94th Academy Award Nominations & Thoughts

Another year and another round of Oscar nominations. All of the battles on the front lines of critics lists and studio campaigns have led to a...fairly reasonable set of nominations. As far as the major categories are concerned, yes, there's not a ton of surprise for those who have been paying attention. Elsewhere, I can't offhand see any picks that came out of nowhere. Once again, it is nice to know the overhaul in the Academy membership has led to diverse choices in many of the categories. I have further thoughts on all of these, which I will go through, category by category. The Oscar results will be revealed on March 27, 2022.

A quick breakdown of the films with the most nominations:

The Power of the Dog - 12, Dune - 10, West Side Story - 7, Belfast - 7, CODA - 4, Don't Look Up - 4, Drive My Car - 4, King Richard - 4, Licorice Pizza - 4, Nightmare Alley - 4, The Lost Daughter - 3, The Tragedy of Macbeth - 3, Flee - 3, No Time To Die - 3

Inevitable or not, films left out of the conversation entirely:

A Hero, The Green Knight, Passing, Pig, Titane, Respect, The Harder They Fall, Godzilla vs. Kong, Mass, Red Rocket, C'mon C'mon, Last Night in Soho, Annette, The Tender Bar, The French Dispatch, The Last Duel, In The Heights

And the nominees are:

BEST PICTURE
(Ranked in order of preference - only for this category)

"Dune," Mary Parent, Denis Villeneuve and Cale Boyter, producers
"Licorice Pizza," Sara Murphy, Adam Somner and Paul Thomas Anderson, producers
"The Power of the Dog," Jane Campion, Tanya Seghatchian, Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Roger Frappier, producers
"West Side Story," Steven Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger, producers "Belfast," Laura Berwick, Kenneth Branagh, Becca Kovacik and Tamar Thomas, producers
“Drive My Car,” Teruhisa Yamamoto, producer
“CODA,” Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi and Patrick Wachsberger, producers
"Don't Look Up," Adam McKay and Kevin Messick, producers
"Nightmare Alley," Guillermo del Toro, J. Miles Dale and Bradley Cooper, producers
"King Richard," Tim White, Trevor White and Will Smith, producers
"Belfast," Kenneth Branagh, Becca Kovacik and Tamar Thomas, producers

Given the studio support and higher profiles many of these films have, it's easy to think of Drive My Car's inclusion in this lineup as a surprise, were anyone not aware of the many critic awards it has been cleaning up in the past few months. Otherwise, this lineup largely fell into place as expected. Nightmare Alley coming in at the last second basically felt like a toss-up battle between that, tick, tick...Boom!, Being the Ricardos, and House of Gucci. To all of this I say, the better film won out. As far as what to expect, if you look at the mountains close enough, you can see the Dog.

BEST DIRECTOR
Kenneth Branagh ("Belfast")
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”)
Paul Thomas Anderson ("Licorice Pizza")
Jane Campion ("The Power of the Dog")
Steven Spielberg ("West Side Story")

The Academy loves Spielberg. He hasn't missed a nomination for a drama since... Amistad? Paul Thomas Anderson is in the "happy to be there" position. Branagh was more or less expected for Belfast, which has been sailing through the Oscar season as a frontrunner. Once again, the international branch of the Academy proves their might by making sure to have further representation with a nom for Hamaguchi (though most of the nominees are non-American this year). And, some sad trivia, Campion (who will more than likely win the rematch between her and Spielberg), is the first woman nominated for Best Director a second time.


BEST LEAD 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")

While there were hopes for Nicolas Cage getting back on the good path with Pig or Peter Dinklage making the cut for Cyrano, it turns out the largely predicted contenders all made it through. Academy favorite, Leo DiCaprio, is sitting one out this year, but there's a strong lineup of major actors, all previous nominees/winners. Still likely to be a Big Willy Weekend come this March.


