This Oscars season was something of a black box. The lack of traditional in-person campaigning made it difficult to track buzz, and box-office figures told us nothing, since everything either flopped or went straight to streaming. All the mystery meant we were due for some surprises at Tuesday morning’s nominations, and surprises were indeed what we got. Let’s run down all the headlines that had pundits’ mouths agape.
The acting branch didn’t go Gaga for House of Gucci.
Despite scoring a Best Cast nomination from SAG, Ridley Scott’s true-crime drama ultimately proved too much of a spicy meat-a-ball-a for Academy voters, who handed Gucci a solitary Makeup and Hairstyling nod. (Yes, the Suicide Squad Memorial Oscar.) The snub especially stung for Lady Gaga, who was the only Actress contender to show up at all the major precursors, leading to speculation she may have been the secret front-runner. But nope — once again, Gaga was seemingly too outré for Oscar. Patrizia sends her regards.
But Kristen Stewart and Penélope Cruz snuck in!
That wasn’t the only surprise to come in the topsy-turvy Best Actress category, which saw two women who’d been left out of crucial precursors rebound with the Academy. The first was Spencer’s Kristen Stewart, the onetime pundits’ favorite who’d stumbled after snubs by SAG and BAFTA. Was her film simply too alienating? Perhaps for guild voters, but AMPAS members were able to get onboard with Spencer’s unabashed artiness. An even bigger shock was Penélope Cruz of Parallel Mothers, who earned career-best raves at Venice only to spend the season blanking nearly everywhere. But Cruz was a diligent campaigner in the season’s closing days, and her Almodóvar drama surely benefited from being one of the final contenders to screen. Never doubt the power of a Sony Pictures Classics campaign.
Drive My Car pulled into the Oscars fast lane.
Drive My Car presented a test of the Academy’s cinephile bona fides. Everybody who saw this three-hour Japanese drama came out raving about it — but how many Oscar voters would make time to see it? As it turns out, enough of them: Drive My Car didn’t just manage the expected International Film nomination; it also notched the Director/Adapted Screenplay double for Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and landed a coveted Best Picture spot. (Add in a surprise Original Screenplay nod for The Worst Person in the World, and the writers’ branch once again lived up to its reputation as the coolest kids in the Academy lunchroom.) I think John Lennon and Paul McCartney said it best: “Beep-beep, beep-beep, yeah!”
Dune’s Denis Villeneuve was snubbed for Best Director.
It was a pretty good morning for the sole blockbuster in the race, which got nominated in Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and a Sardaukar legion’s worth of craft categories. But somehow, the man who made it all possible was shockingly left out of Best Director. While pundits had predicted one DGA nominee would make way for Hamaguchi, few had thought it would be Villeneuve: When a director snub does occur, it’s often for human-scaled dramas, not intergalactic space operas. On the plus side, this does set the Quebecois auteur up for a comeback whenever Dune: Part Two hits screens.
Actors fell hard for Being the Ricardos, but no one else did.
When we talk about “the Academy,” it’s important to remember we’re actually talking about a bunch of different branches with their own discrete tastes. Nowhere was that more clear than in the case of our No. 1 Oscar villain. Aaron Sorkin’s backstage drama was catnip for the acting branch, which handed Ricardos three nominations — second only to Best Picture front-runner The Power of the Dog — including a Supporting Actor nod for J.K. Simmons in a role the veteran probably could have played in his sleep. But lest you thought this might translate into more love elsewhere, the rest of the Academy set us straight. Being the Ricardos couldn’t get off the Best Picture bubble, and Aaron Sorkin was snubbed by his compatriots in the writing branch. I guess we know what they thought of that J. Edgar Hoover scene.
Jessie Buckley nabbed a Supporting Actress nod.
For this Oscar blogger, the first name called on nomination morning was the best one. My favorite performance of the season, Jessie Buckley’s raw turn in The Lost Daughter, snuck into the Supporting Actress lineup. (Unfortunately, that came at the expense of one of my other favorite performances, Ruth Negga in Passing.) Buckley was a package deal with Best Actress nominee Olivia Colman, who plays the same character in the film’s main timeline. If they win their respective categories, obscure Ferrante protagonist Leda Caruso will join Vito Corleone and the Joker as the only roles to earn Oscars for multiple actors.
Flee indeed went three-for-three.
In the past two years, Honeyland and Collective managed the impressive Oscar feat of getting nominated for both Best Documentary and Best International Film. Neon’s Flee was almost tailor-made to surpass them: It’s a foreign-language documentary about an Afghan refugee that, oh yeah, happens to be animated. All season long, pundits wondered if Flee could pull off the unprecedented triple crown of Documentary Feature, International Film, and Animated Feature nominations, and lo and behold, it did! Credit to Neon, which also shepherded Spencer and The Worst Person in the World, whose success surely makes up for Nicolas Cage missing his long-shot bid for Pig.
The Power of the Dog gained a step on its rivals.
Almost every Best Picture player missed something at the nominations: Belfast was snubbed in Cinematography and Editing, West Side Story in Screenplay, and Don’t Look Up and Licorice Pizza both failed to land a single acting nom. But true to its name, Dog proved its power, showing up everywhere it was expected, and also landing a surprise Supporting Actor spot for Jesse Plemons. Jane Campion’s film ended the morning with a field-leading 11 nominations and seems on track to win Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Supporting Actor, at the very least. Is this the year the Academy ends its unofficial Netflix blockade in Best Picture?