oscars 2023

The Snubs and Surprises of the 2023 Oscar Nominations

Andrea Riseborough and Brian Tyree Henry made it in, while Viola Davis couldn’t snag a nom. Photo: Momentum Pictures, TriStar Pictures, A24

The 2023 Oscar nominations are out, and while they largely went the way most awards obsessives expected, the surprises were some of the most memorable twists we’ve seen in years. Which expected nominees woke up to disappointing news, and which unheralded contenders might be jumping for joy? Let’s run through the most notable snubs and surprises.

Those crazy celebs actually got Andrea Riseborough an Oscar nomination.
In one of the strangest developments of the season, the Oscar voting period saw almost every A-lister in Hollywood log onto Twitter to heap praise on Andrea Riseborough’s performance in To Leslie, “a small film with a giant heart.” The movie, a low-budget sobriety drama that debuted at SXSW, hadn’t technically come out of nowhere: Riseborough did get an Independent Spirit Award nom, and the film was on the National Board of Review’s list of best independent movies of the year. Still, To Leslie made barely a peep when it was released in October and had been ignored by all the major precursors, leading most pundits to believe the Twitter blitz would be too little, too late. Shows what we know! Turns out professional actors had a better sense of awards-worthy acting than those of us who sit behind a laptop all day. Riseborough scored an against-all-odds nomination, her self-financed campaign joining #Kony2012 and the Ice Bucket Challenge in the ranks of surprisingly successful social-media trends.

So did Ana de Armas.
Riseborough’s improbable victory slightly overshadowed another noteworthy development in the Best Actress race: Ana de Armas actually got in for Blonde! Before the Marilyn Monroe biopic was released, everyone assumed it would be the film in which the Cuban Spanish actress ascended from internet meme to full-on movie star. But when Andrew Dominick’s film proved to be a three-hour orgy of suffering, de Armas tumbled off most prediction lists. Even though she did well at the precursors, missing only Critics Choice, it was an open question whether Academy voters would go for a film this off-putting. But de Armas did indeed make it into the Oscar lineup, reportedly on the back of heavy international support for Blonde — more proof that you should never bet against a transformation. Unfortunately, it came at a cost …

Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler were snubbed in Best Actress.
Riseborough and de Armas getting in meant that the pair of Black actresses who had been widely pegged for nominations were both shut out. Their films likely suffered from opposite issues: Voters might have dinged Davis’s The Woman King for being a straight-down-the-middle blockbuster, while Deadwyler’s civil-rights biopic Till may have seemed too much like vegetables to them. But the image of a mostly white group of celebrities powering Riseborough to a nomination at the expense of two Black women is not a flattering one for Hollywood.

Brian Tyree Henry got in for Causeway.
It’s often hard for a supporting player to score a nomination if no one else in their film is getting traction. (See: Ruth Negga in Passing.) Consensus on the AppleTV+ movie Causeway was that the low-stakes drama was mostly worth seeing for the performances, and when Jennifer Lawrence’s role as a recovering military veteran didn’t make much of a splash in the Best Actress race, that meant Brian Tyree Henry’s sensitive turn opposite her faced an uphill battle for recognition. Luckily, voters saved room for him by giving The Fabelmans only one seat at the Best Supporting Actor table. (This went to Judd Hirsch over Paul Dano, who got Caitriona Balfe’d.) In a pleasant surprise, Henry earned his first career nomination, a fitting reward for one of the industry’s most acclaimed character actors.

An all first-timer lineup in Best Actor.
Over in the Best Actor field, Aftersun’s Paul Mescal joined the locked-in foursome of Austin Butler, Colin Farrell, Brendan Fraser, and Bill Nighy. Those are five men of varying degrees of industry experience: Mescal and Butler are two of today’s most in-demand young stars, Farrell and Fraser are ex-hunks enjoying comebacks in middle age, and Nighy is a grizzled veteran getting a career-capstone nom. What they all have in common is that none of them have been nominated before. Before the season began, some thought Mescal and Butler perhaps too fresh to catch Oscar’s eye, but as the results prove, you’re never too old or too young for your first time.

