venom as a comedy to sell Blu-rays.)
A potential Oscar nominee also needs a meta-narrative — and Hardy had that, too. Just before the release of the film, reports broke that Hardy demanded rewrites of the Venom script on the fly so that his dialogue ... made sense. Fleischer gave Polygon a more favorable twist on Hardy’s on-set demands, saying that the scene in which Eddie Brock suffers a symbiote-related meltdown in a fancy restaurant, then tears a tank of crustaceans apart with his teeth, was thought up on the fly by the actor. A pain in the ass for the crew members spending their nights making a Venom movie? Almost certainly. Worth the effort? We’ll be repurposing Tom Hardy Venom GIFs until the end of time.
Murmurs from behind-the-scenes suggest that Hardy played a major part in rejiggering Venom’s beats to capitalize on what he knew would be a rowdy, rousing version of the character. When there’s a writer-director in place that can be that flexible with a star on a movie spending millions by the second (see: Christopher McQuarrie on Mission: Impossible - Fallout), a blockbuster redrawn on the fly can form around a well of charisma and bold choices. When it can’t ... well, Hardy says the best parts of Venom are on the cutting room floor, so we may not even know what “Oscar-worthy Eddie Brock” looks like.
Hardy’s work in Venom would look odd next to the actual nominees. This year’s contenders include Bradley Cooper, playing an alcoholic, burnt-out country star in his remake of A Star Is Born; Willem Dafoe as tortured artist Vincent van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate; Rami Malek impersonating Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody; Viggo Mortensen as toughman driver of a black musician navigating the deep south in Green Book; and perhaps the closest to Hardy’s Venom, Christian Bale, hiding under layers of latex to play former Vice President Dick Cheney in the pompous Vice.
Though a few of the roles dip a toe in the wacky (Green Book’s cartoonish portrayal of Italian-Americans in New York culminates in Mortensen’s Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga folding an entire pizza in half before chowing down) and Vice cuts away from Bale’s anchoring performance for cheeky asides, none of the nominees are overtly comedic performances like Hardy in Venom.
You’d be hard-pressed to find any performance of that timbre in the last 20 years of Best Actor nominees: George Clooney’s nominated work in 2009’s Up in the Air and two years later in The Descendants both embrace observational humor, but for melancholic character studies. French actor Jean Dujardin took home the Oscar for his lighthearted performance in 2011’s The Artist, but the pleasures of his role as a silent film star were more about mimicry than calibrated comedy. The only time any lead actor has channeled Hardy’s unhinged Venom mania, and saw awards-season payoff, was Nicolas Cage’s neurotic work in Adaptation, nominated for the 2003 Oscars. Eddie Brock should have been a screenwriter if he wanted that gold!
The Oscars have a notorious comedy problem. Melissa McCarthy earning a Supporting Actress nomination for Bridesmaids, a movie in which she brings the entire house down by pooping in a sink, was seen as a coup. Last year, a hard push for Tiffany Haddish’s worthy performance in Girls Trip petered out with critics awards and landed her some presenting jobs during award season rituals. After stunning work in Ace Ventura, The Mask, Liar Liar, and Dumb and Dumber, Jim Carrey blended his physical comedy skill set with more prestige fare and found awards luck with movies like The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of the best damn movies of the new millennium. Still, no Oscar love.
There have been dozens of comedic performances nominated for Oscars in the 90-year history of the Academy Awards, but few of them in the 2000s. The evolution of the “Oscar season” — full of campaigns, pundits, and behind-the-scenes narrative-building — might be to blame. The site Gold Derby annually gathers Oscar prognosticators from around the industry and the internet to inform audiences (voters or otherwise) about who stands a shot at the year’s coveted nomination slots. Informed by trends of the past and films that position themselves at festivals to stir up buzz, the voices on Gold Derby issue their first round of predictions in August of a given year. Regularly, the selected movies have yet to debut in any form — they just feel like Oscar movies.
Tom Hardy’s performance in Venom does not feel like the Oscars, nor would it get a push from Sony Pictures in the form of a “For Your Consideration” Oscar campaign. The effort would be paradoxical; there’s no reason to push for Venom because no one would vote for Venom because everyone assumes Venom is not the kind of movie you vote for.
The Academy omission won’t rip off Hardy’s arms, legs, and face and leave him rolling down the street like a turd in the wind; in 2018, Venom surprised the industry by grossing over $855 million worldwide, and earlier this month, word broke that Venom 2 was in active development. The Spider-Man-adjacent franchise — along with Hardy’s blockbuster cred — is intact with or without recognition from the Oscars.
Still, the oversight of Hardy’s bravado feels like complacency at work. The process in which nominees are deemed worthy is a late-stage symptom of an encrusted entertainment industry in need of disruption. Instead, cultural questions are solved with quick solutions — imagine a Most Popular Film award fitting into the current paradigm?
The circumstances of Hardy’s Venom snub — i.e., that his nomination would never have happened in a million years and it’s disingenuous to call it a snub — raises lower-key questions: With another year of all-male director nominations, was Chloé Zhao ever a possibility for her acclaimed film The Rider (which earned her a gig directing Marvel’s The Eternals?) Can a rabble-rouser like Boots Riley get the capital necessary to put Sorry to Bother You in front of a crowd that can gorge on its feast of satirical twists? Why wasn’t there talk of creating an Oscar category specifically for Mandy?
The Oscars will always leave movies, actors, and their admirers behind, but increasingly, the Hollywood politicking that steered the actual nominees toward their predictable conclusions, based on the unspoken definition of “Best,” has wrapped its black liquid tentacles around film culture — and the conversation. Despite what so many fans (and Oscar producers) cry each year, there’s no need to force superhero movies and other populist cinema into the awards conversation if they’re not worthy because, well, some are. They just have to be recognized by the right people, and early.
Black Panther made history this year by nabbing a Best Picture nomination. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will likely win Best Animated Feature after being underestimated all season against titans like Disney and Pixar. There’s no reason Tom Hardy shouldn’t be squaring off against Vincent van Gogh for Best Actor, except that Oscar soothsayers never had the conversation in August — two months before anyone would see Venom. By that time, Venom’s October weekend competition, A Star Is Born, was the Oscar frontrunner across every category.
When the Oscars roll around in February, just remember: As long as the Oscars, and our own perceptions of Oscar season, cling to a lopsided notion of what is “the best” and what is not, we are ALL the losers, Eddie.