Three films scored a double-digit number of Oscar nominations on Tuesday morning — Universal’s Oppenheimer (13, one shy of the all-time record shared by All About Eve, Titanic and La La Land), Searchlight’s Poor Things (11) and Apple’s Killers of the Flower Moon (10) — a rare feat. But for many, those impressive showings were overshadowed by the lack of directing and lead actress nominations for Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, respectively, of Warner Bros.’ Barbie.
Though those categories reflect the preferences of only the directors branch (less than 6 percent of the full Academy) and the actors branch (just over 13 percent), and though Gerwig and Robbie are nominated in other categories (for writing and producing), and though Barbie did receive eight nominations (including best picture), the optics of excluding the women most responsible for a critically acclaimed film that became the biggest blockbuster of 2023 from the directing and lead actress categories are not good.
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What happened? The directors branch has long been among the Academy’s oldest and most male (it’s currently 75 percent men), which could have been a contributing factor regarding the omission of Gerwig, whose first three films — Lady Bird, Little Women and Barbie — have all been nominated for best picture (something that is unprecedented), but who has only once been nominated for best director (for Lady Bird). But, with both Gerwig and Robbie, I think another factor may have been deeply ingrained views of what an “Oscar movie” is (“gravitas”) and is not (some Academy members have dismissed Barbie as “a movie about a toy”), which have been overcome by some recent films (e.g. Parasite and Everything Everywhere All at Once) but are still widely held.
Regardless, heading into the final round of Oscar voting, the biggest question is: Will Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece (he’s a slam-dunk for best director), continue dominating as it has all season? It already won the best picture Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards, and has been nominated for every important Oscar precursor. Or could the Barbie situation jolt the best picture conversation, as was the case after Ben Affleck was shockingly left out of the directing category for Argo 11 years ago, fueling that film’s best picture prospects?
It’s too soon to know. But you can be sure the Academy is thanking its lucky stars that Barbie’s America Ferrera got a supporting actress nom, because otherwise the only performer nominated for Barbie would have been … Ken (best supporting actor nominee Ryan Gosling).
In the acting races, the frontrunners all advanced: The Holdovers’ Paul Giamatti and Oppenheimer’s Cillian Murphy for best actor; Poor Things’ Emma Stone and Killers of the Flower Moon’s Lily Gladstone for best actress; Oppenheimer’s Robert Downey Jr. for best supporting actor; and The Holdovers’ Da’Vine Joy Randolph for best supporting actress.
The most glaring omission, with the possible exception of Robbie from lead actress, was Killers of the Flower Moon’s Leonardo DiCaprio from lead actor — not a total shocker, given the fact that he also missed out on a SAG Award nom, but still noteworthy given that he has six previous acting noms (winning in 2016) and that his co-stars, Gladstone and Robert De Niro, respectively landed best actress and best supporting actor noms. Killers did miss one other big nom when Eric Roth and Martin Scorsese were passed over in the adapted screenplay category — but it made up for it with an unexpected original song nom for “Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People).”
How predictive were the guilds this season? The SAG Awards’ nom-com and the Academy’s actors branch differed on only three of 20 slots: The Academy nominated Anatomy of a Fall’s Sandra Hüller instead of Robbie for lead actress, Poor Things’ Mark Ruffalo instead of his co-star Willem Dafoe for supporting actor and Ferrera instead of Ferrari’s Penélope Cruz for supporting actress. The DGA Awards and the Academy’s directors branch differed on two of five: The Academy opted for The Zone of Interest’s Jonathan Glazer and Anatomy of a Fall‘s Justine Triet, whereas the guild went with Gerwig and The Holdovers’ Alexander Payne. And the PGA Awards and the overall Academy picked the same 10.
