Best Picture Oscar nominee “Don’t Look Up” focuses on a world thrown into chaos and uncertainty due to an impending apocalyptic event. That same energy applied to the lead up to this year’s Oscar nominations, which was once again defined by a pandemic that forced actors, directors and more contenders to campaign from behind their computer screens. Even top awards strategists conceded in the last few days that they had no idea who would make the final cut since it wasn’t easy to poll voters who were watching this year’s contenders from screeners at home and not on FYC screenings and events.
Now that the nominees have been announced, the 94th Academy Awards could be a good night for Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog.” The drama, directed by Jane Campion, led all films with 12 nominations and marked the first time that a woman was nominated for a second time in the best director category (Campion’s first Oscar nomination for director was for 1993’s “The Piano”). “Dune” followed with 10 nominations. Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical memoir “Belfast” picked up seven nods.
There were some shocking omissions. No Lady Gaga for “House of Gucci.” Bradley Cooper missed out for his scene-stealing turn in “Licorice Pizza.” In better news: after not receiving a SAG Award nomination, Kristen Stewart landed her first Oscar nomination for playing Princess Diana in “Spencer.” And the buzz for “Drive My Car” was real: The film received four nominations, including one for director Ryusuke Hamaguchi.
Here are the biggest snubs and surprises.
SNUB: Lady Gaga, “House of Gucci”
As Patrizia Reggiani, Lady Gaga played an Italian woman who married into the Gucci family and orchestrated the murder of her husband. Gaga campaigned ferociously for the Oscar — and she was the only actress who had picked up every precursor, as a nominee for the BAFTA, Critics’ Choice Award, Golden Globe and SAG. But alas, Gaga came up short in the end with Oscar voters. Her snub was the biggest of the morning.
SURPRISE: Kristen Stewart, “Spencer”
Though she spent most of the season as the perceived frontrunner for her portrait of Princess Diana in Pablo Larrain’s unsettling drama, all bets were off when Stewart failed to land a SAG Award nomination for the role. But in the end, as many predicted, she still walked away with her first Academy Award nomination.
SNUB: Jennifer Hudson, “Respect”
The hyper-competitive best actress category was bound to have its share of disappointments and surprises, but after scoring a SAG Award nom for her fearless portrayal of Aretha Franklin, Hudson’s odds were looking good. She was also eligible for the original song “Here I Am” – another incredibly competitive category. But the Oscar winner (for “Dreamgirls”) ultimately failed to land in either category.
SNUB: Denis Villeneuve for directing “Dune”
Even though “Dune” landed 10 Oscar nominations — second only to “Power of the Dog’s” 12 — including best picture, the director’s branch didn’t nominate Denis Villeneuve for his ambitious sci-epic. All the more impressive for Villeneuve: “Dune” was one of the rare movies from last year to succeed at the box office with a simultaneous streaming release on HBO Max. But he’ll get another chance with “Dune 2.”
SURPRISE: Jessie Buckley, “The Lost Daughter”
The first nomination announced was also one of the most pleasant surprises: Jessie Buckley scored recognition for her supporting role in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s feature directorial debut. Sharing a role with a legend like Olivia Colman is no small feat, and voters were wise to recognize Buckley’s outstanding work.
SNUB: Caitriona Balfe, “Belfast”
Ever since Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical tale of growing up in Ireland during The Troubles hit the festival circuit, the question hasn’t been if the actors would be nominated – just how many. For most of the season, the only sure thing seemed to be Caitriona Balfe for her turn as a strong-willed mother; she was the only cast member individually nominated at the SAG Awards (though everyone was recognized in ensemble) and she hit every major precursor. But in the end, it was Judi Dench who took the supporting actress nomination, landing her eighth nomination (she’s a winner for “Shakespeare In Love.”) For the men, both Ciarán Hinds and Jamie Dornan were in contention for their roles as father and son, but it was Hinds who ended up scoring in supporting actor.
SNUB: Ruth Negga, “Passing”
Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut was completely shut out at the nominations, but most egregiously Negga was left out of the supporting actress conversation for her beautiful portrayal as a Black woman passing for white in the 1920s. Negga won prizes from the National Society of Film Critics and the London Film Critics’ Circle and most notably received a SAG Award nomination for her turn, usually a strong indicator in the race.
SURPRISE: “Drive My Car” takes four noms
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s acclaimed drama has been picking up steam all season, along with best picture wins from groups like the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and New York Film Critics Circle, but it was still an unknown going into nominations morning after failing to score at PGA and DGA. But in the end, the Japanese film (known as much for its three-hour run time as its accolades) took in a total of four noms: picture, director, adapted screenplay and international film.
