19 Biggest 2023 Oscars Snubs and Surprises: Viola Davis, ‘RRR,’ Paul Mescal and More

Oscars Snubs and Surprises VIola Davis RRR Paul Mescal
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Though many prognosticators do their best to try and predict who will be nominated for Academy Awards, there are always a few shockers — both good and bad — when the names are finally announced. This year’s nominations for the 95th annual Academy Awards saw its fair share of shockers. Actors like Andrea Riseborough, Brian Tyree Henry and Paul Mescal found themselves landing their first nominations against tough competition. Then there were notable omissions, like a lack of female directors making the cut after seeing both Chloe Zhao and Jane Campion take home the prize in the last two years.

Here, Variety breaks down the biggest snubs and surprises of the 2023 Oscar nominations.

SNUB: Viola Davis, “The Woman King”
Davis seemed certain to land her fourth acting nomination (and perhaps her first as a producer) for her stunning work in “The Woman King,” a movie that not only garnered critical accolades but box office success as well. But her omission on the best actress list was one of the day’s biggest shockers.

SNUB: Danielle Deadwyler, “Till”
Deadwyler is one of the breakout stories of the season for playing Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of murdered teen Emmett Till. She earned SAG and Critics’ Choice nominations and even won a Gotham Award against some stiff competition like Michelle Yeoh and Cate Blanchett. But the actor failed to land one of the coveted best actress slots.

SURPRISE: Andrea Riseborough, “To Leslie”
The British actor earned raves for playing an addict wanting to connect with her son, but aside from a Spirit Award nomination, had come up empty in precursor nods. But a grassroots campaign during the voting window found big-name supporters: actors like Kate Winslet and Amy Adams hosted Q&As with Riseborough, and Cate Blanchett gave her a shout-out in her Critics’ Choice Awards acceptance speech. The word-of-mouth paid off, landing Riseborough a spot in an incredibly competitive line-up.

SURPRISE: Brian Tyree Henry, “Causeway”
Henry delivered a nuanced, sensitive turn as a man grappling with guilt in the indie opposite Jennifer Lawrence. But the actor was overlooked by both the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards — though he did earn Gotham, Spirit and Critics’ Choice Award noms. But in the end, the Academy recognized the work of one of the most exciting actors working today.

SURPRISE: Paul Mescal, “Aftersun”
Charlotte Wells’ “Aftersun” has quietly chugged along through awards season collecting numerous accolades from critics, organizations and media groups; Variety named Wells one of its 2023 directors to watch for her distantly remembered but deeply felt portrait of a father-daughter vacation. While Frankie Corio’s turn as young Sophie conveys the emerging awareness of her father’s adult tribulations, it’s Mescal’s turn as Calum that at once catalyzes her increasingly clear-eyed view, and gives audiences a reason to empathize with what he’s going through. Seeing him recognized not only highlights a great performance but announces him as a top actor to watch in the years to come.

SNUB: Black Actors in Lead Categories
There were several notable performances from Black actors throughout the year, particularly in the lead actress category. Viola Davis seemed a lock for “The Woman King,” having collected nominations in all the major precursor awards. Danielle Deadwyler’s role in “Till” was one of the most talked-about breakthroughs of the year. But neither actor landed Oscar nominations this morning. Similarly, there were no Black performers nominated in the lead actor category.

SNUB: Eddie Redmayne, “The Good Nurse”
Redmayne was cast against type as real-life serial killer Charlie Cullen opposite Jessica Chastain, and he didn’t miss a step on the circuit, landing nominations from BAFTA, Golden Globes and the SAG Awards for his performance. But the supporting actor field proved too crowded for Redmayne, who previously won an Oscar for lead actor in “The Theory of Everything.”

SURPRISE: Ruben Östlund, Best Director
On one hand, the dark satire “Triangle of Sadness” was a hit with voters and definitely showcases Östlund’s distinct voice. But the filmmaker missed at DGA and the lineup was incredibly competitive. But Östlund came through not only in director but also with an original screenplay nomination – and the film broke into the best picture race.

SNUB: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Best Picture
The original “Black Panther” became the first Marvel movie to land a best picture nomination and its follow-up was not only well-received but just scored a Producers’ Guild Nomination, usually a strong precursor. Though it failed to make the best picture line-up, “Wakanda Forever” still made history with a nomination for supporting actress Angela Bassett – the first ever for an actor from a Marvel film.

SNUB: “All Quiet on the Western Front,” Best Editing
The German-language adaptation of the iconic Erich Maria Remarque novel had an impressive showing, landing nine nominations, including a best picture nomination. So it was a little surprising to see it miss in film editing, which is often closely linked to best picture nominations.

SNUB: Female Filmmakers, Best Director
After two consecutive years of female directors taking home the best director statuette, this year’s line-up is all male. That means directors like Gina Prince-Bythewood (“The Woman King,”) Charlotte Wells (“Aftersun”) and Sarah Polley (“Women Talking”) were shut out, among others.