BEST LEAD ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain ("The Eyes of Tammy Faye")
Olivia Colman ("The Lost Daughter")
Penélope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers”)
Nicole Kidman ("Being the Ricardos")
Kristen Stewart ("Spencer")

Another strong lineup made up of all of the expected acclaimed performances. It really came down to who was going to be left out, and in this case, most will say Lady Gaga's work in House of Gucci was the "snub" worth pointing out. Indeed, there are arguments to make for others, but as far this set goes, it's a mix of past nominees and winners, along with Stewart's first nomination (after missing out on BAFTA and SAG noms). Once again, the star power and international voters were able to bring Cruz into the running, despite Parallel Mothers not being eligible for Best International Feature.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Ciarán Hinds ("Belfast")
Troy Kotsur ("CODA")
Jesse Plemons ("The Power of the Dog")
J.K. Simmons ("Being the Ricardos")
Kodi Smit-McPhee ("The Power of the Dog")

The Power of the Dog's whole cast officially made the cut. The momentum for the film has led to not only Kodi Smit-McPhee receiving his first nomination but Jesse Plemons as well. That could split the vote, although it didn't stop Judas and Black Messiah last year. Troy Kotsur becomes the first deaf male actor to be nominated for an Oscar. Sitting out is Mike Faist, Jamie Dornan, and Jared Leto. Not all were guarantees, but J.K. Simmons was not a likely pick either.


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")

If anything, I'm pleased there's no obligatory Meryl Streep nomination for Don't Look Up. Instead, there's a well-rounded set of nominees here, even if Dench adds little to Belfast overall compared to Caitriona Balfe, who sits on the outside of the noms. DeBose has won plenty of praise for her breakout work in West Side Story, while Jessie Buckley is another longshot entry that made. This may have come at the cost of Ruth Negga in Passing, let alone other interesting options, but supporting is always a competitive area.


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
"CODA," screenplay by Siân Heder
"Drive My Car," screenplay by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe
"Dune," screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth
"The Lost Daughter," written by Maggie Gyllenhaal
"The Power of the Dog," written by Jane Campion

Given how much I like Dune, I suppose it is worth nominating the film for its screenplay. The effort to scale down a dense novel into something commercially appealing is not nothing. Drive My Car earning a nomination is also worth noting, as it sits as one of two international features to break into the writing categories this year, and that's not always a given. Honestly, Tony Kushner deserved recognition for West Side Story, but hard to argue against any of the picks seen here.


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
"Belfast," written by Kenneth Branagh
"Don't Look Up," screenplay by Adam McKay; story by Adam McKay and David Sirota
"King Richard," written by Zach Baylin
"Licorice Pizza," written by Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Worst Person in the World,” written by Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier

Always a fun category, though it would have been nice to see some weirder picks. Seeing Pig or Shiva Baby find their way into the running would have been something. Most of these were expected, but The Worst Person in the World making it in ahead of Aaron Sorkin's script for Being the Ricardos is likely one of the bigger upsets of the day. 


BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
"Drive My Car" (Japan)
"Flee" (Denmark)
"The Hand of God" (Italy)
"Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom" (Bhutan)
"The Worst Person in the World" (Norway)

Well, now I gotta see this Yak movie! Asghar Farhadi's brilliant A Hero is nowhere to be seen. I guess the Oscars can only play favorites with Meryl, Denzel, and white guys. Farhadi's got two Oscars and plenty of ideas though, so he'll be fine. Is this a lock for Drive My Car? Probably, though Flee shows up here with its first of three nominees, and The Worst Person in the World is a big favorite as well. 


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
"Encanto," Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Yvett Merino and Clark Spencer
“Flee,” Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen and Charlotte De La Gournerie
“Luca,” Enrico Casarosa and Andrea Warren
"The Mitchells vs. the Machines," Mike Rianda, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Kurt Albrecht
“Raya and the Last Dragon,” Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Osnat Shurer and Peter Del Vecho

Sometimes smaller films pick up more attention here, but outside of Flee (the second of three nominations), this is a Disney/Pixar-friendly bunch. However, The Mitchells vs. the Machines garnered some of the year's best reviews, making this one of the tougher competitions to keep an eye on.