All Quiet on the Western Front cleaned up at the crafts.
The German Oscar submission made headlines last week when it dominated the BAFTA nominations, pulling in more nods than any other film. It didn’t repeat the feat at the Oscars, where Everything Everywhere All at Once proved its strength with 11 nominations, but All Quiet still tied for second with nine, a remarkable feat for a film that seemed on the edge of the Best Picture race only a month ago. Most of these were in the craft categories, whose shortlists over the holidays were the first indication that the war drama could be a major player, but an Adapted Screenplay nod proves the eggheads liked it, too. Had Edward Berger made it into Best Director we might be talking about a Best Picture dark horse, but I think All Quiet will still be satisfied by becoming the foreign-language title to beat.

Only Best Song for RRR.
Since its U.S. release last spring, the Tollywood blockbuster has amassed a fervent cult following that had fans dreaming of a surprise Best Picture berth. That wasn’t in the cards, and since the film wasn’t selected as India’s official submission, we’ll never know how it might have performed in the Best International Film race. Still, at least Team RRR can be happy that “Naatu Naatu,” a musical number powered by the joyous magic of suspenders, got a deserved Best Original Song nomination. Star Ram Charan told me at the Golden Globes he’d be down to perform the song at the Oscars ceremony; let’s hope the show’s producers don’t blow this golden opportunity.

Women Talking had a muted comeback.
Women Talking was the toast of Telluride, but Sarah Polley’s film couldn’t follow up its festival buzz at the precursors, many of which snubbed the high-minded drama entirely. If Polley didn’t quite get the last laugh at the Oscar nominations, she at least might have earned the right to chuckle: Not only did she land the Adapted Screenplay nomination that eluded her at the BAFTAs, but Women Talking snuck into the Best Picture category at the expense of bigger films like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Babylon. Incidentally, the thin Adapted Screenplay field gave us the strangest bedfellows of year, as Women Talking will be competing against Top Gun: Maverick.

And a minor disappointment for The Whale.
The Whale threw me into a minor personal crisis after I saw it at TIFF — it is a film so ghastly and cynical, and seemingly so assured of Oscar success, that I questioned what exactly I was doing with my life. Well, crisis abated: The Whale missing out both there and in Adapted Screenplay is a sign that many in the Academy felt the same way I did. It’s also a sign that Brendan Fraser’s hold on the trophy is far from secure: Not since Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart has the Best Actor winner not come from a Best Picture nominee.

The Best Cinematography category saved Bardo and Empire of Light from blanking.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Sam Mendes are two longtime Academy faves whose most recent films were both savaged on their festival debuts: Bardo for being masturbatory and self-pitying, Empire of Light for being shallow and unfocused. Each missed the nomination they might have been counting on — Best International Film and Best Actress, respectively — but the cinematography branch saved them from going home empty handed by recognizing DPs Darius Khondji and Roger Deakins. While I’ll miss the This Had Oscar Buzz episodes we might have gotten, credit where credit’s due: Both films do at least look fantastic.

Everything Everywhere All at Once and Banshees of Inisherin are your Best Picture frontrunners.
On the macro level, not much changed on Tuesday morning: The two films that everyone assumed were on top going into the nominations were also the top two nomination leaders. Both Everything Everywhere and Banshees scored Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay nominations, plus four acting nods each and a bevy of crafts. (The Fabelmans, which at times seemed like it might be joining them, lost a little ground after Dano’s snub.) The pair are separated by the thinnest of margins: EEAAO got in for Costumes and Song, and Banshees didn’t. Right now you’d probably give the edge to the A24 comedy, which has the more passionate fanbase. However, it’s also more polarizing, while Banshees is the kind of well-liked contender that typically does well on the preferential ballot. Either way, it’s going to be a fascinating race.

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The Snubs and Surprises of the 2023 Oscar Nominations