Sunday, March 3, 2024

Shocks & Surprises From The 94th Academy Award Nominations

By Daniel Howat 

A new crop of Academy Award nominees have been unveiled, and along with it came plenty of snubs, some pleasant surprises, and lots of question marks. This year had some genuine jaw-droppers, and there was plenty to talk about regarding what made it in and what didn’t. Let’s dive in to break down the nominees and how this affects the race for Academy gold.

Twelve nominations. Twelve nominations!! While we knew the Academy would love “The Power of the Dog,” I think few of us expected it would be the nomination leader, especially when up against more significant technical feats like “West Side Story,” which received seven nominations, and “Dune,” which received ten nominations.

Jesse Plemmons was the film’s biggest surprise of the morning, only scoring a BAFTA nomination prior to today. As expected, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-McPhee also scored acting nominations. Elsewhere, Jane Campion’s Golden Globe-winning film got in for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, and more, with Ari Wegner becoming only the second woman nominated for Best Cinematography. It only missed Best Costume Design in the craft categories. It even scored a nomination for Best Sound, which was one of its least likely nominations. This year it’s the only Best Picture nominee nominated for directing, writing, acting, and editing. Campion is widely expected to win both Best Director and Adapted Screenplay. The film showed so much strength this morning that it’s tough to imagine anything taking it down for Best Picture, which would be a first for Netflix.

Both Supporting categories were bloodbaths. While most, including the entire Next Best Picture team, had a consensus five in Best Supporting Actress (Caitríona Balfe, Ariana DeBose, Kirsten Dunst, Aunjanue Ellis & Ruth Negga), the actual nominees threw us for a loop. As widely expected, Ariana Debose (“West Side Story“), Kirsten Dunst (“The Power of the Dog“), and Aunjanue Ellis (“King Richard“) made it, but Jessie Buckley (“The Lost Daughter“) and Judi Dench (“Belfast“) also swept in. They knocked out names like Ruth Negga (“Passing“), Cate Blanchett (“Nightmare Alley“), and Dench’s co-star Caitríona Balfe. It’s hugely shocking to see Balfe miss, as someone we thought was winning the whole thing just a few short months ago and especially after she managed to score Critics Choice, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and SAG nominations (the only person from “Belfast” to do so). It’s especially surprising to see her miss for her co-star Dench, who has just a few brief scenes in “Belfast.” Though a slight surprise, BAFTA-nominee Jessie Buckley landing in the category was a pleasant one. While “The Lost Daughter” has mainly been seen as just an Olivia Colman vehicle, Buckley’s frustrated, burnt-out performance deserves this recognition. Golden Globe-winner Ariana Debose is still likely to sweep this category, and nothing about today seems to suggest otherwise.

In Best Supporting Actor, the expected three men scored nominations, Troy Kotsur (“CODA“), Ciarán Hinds (“Belfast“), and Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Power of the Dog“), but two slight surprises made the cut with them. Jesse Plemmons (“The Power of the Dog“) joined his co-star in the category, making this the third year in a row with double nominees in Best Supporting Actor for the first time in Oscar history. Critics Choice nominee J.K. Simmons (“Being The Ricardos“) also made it in, somewhat surprisingly. SAG nominees Jared Leto (“House of Gucci“), Bradley Cooper (“Licorice Pizza” – which also didn’t get a nomination for its lead actress, Alana Haim), and Ben Affleck (“The Tender Bar“) couldn’t make it in. Smit-McPhee and Kotsur will battle it out for the win here, but I’m leaning toward Smit-McPhee, based on the strength of “The Power of the Dog” as a whole.

I’m not quite sure how this happened, to be honest. Denis Villeneuve was snubbed in Best Director, yet nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi masterpiece, “Dune.” With ten nominations across the board, including every single craft category except for Original Song, it’s a bit inexplicable that Villeneuve was pushed out of Director. Instead, Kenneth Branagh, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jane Campion, and Steven Spielberg all made it in over the former nominee. The only explanation that makes sense for snubs like this is that members of the Director’s branch just assumed Villeneuve was safe, so they voted in a different direction. The Directors’ branch is usually quite friendly to major technical achievements like “Dune,” so to see it miss here was painful.

Belfast” had an unusual Oscar nomination morning. Branagh’s personal film missed in a few key places but still scored other crucial nominations, leaving the film’s Best Picture chances a little hard to parse, especially in the wake of the overperformance of “The Power of the Dog.”

The film did quite well overall, with seven nominations total. But below the line, it missed almost everywhere, including Best Cinematography, Film Editing, and Production Design. The only below-the-line nominations it received were Best Sound and Original Song for Van Morrison’s “Down To Joy.” Missing a couple of those wouldn’t have been a big deal, but to miss all of them? That’s a poor showing for a film many thought would win Best Picture.

And yet above the line, “Belfast” had no real issues. It scored Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and nominations for Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench. Many believed Branagh was vulnerable in Best Director, as that branch is notoriously finicky. Snagging a nomination there, even over Denis Villeneuve of all people, is a huge get for Focus Features and still leaves them in the hunt for Best Picture, but just barely. It’s still certainly possible, but it will need to show some serious strength through the guilds and remaining awards shows before I switch from “The Power of the Dog” winning the whole thing.

