And the Nominees Are...

The Academy spreads its largesse widely this year.

And the Nominees Are...

Some general observations on this morning’s Oscar nominations before I get into the weeds of the individual categories. The push by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to diversify and youth-ify is not only paying off in numbers – 9,487 members, a jump of 3,000 in five years – but in the number of members who actually take time to vote. This year there was reportedly a 35 percent increase in the latter, presumably from the younger, more engaged AMPAS contingent that also makes a point to see the movies. (Unlike stories that have gone around for years about aging Oscar voters giving their ballots to their maids or – in one case I personally know of – having slipped far enough into dementia that their daughters and daughters’ friends watch the screeners and fill out the cards.)

I think a shift was already becoming apparent in earlier years: “Moonlight” upsetting “La La Land” in 2017, “Parasite” becoming the first non-English best picture in 2020. This year the four nominations for Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s delicate, literate, and very emotional “Drive My Car” – for best picture, director, adapted screenplay, and international feature – reinforce the idea that a younger and more adventurous Academy, or at least one more in touch with the culture, is willing to look beyond Hollywood for rewards and awards. The same goes for Denmark’s heartbreaking “Flee” getting nominated for three Oscars: best animated feature, best international feature, and best documentary.

Don’t forget, however, that this younger crowd exists in tension with an older and more traditional AMPAS membership, one that can still give a best picture award to a feel-good white savior movie like “Green Book” in 2019 and that can and very well may vote in big enough numbers for “Don’t Look Up,” which has its detractors and less-than-enthused reviewers (like me) but that addresses (sort of) an important subject and therefore must be worthy of merit. Should the Oscars honor art or intent (or commerce)? It’s a foolish question to ask of any organization that began life as an anti-union PR campaign, but ask it we do, year after year. This year, there are gripes that “Drive My Car” is too arthouse and will chase the plebes away from the telecast, or that if you don’t like “Don’t Look Up,” you’re pro-environmental collapse. Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” leads the field with 11 nominations, and yet I know many people who’ve watched it on Netflix and have come away with a shrug. Which only underscores the fact that some movies may work better on a big screen or that some directors may be playing a trickier game than first appears. (And don’t forget that “Don’t Look Up” has probably been seen by more people on Netflix – in the Academy and across the country – than any other movie in contention.)

Here are this year’s nominations, with commentary on surprises and what some like to call “snubs.” The Oscar ceremonies will be broadcast on Sunday, March 27, which means we have a two-month slog until the big night. I promise I won’t bring it up again until the week before, when it’s prediction time.

Best Picture


“CODA” (above)

“Don’t Look Up”

“Drive My Car”


“King Richard”

“Licorice Pizza”

“Nightmare Alley”

“The Power of the Dog”

“West Side Story”

A well-balanced list, with only “The Tragedy of Macbeth” notable by its absence. You don’t have to be from Gloucester, or Massachusetts, or New England to cheer on “CODA,” the little movie in this category that probably won’t, but, you never know, could.

Best Director

Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza”

Kenneth Branagh, “Belfast”

Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog” (above)

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi , “Drive My Car”

Steven Spielberg, “West Side Story”

Now that new Academy rules hold the best picture field to a firm 10, five directors are going to get skunked. The shocker is Denis Villeneuve, whose “Dune” has been nominated in ten other categories but that must have, as Oscar tradition has it, “directed itself.” Given how the movie has been positioned from the start as one man’s ambitious vision, his omission is especially startling. I’d argue that Branagh doesn’t belong in the category, even if I’m happy to see “Belfast” earn five other nominations. With her nomination, Campion becomes the first women director to be honored twice. And last time, with “The Piano,” she lost to guess who? Steven Spielberg and “Schindler’s List.”

Best Actor

Javier Bardem, “Being the Ricardos”

Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Power of the Dog”

Andrew Garfield, “tick, tick… BOOM!”

Will Smith, “King Richard”

Denzel Washington, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (above)

Notably not present is Leonardo DiCaprio in ”Don’t Look Up” (nor was Adam McKay nominated for director) – a sign, perhaps, of the film’s competitive weakness. Or perhaps not. The race here is between master thespians Cumberbatch and Washington and comeback kid Smith.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”

Olivia Colman, “The Lost Daughter”

Penelope Cruz, “Parallel Mothers”

Nicole Kidman, “Being the Ricardos” (above)

Kristen Stewart, “Spencer”

This slate offers three of the year’s best performances and two of the year’s worst prosthetics. I personally found both Chastain’s and Kidman’s performances off-putting (the latter especially), but they’re the kind of full-body transformation that says acting to a lot of voters. The undeniable snub here is Lady Gaga, whose turn in “House of Gucci” has picked up awards bling everywhere else. Call it the Curse of Madonna.

