Are the Academy Awards finally slouching back to normalcy? After two pandemic-era editions that courted disaster – I don’t think we need to remember Glenn Close wriggling her butt in a Los Angeles train station, but I’ll remind you any way – Tuesday’s announcement of this year’s nominees seemed awfully close to old-school Oscar.
There are indie hits that people have actually seen (Everything Everywhere All at Once scored 11 nominations, including Best Picture), underseen critical darlings (The Fabelmans nabbed five nods including Best Director and Best Picture, while Tár earned four, including Best Actress for Cate Blanchett), and genuine Earth-conquering blockbusters (Top Gun: Maverick scored five nods including Best Picture, while Avatar: The Way of Water fished four, also including the big prize of the evening).
But while many of the presumed sure-things secured their expected honours – it would have been madness if awards-race leader The Banshees of Inisherin didn’t net its six nominations, including Best Picture and all the acting categories – there were still a number of surprises that reveal more about the current state of Hollywood than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might prefer to admit. Here are the best, worst and strangest things about the 2023 Oscar nominations.
Women Talking, academy listening
The great big Canadian hope of the Oscar season came to fruition (sort of), as Sarah Polley’s bracing and brave drama Women Talking managed to score two nods: Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. While the film’s awards prospects indeed looked bleak these past few weeks, academy voters must have flashbacked to the halcyon days of September when Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’s novel was greeted as one of the best pictures at the Toronto International Film Festival. While the film struggled to find its deserved level of love on the awards circuit ever since, missing any major acting nods along the way, it eventually triumphed Tuesday, when it was announced as the very last Best Picture nominee.
Wait, about those Canadian hopes …
Polley and Turning Red director Domee Shi might have been the “big” Canadians up for Oscars Tuesday, but somewhat under the radar were Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, the National Film Board animators who scored a nomination for their short animated film The Flying Sailor, plus Daniel Roher, the Canadian director of the Russian-dissident doc Navalny, which secured a nomination for Best Documentary.
King of which world, exactly?
Speaking of Canadians: what does James Cameron get for making the fifth highest-grossing movie of all time, after spending the past decade being mocked that no one even wanted an Avatar sequel in the first place? Well, certainly not a Best Director nomination, as The Way of Water instead scored nods for Best Picture and a handful of technical awards. While the once and future King of the World is certainly not hurting for another statuette to add to his mantle, it seems remarkably short-sighted and not a little ungracious of the academy to not at least name-check the guy who single-handedly saved movie theatres last year – and this year, too.
Tom Cruise misses out on Best Actor
Okay, there are actually two guys who single-handedly (double-handedly?) saved cinemas: Cameron and Tom Cruise. Listen, it was always going to be a long shot that the Maverick star would get a nomination for Best Actor – if the academy wasn’t going to award him the statuette for his wrenching turn in Magnolia back in 2000, then it was never going to flip over his action-movie antics. But I’ll still argue for however long it takes for Xenu to come back and reclaim the Earth that Cruise’s performance in the Top Gun sequel represents a high point of blockbuster acting. Just recognize the fact that he’s an unkillable charisma machine, and let’s move on, people.
The Indian epic RRR started off 2022 as another Tollywood hit for director S.S. Rajamouli, then ended it as a genuine worldwide sensation – one of Netflix’s most popular acquisition titles ever, and a favourite of sold-out crowds across North America. But RRR’s virality just wasn’t enough to push the action spectacle to the top tiers of the academy, with the film only nabbing a nomination for Best Original Song (the instant earworm Naatu Naatu), instead of the hoped-for Best Director nod. If the Oscars don’t open with a big, splashy live performance of that Naatu Naatu, though, then we’ll know that the awards body is truly and forever doomed.
The day after it earned eight Razzie nominations – a movie-industry stunt that has run its course by now – Andrew Dominik’s Marilyn Monroe drama Blonde managed to squeak in one legitimate awards nod, for Ana de Armas’s lead performance. The heavily panned film – which is largely misunderstood, in my opinion – was once highly anticipated on the festival landscape until, well, critics saw it. Or at least critics with their knives out for Dominik’s highly unorthodox take on the biopic.
Rise of the Riseborough
Chalk up another victory for Barack Obama’s influence. After he revised his annual “Best of” list the other week to include a late-game addition of Andrea Riseborough’s performance in the drama To Leslie, the actress managed to score a Best Actress nomination for a movie few Hollywood insiders have even seen. Word on the street is that actress Mary McCormack – wife of To Leslie director Michael Morris – started the whole Riseborough campaign after urging her famous friends to spread the word, starting with Howard Stern and ending with, well, the former president of the United States. However Riseborough’s awards campaign may or may not have begun, there hasn’t been such a come-from-nowhere success story since Melissa Leo paid for her own “for your consideration” ads for her role in The Fighter – and won.
Sunny days ahead
Charlotte Wells’s tender debut feature Aftersun is, by far, the most critically beloved film of 2022, with near universal praise. But for a while, it seemed like the tiny film wasn’t making an impact in the awards race against such relatively louder, slicker titles like Tár and The Banshees of Inisherin. But Wells’s father-daughter drama made a sun-kissed splash on Tuesday morning, walking away with a surprise Best Actor nomination for Paul Mescal.
Every award everywhere, all at once
The runaway success of the multiverse comedy Everything Everywhere All at Once has been a head-spinning blast to watch, especially given the fact that the movie seems to be everything that the oft-staid academy usually takes pains to avoid: manic, maximalist, comic-book-y weirdness that is both Jungian and juvenile. Yet the exhausting and exhilarating concoction earned 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for the Daniels duo (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), Best Actress for Michelle Yeoh, Best Supporting Actor for Ke Huy Quan, and two Best Supporting Actress nods: Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu.
Quite loud on the western front, actually
Five months ago, it was improbable to think that Netflix’s one big Oscar hope would be a German-language remake featuring few internationally recognizable faces, yet Edward Berger’s First World War epic All Quiet on the Western Front has been steadily picking up notices ever since its TIFF debut, and now counts a whopping nine nominations, including Best Picture, in its arsenal.
Stream turned nightmare
For the past two editions of the Academy Awards, pandemic-stricken voters had nowhere to look but their own living-room-sized screens: it was natural that streamers such as Netflix and Prime Video would score the majority of the nominations. (Isn’t it, in retrospect, genuinely unbelievable that the Apple TV+ dramedy CODA won Best Picture last year? Best Picture, as in the actual best picture released that year! As you may be able to guess, I didn’t like it.) So it was expected that the big Hollywood disruptors would be disrupted themselves this year, with Netflix failing to score big with its contenders (Glass Onion got only one nod for Best Adapted Screenplay, ditto Bardo for Best Cinematography, while one-time bet White Noise was shut out … though sleeper hit All Quiet on the Western Front scored big, as noted above). Meanwhile, Prime Video and Apple TV+ found little love, even as the latter streamer gambled with resuscitating the Will Smith discourse by releasing Oscar hopeful Emancipation last month. Oops.
Avengers, assemble … the Oscars mantle
As was foretold ever since the first, intensely powerful trailer was released for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever featuring Angela Bassett in full-on command-the-screen mode, the actress nabbed a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Which makes Wakanda Forever the first Marvel movie to ever score a nod in one of the major acting categories. You know what this means: the campaign for Paul Rudd in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is already secretly being planned inside the depths of Marvel Studios. The really, really, really tiny depths.