96th Academy Award Nominations & Thoughts


Here we are again, with the Oscar nominations for the 96th Academy Awards. There are not many poor things to see for some filmmakers and studios, as the overall results have led to a reasonable set of potential winners (including the two highest-grossing films of the year). Given how many strong films were released in 2023, do I wish there was more variety? Of course, but as far as the major categories are concerned, there's (once again) not a ton of surprise for those who have been paying attention. Elsewhere, I don’t see any picks that came out of nowhere, though I wish there were more creative ideas in the tech categories. As it stands, the overhaul in the Academy membership continues to show representation in many categories, even if there’s always room for more ways to show the vast array of quality films being released. That said, I have further thoughts on all these, which I will now go through, category by category.

Here is a quick breakdown of the films with the most nominations:

Oppenheimer – 13, Poor Things – 11, Killers of the Flower Moon – 10, Barbie – 8, Maestro – 7, American Fiction – 5, Anatomy of a Fall – 5, The Holdovers – 5, The Zone of Interest – 5, Napoleon – 3, The Creator – 2, Mission: Dead Reckoning – 2, Nyad – 2, Past Lives – 2, Society of the Snow - 2

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

A Thousand and One, Afire, Air, All of Us Strangers, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Asteroid City, Beau is Afraid, Beyond Utopia, Creed III, The Eight Mountains, Fallen Leaves, Ferrari, The Iron Claw, John Wick: Chapter 4, The Killer, Origin, Passages, Priscilla, Saltburn, Talk to Me, The Taste of Things, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, They Cloned Tyrone, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, Suzume, Wonka, You Hurt My Feelings

 


And the nominees are:

BEST PICTURE

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

Oppenheimer
Killers of the Flower Moon
Anatomy of a Fall
American Fiction
Past Lives
The Holdovers
Poor Things
The Zone of Interest
Maestro
Barbie

While it all comes down to Best Picture, one can’t deny that Oppenheimer is way in the lead as the frontrunner, with a combination of great reviews, many accolades, and clear audience approval, given its massive box office take. A couple misses in other categories from its closest rivals certainly help as well, along with Nolan being “due for a win” in the traditional eyes of the Academy. With all that in mind, there’s no lousy film listed here. In fact, they’re all good-to-great. The mixed company (comedies, dramas, a western, a fantasy) and the filmmakers behind them (3 women-directed features, a few international filmmakers) all delivered strong works tackling various themes and subject matter. Of course, I would have liked Spider-Verse to be the 4th animated film ever to be up for Best Picture, let alone other ways to shake things up, but it’s a solid lineup.

 


BEST DIRECTOR

Justine Triet — “Anatomy of a Fall”  
Martin Scorsese — “Killers of the Flower Moon”  
Christopher Nolan — “Oppenheimer”  
Yorgos Lanthimos — “Poor Things” 
Jonathan Glazer — “The Zone of Interest”  

This is Nolan’s to lose, but he, Scorsese, and Lanthimos were all locks going into this. The big news is obviously Greta Gerwig not making it into this category (for the 3rd time in a row, despite all three of her solo-directed films being nominated for Best Picture). With that said, I don’t call myself an expert, but as one who pays attention, the international branches have made a clear show of force for the past couple of decades to help bring in non-American filmmakers. So, instead of Gerwig and Alexander Payne for The Holdovers, here we have the solid inclusions of Triet and Glazer (also, it’s not like the Oscars ever prefer comedies over everything else). I’ll try not to repeat this too much, but both wanting more inclusion from folks deserving it and being satisfied with seeing great films made by whomever is allowed.

 


BEST ACTOR

Bradley Cooper — “Maestro”  
Colman Domingo — “Rustin” 
Paul Giamatti — “The Holdovers”  
Cillian Murphy — “Oppenheimer”  
Jeffrey Wright — “American Fiction”  

There may have been thoughts of an out-of-nowhere surprise nom could have come for Andrew Scott in All of Us Strangers or Zac Efron in The Iron Claw, but the late release dates and the strength of the other performers kept this list pretty set. That said, DiCaprio misses out in favor of character actor Colman Domingo, who is expectedly solid in the okay-ish but mostly well-acted Rustin. After famously missing a lead nomination for Sideways 20 years ago, Giamatti is on the board and going head-to-head against Murphy. Meanwhile, Cooper has adopted the approach of “huge prosthetics get wins,” but at least he actually conducts. Wright would be my pick, so I’m happy to see him on the list. And just to say it again, for the first time in a while, none of these wins for Best Actor would upset me.