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
"Ascension," Jessica Kingdon, Kira Simon-Kennedy and Nathan Truesdell
"Attica," Stanley Nelson and Traci A. Curry
“Flee,” Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen and Charlotte De La Gournerie
"Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)," Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent and David Dinerstein
"Writing With Fire," Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh

My favorite film of the year arrives in this category, but hard to say it's a lock. Summer of Soul received plenty of acclaimed, but 3-time nominee Flee has plenty of momentum. Other important topics, as usual, are covered in this range of nominees as well, and the documentary branch doesn't always align with expectations.


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
"Dune," Greig Fraser
"Nightmare Alley," Dan Laustsen
"The Power of the Dog," Ari Wegner
"The Tragedy of Macbeth," Bruno Delbonnel
“West Side Story,” Janusz Kaminski

A lot of great-looking movies are competing against each other. Notably absent - Belfast. One of two big blows to one of the frontrunners, as its deliberate stylistic choices certainly played a role in getting the film some attention. I would have been happy seeing The Green Knight pick up a nom here, but the stiff competition says plenty. As of now, I'm all for The Tragedy of Macbeth. That said, after West Side Story missed with some of the guilds, it is nice to see Kaminski's best effort in years be recognized.


BEST FILM EDITING
"Don't Look Up," Hank Corwin
"Dune," Joe Walker
"King Richard", Pamela Martin
"The Power of the Dog," Peter Sciberras
"Tick, Tick…Boom!" Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum

Musicals and action films tend to wind up here, along with some Best Picture nominees. The problem is, this year had a lot of choices to work with. The King Richard love is certainly strong, as it's not a favorite for Best Picture, but the fact that it is here and not the presumed nominee that was Belfast is another huge upset. West Side Story missing out over tick, tick...Boom is also an interesting result. With that in mind, while Dune has plenty in its favor if The Power of the Dog wins Best Film Editing, it's more than likely on the path for further glory. My biggest hope was to see Summer of Soul get a nomination here, but hey, you can't have it all.


BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
“Dune,” production design: Patrice Vermette; set decoration: Zsuzsanna Sipos
"Nightmare Alley," production design: Tamara Deverell; set decoration: Shane Vieau
"The Power of the Dog," production design: Grant Major; set decoration: Amber Richards
"The Tragedy of Macbeth," production design: Stefan Dechant; set decoration: Nancy Haigh
"West Side Story," production design: Adam Stockhausen; set decoration: Rena DeAngelo

Here is a good time to mention how Wes Anderson managed to miss out entirely with The French Dispatch. Production design seemed like a safe bet, but it was no match for Adam Stockhausen's other film, West Side Story, along with these other strong nominees. Macbeth's minimalism is a fun pick for sure, given how it contrasts with the lavish production values seen in Nightmare Alley and the others.


BEST COSTUME DESIGN
"Cruella," Jenny Beavan
“Cyrano,” Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran
"Dune," Jacqueline West and Robert Morgan
“Nightmare Alley,” Luis Sequeira
"West Side Story," Paul Tazewell

A couple of potential nominees were all about fashion. If Ridley Scott didn't choose to provide such a dry take on House of Gucci, perhaps it would have made the cut. Instead, Cruella's presumed nomination came to be, along with a mix of other period films and the sci-fi spectacle that is Dune. Cyrano picks up its lone nomination here as well, and sure, it's nice to see the terrific musical nominated somewhere.


BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
"Coming 2 America," Mike Marino, Stacey Morris and Carla Farmer
"Cruella," Nadia Stacey, Naomi Donne and Julia Vernon
"Dune," Donald Mowat, Love Larson and Eva von Bahr
"The Eyes of Tammy Faye," Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh
“House of Gucci,” Göran Lundström, Anna Carin Lock and Frederic Aspiras

There was some fun to be had if The Suicide Squad and Suicide Squad both wound up with Oscars for makeup and hairstyling, but instead, I'll have to settle for a couple of movies receiving their lone nomination here. The magic of Eddie Murphy playing multiple characters has yielded results once again. House of Gucci went from a potential big contender to having one spot here, so everyone can feel happy about what Jared Leto delivered for that film.


