By Sonia Rao,Jada Yuan
The 2024 Oscar nominations that rolled in bright and early on Tuesday morning leaned toward artsy, prestige fare – and away from more obvious blockbuster success.
When Greta Gerwig didn’t get nominated for best director for “Barbie”, you could almost hear a collective gasp across the country.
The love for “Barbie” seemed weak everywhere, with eight nominations compared with 13 for “Oppenheimer”, 11 for “Poor Things” and 10 for “Killers of the Flower Moon”.
Despite hitting double digits, “Killers” also landed fewer nods than many expected – no recognition for best actor or adapted screenplay, for instance. (Although Martin Scorsese just passed Steven Spielberg for the most-nominated living director and Lily Gladstone made history as the first Native American best actress nominee.)
Surging movies? Those would be “American Fiction” and “Anatomy of a Fall”, which seemed to rack up surprising nods in every category academy members could think to nominate them for.
One important thing to note about Oscar nominations is that they’re voted on by branch, which could explain some of this. Directors vote for directors, writers for writers and so forth, while everyone votes on best picture.
For the big show, everyone in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences votes for everything, so populist fare has a better chance of snagging some wins.
Here’s a breakdown of the major snubs and surprises for the 96th Academy Awards, which will take place Sunday, March 10.
Surprise nominations for “American Fiction” included Sterling K Brown
If you’d been at the Toronto International Film Festival screenings for “American Fiction”, where Cord Jefferson’s racial satire debuted to a raucous reception and won the audience award, you might have guessed that the movie would receive a warm reception out in the world.
Getting love from the academy, though, wasn’t necessarily a given, especially since Jefferson is a first-time director.
On Tuesday, things started looking up immediately. Sterling K Brown, a riot as the chaotic gay brother in the film, was a surprise nominee for supporting actor (edging out Willem Dafoe for “Poor Things” and Charles Melton for “May December”), and then came the out-of-nowhere nomination for best score.
Jeffrey Wright for best actor and Jefferson for adapted screenplay were lovely but less shocking.
All in, the film got five nominations, with Jefferson joining Celine Song (“Past Lives”) in the astonishing and rare feat of first-time directors being nominated for best picture.
Leonardo DiCaprio got snubbed
Best actor is essentially a race between Cillian Murphy (“Oppenheimer”) and Paul Giamatti (“The Holdovers”), each of whom won a Golden Globe in his respective genre category.
But it’s notable that the remaining nominations went to Bradley Cooper (“Maestro”), Colman Domingo (“Rustin”) and Jeffrey Wright (“American Fiction”) instead of Leonardo DiCaprio, who was snubbed for his lead performance in “Killers of the Flower Moon”.
Perhaps we should have seen it coming: The Screen Actors Guild nominated these exact five actors for its own awards show.
“May December” got shut out of the acting categories
Despite starring heavyweights Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman, Todd Haynes’s “May December” landed its sole nomination in the original screenplay category.
The campy drama, inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau scandal of the 1990s, has been overlooked by several voting bodies this awards season.
But breakout star Charles Melton, who earned praise from critics for his sensitive performance as a 36-year-old man who was pursued as a teenager by Moore’s character, managed to secure several of the industry nominations.
He was snubbed in the Oscars’ supporting actor category, which went with more established performers this time around. Better luck next time?
Mark Ruffalo beat Willem Dafoe in the supporting slot
While the SAG Awards tend to be a solid predictor of acting nominations, the Oscars slightly differed in the supporting actor category.
While the union decided to nominate Willem Dafoe for his performance in “Poor Things” as the eccentric scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter, the academy instead opted to recognise Dafoe’s co-star, Mark Ruffalo, who plays the blustering Duncan Wedderburn and accompanies Emma Stone’s character on her coming-of-age journey.
It seems more likely Robert Downey Jr. (“Oppenheimer”) will win, though, so neither “Poor Things” actor needs to lose too much sleep over it.
Justine Triet’s surprise best director nod over Greta Gerwig
The big fear going into this morning would be that the male-dominated directors branch, which typically shuns blockbusters and favours art house and international fare, would nominate zero women.
Well, breathe a sigh of relief that didn’t happen.
What was shocking, though, was to see French director Justine Triet get nominated for “Anatomy of a Fall”, while Greta Gerwig, whose “Barbie” is the highest-grossing film from a female director of all time, is left on the sidelines.
Gerwig had seemed vulnerable in the days leading up to the nominations, and she’s in good company with other snubbed American directors, including Bradley Cooper for “Maestro” and Alexander Payne for “The Holdovers”.
The directing branch’s international bent also shone through with Jonathan Glazer getting honoured for the German-language “The Zone of Interest”, which ties “Anatomy of a Fall” (in French and English) with a very robust five nominations each.
They were the top two films at the most recent Cannes Film Festival.
Margot Robbie got passed over - for Ken
We know box-office success doesn’t always translate to Oscar nominations, but it is remarkable how many times “Barbie”, the highest-grossing film of 2023, was snubbed across the board.
The most glaring of all might be the lack of recognition for lead actress Margot Robbie, whose performance is instrumental to the film, and for director Greta Gerwig, who was previously nominated in 2018 for “Lady Bird”.
Rodrigo Prieto wasn’t nominated for the film’s cinematography, either, though he did make the list for “Killers of the Flower Moon”.
There was a surprise in Barbieland, though. We expected supporting actor Ryan Gosling to be nominated, but who had supporting actress America Ferrera on their bingo card?
Ava DuVernay’s “Origin” got zero nominations
The road to nominations for Ava DuVernay’s “Origin” was always going to be hard.
An adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson’s seemingly unadaptable nonfiction best-seller “Caste”, it’s a movie, essentially, about a woman writing a thesis that links Nazi Germany, the killing of Trayvon Martin and the plight of Dalits in India.
Its synopsis doesn’t sound like something academy members would rush to screen.
DuVernay, who financed the film independently through philanthropists such as Melinda Gates and Laurene Powell Jobs, had trouble from the start.
The movie didn’t get picked up until the end of the Venice Film Festival, and didn’t hit theatres until January.
And while DuVernay has been running her tail off trying to promote it this month, the players of the race felt set in stone. It was all just a little (or, really, a lot) too late.
France whiffed it
The big Oscar controversy towards the end of last year was when France decided to submit “The Taste of Things”, a sumptuous food movie starring Juliette Binoche, as its official selection for international feature over the Palme d’Or-winning “Anatomy of a Fall”.
France hasn’t won an Oscar in that category since Régis Wargnier’s “Indochine” in 1993, and this, many thought, could be their year.
Cut to today, when “The Taste of Things” didn’t make the cut, and “Anatomy of a Fall” cleaned up with nominations for best picture, director, actress (for Sandra Hüller), original screenplay and editing, the one category Oscar nerds will tell you is crucial to be in contention to win the grand prize.
Had it been in international feature, it would be a front-runner, but now it looks like “The Zone of Interest” will easily triumph there.