Best Supporting Actor

Ciarán Hinds, “Belfast”

Troy Kotsur, “CODA” (above)

Jesse Plemons,  “The Power of the Dog”

J.K. Simmons,  “Being the Ricardos”

Kodi Smit-McPhee,  “The Power of the Dog”

Hooray for Troy Kotsur, the live-wire dad of “CODA,” and note that this is the second year in a row to feature a deaf character in this category. (Kotsur is deaf; Paul Raci, nominated last year for “Sound of Metal,” is a hearing Child of Deaf Adults.) Plemons’ surprise nomination may cause static for castmate McPhee, who many feel is a frontrunner.

Best Supporting Actress

Jessie Buckley, “The Lost Daughter”

Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story”

Judi Dench, “Belfast”

Kirsten Dunst,  “The Power of the Dog”

Aunjanue Ellis, “King Richard” (above)

With Dench – at 87, the oldest ever nominee in this category – and Hinds getting the “Belfast” supporting nods rather than Jamie Dornan and Catriona Balfe, the Academy is valuing age over youth and experience over beauty. Buckley is a welcome surprise here, as is Ellis, whose warm, rich performance seemed to be flying under the radar. But where’s Ruth Negga, the damaged heart of “Passing”?

Best Adapted Screenplay


“Drive My Car”


“The Lost Daughter” (above)

“The Power of the Dog”

I truly don’t understand how Tony Kushner’s beautifully crafted script for “West Side Story,” which anchored an ossified storyline in historical and psychological reality, could go un-nominated, but that’s Hollywood.

Best Original Screenplay


“Don’t Look Up”

“King Richard”

“Licorice Pizza”

“The Worst Person in the World” (above)

Another sign of the globalization of the Oscars: A nomination in this category for “Worst Person,” Norway’s wonderful coming-of-age drama.

Best Cinematography


“Nightmare Alley”

“The Power of the Dog”

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” (above)

“West Side Story”

No “Belfast”? That’s a snub.

Best Costume Design

“Cruella” (above)



“Nightmare Alley”

“West Side Story”

No “House of Gucci”? That’s really a snub.

Best Film Editing

“Don’t Look Up”


“King Richard”

“The Power of the Dog”

“tick, tick… Boom!” (above)

“King Richard” getting nominated here is a sign that the movie has as a wider fanbase in the Academy than many originally thought.

Best Makeup and Hair

“Coming to America”



“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (above)

“House of Gucci”

I remain unconvinced.

Best Production Design


“Nightmare Alley” (above)

“The Power of the Dog”

“The Tragedy of Macbeth”

“West Side Story”

Again, “Belfast” is noticeably absent from a craft category the film’s fans – and its director – may have been counting on. Not surprising, though, to see Guillermo del Toro’s rococo visuals in “Nightmare Alley” honored.

Best Score

“Don’t Look Up”



“Parallel Mothers” (above)

“The Power of the Dog”


“Down to Joy” (“Belfast”)

“Dos Oruguitas” (“Encanto”) (above)

“Somehow You Do” (“Four Good Days”)

“Be Alive” (“King Richard”)

“No Time to Die” (“No Time to Die” )

For reasons I’m not entirely clear on, the song from “Encanto” that everyone can’t stop singing -- “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” – was ineligible in this category. If “Dos Oruguitas” wins, Lin-Manual Miranda will become the newest EGOT.

Best Sound



“No Time to Die” (above)

“The Power of the Dog”

“West Side Story”

Best Visual Effects

“Dune” (above)

“Free Guy”

“No Time to Die”

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

“Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Best Animated Feature




“The Mitchells vs the Machines” (above)

“Raya and the Last Dragon”

Best Documentary




“Summer of Soul” (above)

“Writing with Fire”

A very strong category, even if “Summer of Soul” is a much-loved favorite.

Best International Film

“Drive My Car”


“The Hand of God”

“Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” (above)

“The Worst Person in the World”

An Asghar Farhadi movie is usually a shoo-in here, but “A Hero” went un-nominated. The digisphere this morning was loud with the sounds of everyone asking “What’s ‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’?” Judging by the photo, it’s about a yak in a classroom.

Best Animated Short

“Affairs of the Art”



“Robin Robin”

“The Windshield Wiper”

Best Documentary Short


“Lead Me Home”

“The Queen of Basketball”

“Three Songs for Benazir”

“When We Were Bullies”

Best Live Action Short

“Ala Kachuu – Take and Run”

“The Dress”

“The Long Goodbye”

“On My Mind”

“Please Hold”

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