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Photograph: A24

Six things we learned from the Oscar nominations

It didn’t go well for Damien Chazelle or champions of female-led filmmaking

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

There were a few uplifting aspects to this year’s Oscar nominations, even aside from Riz Ahmed’s attempt to announce a Best Animated Short nod for "My Year of Dicks" with a straight face (he managed it, no one else did).

Chief among them was the wide spectrum of films being celebrated, especially in the Best Picture bracket, where intimate comedy-dramas (The Banshees of Inisherin), huge-grossing legacy sequels (Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick), spiky satires (Triangle of Sadness), brilliantly out-there sci-fis (Everything Everywhere All At Once) and a Steven Spielberg joint (The Fabelmans) rub shoulders.

But while it’s a lineup without the usual quote-unquote ‘villains’ – a Green Book or a Don't Look Up – it still throws up a bunch of talking points to chew over. 

1. Has a #MeToo backlash been staved off with one key nomination?

Well, you can’t accuse the Academy of tokenism this year… or can you? The presence of Sarah Polley’s hard-hitting feminist drama Women Talking on the Best Picture shortlist turned a very male-heavy lineup into something a little more palatable and representative. The film – a showcase of superlative performers – was snubbed in the acting categories and Polley’s Best Director omission leaves that category looking very blokey. 

2. The super-rich and Putin are the villains of the year

Despite a Palme d’Or win, Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness is a surprise contender in the Oscars’ Best Picture and Best Director brackets. Where Babylon’s shitting elephants and drug-fuelled mayhem seem to have put off Oscar voters, Triangles well-publicised puke-athon and its eat-the-rich satirical message went down a lot more easily.

The big villain of Oscars night – as with every night – will be Vladimir Putin. The Best Documentary category boasts two films that take it to the Russian dictator: Navalny, a character study of anti-Putin dissident Alexei Navalny, and A House Made of Splinters, a fly-on-the-wall snapshot of a care home in war-torn East Ukraine.

3. It’s the year of the comeback

With all due love and respect for Brendan Fraser, a hot favourite to win Best Actor for The Whale, the big comeback story this year is Everything Everywhere All At Once. The multiversal A24 sci-fi from The Daniels – Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – is the kind of mid-budget movie that Hollywood isn’t supposed to be making these days. But 11 nominations show what’s possible with a swing for the fences, a great cast and the odd time-travelling butt plug.

It’s a storming return for the filmmaking pair, whose first thing was 2016’s hardly-beloved Swiss Army Man, that’s yielded crowd-pleasing nominations for Michelle Yeoh – the first ever Asian Best Actress nominee – Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom’s Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, and The Daniels themselves for Best Director(s). Props to Daniel Radcliffe for clocking these guys so early. 

4. Hollywood is still being weird about foreign language films

Muscling into the awards conversations on the back of its storytelling and technical prowess, All Quiet on the Western Front has shown that Europe can produce cracking big-scale blockbusters – just without actors or a director, judging by its absence from the acting and directing categories. Felix Kammerer was always a long shot for Best Actor, but Edward Berger surely deserves a spot on the Best Director list.

And fans of Park Chan-wook’s woozily seductive mystery-thriller Decision to Leave will be fuming about its total absence from the nominations, especially after Drive My Car’s success last year seemed to point to a greater appreciation of East Asian cinema in Hollywood.

5. ‘My Year of Dicks’ is no laughing matter

Okay, sure, we laughed when Riz Ahmed read it out during the nominations ceremony because we’re juvenile. (Don't worry, we're seeking help.) But aside from that grabby title, the Best Animated Short nominee is a sweary, funny-sad coming-of-age story of sexual discovery seen through the eyes of a Texan teenager. It’s the creation of Icelandic animator Sara Gunnarsdóttir, who created the animated segments in 2015’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and American filmmaker Pamela Ribon – and it’s, ahem, up online now

6. Damien Chazelle has been sent to the naught step

Hitherto an Oscars golden boy, with three nominations to his name, Damien Chazelle’s luck ran out this year. Babylon, his extreme, big-budget vision of Golden Age Hollywood, got the big ‘go home, you’re drunk’ from Academy voters. There were nods for Best Score, Best Production Design and Best Costume Design but crickets in all the major categories, which was bad news for Margot Robbie in the Best Actress category.

Here’s the full line-up of Oscar nominees.

The 34 best films of 2023.

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