 


BEST ACTRESS

Annette Bening — “Nyad”  
Lily Gladstone — “Killers of the Flower Moon”  
Sandra Hüller — “Anatomy of a Fall”  
Carey Mulligan — “Maestro” 
Emma Stone — “Poor Things”  

The other big deal in the news is Barbie not being nominated for Barbie. It’s also worth noting that this category is incredibly competitive, and Robbie always felt like a wild card fifth slot next to others. Bening making the cut makes it clear that an older generation still has a say. Gladstone is looking to fend off Stone as potentially the first Native American actress to be nominated, let alone win. Hüller gives my favorite performance of the year, but it’s certainly less flashy and will need a big push if she’s going to gain any traction. Greta Lee missing for Past Lives is a shame, and if I had my way, Origin and A Thousand and One would have easily been given higher consideration here (let alone for director). Oh, and fake nose awards only go to Cooper this year, not Helen Mirren.

 


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Sterling K. Brown — “American Fiction”  
Robert De Niro – “Killers of the Flower Moon”  
Robert Downey Jr. — “Oppenheimer”  
Ryan Gosling — “Barbie”  
Mark Ruffalo — “Poor Things”  

I guess Dominic Sessa could have landed here to show people's fondness for The Holdovers, but it was not to be. The same can be said for Charles Melton, who went from being a world favorite to “on to the next” pretty quickly. I can find my own amusement from seeing RRR in the top positions (with Downey being the most likely and preferred winner), but Sterling K. Brown getting his first nom is a joy to see. Also curious if Dafoe and Ruffalo had a bet going on who would make the cut between them. Looking down the list, perhaps Jamie Bell in All Us Strangers or John Magaro in Past Lives could have made for solid picks in their quiet but effective roles, let alone Glenn Howerton or Chris Messina as their screaming characters in BlackBerry and Air, respectively.

 


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Emily Blunt — “Oppenheimer”  
Danielle Brooks — “The Color Purple”  
America Ferrera – “Barbie”
Jodie Foster — “Nyad”  
Da’Vine Joy Randolph — “The Holdovers”  

Even though Randolph has won almost every other award already (deservedly so, as it’s my other favorite performance of 2023), this was still the most competitive category among the majors to see who would fill out the other four slots. That also means we get the most surprises here. Nyad is okay, and Foster is really a co-lead performance with Bening, but she’s the best thing in it, and I can’t fault Netflix for doing well by their two strong performers. Blunt was always pretty likely, but Ferrera certainly wasn’t, so good on Barbenheimer coming through in this category. There were cases to be made for Rosamund Pike in Saltburn or Penelope Cruz in Ferrari (arguably the best parts of both films), but it wasn’t to be. Plus, Julianne Moore being off the list shut out May December’s acting trio entirely.

 


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

“American Fiction,” written for the screen by Cord Jefferson
“Barbie,” written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach
“Oppenheimer,” written for the screen by Christopher Nolan
“Poor Things,” screenplay by Tony McNamara
“The Zone of Interest,” written by Jonathan Glazer

Not making the cut for director, Gerwig (and Noah Baumbach) were still nominated for Adapted Screenplay (where it belongs), which should boost its chances for a win. The rest is mostly standard, apart from The Zone of Interest hopping in over Killers of the Flower Moon, one of the more expected nominations that didn’t happen. Origin being based on an unfilmable novel could have led to more as well, but it wasn’t to be, and Neon should have taken more stock in what they had outside of (the very deserved) Anatomy of a Fall.

 


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

“Anatomy of a Fall,” screenplay by Justine Triet and Arthur Harari
“The Holdovers,” written by David Hemingson
“Maestro,” written by Bradley Cooper and Josh Singer
“May December,” screenplay by Samy Burch; story by Samy Burch and Alex Mechanik
“Past Lives,” written by Celine Song

There could have been some exciting shakeups here, with Emerald Fennell following up an Oscar win for Promising Young Woman with the more divisive Saltburn or some of the weirder options like Asteroid City or Dream Scenario, but it didn’t happen. Even a more traditional pick like Air was possible (and its lack of any nominations doesn’t help much in the realm of the new Affleck/Damon production company aiming for more adult, mid-budget releases). Still, there’s a good set of films here, with Past Lives, The Holdovers, and Anatomy of a Fall looking like the top competitors. That said, May December also managed to break through here, and it certainly has a strong fanbase.