Despite landing nominations at Golden Globe, SAG, Critics’ Choice, and BAFTA, the only actress to do so this year, Lady Gaga was snubbed from Best Actress for her performance in “House of Gucci.” The Ridley Scott-directed film had a poor showing across the board, landing a lone nomination for Best Makeup And Hairstyling. Recent Razzie nominee Jared Leto also missed in Best Supporting Actor. Some had predicted “House of Gucci” to snag a Best Picture nomination, yet it missed there, along with Best Costume Design. Now, it’s likely to lose Makeup and Hairstyling to either “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” or “Dune.” With two major releases this year, Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” and “House of Gucci” could only scrape up that lone nomination.

As is becoming the norm, Best Actress was one of the most challenging categories to predict. There was a consensus five, though we all knew at least one of them would miss. As we already said, the one to miss was Lady Gaga. In her place was Penelope Cruz, showing up without a single major precursor nomination for her performance in Pedro Almodovar’s “Parallel Mothers.” Kristen Stewart, who was largely predicted to win the Oscar last fall, was right on the edge heading into nomination morning after missing SAG and BAFTA nominations. Yet, she made it in for her incredible performance in “Spencer,” putting her back in the hunt to win the category again. “Parallel Mothers” also managed a Best Original Score nomination. Not bad for a film that Spain did not choose as their entry for Best International Feature Film this year.

An outside contender for the past few months, “Nightmare Alley” just barely squeaked into Best Picture after missing PGA, DGA, Golden Globe, and BAFTA. It has no other above-the-line nominations but made it into Best Cinematography, Production Design, and Costume Design.

This nomination is also Bradley Cooper’s fourth for Best Picture, the same number as his acting nominations. Along with his previous Adapted Screenplay nomination for “A Star is Born,” this puts Cooper at nine nominations without a single win, making him one of the more overdue nominees we have working today.

The Academy is becoming more and more hospitable for films not in the English language, and today proved that’s no fluke. “Drive My Car,” “The Worst Person in the World,” and “Flee” all overperformed today, scoring expected nominations in Best International Feature but also showing up elsewhere outside of the designated category.

Drive My Car” scored four nominations, including Best International Feature, Adapted Screenplay, Director, and Best Picture, becoming the first Japanese film nominated in the category. This is a stunning achievement, especially for a small distributor like Janus Films. As with any non-English language nominated for Best Picture, it’s essentially a lock to win Best International Feature Film.

Danish animated documentary “Flee” set a new record today: it’s the first film nominated in all three “feature” categories outside of Best Picture, Best International Feature, Documentary Feature, and Animated Feature. While it’s not looking like it will win any of those categories, it’s a fantastic moment to see a film recognized in all three places.

Finally, “The Worst Person in the World” stunned with a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, along with International Feature Film. While some people had predicted Renate Reinsve to make it into Best Actress for her incredible performance, sadly, that did not pan out. Still, the screenplay nomination is a beautiful and worthy surprise for one of the best movies of the year.

While several nominations were on the table for Aaron Sorkin’s “Being The Ricardos,” it landed with just three, all of which were for acting. Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, and J.K. Simmons were all nominated for their performances. Still, Sorkin’s script didn’t even snag an Original Screenplay nomination after it managed to get nominated at Critics Choice Golden Globes, BAFTA, and WGA. It’s not Sorkin’s first surprise miss by any means, but missing Screenplay, while Simmons snuck in, and all without a Best Picture nomination was a definite surprise.

Tony Kushner’s excellent adaptation of “West Side Story” wasn’t recognized in Best Adapted Screenplay. It was one of the few misses for the Golden Globe-winning film, along with Best Film Editing. Overall, it was a fine morning for the Steven Spielberg-directed film as it managed to overperform with seven nominations, including Best Picture, Director, and Supporting Actress for Golden Globe-winner Ariana DeBose.

Is “Belfast” or “West Side Story” closer to Best Picture with seven nominations each? These nominations need some time to settle in, but “Belfast” seemed to have more big misses than “West Side Story,” though the screenplay miss is hard to swallow.

After four straight years in which the winner of the Critics’ Choice for Best Documentary was outright snubbed at the Oscars, leaving the Documentary frontrunner out in the cold, Questlove’s highly acclaimed “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” managed to bunk this trend and make it into Best Documentary Feature. It’s one of the most acclaimed documentaries of the year and is in a great spot to win the Oscar after all of the previous wins it’s amassed this year.

While the branch didn’t snub “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” they still overlooked a frontrunner. “The Rescue” was widely predicted to make it in here, but that turned out to be the populist documentary not to make it with this highly peculiar branch.

While we knew “The French Dispatch” wasn’t going to be as recognized as Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was in 2014, most still expected it to receive at least a handful of nominations in the below-the-line categories. Instead, it didn’t receive a single nomination. There is nothing for production design, score, cinematography, costumes, or anything else, making it the first Anderson film to receive zero Academy Award nominations since “The Darjeeling Limited” in 2007.

We’ve got a long month and a half until the Academy Awards are finally handed out, and I’m sure more surprises will be in store for us then as we go through the guilds, Critics Choice, and BAFTA awards. As always, we’ll keep you up to date on our predictions, the state of the race, and much more.

What was your biggest surprise of the morning? How many nominations did you get correct? What do you think is winning Best Picture now? Let us know in the comments section below or over on our Twitter account. Check out our live reactions to the nominations here and be sure to stay tuned for our updated Oscar predictions on the site shortly.

You can follow Daniel and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @howatdk

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Daniel Howat
Daniel Howat
Movie and awards season obsessed. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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