Tuesday, January 24, 2023

2023 Oscar Nominations (Reaction and Analysis)

Announced earlier this morning from the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills by actors Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams, the 95th Academy Award nominations (full list here) are now known. This means all the arguing and predicting can officially commence, leading into a telecast on March 12 that could have a lot riding on it. Or maybe not, depending upon who you ask. For those within the industry, as well as fans, journalists and critics following this closely, it's still a big deal. And the best thing about this year's reading of the nominees is that it actually felt like one, with a welcome return to the press conference format, as audible gasps and cheers could be heard when certain names were announced, or in some cases, left off. 

While doing this in a Zoom-style format these couple of years was clearly a necessity, the Academy was already tinkering with the nomination announcements pre-pandemic so it was especially gratifying to see it presented this way again. But beyond being handled well and going off without a hitch, it also gave some hope to awards prognosticators who filled out a scorecard since the first few categories mostly played out as expected. All that changed once some of the bigger categories were announced, many of which contained a fair share of subs and surprises.  

Everything Everywhere All At Once, led with 11 nods, possibly shutting down the talk of it being too polarizing for older Academy members. Whether this large contingent of supporters will translate into enough votes to win the big prize another story, especially with The Banshees of Inisherin and Netflix's All Quiet on the Western Front nipping at its heels with 9 nominations each. While I still contend that  10 Best Picture nominees is too many and waters down the entire field, voters again made it apparent they're not necessarily interested in using these slots to assemble an incredibly eclectic group of nominees or veer too far from what they've always done. There are always exceptions, but for the most part, Oscar voters like what they like and have specific tastes that  heavily deviate from critics and audiences. And as we've seen in recent years, this can create challenges for the actual telecast, both in terms of ratings and actual entertainment value. Let's see how they did this time.

-The first notable surprise was probably Causeway's Brian Tyree Henry in Supporting Actor. That he ended up beating out The Fabelmans'  Paul Dano and The Good Nurse's Eddie Redmayne for the fifth slot isn't nothing. And anyone who thought Judd Hirsch wasn't making it in for The Fabelmans doesn't know the Academy, as there was no chance the 87 year-old veteran actor would be excluded, regardless of the screen time issue. Banchees' Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan predictably round out the category while it's now frontrunner Ke Huy Quan's to lose for Everything Everywhere.

-The presence of both Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu in Supporting Actress for Everything Everywhere is revealing. It indicates a lot of goodwill for the film, especially considering as recently as a couple of weeks ago many seemed sure Hsu would be left out. That they justifiably recognized her performance as essential is yet another box checked in its favor. But it's Angela Bassett who's suddenly emerged as the favorite for Wakanda: Forever, meaning Hong Chau (The Whale) and Kerry Condon (Banshees) have some catching up to do.

-The two big overperformers were All Quite on the Western Front and Triangle of Sadness, both nabbing Picture and Screenplay notices, plus a surprise directing nomination for Triangle's Ruben Östlund. It's ironic that the former ended up being Netflix's awards pony considering they bet everything on Glass Onion, which disappointed with only a sole writing nod.  

-The biggest snub just might be Top Gun: Maverick's Claudio Miranda failing to get in for cinematography. He wasn't just merely expected to earn a nomination, but favored to win. It's an inexplicable exclusion for a blockbuster that's still expected to run the table when it comes to the technical categories (visual effects, sound and editing all within grasp). Still, not hearing his name may have been the morning's most perplexing moment. 

-Remember when the documentary category was the one of the most anticipated? Not to say the selected nominees aren't worthy, but it does seem as if this race is missing some of the luster it had in previous years. The same could be said for Animated Feature, which will more than likely be won by Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.

-Continuing their tradition of royally botching the Best Original Song category, voters awarded perennial runner-up Dianne Warren her 14th nomination for "Applause" from the anthology film Tell It Like a Woman. This while Taylor Swift is completely snubbed for "Carolina" (Where The Crawdads Sing) and LCD Soundsystem's brilliant "New Body Rhumba" from White Noise gets egregiously excluded. That one really stings. R.R.R receives its only recognition here, for "Naatu Naatu," as it's looking like a three-way race between that, Lady Gaga's "Hold My Hand" (Top Gun), Rihanna's "Lift Me Up" (Wakanda Forever) and Ryan Lott and David Byrne's "This is a Life" (EEAAO). In Original Score, 90-year-old John Williams earns his 53rd (!) nod for The Fabelmans. 

-The decision to push The Fabelman's Michelle Williams for lead instead of supporting just cost her a locked Oscar. On the bright side, she should already have two or three of them, so there's reason to believe the five-time nominee will get more shots at this. Going against both Cate Blanchett (Tár) and Michelle Yeoh (EEAAO) is an uphill battle, but the lead story here is Andrea Riseborough in To Leslie. Whatever was done over the past couple of weeks worked, as sheer online will and word of mouth for an unsung, underseen performance got her in, sure to result in some interesting discussions about what it takes to get a nomination. 

-The attempts to tear down Blonde were only partially successful, with even the film's biggest detractors being forced to admit Ana de Armas' work was amazing, especially in the face of that controversial material and all the immense scrutiny playing Marilyn Monroe entails. Babylon being considered the financial flop of the year destroyed Margot Robbie's chances here and The Woman King just didn't have enough behind it to earn Viola Davis a nod. The Riseborough and de Armas surges most affected Danielle Deadwyler, who at one point seemed to be a lock for Till. Pearl's Mia Goth was a non-starter due to the Academy's long standing genre bias, but boy would it have been great if that materialized. 

-Despite the rapturous reception for Top Gun: Maverick, it was always hard to envision them nominating Cruise for this. It's just not the kind of performance AMPAS typically goes for, so they didn't. And whatever admiration exists for The Fabelmans just wasn't enough to carry star Gabriel LaBelle through. Instead, things shaped up mostly how we thought, with Paul Mescal (Aftersun) and Bill Nighy (Living) taking the two indie underdog slots while Colin Farrell (Banshees), Austin Butler (Elvis) and comeback king Brendan Fraser (The Whale) battle it out. With Butler now overtaking Farrell and Fraser getting a second wind after overcoming some initially scathing reviews, this has suddenly turned into one of the more intriguing races. 

-Some snubs in the directing category include Baz Luhrmann (Elvis), James Cameron (Avatar: The Way of Water), Edward Berger (All Quiet on the Western Front) S.S. Rajamouli (R.R.R.), Charlotte Wells (Aftersun) and Sarah Polley (Women Talking) even if it's tough to call anything a "snub" with five slots to the ten Best Picture contenders. Of the listed, Berger's exclusion might be the only real surprise given how well his film did across the board. Spielberg's still the favorite, even if you can't completely count out the Daniels (EEAAO), or even Martin McDonagh (Banshees) or Todd Field (Tár) given their pedigrees. Triangle's Östlund is the shock here, as few saw that coming.        

-Again, with 10 Best Picture nominees, it's hard to get bent out of shape about omissions. The Whale's mixed reception probably caught up with it and Babylon and R.R.R. were always reaches, as was Wakanda Forever. Taking their places were Triangle of Sadness and Women Talking, the latter of which was actually very poorly received in some circles, to the point it almost feels like filler. Top Gun: Maverick and the Avatar: The Way of Water are the blockbuster inclusions everyone's been clamoring for while Elvis continues to pick up steam. Whether The Fabelmans has enough to go all the way is questionable, but the same could also be said for the more critically adored Tár and Banshees of Inisherin. All Quite on the Western Front may have ascended from nothing to a serious threat overnight, but all eyes still remain on Everything Everywhere, which just further asserted its potential dominance on Oscar night.


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