For once, the Oscar nominations seemingly arrived without too much existential panic about the whole enterprise. The latest list of honorees, announced this morning by Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams, includes two of the most commercially successful films of the year, a slew of crowd-pleasing word-of-mouth hits, and genuine indie and foreign surprises. Additionally, the Academy’s focus has shifted heavily to films that have debuted and hit theaters rather than streaming.

    This year’s Oscars, which airs March 12 on ABC, was thankfully free of production wrangles. There are no internal battles over whether to remove certain categories from the broadcast; no anxiety-provoking experimental reception formats (Jimmy Kimmel has the job this year, for the third time); and less fuss over the “relevance” of the ceremony. The nominations largely struck a balance between populism and tonier awards lure, with several truly exciting names highlighted for the first time, a few underwhelming snubs, and a sense of real competition for many of the main categories.

    Everything everywhere all at once feels like a trailblazer.

    The multiverse action flick from the production team called the Daniels led the morning, with 11 nominations. These include Best Picture and recognition for each of its four main cast members, marking the first nominations for industry legends Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis, as well as, encouragingly, for relative newcomer Stephanie Hsu. A24’s film was released in March (a generally overlooked time) and has a heavy focus on martial arts and mind-blowing sci-fi: genres the Academy tends to ignore. But I’d call it the clear favorite to win Best Picture this year – its heart and visual pizzazz made it a surprise box office hit.

    The blockbusters had their due.

    The Academy has recently been challenged in some corners for ignoring the year’s biggest hits, especially as superhero movies have come to dominate ticket sales. This review caused so much stress that a former president of the Oscars proposed a “people’s film” award, although that motion was thankfully filed; last year, however, a scene from Zack Snyder Justice League was named the Oscars’ Cheer Moment, thanks to an online poll likely rigged by bots. This year, fortunately, the two highest-grossing films at the domestic box office were well received by critics and therefore easily entered the Best Picture race: Top Gun: Maverick earned six nominations in total, and Avatar: The Way of the Water has four. Another big seller of the year, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvisearned eight nominations, including Best Picture.

    The theatrical experience prevailed.

    Streamer movies have been dominating Oscar nominations lately, especially in the past two pandemic-hit years; Apple TV+ won the groundbreaking Best Picture trophy last year for CODA. But this year, a number of expensive Netflix projects from top filmmakers have been largely ignored; its only Best Picture contender is the German remake In the west, nothing is new, a dark horse that has received little fanfare on the awards scene in recent weeks. No other streamer has produced a Best Picture nominee, a telling sign that a more robust theatrical rollout is helping to build buzz for the awards.

    Beginners dominated the acting fields.

    Of the 10 artists nominated for Best Lead Actor or Best Supporting Actor, nine have never been recognized by the Oscars before – the only outlier is The Fabelmans‘ Judd Hirsch, who made the list for Ordinary people in 1981. It is good to see the Academy recognizing new talent such as Paul Mescal, Austin Butler, Brian Tyree Henry and Barry Keoghan, as well as established artists such as Colin Farrell, Brendan Fraser, Bill Nighy and Ke Huy Quan. Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress have just three returning players, though two of them are favorites to win: Cate Blanchett (getting her eighth nomination overall for Warehouse) and Angela Bassett (an industry legend only receiving her second nomination, this time for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever).

    There were some good last minute surprises…

    Andrea Riseborough, a much-loved actress who has given terrific performances in numerous independent films over the years, apparently launched an oddly effective lo-fi campaign at the last minute for the little-seen. To Leslie. Big names such as Edward Norton and Gwyneth Paltrow tweeted or Instagrammed mentions for Riseborough in the week leading up to Oscar votes, and also held private screenings of the film. Their efforts worked, adding Riseborough to the weird Oscar-nominations folklore obsessed with people like me (think Melissa Leo’s “Consider…” campaign). Other sweet surprises include the acid satire of Cannes winner Ruben Östlund triangle of sadness sneak in for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay; Mescal Earns Low-key First Feature Nomination After Sun, a critical favorite; and Tollywood word of mouth RRR land a Best Song nomination for “Naatu Naatu,” whose performance is expected to knock the house on Oscar night.

    …and unfortunate rebuffs.

    Riseborough’s surprise nomination helped eliminate two of the top black contenders for Best Actress: The female king‘s Viola Davis, which has been recognized by all major award harbingers, and Up toby Danielle Deadwyler, hailed as one of the biggest breakthroughs of the year. These films, both directed by black women (Gina Prince-Bythewood and Chinonye Chukwu respectively), were unfortunately deleted despite good reviews. Jordan Peele No was also passed over despite high ticket sales and critical adoration. While this year’s Oscars didn’t completely overlook black performers, it’s unfortunate to see such well-received feature films with a total of zero nominations.

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