All at Once — Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations

Befitting a year in which Hollywood reeled in continuous confusion trying to adjust to the new reality of the post-COVID version of moviegoing, the Oscar nominations feel all over the place. There’s this wild convergence of old and new strewn about the nods. All Quiet on the Western Front is the sort of bigscreen war picture the Academy has always been susceptible to, but it’s in the mix entirely because a streaming service picked it up and gave it one of its traditional cursory theater runs to achieve the bare minimum qualification for award consideration. There are two blockbuster sequels in the Best Picture race, one of them to a pure popcorn flick released thirty-six years earlier, and two non-English films. Then there’s the most-nominated film of the year, a tandem directorial effort that benefits from superhero movies making confusing multiverse concepts second nature to combine Hong Kong martial arts dynamics with an emotional family story while editing the bejeesus out of it all. And it throws in a goofball Ratatouille spoof for kicks. According to the Academy, the spread and sprawl of cinema in 2022 was immense. Everything and everywhere are just starting points.

Sixteen of the twenty acting nominees are first-timers, and its been so long since Angela Bassett and Judd Hirsch received their previous invitations to the Academy’s soiree (twenty-nine years and forty-two years, respectively) that they almost feel like newcomers, too. All five nominees in the category for lead actor are on their first nomination, which last occurred eighty-eight years ago. Cate Blanchett is the sole acting nominee who’s already won an Oscar. Of course, she’s won two of them and might very well collect her third when Oscar night rolls around.

Other thoughts:

—Steven Spielberg is the only repeat nominee in the category for best directing. (Todd Field and Martin McDonagh both presided over Best Picture nominees in earlier years without receiving accompanying nods for their directing.) This is Spielberg’s ninth directing nominations, moving him past Billy Wilder and tying his pal Martin Scorsese. Spielberg and Scorsese are tied for second overall, three nominations behind William Wyler, who seems impossible to reach.

—Because The Fabelmans is a contender in the original screenplay category, Spielberg also earns his first nomination as a writer. He likely came close for writing Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which collected eight nominations. One of those eight was Spielberg’s first for directing.

—Cate Blanchett is up to eight acting nominations, tied with Marlon Brando, Jack Lemmon, Judi Dench, Geraldine Page, and the twins in futility Peter O’Toole and Glenn Close. I’ve long felt that Michelle Yeoh would slip past Blanchett for the actual win, and much as that position should be fortified by the impressive strength of Everything Everywhere All at Once this morning (the four acting nominations is really something), it does feel like another dash to the podium for Lydia Tár. If that happens, Blanchett joins Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Frances McDormand as living thespians with three acting Oscars on their shelf. That’s a lot of three-timers. And I’d say Blanchett is the likeliest of those group (yes, even more than Streep) to get a fourth acting Oscar someday, matching the record held by Katharine Hepburn, who Blanchett portrayed to get her first trophy.

—Michelle Williams reaches five nominations. At one time, I thought five nominations without a win was the magic number to make the Academy finally hand the statuette. Unless Blanchett and Yeoh seriously split the vote, it’s hard to see a path for her to win. Maybe she’ll win next year for Showing Up. It would be more satisfying to see the long-deserved honor happen for a Kelly Reichardt film anyway.

—Both Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler being left out of the lead actress category after showing up in most of the precursors is a very bad look for the Academy. That’s easily the strongest of the acting categories this year, but that doesn’t erase the problematic and perplexing issue of Black actresses having such a tough time breaking through in the lead category. Davis was considered a shoo-in for a nomination for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom just two years ago and was similar omitted from the final list of five.

—Angela Bassett is the first actor to be nominated for a Marvel movie. Amazingly, she has a very good change of winning for it, too.

—Congratulations to songwriter Diane Warren for her fourteenth nomination which is all but certain to translate to her fourteenth loss, especially since she was recently given the consolation prize of a career achievement Academy Award. It’s also her fourth straight nomination for a film that otherwise has practically zero award or indeed cultural presence. You have to go back to “I’ll Fight,” which played over the closing credits of the documentary RBG, for her lauded efforts to seem remotely like anything other than a reflexive nomination for veteran.

—When I walked out of Everywhere All at Once, I was preemptively disappointed that Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu wouldn’t get serious awards consideration for their inventive work in the film. Now they’re both nominees and Quan is the one lock to win across the four acting categories. I’ve rarely been so delighted to be wrong.

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