Welcome to the weirdest Oscars race ever. Again. Last year, I labelled the pandemic-era Academy Awards a supremely bizarre affair for all the obvious reasons. But I naively assumed that things would be somewhat normal come 2022. Oops.
After a disastrous 2021 awards ceremony – in which few television viewers appeared to have seen the nominated films, Glenn Close was compelled to wriggle her butt, and producers closed things out by wrongly assuming that Chadwick Boseman would win best actor – matters don’t look much sunnier for the 94th Oscars, which announced its round of nominees Tuesday morning (click here to see the full list).
Sure, there are wonderful films up for trophies, including Licorice Pizza, Dune, West Side Story, and The Power of the Dog (which garnered a whopping 12 nominations, including best picture). And many of the presumed sure-things secured their expected nods, including Benedict Cumberbatch (best actor for The Power of the Dog), Olivia Colman (best actress for The Lost Daughter) and Nicole Kidman (best actress for Being the Ricardos).
But the surprise inclusions and exclusions from Tuesday morning’s announcement reveal more about the current state of Hollywood than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would prefer to acknowledge. Here are the best, worst and strangest things about the 2022 Oscar nominations.
Don’t lie: Have you actually seen these movies?
West Side Story, Licorice Pizza, The Power of the Dog, Dune, Tick, Tick … Boom! and Drive My Car are all excellent films worthy of attention. The problem is they had the bad luck of being released at the precise moment when movie-going habits changed for the worse. As much as I believe that any spotlight is a good one, I must also admit that this year’s Oscars circus feels more purposeless than ever: a shiny but sad exercise exposing an industry in crisis.
Streaming into the void
Speaking of industry crisis: It was inevitable that Netflix would dominate the Oscars this year, given that Hollywood’s old-school studios largely appear to be out of the movies-for-adults game and theatre-going itself suffered from sporadic closings and capacity restrictions. But it is still impressive, and not a little depressing, that the streaming giant racked up so many nominations, including best picture nods for Don’t Look Up and The Power of the Dog, plus a sizable haul for The Lost Daughter, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, and Tick, Tick … Boom!
Personally, I’m thrilled for Andrew Garfield (best actor for Tick, Tick … Boom!), who gave the performance of his career in the same year he got to redeem his once-chastised time as Spider-Man. I’m also impressed that Apple TV+, which bungled its initial release campaigns for CODA and The Tragedy of Macbeth, managed to score nods, including Apple’s first best picture nomination for the family drama CODA.
Even Amazon Prime Video, which cannot market a movie to save its very well-funded life, scored three nominations for Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos (though, tellingly, none for Sorkin himself). It is no longer a question as to whether the future of the Oscars belongs to streaming or not: It is simply a done deal. Now, the rest of Hollywood (and audiences) have to live with it.
My spidey-sense is tingling
The producers of Spider-Man: No Way Home will have to settle for simply making Scrooge McDuck levels of money, as the most popular film of the year was roundly ignored by the Academy, netting only a nod for best visual effects. This despite the whispers that the film was going to top the nominations, in a bid for the Academy to get younger audiences to put down their TikTok accounts and watch the dang show. Doc Ock wins again.
Beep beep beep yeah!
You know what will get audiences excited about the 2022 Oscars? The possibility that a three-hour Japanese drama will take home the big award of the night! I jest (partly), because it is genuinely thrilling that Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s art-house favourite Drive My Car somehow managed to get a nod in the best international film category and with the best picture boys. This is what happens when every movie critic in North America names the film as their favourite of the year. Maybe actual audiences will be curious and seek it out now, too.
Candle in the wind
Ever since the Princess Diana drama Spencer made the film festival rounds, word on the street (the street exclusively populated by Oscar bloggers) was that star Kristen Stewart would land her first Oscar nomination. But then she started missing out on much of the guild awards, and then it seemed like her hopes had faded. Well: Surprise! Stewart ended up making the cut, even edging out presumed sure-thing Lady Gaga.
Gaga goes wa-wa
Even though Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci was tepidly received by both critics and audiences, star Lady Gaga campaigned hard to get one of this year’s best actress slots for her over-the-top role as a power-hungry Italian fashionista. For a little while, the Oscar gods seemed to be on her side, goosed on by her massive social-media following. But not even the most powerful pop star in the world, it seems, can convince Oscar voters that she delivered a performance better than Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter), Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos), Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Penelope Cruz (Parallel Mothers) or surprise dark-horse candidate Kristen Stewart (Spencer).
Speaking of House of Gucci: Jared Leto somehow slipped out of the Oscar race this year, despite his performance as Super Mario Bros. villain Wario – I mean, um, fashion designer Paolo Gucci – being easily the most entertaining part of the tepid and overlong film. Leto’s heavyweight prosthetics and all-over-the-map Italian accent likely put less adventurous Academy voters off, but for my money it was the best-worst performance of the year, and would’ve spiced up a very bland nominee slate.
Adam McKay to the Oscars: Did we just become best-worst friends?
Netflix’s climate-change satire Don’t Look Up might be the streamer’s biggest movie in its history, but it didn’t spark widespread love at the Oscars. Perhaps it was the divided critical reaction, or maybe it was director Adam McKay’s social-media tussles with those who just didn’t get it, man. Whatever the case, the film walked away with a few high-profile nods, including best picture and best original screenplay, but lost out on such presumed sure bets as best director for McKay and best actor for Leonardo DiCaprio.
For my money, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza is the best film of 2021: a delightful, romantic, hilarious, beautiful coming-of-age film set in the wild San Fernando Valley of 1973. Yet the Academy depressingly decided that its first-time stars Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim – plus supporting actor superstar Bradley Cooper! – didn’t make all that much of an effort. At least the film nabbed slots for best picture, best director and best original screenplay.
Dune and done
The good news: Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic scored 10 nods, including best picture. The bad news: Villeneuve himself went unrecognized in the best director category, which is a head-scratcher that would confound even the most devoted member of the Bene Gesserit. Say what you will about the film’s is-that-it??? climax, but it took a director of true, determined, madcap vision to bring Frank Herbert’s universe to the screen in a way that felt not only comprehensible but genuinely thrilling.
Ever since Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast made its debut at the Telluride Film Festival this past fall (and then at TIFF), the word from on high was that the film was a lock for best picture. And on Tuesday, Belfast fulfilled/just fell short of its destiny, with seven nominations including best picture and best director. But five months after the film’s premiere, I honestly cannot recall much about the coming-of-age drama other than its fait accompli Oscar chances.
Daydream on Nightmare Alley
Given Nightmare Alley’s so-so critical reception and its whisper-quiet performance at the box office, it was a rather pleasant surprise that Guillermo del Toro’s Toronto-shot noir made a larger-than-expected impression this year, nabbing five nods, including best picture. The thriller is one of the richest cinematic experiences of the year, though it is odd that Del Toro himself missed out on the recognition.
The 2022 Academy Awards will air live March 27 at 8 p.m. on CTV/ABC.
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