SNUB: Leonardo DiCaprio, “Don’t Look Up”
Even though DiCaprio has been nominated for six Oscars (and won for “The Revenant”), he has a complicated relationship with the Academy — as he’s been snubbed for some of his best performances, including “Titanic,” “Revolutionary Road,” “Django Unchained,” “The Departed” and “Catch Me If You Can.” His turn as an astronomy professor in Adam McKay’s comedy is the latest addition to that list.
SURPRISE: “The Worst Person in the World” lands screenplay
Another film that had been gaining momentum as of late was Joachim Trier’s study of a young woman navigating love and life, starring Renate Reinsve. The Norwegian film was predicted to land in international film and Reinsve was emerging as a dark horse contender for best actress. And while it did indeed score in international film, it was ultimately it was Trier and Eskil Vogt’s original screenplay that marked the film’s second nomination.
SNUB: Aaron Sorkin, “Being the Ricardos” screenplay
Prior to “Ricardos,” Sorkin had directed two films – “Molly’s Game” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” – and received screenplay nominations for both. He’s also a winner for “The Social Network” and a nominee for “Moneyball” and generally considered a sure thing in a screenplay category. So it was a surprise to see him miss for his latest – and arguably best – film as director.
SNUB: Tony Kushner, “West Side Story” screenplay
Musicals have a spotty history of earning screenplay recognition at the Oscars, and remakes even more so. But Kushner’s interpretation of the classic musical had been singled out for its creativity and intelligence. Yet even with a recent WGA nom, the script failed to land in the final five.
SNUB: Jared Leto, “House of Gucci”
In addition to Gaga missing out, the Academy also didn’t go for Leto’s gonzo performance as the black sheep of the fashion family, Paolo Gucci. But maybe it was too much acting for Oscar voters? In the film, Leto is unrecognizable under layers of prosthetics.
SNUB: Ben Affleck, “The Tender Bar”
As an affable Long Island uncle in “The Tender Bar,” Affleck was singled out with a supporting actor nomination by the Golden Globes and SAG. But voters overlooked his performance — yet again. Affleck, who has won two Oscars (for writing “Good Will Hunting” and producing “Argo”) has never been nominated for an Academy Award for acting.
SNUB: Bradley Cooper, “Licorice Pizza”
The actor earned raves for his roles in “Nightmare Alley” as well, but it was his supporting turn as Barbra Streisand’s paramour Jon Peters in “Licorice Pizza” that earned him a SAG Award nomination and seemed to be putting him on track for another shot at the Oscars. In the end, he likely had to fight against the idea that his screen time was too limited and the category was insanely competitive. Still, Cooper walked away a nominee this morning — as a producer on “Nightmare Alley.”
SURPRISE: Jesse Plemons, “The Power of the Dog”
The shake-ups in the supporting actor category have some silver linings: For one, Plemons was recognized along with his cast mates (and significant other Kirsten Dunst) for his role as a gentle rancher in Jane Campion’s stunning Western. This marks the actor’s first Oscar nomination of what is likely to be many.
SURPRISE: J.K. Simmons, “Being the Ricardos”
Perhaps less of a surprise as Simmons is a beloved Oscar winner in a scene-stealing role, but it was still a joy to hear the actor’s name called for his turn as William Frawley, the curmudgeonly co-star to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz on “I Love Lucy.”
SURPRISE: “Flee” makes history
Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s acclaimed film was impossible to pigeonhole – the story of a man recalling his escape from Afghanistan as a child, it was a documentary from Denmark that also happened to be animated. While many expected the film to land a nom for animated feature, there was hope it would score another nomination in either the doc or international feature categories. In the end, it landed all three, a first for any film.
SNUB: Cate Blanchett out in supporting
Blanchett delivered a crackling turn as a psychologist in “Nightmare Alley.” But she may have split her own vote, as she also delivered some of the funnier lines as a morning show host in “Don’t Look Up.”
SNUB: “Belfast,” Editing
While “Belfast” walked away with seven Oscar nominations, including best picture, it failed to score in the editing category. At one time, it was considered nearly impossible for a film to win the top prize without an editing nomination but 2014’s “Birdman” did it – as have nine other films since 1934.
SNUB: Ariana Grande for the song in “Don’t Look Up”
Grande’s hilarious “Just Look Up,” which she co-wrote, didn’t make the best song category. A shame! Her performance of it would have been one of the highlights of this year’s telecast.