The announcement of the 94th Academy Award nominations, a time-honored tradition, took place Feb. 8. The art of predicting Oscar nominations has become a hard-tuned science, but this year, things were a bit more unpredictable.
Best Picture frontrunner “The Power of the Dog” overperformed in the acting categories, landing four nominations for Benedict Cumberbatch (Actor in a Leading Role), Kirsten Dunst (Actress in a Supporting Role), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Actor in a Supporting Role) and Jesse Plemons (Actor in a Supporting Role). The film’s director, Jane Campion, also received a nod in the Directing category — among the 12 nominations the film received. While the film ultimately failed as a complete narrative piece, Campion’s direction and construction of atmosphere is nothing short of masterful and deserves praise. Another surprise hit, “Being the Ricardos,” got left out of Best Picture, Directing and screenplay nominations, but managed to snag an impressive three acting nods for Nicole Kidman (Actress in a Leading Role), Javier Bardem (Actor in a Leading Role) and J.K. Simmons (Actor in a Supporting Role).
With three nominations for “Licorice Pizza,” Paul Thomas Anderson now has received 11 nominations in various categories over the years with no wins. While there may not be a filmmaker with a portfolio of work more worthy, with past nominees including “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia” and “There Will Be Blood,” “Licorice Pizza” should not be the film that lands him the prize. Even as the frontrunner in the Writing (Original Screenplay) category, “Licorice Pizza” is a shell of what Anderson has shown he can make. While him finally getting the recognition he deserves would feel good, it would simultaneously feel a little off.
“Drive My Car” director Ryusuke Hamaguchi received a nod for Directing along with a nomination for adapted screenplay. With Hamaguchi, the Academy continued its now four-year streak of nominating a foreign language filmmaker in the Directing category, joining predecessors Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”), Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”), Alfonso Cuaron (“Roma”) and Paweł Pawlikowski (“Cold War”). Hamaguchi is now the second Japanese filmmaker to be nominated for the prize, joining the company of legendary cinematic master Akira Kurosawa with “Ran” in 1985. But Hamaguchi was able to do something that Kurosawa was never able to do: landing a Best Picture nomination, in what is the most deserved nomination of the entire bunch, and though far fetched, it would be even more deserved if lead actor Hidetoshi Nishijima had been recognized as well.
Along with “Drive My Car,” “The Worst Person in the World” is another foreign film getting a little extra love. Joachim Trier’s excellent script got the attention it deserved with its nomination in the Writing (Original Screenplay) category, though if the film could only get one nomination outside of International Feature Film, lead actress Renate Reinsve should have been the one to take the honor. Her candor and sincerity in delivering this performance is something to marvel at and deserved official recognition in the form of the film world’s highest honor.
Another positive to come out of these nominations is recognition for Kristen Stewart. Though she was at one point the front runner for the Actress in a Leading Role award, her status faltered when she was snubbed in many preceding awards, including the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the British Academy Film Awards. It was up in the air if she would land the nomination, but in the end she got her well-deserved nod for her performance as Princess Diana in “Spencer.”
But, of course, with all this good also comes some bad. “Don’t Look Up” may just be the most annoying film of the year, with its shallow preachiness that is clearly coming from the brain of a man, writer and director Adam McKay, who thinks he is saving the world with this underdeveloped and overdone slog of a social satire. The film received nominations for both Best Picture and Writing (Original Screenplay). Then there is “The Lost Daughter,” one of the most incoherent films to grace the silver screen in a long time. Its now-Oscar-nominated screenplay is a mess of poor plotting, underdeveloped characters and frankly terrible dialogue. Olivia Colman, one of the best actresses working today, delivers a phoned-in and substanceless performance.
In what might be the biggest snub of this year, Denis Villeneuve did not receive the Directing nomination for his work on “Dune.” The film itself did quite well with a solid ten nominations, but much like with “The Worst Person in the World,” The Academy missed the best part of the whole movie: the direction. Villeneuve didn’t just direct a strong sci-fi action movie; he completely elevated the genre into something that went beyond spaceships and bad guys. “Dune” balanced epic storytelling with political intrigue and intimate character dynamics, a nearly impossible feat that Villenueve conquered with flying colors.
The 94th Academy Awards will air Mar. 27 on ABC. The awards have been gradually losing viewership over the past few years and criticism has been made about a seeming disconnect between the awarding body and the interests of general moviegoers. Whether or not these criticisms are based in truth is up to each individual viewer to decide, but it will be interesting to see how the Academy addresses some of these concerns in this year’s ceremony.
Finn Kirkpatrick is an arts & culture editor. He is a sophomore from Los Angeles, California intending to study Comparative Literature who likes to review movies and other things of that sort.