Meanwhile, the increasing internationalization of the Academy — which was largely a club of people based in Los Angeles, New York and London prior to the post-#OscarsSoWhite influx of new members — was more evident than ever. The Academy disclosed that members from 93 countries cast nomination ballots this year. Many of those voters are used to watching films with subtitles, which helps to explain how three films that are largely or entirely in a language other than English — Anatomy of a Fall, Past Lives and The Zone of Interest — landed best picture noms. Meanwhile, the helmers of Anatomy (Triet) and Zone (Glazer) got directing noms. The star of Anatomy (Hüller) got a lead actress nom. The Japanese film The Boy and the Heron got an animated feature nom. And all five documentary feature nominees hail from outside of America.
BAFTA, one of the more international groups to weigh in before the Academy, did anticipate the Gerwig and DiCaprio snubs and the far-from-assured noms for Triet and Rustin lead actor Colman Domingo — but, with its bizarre nominating process, was otherwise largely off.
No Oscar category was more surprising this year than best documentary feature. The two films that most experts believed would stand the best shot of winning, if nominated by the documentary branch and offered up to the full Academy, were Matthew Heineman’s American Symphony and Davis Guggenheim’s Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, and neither made the final five. This sort of thing has happened so many times in recent years — with Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Jane, Life Itself, Three Identical Strangers, Apollo 11 and others — that it really needs to be addressed.
Did the 680 doc branch members just assume that those films had enough votes from others in their ranks that they could afford to vote for other films? Were they resentful of those films’ popularity and/or backers (both hail from deep-pocketed streamers, Netflix and Apple TV+ respectively)? Did they fear that those films, if nominated, would beat a more purist doc? There’s no way to say for sure. But, as one previously Oscar-nominated filmmaker who had nothing to do with this year’s race wrote to me this morning, “It’s broken.”
In my humble opinion, it’s high time for the Academy to open up documentary feature Oscar nomination voting beyond the documentary branch, and to invite any Academy members who wish to opt in to vote to do so, just as they already do for the international feature and animated feature categories.
Finally, let’s highlight some fun facts.
Netflix led all individual companies with 18 noms, though Disney, if you also count its subsidiaries like Searchlight and Hulu, scored 19. The star of Netflix’s Maestro, Bradley Cooper, became the fourth person to direct himself to an acting nom more than once, following Laurence Olivier, Warren Beatty and Clint Eastwood; and, with Oppenheimer’s Nolan and VFX artist Neil Corbould (The Creator, Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One and Napoleon), is one of only three people to rack up three noms this year. Meanwhile, a producer of Maestro, the legendary Steven Spielberg, extended his record of most best picture noms for an individual with his 13th, a pretty astounding testament to him.
Wes Anderson, with his live-action short nom for The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, joins Kenneth Branagh and Alfonso Cuarón as the only people who have ever received noms in five or more categories (Cuarón is up to six). Poor Things’ Stone joins Nomadland’s Frances McDormand as the only women ever nominated for producing and acting for the same film. Diane Warren, writer of Flamin’ Hot’s original song “The Fire Inside,” and Ed Lachman, cinematographer of El Conde, both landed the sole noms for their films, which is quite a testament to their colleagues’ regard for them. And Past Lives’ producer Christine Vachon, the queen of indie producers, is, at long last, an Oscar nominee.
And, as evidence of the fact that age ain’t nothing but a number, Killers’ Scorsese, at 81, became the oldest directing nominee ever. The Boy and the Heron’s Hayao Miyazaki, at 83, became the oldest person ever nominated for best animated feature. The doyenne of docs, MTV Documentary Films’ Sheila Nevins, at 84, became a first-time nominee for her documentary short The ABCs of Book Banning. And composer John Williams, with his best original score nom for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, became, at 91, the oldest person ever nominated for an Oscar in any category, and, with his 54th nom, extended his record for most noms for a living person (he trails only Walt Disney, who racked up 59 noms, for the all-time record).
This year’s crop of Oscar nominees will congregate Feb. 12 for the annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon. The final round of Oscar voting will run from 9 a.m. on Feb. 22 through 5 p.m. on Feb. 27. And the 96th Oscars will take place on March 10, 47 days from now.
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