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
"Don't Look Up," Nicholas Britell
"Dune," Hans Zimmer
“Encanto,” Germaine Franco
"Parallel Mothers," Alberto Iglesias
"The Power of the Dog," Jonny Greenwood

The unlikely event of Candyman did not come to be. Still, I am happy to see Alberto Iglesias enter the fray with Parallel Mothers, as the score adds plenty to the Almodovar drama. Dune has, perhaps, the most distinctive and invective score of the pack here, though Jonny Greenwood's work is always exciting, and Power of the Dog gets plenty out of its various themes. 


BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"Be Alive" from "King Richard," music and lyric by Dixson and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
“Dos Oruguitas” from “Encanto,” music and lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda
"Down To Joy" from "Belfast," music and lyric by Van Morrison
"No Time To Die" from "No Time to Die," music and lyric by Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell
"Somehow You Do" from "Four Good Days," music and lyric by Diane Warren

In case you didn't know, Disney did not want to talk about Bruno, as they submitted "Dos Oruguitas" from Encanto, and it came up as a nominee. There goes having fun watching the better song performed at the ceremony. Perhaps James Bond will pull a hat trick with Best Song wins. Maybe Beyonce has some extra Oscar pull that will help King Richard. And then there's Diane Warren once again finding her way to a nomination with another film that next to no one has seen.


BEST SOUND
"Belfast," Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather and Niv Adiri
"Dune," Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett
"No Time to Die," Simon Hayes, Oliver Tarney, James Harrison, Paul Massey and Mark Taylor
"The Power of the Dog," Richard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie and Tara Webb
"West Side Story," Tod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson and Shawn Murphy

I'm still not thrilled about combining the sound categories into one, as the results here are just less interesting. Kudos to Bond, once again, however, as it gives Daniel Craig's swan song film some fun legitimacy as far as awards are concerned. The rest of this list is made up of Best Picture nominees. That's nice, but how about mixing it up with a Matrix or a Soho?


Best Visual Effects
"Dune," Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor and Gerd Nefzer
“Free Guy,” Swen Gillberg, Bryan Grill, Nikos Kalaitzidis and Dan Sudick
"No Time to Die," Charlie Noble, Joel Green, Jonathan Fawkner and Chris Corbould
"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," Christopher Townsend, Joe Farrell, Sean Noel Walker and Dan Oliver
“Spider-Man: No Way Home,” Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein and Dan Sudick

Goodwill and audience response didn't land Spider-Man a Best Picture nomination (it was never going to happen), but its good-enough effects were apparently effective enough for voters. Surprise blockbuster Free Guy also found its way on the list here, so don't have a good day, have a great day with that. Honestly, Dune has this locked up, so there's not much to discuss, but yes, I was rooting for Godzilla vs. Kong, and it's a shame that didn't go my way.


BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
"Affairs of the Art," Joanna Quinn and Les Mills
“Bestia,” Hugo Covarrubias and Tevo Díaz
“Boxballet,” Anton Dyakov
"Robin Robin," Dan Ojari and Mikey Please
"The Windshield Wiper," Alberto Mielgo and Leo Sanchez

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
“Ala Kachuu – Take and Run,” Maria Brendle and Nadine Lüchinger
“The Dress,” Tadeusz Łysiak and Maciej Ślesicki
"The Long Goodbye," Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed
"On My Mind," Martin Strange-Hansen and Kim Magnusson
"Please Hold," K.D. Dávila and Levin Menekse

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM
"Audible," Matt Ogens and Geoff McLean
"Lead Me Home," Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk
"The Queen of Basketball," Ben Proudfoot
"Three Songs for Benazir," Elizabeth Mirzaei and Gulistan Mirzaei
"When We Were Bullies," Jay Rosenblatt

As of now, aside from a couple of the animated shorts, I have not had a chance to view the short films, but look forward to doing so, as always.

***

And that will do it for the nominations and my commentary for now. The Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, March 27. There will be podcasts and possibly more to come on my end.


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