It’s been a hard year for cinemas, but a good one for cinema. Despite the continuing upheaval in the world, great films did come out and this year’s Academy Awards have done a better job than usual of recognising them. There are still some upsets and oversights, of course, but a bit less outrage than usual – and for the second year in a row, a very clear frontrunner for Best Picture. Here are the headline nominations that leapt out at us.
1. The Power of the Dog is now hot favourite for Best Picture
It’s a good day to be Jane Campion. Her extraordinary western The Power Of The Dog has most nominations with 12, ahead of Dune’s ten. And unlike the sci-fi epic they’re in all the most important categories: Oscar nerds will tell you that almost every Best Picture winner for the last 40 years has had a Best Editing nomination (Birdman is the lone exception), and almost all have Best Director nods. The Power Of The Dog is the only film in all three categories this year, making it a statistical lock on Best Picture. It’s also very good, which doesn’t hurt. But it does leave us facing the extraordinary prospect of two kinda-Westerns, both made by women and distributed digitally, being clear frontrunners in consecutive years. Oscar’s moving forward via the oldest of genres.
2. It’s the year of the acting power couple
Two real-life couples are celebrating paired nominations today, suggesting that true love and creativity go together like awards season and tiny canapés that everyone’s too skinny to eat. Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons are both in the Supporting categories for The Power Of The Dog, where their onscreen marriage draws the wrath of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil Burbank (he’s up for Best Actor). Meanwhile in the Lead categories, Penélope Cruz was recognised for her extraordinary work on Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers, while her real-life husband Javier Bardem is up for Being the Ricardos – and not for nothing, so is Bardem’s onscreen wife Nicole Kidman. Real-life couples have been nominated together before, of course – think Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton for Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? or Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston for Prizzi’s Honor – but two in one year is a first. If the divorce rate in Hollywood plummets, this may be why.
3. What were the big snubs?
The good news is that there were fewer cries of outrage than usual this morning. Denis Villeneuve could reasonably have expected a Best Director nomination for the sweep of Dune - but we can’t seriously claim to be surprised that the Academy failed to nominate the director of a science fiction movie. That said, it’s a real shame to see Rebecca Hall’s Passing overlooked, particularly for its two stunning performances from Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as old friends divided because they’re living as different races in the 1920s. Given the love for Licorice Pizza, it also might have been nice to see Alana Haim given the nod for her work there – and if you were going to nominate a supporting actress for Belfast, Caitriona Balfe has a stronger case than Judi Dench. We suspect the latter got the nod because: a) she’s Judi Dench and b) she has that striking final shot, which must have lingered in voters’ minds. Online, the social media outrage largely centred around the omission of Lady Gaga for her extreme Italian accent in House Of Gucci, but we’ll be over here with the theatre kids, upset that Mike Faist didn’t get a nod for his turn as Riff in West Side Story. When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way – but, alas, not all the way to the Kodak Theatre.
Given the love for Licorice Pizza, it would have been nice to see Alana Haim nominated
4. Drive My Car’s success shows a less insular Hollywood
South Korean director Bong Joon-ho once dismissed the Oscars as ‘very local’. His point was that they’re not looking for the best cinema from around the world; they’re primarily focused on American, or at least English-language, films. His own Parasite went some way to showing an Oscars willing to look further afield when it won in 2020, and this year sees a few more international films up for major awards. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s moving, grief-fuelled Drive My Car is up for four major awards: Film, Director and Adapted Screenplay as well as Foreign Language Film. Norwegian film The Worst Person In The World is also nominated for Original Screenplay, showing that Oscar voters can appreciate a great story told in another language. There’s hope yet that Hollywood is opening its doors to a wider world.
5. Flee’s triple nomination is historic
A significant first this year comes courtesy of Flee. It’s a documentary made by a Danish director, Jonas Poher Rasmussen, and telling the story of a man called Amin Nawabi who fled from Afghanistan with his family as a child. But Rasmussen tells the story through animation, and Amin narrates mostly in Danish, so the film was eligible for – and landed nominations in – Best Foreign Language Film, Best Animation and Best Documentary. It’s probably in with its best shot in the latter category – Drive My Car must be the frontrunner for Foreign Language and Encanto is probably the one to beat in Animation (though we wish it were Mitchells vs The Machines, which is inspired) – but win or lose, it’s a record-setting result.