Warren’s 15th nomination in the Best Song category (with no wins but an Honorary Oscar to show for it) and Williams’ 54th overall in music categories were the most predictable of a mostly predictable Oscar nomination list. The surprise would be if either of them were not nominated in a year in which they had eligible work. For Warren, it’s “The Fire Inside” from Flamin’ Hot, and for Williams it is Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, marking the fourth Indy movie among his noms.
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Although there were plenty of so-called “snubs” — there always are among the movies that waged significant Oscar campaigns — there was nothing that came out of left field, that wasn’t foretold in the endless march of precursor awards or among someone’s predictions. Despite some shock in certain corners that Margot Robbie and Leo DiCaprio were left out of the Best Actress and Actor races, I am not sure why. DiCaprio missed out at BAFTA and SAG, and comedic performances like Robbie’s are infrequently nominated for Oscars, so not really completely surprising here either. I correctly called both categories — 5-for-5 in each. Among the actors overall, I would say only Barbie’s America Ferrera might have been a bit of a surprise to some, but she also happens to be in the year’s most widely seen movie and was very visible on the campaign circuit where her knockout monologue — the film’s most serious moment — was prominently played.
If you were looking for a gobsmacking shocker (!) kind of thing, this Oscar crop didn’t provide it — at least in the major categories and crafts. And that rarely happens in the modern Oscar world because studios, distributors and streamers pre-determine the films they are going to back with FYC efforts, and the very long season that started in Cannes way back in May and in earnest around Labor Day pretty much eliminates the long shots by the time we get to Oscar nom morning. Last year’s late-breaking underground guerrilla campaign success for Andrea Riseborough in a barely seen movie was an outlier, a complete rarity now made even rarer in the social media age by the Academy adjusting its rules and making that kind of thing even more difficult to achieve going forward. Lots of money is poured into the Oscar season, and disruptors who spend nothing most likely will receive nothing in the end. Even tiny indies hoping to get noticed have to pay $8,000 to get their film on the Academy’s digital screening service (studios pay $20,000). It is hard for the little guy to play in this game.
And also predictably in a year with such strong international films as Anatomy of a Fall and The Zone of Interest that came blazing out of Cannes and got picked up by Neon and A24, respectively — two savvy distributors with Best Picture wins under their belts and heirs to the once dominate Weinstein Oscar influence — you could bet this year was ripe to see them both make a strong mark on the race. They certainly did that with five nominations apiece including the key Best Picture, Directing and Screenplay races. It definitely was a strong year for Cannes, which gave the Palme d’Or to Anatomy Of A Fall and the runner-up Grand Prix to The Zone of Interest.
The writing and directing branches of the Academy usually are the most welcoming to international filmmakers, and this year was no different, particularly for Best Director. Anatomy’s Justine Triet and Zone’s Jonathan Glazer took two of the spots in a race that left out American favorites Greta Gerwig (Barbie), Alexander Payne (The Holdovers) and Bradley Cooper (Maestro) among movies that received Best Picture nominations. Can we chalk this up to the Academy’s increased global membership imprint over the past few years? It certainly seems to be something consistent lately, and this year — adding in the Best Picture nominee Past Lives which is half in Korean, as well as the success of Poor Things from Greek Best Director nominee Yorgos Lanthimos — it’s something of an explosion for the international set. Add to all that, for the first time ever, all five Documentary Feature nominees are international as well, bouncing such favorites as Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie and American Symphony.
So if there was anything truly surprising about these 2023 nominees, it might be that six of the 10 Best Picture hopefuls already had been screened and reviewed by critics before June (!). I can’t recall another year when that many films had been seen so early. Usually you get one or two from the first six months of the year, if that, but here we had Past Lives from Sundance in January (and opening in June); Anatomy of a Fall, The Zone of Interest, and Killers of the Flower Moon all debuting at Cannes in May and now responsible for a 20 nominations among them (Cannes just put out a press release touting nine nominated films that debuted there this year); and of course the infamous Barbenheimer duo of Barbie and Oppenheimer, which collected 21 nominations between them and pretty much turned on its head the conventional Oscar wisdom that says you have to open in the fall due to voters’ short memories.
To pat myself on the back, it was a no-brainer back then to say Oppenheimer, which leads the race today with 13 nominations and has to be considered the front-runner, would be a major contender at the Oscars — but maybe not the billion-dollar picture it has become — but Barbie wasn’t as obvious. I was the first to write a column a week before even the review embargo broke, and the day after Barbie’s July premiere at the Shrine, that this Gerwig confection indeed could be a serious Oscar contender. My article was vilified by the newsletter Puck, which a few days later linked to the column and said it was the second-dumbest article to ever appear on Deadline. Time changed those opinions, and Barbie did indeed triumph today with eight nominations, and so did comedy, which often gets overlooked by Oscar. With The Holdovers, Poor Things and American Fiction (from first-time director Cord Jefferson) added to the Best Picture mix, it is a banner day for comedy at the Academy Awards, and well deserved.
I only wish there was room for Gerwig and Payne, who made those comedies work so well, in the Best Director race. This is more evidence that the Academy should expand the category from five nominees to 10 in order to match Best Picture. Otherwise it seems to be saying automatically that five Best Pic nominees simply directed themselves.
Congrats to Gerwig, though, for becoming the first director ever — man or woman — to have their first three solo directorial efforts all nominated for Best Picture (Lady Bird, Little Women, Barbie). And as for Bradley Cooper, who has now had his first two directing efforts in Best Picture and joined Christopher Nolan as the only person with three nominations today, he also owns the distinction of becoming only to fourth person to direct himself to an acting nomination on more than one film. Laurence Olivier, Warren Beatty and Clint Eastwood did it, and now so has Cooper, and with just his first two turns behind the camera for A Star Is Born and Maestro.
Overall, there will be griping about this and that. I for one am sorry the Academy was just too snobbish to recognize Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem for the Animated Feature nomination it so deserved. Arrrrrrgh. But Mutant Ninja Turtles aside, this was as diverse an Oscar nominee list as I have seen, starting with the acting races, where half the nominees are first-timers and where we have five Black actors, a Latino and the first Native American actress in Lily Gladstone to be nominated. That continues down the line in other categories, including a record nine women vying in Best Picture.
Maybe the most surprising thing about the 96th annual Academy Award nominations is that we are moving forward and those kinds of statistics are thankfully starting to be not really surprising at all. That’s progress.
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