For once, the Academy Award nominations seemingly arrived without too much existential panic about the entire enterprise. The latest slate of honorees, announced this morning by Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams, includes two of the most commercially successful films of the year, a bunch of crowd-pleasing word-of-mouth hits, and some genuine indie and foreign surprises. Plus, the Academy’s attention heavily tilted toward films that debuted and played in movie theaters rather than on streaming.
This year’s Oscars, which will air March 12 on ABC, have been blessedly free of production squabbles. There are no internal battles over whether to cut certain categories from the broadcast; no anxiety-inducing, experimental host formats (Jimmy Kimmel has the job this year, for the third time); and less fuss over the ceremony’s “relevance.” The nominations largely struck a balance between populism and tonier awards-bait, with several truly exciting names highlighted for the first time, a few disappointing snubs, and a sense of real competition for a lot of the major categories.
Everything Everywhere All at Once feels like a front-runner.
The multiverse-spanning action film from the directing team called the Daniels led the morning, with 11 nominations. Those include Best Picture and recognition for each of its four main cast members, marking the first nominations for the industry legends Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Jamie Lee Curtis, as well as, hearteningly, for the relative newcomer Stephanie Hsu. A24’s film was released in March (a typically overlooked time) and is heavily focused on martial arts and mind-bending sci-fi: genres the Academy tends to ignore. But I’d call it the odds-on favorite to win Best Picture this year—its heart and visual pizzazz made it a surprise box-office smash.
Blockbusters got their due.
The Academy has been challenged in some corners recently for ignoring the biggest hits of the year, especially as superhero films have come to dominate ticket sales. This critique caused so much stress that a prior Oscar president proposed a “popular film” award, though that motion was thankfully tabled; last year, however, a scene from Zack Snyder’s Justice League was named the Oscars’ “Cheer Moment,” thanks to online polling that was probably rigged by bots. This year, luckily, the two highest-grossing films at the domestic box office were well received by critics and thus easily marched into the Best Picture race: Top Gun: Maverick got six nominations total, and Avatar: The Way of Water got four. Another big seller of the year, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, got a healthy eight nominations, including Best Picture.
The theatrical experience won out.
Movies from streamers have dominated Oscar nominations of late, especially during the past two pandemic-stricken years; Apple TV+ won a breakthrough Best Picture trophy last year for CODA. But this year, a number of Netflix’s expensive projects from big-name filmmakers were largely ignored; its sole Best Picture contender is the German remake All Quiet on the Western Front, a dark horse that received little fanfare on the awards scene in recent weeks. No other streamer produced a Best Picture nominee, a telling sign that a more robust theatrical rollout helps build awards buzz.
Newbies dominated the acting fields.
Of the 10 performers nominated for Best Lead Actor or Best Supporting Actor, nine have never been recognized by the Oscars before—the only outlier is The Fabelmans’ Judd Hirsch, who made the list for Ordinary People in 1981. It’s good to see the Academy acknowledge newer talent such as Paul Mescal, Austin Butler, Brian Tyree Henry, and Barry Keoghan, along with established performers such as Colin Farrell, Brendan Fraser, Bill Nighy, and Ke Huy Quan. Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress have only three returning players, though two of them are favorites to win: Cate Blanchett (getting her eighth nomination overall for Tár) and Angela Bassett (an industry legend receiving just her second nomination, this time for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever).
There were some good last-minute surprises …
Andrea Riseborough, a well-regarded actress who’s given terrific performances in many indies over the years, seemingly got a bizarrely effective lo-fi campaign off the ground at the last minute for the little-seen To Leslie. Big names including Edward Norton and Gwyneth Paltrow tweeted or Instagrammed endorsements for Riseborough in the week before Oscar votes were due, and also hosted private screenings of the film. Their efforts worked, adding Riseborough to the weird Oscar-noms folklore obsessed over by people such as myself (think Melissa Leo’s “Consider …” campaign). Some other mild surprises included Ruben Östlund’s acidic Cannes-winning satire Triangle of Sadness sneaking in for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay; Mescal getting a nomination for the understated debut feature Aftersun, a critical favorite; and the word-of-mouth Tollywood smash RRR nabbing a Best Song nomination for “Naatu Naatu,” the performance of which should bring the house down on Oscar night.
… and unfortunate snubs.
Riseborough’s surprise nomination helped nudge out two leading Black contenders for Best Actress: The Woman King’s Viola Davis, who was recognized by every major award precursor, and Till’s Danielle Deadwyler, praised as one of the biggest breakthroughs of the year. Those films, both directed by Black women (Gina Prince-Bythewood and Chinonye Chukwu, respectively), were sadly blanked despite strong reviews. Jordan Peele’s Nope was also ignored in spite of high ticket sales and critical adoration. Although this year’s Oscars did not completely overlook Black performers, it was unfortunate to see such well-received features given a total of zero nominations.