 


BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

“Io Capitano” (Italy)  
“Perfect Days” (Japan)  
“Society of the Snow” (Spain)  
“The Teachers’ Lounge” (Germany) 
“The Zone of Interest” (United Kingdom) 

I watched The Taste of Things for nothing! A film I absolutely knew how I would feel about (it’s fine, but the food looked great!), and it mattered not. Instead, there are four great/ambitious films here, and one I really want to see (Io Capitano). Enough is going on between each of these that I’ve seen where I can justify a win for any of them. It’s almost enough to make me look past France not submitting Palm d’Or winner and Best Picture nominee Anatomy of a Fall (in favor of…The Taste of Things). And yes, I can stand by Japan’s choice for German filmmaker Wim Wenders to be heading up their choice, as Perfect Days is a delight and far more of a traditional Oscar contender. Fallen Leaves was another great one though, and a couple of docs ended up missing out too. With a Best Picture nom in the category, this one is still pretty locked up, but it does tend to be one of the more exciting branches, so we’ll see how it shakes out. And just to say it clearly – The Teacher’s Lounge is fantastic.

 


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

“The Boy and the Heron” 
“Elemental” 
“Nimona” 
“Robot Dreams” 
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” 

Look, it's not like Elemental didn’t eventually find its groove at the box office, but it really does feel like a default Pixar nom when the more ambitious Suzume and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem were both sitting high with much stronger approval all-around. Not a surprise, as there tend to be a couple of smaller, international films that make it into the mix, but seeing the very sweet Robot Dreams make the cut is lovely. Not seeing Mario or Wish in the mix is practically a blessing. With all that in mind, it’s Miyazaki’s latest final film, The Boy and the Heron, versus my favorite film of the year, Across the Spider-Verse, which is not a bad place to be in terms of competition.

 


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE FILM

“Bobi Wine: The People’s President”
“The Eternal Memory”
“Four Daughters”
“To Kill a Tiger”
“20 Days in Mariupol”

While not as splashy and fun as some of the recent years, this may, by default, be one of the strongest categories by nature of what it represents. These are five films that are all tackling significant issues concerning various parts of the world. Having seen two of them, I’m well aware of the quality of filmmaking involved, and from what I’ve heard, that follows suit in the other nominees as well. The fact that the documentary branch avoided nominating a bunch of films centered on celebrities and artists we are already familiar with speaks to a level of creative thinking that I can certainly admire (and honestly hope can be reflected in the future on other major categories).

 


BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“The Fire Inside” from “Flamin’ Hot,” music and lyric by Diane Warren
“I’m Just Ken” from “Barbie,” music and lyric by Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt
“It Never Went Away” from “American Symphony,” music and lyric by Jon Batiste and Dan Wilson
“Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)” from “Killers of the Flower Moon,” music and lyric by Scott George
“What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie,” music and lyric by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell

If Billie Eilish wins again, I’ll be curious how much of a grudge 14-time loser Diane Warren will have against the pop star. Regardless, this seems like a Barbie category, even with “Dance the Night” missing out on a nomination as well. “I’m Just Ken” is the fun kind of power ballad that would undoubtedly be fun to see performed at the Oscars. Still, I lament not getting the chance to see a hoedown take place on stage courtesy of “Dear Alien” from Asteroid City.

 


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

“American Fiction” – Laura Karpman
“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” – John Williams
“Killers of the Flower Moon” – Robbie Robertson
“Oppenheimer” – Ludwig Göransson
“Poor Things” – Jerskin Fendrix

Okay, so sure, none of us actively want to say anything bad about John Williams…but it’s not like there wasn’t room for something more exciting. Daniel Pemberton went all over the place to deliver an exciting score for Spider-Man. Joe Hisaishi has made a career’s worth of fantastic music, and The Boy and the Heron could have easily fit in here. Even Elemental, an okay film, has a terrific Thomas Newman score that could have given him another chance to lose again. Nice to see the late Robbie Robertson take in a nom here for his pal Scorsese’s epic. Laura Karpman is one of the few women ever to be nominated, and her work speaks well to the hangout vibe of American Fiction, punctuated with jazzy moments that speak to the film's themes. Fendrix's bizarre Poor Things score is also on the money for getting recognized, almost making up for the intriguing work by Mica Levi on The Zone of Interest not being nominated.

