Another dizzying, pandemic-buffeted year for movies leads to another set of largely happy surprises with the Academy Award nominations. The Academy’s efforts to diversify the voting body continue to have interesting, rewarding results. Drive My Car took its flurry of critics awards wins and raced all the way into the Best Picture race, also impressively taking up spots in the directing and writing categories. Some of the other longshots who were including in this morning’s announcements are perhaps more telling: Penélope Cruz making into the acting race for Pedro Almodóvar’s Spanish-language Parallel Mothers, and Norway’s The Worst Person in the World figuring in the Best Original Screenplay category. As the Oscars creep towards their centennial, they’re arguably doing a better job that at any point previous in representing a fuller scope of achievements in cinema.
I’ll note that I put forth the above compliments in a year in which I have fewer favorites in common with the Academy than usual. Of the ten Best Picture nominees, only one is on my personal list of the same number for the movie year just passed. (I will concede here that two titles on the list, both widely loved, have eluded me so far.) Then again, three of the five Best Documentary (Feature) nominees are on my top ten, so I guess I’m like-minded with at least once branch of the Academy.
—It sure looks like the year of The Power of the Dog. Jane Campion’s feature led the nominations with twelve, including citations for all four of the main performances. There’s probably no surer lock at this point than Jane Campion becoming the fourth woman to win the directing statuette. Of course, that will also make it two women in a row.
—The actors loved Being the Ricardos, nominating Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, and, in more a surprise, J.K. Simmons. (That roll call leaves out the strong performance in the film, Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance). Everybody else saw its considerable weaknesses. The movie missed in every other category, including Sorkin for screenplay, where the Academy has been very generous to him over the years.
—I suspect the lackluster performance of Being the Ricardos puts a snarl in the predictors’ narrative that Kidman is the frontrunner in the Actress in a Leading Role category, just as Kristen Stewart missing the cut for the Screen Actors Guild Awards upended the consensus opinion that she was bound for the Oscar stage. None of the five performances in the category is from a Best Picture nominee, so there’s no guidance to be had there. I’m sticking with the inclination I’ve had since seeing The Lost Daughter: This is Olivia Colman’s all the way. That Jessie Buckley very deservedly rode Colman’s coattails to nab an unexpected spot in the supporting category feels like a useful data point in soothsaying the outcome.
—Typing of Kidman, she’s now up to five career nominations. More impressively, Judi Dench picked up her eighth nod, and Denzel Washington reached nine acting nominations, putting in the company of legends. He’s now tied with Spencer Tracy, Paul Newman, and Al Pacino on the lifetime acting nominations list.
—There was a lot of speculation that Steven Spielberg would miss the cut in the directing category to make way for Ryusuke Hamaguchi, the helmer of Drive My Car. That’s understandable. Three of the last four Spielberg movies to make the cut in the Best Picture race didn’t nab him a corresponding Best Directing nod. The Japanese filmmaker made the cut, but it was Dune‘s Denis Villeneuve who didn’t carry over from the Directors Guild of America Awards nominees. Spielberg is now tied with Billy Wilder with eight directing nominations, and he sits one behind Martin Scorsese on the list.
—Let’s congratulate Diane Warren for reaching lucky number thirteen in songwriting Oscar nominations. She’s never won and surely won’t this year. Despite the Disney blunder of not submitting for consideration the Encanto tune that recently became only the second chart-topper culled from one of their animated features, the film and its songwriter, Lin-Manuel-Miranda, are represented in the category by “Dos Oruguitas” (also on the Billboard chart current, at a comparably meager #38). That’s the likeliest winner, even with the starry competition of Beyoncé and Billie Eilish.
—Sticking with the contenders in the original song category, congratulations I guess to Van Morrison for picking up this year’s Mel Gibson Excellence in Antisemitism commemorative nomination.
—Flee pulled off a historic trifecta, earning places in the categories for documentary feature, animated feature, and international feature. It could easily lose in all three categories.