SNUB: Best Picture Nominees, Best Cinematography
With 10 best picture nominees fighting for the Academy’s top honor, cinematography immediately becomes a hotly contested category. After already winning two Oscars for his work with Steven Spielberg and receiving five other nominations, Janusz Kaminski was expected at least to make an appearance for “The Fabelmans,” and fellow Oscar winner Claudio Miranda was recognized more than ten times by critics groups. Conversely, though, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”’s Larkin Seiple took home no major awards throughout the season. Given the complexity of Daniels Kwan and Scheinert’s multiverse building — not to mention the 11 other noms their film did receive — his absence felt notable. 

SNUB: Paul Dano, “The Fabelmans”
Conversation around “The Fabelmans” in acting categories has largely gravitated to Michelle Williams’ luminous performance as Mitzi Schildkraut-Fabelman — and in particular, into which category her seemingly inevitable nomination would fall, lead or supporting. In the meantime, Dano was quietly earning nominations from Critics’ Choice and SAG Awards for his role as young Sammy Fabelman’s unassuming, pragmatic father Burt. But the Academy ultimately left him unrecognized for some powerful, if understated, work. 

SNUB: Joseph Kosinski, “Top Gun: Maverick”
With a worldwide haul of more than one billion dollars, “Top Gun: Maverick” was not only credited with reviving theatrical exhibition after two solid years of pandemic-related industry struggle, but reminding moviegoers what it’s like to experience true blockbuster spectacle. But even with death-defying movie star Tom Cruise in the pilot’s seat once again as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, surely he didn’t do all of that by himself? Since “Tron: Legacy,” director Joseph Kosinski has consistently married precision and beauty, and his second outing with Cruise (after “Oblivion”) brings that skill to a new peak — one that audiences recognized, but evidently not Academy voters.

SNUB: “RRR,” Best Picture
There was no film more entertaining in 2022 than “RRR,” S.S. Rajamouli’s oversized dramatization of the lives of two real-life Indian revolutionaries. Its ambition, its scale, its sheer bravado made it the underdog story of the year, in the body of the biggest spectacle this side of Michael Bay. Though the film won a nomination for its showstopper musical number “Naatu Naatu,” a sequence that was so thrilling it inspired audiences to literally dance in the aisles of theaters where it played, not giving it a best picture nod in the second year in Academy history in which a full ten films were nominated is a disappointing oversight, especially given the tremendous love it’s received throughout the season thus far.

SURPRISE: Judd Hirsch, “The Fabelmans”
Showier than Paul Dano’s performance but not quite as emotional as Michelle Williams — or maybe not emotional in quite the same way — Hirsch faced the challenge of more or less explicitly conveying the thesis statement of “The Fabelmans:” making art is a powerful, and painful, way to process the world, but it is always worth doing, for the artist if not their audience. While the performance was heralded, many worried this one-and-done scene was simply too short for Academy voters. But Hirsch ultimately found himself making the cut, landing his first nomination since 1980’s “Ordinary People.”

SNUB: Tom Cruise, “Top Gun: Maverick”

Tom Cruise again rejuvenated the thrill of going to the movies, and as has become his pedigree, quite literally risked his life to entertain audiences. Given the strong showing of the film today, an acting nomination was earned, but looking at the journey he takes Pete Mitchell on in “Top Gun: Maverick,” it’s also deserved, as he takes one of the 1980s’ most recognizable icons and brings him new dimensions for the people who loved him then as well as the people who are just getting to discover him now.  Still, Cruise can console himself with his nomination as one of the film’s producers.

SNUB: “Decision to Leave”
In a year with historic Pan-Asian representation, the decision to shut out “Decision to Leave” altogether is a particularly puzzling one. Park Chan-Wook’s film was not only brilliantly written, directed and acted, but it already enjoyed the precedent of receiving the Palme d’Or and best director at the 2022 Cannes film festival. 

SNUB: Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, “Pinnocchio,” Best Song

Before Diane Warren received an honorary award from the Academy in 2022, she was nominated 13 times for best song — and never won; the org seems to really love her but keep her at arm’s length. Even so, getting a nomination this year in a field this crowded was entirely unexpected, given the heavy hitters whose place she took: Taylor Swift, whose song “Carolina” from “Where the Crawdads Sing” offered haunting, beautiful punctuation to Olivia Newman’s adaptation of the best seller by Delia Owens; and “My Mind & Me,” the title song from Selena Gomez’s revelatory documentary about her career and mental health struggles. Perhaps less obvious is “Ciao Papa,” which Guillermo del Toro cowrote with Roeban Katz for his adaptation of “Pinocchio,” but after the tune received a nomination at the Golden Globes, its absence among the nominees feels conspicuous.