 


BEST FILM EDITING

“Anatomy of a Fall” – Laurent Sénéchal
“The Holdovers” – Kevin Tent
“Killers of the Flower Moon” – Thelma Schoonmaker
“Oppenheimer” – Jennifer Lame
“Poor Things” – Yorgos Mavropsaridis

The two longest films of the year are up for editing nominations, so get ready for all those jokes. I was excited to see Anatomy of a Fall make the cut, as it’s a skillfully designed feature combining multiple timelines and perspectives. There’s a showiness to Maestro that had me thinking it would get in, but I can’t really argue with what’s on display here. That said, nothing in the realm of action got in either, which is a shame considering what’s required to make John Wick Chapter 4 or The Killer truly sing in their construction. Even JA Bayona’s exciting and very tense Society of the Snow seemed like a good possibility.

 


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

“El Conde” – Edward Lachman
“Killers of the Flower Moon” – Rodrigo Prieto
“Maestro” – Matthew Libatique
“Oppenheimer” – Hoyte van Hoytema
“Poor Things” – Robbie Ryan

Always my favorite category, and it didn’t disappoint. Some great names managed to make their way into this slot, with some cool points going to El Conde for its moody black-and-white photography in the satirical vampire/political film. Maestro is clearly hoping to win with “Most,” while Oppenheimer is gunning for “Biggest.” Where does that leave Poor Things as far as ample uses of wide-angle lenses and fisheye for “Wackiest?” I certainly felt Saltburn benefited quite well from how it depicted its expansive location, let alone what Zone of Interest had to pull off in its minimalism. With that in mind, Past Lives, a Best Picture nominee, had some of the strongest cinematography you could ask for with a film of its kind and got nowhere. And don’t get me started on the color and vibrancy throughout John Wick Chapter 4 that made every single shot in that 169-minute film interesting.

 


BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

“Barbie” – production design: Sarah Greenwood; set decoration: Katie Spencer
“Killers of the Flower Moon” – production design: Jack Fisk; set decoration: Adam Willis
“Napoleon” – production design: Arthur Max; set decoration: Elli Griff
“Oppenheimer” – production design: Ruth De Jong; set decoration: Claire Kaufman
“Poor Things” – production design: James Price and Shona Heath; set decoration: Zsuzsa Mihalek

Think pink because Barbie was all over this one with its elaborate, winning designs meant to reflect a toy world come to life. That’s one way to shake things up in a category filled with recreations of very atmospheric and, at times, depressing locations like battlefields or Osage County. Poor Things was also on hand to lighten things up with its fantastical set designs that easily emphasized the blank check Lanthimos and his team had to go nuts with this feature. That said, this felt like an excellent place for Adam Stockhausen to come through with the immaculate pastel designs of Asteroid City or the intense but creative use of the land surrounding Auschwitz to make room for a dream home next door in The Zone of Interest. And that’s saying nothing of films like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Beau is Afraid, Bottoms, or They Cloned Tyrone.

 


BEST COSTUME DESIGN

“Barbie” – Jacqueline Durran
“Killers of the Flower Moon” – Jacqueline West
“Napoleon” – Janty Yates and Dave Crossman
“Oppenheimer” – Ellen Mirojnick
“Poor Things” – Holly Waddington

Exactly the same as Best Production Design, but it feels like a bit of a letdown as far as imagination. Barbie and Poor Things filled in the requisite need to show the Academy can have fun, but – yep, the period pieces get their recognition as usual. Nothing wrong with that, but think of all the fantastical stuff that had to be designed from scratch, whether it’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Dungeons & Dragons, Wonka, or even The Hunger Games and those wacky getups. The specificity of Asteroid City, alone, had something to consider more closely. And keeping America in mind, if we’re going for period looks – The Color Purple or Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret at least gave us other eras in the past, and with less of a budget to work with.

 


BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

“Golda” – Karen Hartley Thomas, Suzi Battersby and Ashra Kelly-Blue
“Maestro” – Kazu Hiro, Kay Georgiou and Lori McCoy-Bell
“Oppenheimer” – Luisa Abel
“Poor Things” – Nadia Stacey, Mark Coulier and Josh Weston
“Society of the Snow” – Ana López-Puigcerver, David Martí and Montse Ribé

And here’s where we bring out the noses. But in all seriousness, both Golda and Maestro looked better in action than in still photos, so that’s not nothing. Oppenheimer had to work with large closeups being displayed for millions on giant IMAX screens, which is not nothing. Willem Dafoe’s face makes most of the argument for Poor Things, but it also has plenty going on. I guess Society of the Snow comes closest to breaking away from the more obvious pack, and great designs and effort are going into depicting that situation. Did The Creator’s visual effects overshadow the excellent makeup work? Probably. Would it have been fun to see a full-on Dracula (in feral form) make its way into this category via The Last Voyage of the Demeter? Very much so, yes.

