It’s time to argue about movies again. This morning, the nominees for the 95th Academy Awards were unveiled at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ annual announcement event. This year the announcement honors went to Riz Ahmed—a recent Best Actor nominee of The Sound of Metal and recent winner for his short film “The Long Goodbye”—and Allison Williams. (Williams has yet to be nominated for an Oscar but, hey, it’s not too early to start the drumbeat for her work in M3GAN.) As usual, the nominations were a mix of the predictable and the surprising with plenty of shoo-ins, like Cate Blanchett’s Best Actress nomination for TÁR and Steven Spielberg’s nod for The Fabelmans, but also some unexpected inclusions and exclusions. Here are a few of the most notable takeaways from this year’s list of nominees.
The Everything Everywhere All at Once love is real. It’s not surprising that Everything Everywhere All at Once has been successful, but the scale of that success remains kind of staggering. The film debuted to an appreciative audience at SXSW last March shortly before beginning a long, successful theatrical run. A defiantly odd movie starring Michelle Yeoh, a revered actress who’s rarely the lead in English language movies, and directed by the innovative team of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, it looked likely to become a cult favorite rather than a bonafide hit. Ten months later, however, it’s been a box office smash that’s slowly accumulated honors, including Golden Globe awards for Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan for, respectively, Best Actress, Comedy or Musical and Best Supporting Actor, Comedy or Musical.
Its success in picking up nominations today isn’t surprising but, as with seemingly every other aspect of EEAAO, the volume of nominations is. Yeoh and Kwan were joined by Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu, who were both nominated in the Best Supporting Actress field. The film is also up for Best Picture, Best Director(s), Best Original Screenplay, and four other prizes for a total of eleven nominations. Could this be a sweep? Maybe. But if the Globes are any bellwether (and, to be fair, they’re often not) the film might have to content itself with acting prizes. Then again, this movie has defied expectations at every turn, so who knows?
Dark horse campaigns, large and small, paid off. The nine nominations for All Quiet on the Western Front, a film that barely played in theaters or attracted much attention of any kind, can be easily explained with one word: Netflix. Make that two words: Netflix money. The first German language adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic 1929 novel about the experiences of young German soldiers in World War I (which was previously adapted into a harrowing Best Picture-winning film in 1930 by Lewis Milestone) is Netflix’s best hope for Oscar glory this year. It’s benefitted from the streamer’s all-chips-in campaign in the form of nine nominations. (That puts it behind EEAAO and tied for second place with The Banshees of Inisherin.)
By contrast, Andrea Riseborough’s (sort of) surprise nomination for To Leslie was driven not by studio money but by word-of-mouth. Riseborough has benefitted from support from fellow actors like Edward Norton and Kate Winslet — who’ve hosted screenings and Q&As — a celeb-driven push that extended to a social media campaign of tweets referring to it as a “small film with a giant heart” and variations of that phrasing. It’s easy to get cynical and note that Riseborough shares representation with some (but not all) with those supporting her. But she’s also a terrific actress who’s been doing remarkable, often under-the-radar work for years. This might just be a case of all that hard work being recognized (with more than a touch of behind-the-scenes coordination).
The Best Actress category is chaos. Riseborough’s nomination shakes up an already odd list of nominees. Cate Blanchett remains the frontrunner for TÁR, and Yeoh’s nomination was expected. But while Ana de Armas had previously picked up awards and nominations for Blonde, the NC-17 rated adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ Marilyn Monroe-inspired novel has had a divided reaction, to put it mildly. Her nomination, like Michelle Willams’ for The Fabelmans was not seen as a lock going into the morning. Just as notable were a pair of performances that didn’t get nominations despite being viewed as likely inclusions: Viola Davis in The Woman King and Danielle Deadwyler in Till.
Other acting categories had some pleasant surprises. After winning the Best Picture prize for CODA last year, Apple is largely on the sidelines this year. (Its only real contender was the slavery period piece Emancipation, which stars Will Smith…and that explains at least part of its failure to launch.) Still, it was nice to see Brian Tyree Henry pick up a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his lovely performance in Causeway (a moving, small-scale drama co-starring Jennifer Lawrence that’s been a little slept-on). Also heartening: hearing Paul Mescal’s name in the Best Actor category for his great performance in Aftersun.
Where are the women directors? The Academy has worked to be more inclusive since the 2015 #OscarsSoWhite started a conversation that extended beyond the shortage of Black nominees to other topics. But taking steps forward doesn’t rule out taking steps back. (See the exclusions in the Best Actress field above.) The year after Jane Campion’s win for The Power of the Dog, this year’s directing nominees are all men. Where’s the love for Charlotte Wells (Aftersun), Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Woman King), and Sarah Polley—whose film Women Talking scored a Best Picture slot?
Nope? Nope. It’s not that surprising that Jordan Peele’s follow-ups to Get Out haven’t gotten the same top-category Oscar nomination love as his debut. They’re more thematically nebulous than Get Out (if just as good). But it is surprising to see Nope shut out of categories like Score, Cinematography, and Sound, all of which are excellent.
RRR will have to content itself with a single nomination. S. S. Rajamouli’s global breakthrough has wowed all who’ve seen it with its exuberance, technical mastery, and anything goes approach to filmmaking. That didn’t translate into nominations today apart from a nod for the song “Naatu Naatu.” That should at least make for a fun Oscars night performance (and it might be a relief to some involved with the film that its underlying politics don’t have to be scrutinized during an intense awards season).
Three things in life are certain: Death, taxes and Diane Warren receiving a Best Original Song nomination no matter what movie that song appears in. We said this last year and will probably be able to cut-and-paste it into next year’s column: the famed and much-nominated songwriter can be counted on to pick up a nomination by contributing a song to a movie that hardly anyone sees. Last year it was “Somehow You Do,” from Four Good Days, an addiction drama starring Mila Kunis. This year it’s “Applause” from Tell it Like a Woman. What is Tell it Like a Woman? It’s an anthology film with shorts by female directors from around the world, including Catherine Hardwicke and Taraji P. Henson, whose cast includes Jennifer Hudson, Eva Longoria, and Marcia Gay Harden. Sounds interesting, honestly, but good luck finding anyone who’s seen it (or even a review of the film).
Title of the Year: “My Year of Dicks.” Williams, Ahmed, and those attending the nominations announcement couldn’t contain themselves upon hearing the title of this Best Animated Short film nominee, a coming-of-age story about a ’90s teen’s attempt to lose her virginity. Good news for the curious: its creators have made it available online for a limited time. The Animated Short category also yielded this year’s second-best title “An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It.” But does either short top last year’s Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom? As with all things awards-related, there is no correct answer. But there are compelling arguments to be had.