Acclaimed writer-director and notorious grump (in a good way) Paul Schrader has received the first Academy Award nomination of his long career, for the Ethan Hawke starrer (and The A.V. Club’s fourth-best film of 2018) First Reformed. Is he excited? His firm reply: Sort of.
Yes, the man who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull has never before received a nomination, and as you might imagine, being snubbed by the Academy despite having a literally decades-long rep for penning some of the best films in history has given him a certain distance from the mindset of Oscar fans. Or, as Schrader himself puts it during a new interview with IndieWire, “I have never really respected the Oscars for their choices.” But as anyone who has ever loudly mocked the quality of food at Taco Bell only to subsequently receive a coupon for a free Seven-Layer Burrito can attest, it’s a complicated world we live in. Thus, Schrader immediately followed up his statement about the Academy’s lack of taste with the caveat, “On the other hand, I’m enormously gratified that they have selected me. So you live in a kind of conflicted world. Where on one hand you say it truly doesn’t matter. And on the other hand you say, ‘Well, I guess it does matter.’”
That blunt airing of something everybody knows to be true—that the Oscars are basically bullshit by any reasonable assessment of rewarding “art,” but also, the Oscars can be enormously fun and it’s pretty cool to get one—is the sort of honesty for which Schrader is known. And in case it was unclear the ambivalence he feels, the man who just got his first Best Screenplay nomination puts it even more succinctly:
If the critics had not liked my film and if the academy had not liked my film, I would still know it was a good film. So my validation is not contingent on the academy or the critics. On the other hand, it is very heartening to realize that other people acknowledged what you tried to do.
Schrader goes on to say that he told his star Ethan Hawke, who missed out on a Best Actor nom, that he had already won (“You may not have gotten nominated, but you won. Your performance has made an impact, and never forget that”), and also includes a delightful anecdote about telling his longtime collaborator Martin Scorsese to stop caring so much about the damn Oscars, already. In other words, we’d love to see Schrader deliver an acceptance speech on Oscar night.