 


BEST SOUND

“The Creator” – Ian Voigt, Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn, Tom Ozanich and Dean Zupancic
“Maestro” – Steven A. Morrow, Richard King, Jason Ruder, Tom Ozanich and Dean Zupancic
“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” – Chris Munro, James H. Mather, Chris
Burdon and Mark Taylor
“Oppenheimer” – Willie Burton, Richard King, Gary A. Rizzo and Kevin O’Connell
“The Zone of Interest” – Tarn Willers and Johnnie Burn

There were enough musically inclined films to make a good case for why this should still be two categories, but okay, fine. A combination of blockbusters and dramas are at play here, which is typical. Each of these is fitting for their own reasons. The most notable is The Zone of Interest, which uses sound to draw on a lot of emotion in subtle ways or ones expressed through implications and actions taking place just out of sight. With no score nomination, this is one way to represent the haunting feature for its technical merits. Along with a few notable horror movies that never get enough respect, I really wish The Killer could have found its way here too, let alone Ferrari. Those cars sounded great!

 


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

“The Creator” – Jay Cooper, Ian Comley, Andrew Roberts and Neil Corbould
“Godzilla Minus One” – Takashi Yamazaki, Kiyoko Shibuya, Masaki Takahashi and Tatsuji Nojima
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” – Stephane Ceretti, Alexis Wajsbrot, Guy Williams and Theo Bialek
“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” – Alex Wuttke, Simone Coco, Jeff Sutherland and Neil Corbould
“Napoleon” – Charley Henley, Luc-Ewen Martin-Fenouillet, Simone Coco and Neil Corbould

Part of the reason I don’t get emotionally hung up on all of this is because it’s just an awards show, and I already have my spectacular top ten list. The other reason is that I only wanted one very possible thing to happen, and it did. Godzilla Minus One is now an Oscar nominee for Best Visual Effects, and for good reason, as the film looks terrific. The Creator is the other strong pick here, as it cost considerably less than the other blockbusters on the board and looks impressive (though Godzilla cost around $10 million, so there!). Still, Guardians shows that not all Marvel movies feel rushed these days, as it has a terrific display of visuals throughout, and man did Ridley Scott explode that horse in Napoleon. Meanwhile, Mission: Impossible debuts at the Oscars for the first time (along with a Sound nomination) despite having weaker effects than I’m used to seeing. Perhaps the fact that Killers of the Flower Moon and Society of the Snow worked more on the basis of having “invisible effects” hurt their chances.

 


BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

“The After”
“Invincible” 
“Knight of Fortune” 
“Red, White and Blue”
“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”

 

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

“Letter to a Pig”
“Ninety-Five Senses”
“Our Uniform”
“Pachyderme”
“War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko”

 

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM

“The ABCs of Book Banning”
“The Barber of Little Rock”
“Island in Between”
“The Last Repair Shop”
“Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó”

Aside from a couple of the shorts from each category, I have not had a chance to view all of the nominees making up this block, but I look forward to doing so, as always.

***


Where To Watch:

AMERICAN FICTION – Now playing in theaters.

ANATOMY OF A FALL - Rent it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

BARBIE - Streaming on Max.

THE HOLDOVERS - Streaming on Peacock and heading back to theaters.

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON - Streaming on Apple TV.

MAESTRO - Streaming on Netflix.

OPPENHEIMER - Rent it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube. Streaming on Peacock 2/16.

PAST LIVES - Rent it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

POOR THINGS – Now playing in theaters.

THE ZONE OF INTEREST – Opening in more theaters in February.

THE CREATOR and FLAMIN' HOT are streaming on Hulu.

AMERICAN SYMPHONY, EL CONDE, MAY DECEMBER, NIMONA, NYAD, RUSTIN, SOCIETY OF THE SNOW, and SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE are all streaming on Netflix.

ELEMENTAL, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3, INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY, and BOBI WINE: THE PEOPLE'S PRESIDENT are all streaming on Disney+.

THE ETERNAL MEMORY is now streaming on Paramount+, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING arrives on 1/25.

FOUR DAUGHTERS and – 20 DAYS IN MARIUPOL – Rent it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

NAPOLEON - Rent on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube, and it will likely be streaming soon on Apple TV.

***

That will do it for the nominations and my commentary for now. Sorry, I didn’t make note of any “snubs,” as that would imply some sort of deliberate choice to work against movies when, in reality, one just can’t fit everything into vie slots. The Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, March 10, with *double sigh* Jimmy Kimmel returning again as host. There will be podcasts and possibly more to come on my end!

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