The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has grown its ranks considerably in recent years, and this season’s collection of new members was the largest in AMPAS history. The result was an unpredictable set of Oscar nominations, as foreign films, streaming movies, and critically derided hits all scored big with a body that often seemed to be divided against itself. Let’s run down the biggest snubs and surprises of the 91st Academy Award nominations.
Bradley Cooper and Peter Farrelly got left out of Best Director.
A Star Is Born and Green Book were considered two of this year’s Best Picture front-runners, and while they didn’t exactly score poorly with Oscar — A Star Is Born landed eight nominations, while Green Book drove home with five — neither managed a Best Director nomination, usually considered a prerequisite for a Best Picture win. Only two films in the modern era have ever won the ultimate prize without it, but on the bright side, each might be considered an antecedent for this year’s pair: Driving Miss Daisy was a chauffeur-based story of interracial friendship in the civil-rights era, just like Green Book, while Argo saw an actor turned filmmaker direct himself in a well-regarded genre picture with Hollywood elements, just like A Star Is Born. While both men can keep their fingers crossed that history will repeat itself, you can expect Hollywood to be debating the snubs all week long. Did Cooper not campaign enough? Was Farrelly brought down by that old Newsweek story? Or did voters simply feel Green Book was more of an acting vehicle, and they didn’t want to grade Cooper on a curve?
International voters wasted little time making their presence felt.
This year’s crop of new Oscars voters included plenty of international talent, which may explain why instead of Farrelly and Cooper, the Academy went with two European auteurs: The Favourite’s Yorgos Lanthimos, and Cold War’s Paweł Pawlikowski. (Alongside the category’s expected front-runner, Roma’s Alfonso Cuarón, the Best Director field featured three nominees from outside the United States.) Foreign films found similar success all over the ballot: Germany’s Never Look Away was nominated in Cinematography alongside Roma and Cold War (albeit for an American DP), the German-Syrian documentary Of Fathers and Sons made it in over the year’s biggest doc hits, and Roma managed not just one acting nod, but two: A few of us saw Yalitza Aparicio cracking the Best Actress lineup, but did anyone predict Marina de Tavira making it into Best Supporting Actress? Finally, attention must be paid to the Swedish troll romance Border, which earned a well-deserved nod in Best Makeup.
The Best Picture category was only eight strong.
The Academy’s first-five-then-ten-now-however-many-films-we-feel-like rules make it hard to predict exactly how many films will make it into the Best Picture category, but we seem to have settled on a pattern. In seasons that feel strong, like 2017 and 2018, we’ll get nine; in years that feel a little weaker, like 2015 and 2016, it’ll be only eight. A couple voters I spoke to mentioned that this was not their favorite year, movie-wise, and it seems that opinion was widely shared. What would have been the ninth? First Man and Mary Poppins Returns scored the most nods without cracking Best Picture, while Cold War’s directing and cinematography nominations point towards strong support for that film, as well. While those films all have their partisans, and I myself predicted Beale Street over Vice, all them feel a step below the ones that did make it in. I don’t think too many tears will be shed over their snubs.
The Academy really, really liked Bohemian Rhapsody.
After scoring a surprise Best Cast nomination at SAG and getting in at the PGAs, Bohemian Rhapsody’s chances of cracking Best Picture looked assured. And it was already strong in Best Actor. But voters handed it three additional nominations as well — both sound categories, which is fine, and an editing nomination, to boot! (Who knew Oscar voters loved montages so much?) It wound up with five nominations, tying fellow Oscar villain Green Book, which also earned an unexpected editing nomination. The editing award is another Best Picture bellwether, and those two making it in over A Star Is Born is a definitely something worth breaking out the eyes emoji for.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was left out of Best Documentary.
The Mister Rogers documentary was the highest-grossing film in a particularly lucrative year for documentaries, and it’s long been considered the front-runner in the nonfiction category. Early voters agreed, handing Neighbor the Best Documentary prize at the weekend’s Producers Guild Awards. But if there’s one thing you can count on, it’s for the Academy’s doc branch to go its own way, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and fellow hit Three Identical Strangers both found themselves on the outside this morning, as smaller films like Of Fathers and Sons, Minding the Gap, and Hale County This Morning, This Evening joined heavy hitters RBG and Free Solo in the Doc slate.
Sam Rockwell and Willem Dafoe both earned repeat nominations.
Rockwell and Dafoe duked it out in the Best Supporting Actor category last year, and they both managed to defy the prognosticators and sneak into Oscar’s 2019 field as well. Though the duo cracked the Golden Globes field, both had flown slightly under the radar this season, and each beat out (relatively) younger competition who’d scored better with precursors. Rockwell triumphed over Beautiful Boy’s Timothée Chalamet, and Dafoe edged BlacKkKlansman’s John David Washington and critics’ fave Ethan Hawke of First Reformed. Oscar may love an ingenue, but in the male acting categories, it’s never smart to bet against a veteran.
There will be no second act for First Man or If Beale Street Could Talk.
After the Moonlight–La La Land debacle, it seemed as if Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins were bound together by fate: Each premiered their follow-up at the fall festivals, where they enjoyed a rousing reception, but neither film caught on much with awards voters. First Man was too cold, they all said, while Beale Street was too distant. Some of us held out hope the two films could mount a comeback. First Man scored all those BAFTA noms, which could spur Oscar voters to reconsider it, and if you squinted, wasn’t Beale Street this year’s Phantom Thread? But in the end, each fell short: Beale Street secured a measly three nominations, while First Man only found love in the tech categories, with Claire Foy getting left out of Best Supporting Actress. (Who voted, a bunch of boys?) Here’s to the fools who dream, even though this time, they were wrong.
Emily Blunt is still not an Oscar nominee.
She’s got six Golden Globe nominations, three from BAFTA, and three from SAG, including two this very season. And yet, after making it in with nearly every precursor, La Blunt missed out on Oscar morning yet again, not scoring with either Mary Poppins Returns and A Quiet Place. It seems to be her destiny to always give Academy voters’ sixth-favorite performance of the year.
Finally, let’s salute this year’s contenders for a future ‘This Had Oscar Buzz’ episode.
A round of applause for Beautiful Boy, Boy Erased, Destroyer, The Old Man & the Gun, and Widows, all of which entered this year’s race with much fanfare, only to earn a combined zero nominations from the Academy. The summer’s indie darling Eighth Grade couldn’t break through with Oscar voters either. At least we’ll always have Daniel Kaluuya’s wave.