An awards ceremony the public can get excited about? That’s a concept Oscar producers can drive home over the next seven weeks.
From the robust showing of popcorn movies to the recognition of some of the most respected stars of the past four decades to the embrace of new faces, this year’s nominations offer something for everyone.
Here are five highlights from the Oscar-nom announcements.
Show Us the Money!
The domestic box office average of the 10 best picture nominees stands at $157 million and counting — the fourth highest of any slate in the past 25 years. That’s an encouraging sign for the exhibition business as it tries to rebound from the pandemic. With record-breaking grossers like Paramount’s “Top Gun: Maverick” and 20th Century Studios’ “Avatar: The Way of Water” receiving nods, along with populist hits like A24’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and Warner Bros.’ “Elvis,” audiences will be more familiar with the lineup than in previous years. That could yield higher broadcast ratings, which the Oscars desperately seek.
Look at the top box office average for movies nominated for best picture since 1997.
Ain’t Nothing but a Number
As “The White Lotus” star Jennifer Coolidge said during her Critics Choice acceptance speech this month: “It’s not over till you’re dead.” Indeed, a theme of legacy and admiration emerges from a survey of the Oscar nominees across all 23 categories. The comeback stories of Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”) and Ke Huy Quan (“Everything Everywhere”) — nominated for best actor and supporting actor, respectively — have tapped into the cultural zeitgeist, creating some of the season’s most touching moments. Angela Bassett, 64, made a triumphant return to the Oscars in supporting actress with “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” 29 years after playing Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” Similarly, Jamie Lee Curtis’ first nom for “Everything Everywhere” caps an astonishing career marked by roles in a range of genre movies — which the Academy traditionally snubs. Composer John Williams, 90, is the oldest nominee in any competitive awards category for his work on “The Fabelmans,” while supporting actor nom Judd Hirsch, 87, is the second oldest in his category’s history. Hirsch’s bid arrives 42 years after his first for “Ordinary People” (1980), surpassing Henry Fonda’s record of 41 years between acting noms.
The First-Timers Club
The Actors Branch is more welcoming than ever, as signaled by the 16 first-time nominees across the four acting categories. For the first time since 1934, the best actor lineup consists solely of newcomers: Austin Butler (“Elvis”), Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Fraser, Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”) and Bill Nighy (“Living”).
The hugely effective grassroots campaign for surprise best actress nominee Andrea Riseborough for “To Leslie” should inspire other underseen performers to go for the gold, even when their studios don’t have the financial means to do so. And then there are the Daniels, the dynamic filmmaking duo of “Everything Everywhere,” who augur a bright future for cinema in the same category where maestro Steven Spielberg is nominated.
Can’t Stop the Music
With stellar original song nominees from some of the year’s best movies, Oscar producers can create a telecast to keep viewers engaged. An eclectic mix of genres and vocalists are represented, so multiple generations have something to grab on to.
I recommend kicking off with the ultimate dance number, “Naatu Naatu” from “RRR,” and closing with Super Bowl headliner Rihanna delivering the soaring “Lift Me Up” from “Wakanda Forever.” TikTok users will be hooked on Sofia Carson singing “Applause” from “Tell It Like a Woman.” Older demographics will groove to David Byrne jamming barefoot out on “This Is the Life” from “Everything Everywhere.” And every living “monster” will surrender to the magic of Oscar winner Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick.”
The Fight for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is Ongoing
Not without the Academy’s fair share of shortcomings, there were some disappointing omissions throughout its nomination spread.
The shutout of women in best director (i.e., Sarah Polley and Gina Prince-Bythewood) and Black women in lead actress (i.e., Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler) were particularly unacceptable given the swath of talent available to recognize. Of 591 movies nominated for best picture in history, women directed 19.
I’ve long believed the Academy’s been used as a scapegoat for the systemic issues of inequality in the entertainment industry. However, the organization has done valuable work over the years, such as diversifying its membership and the Aperture 2025 initiative, which includes representation and inclusion standards in the best picture category. Noteworthy, since the initiative's announcement in 2020, no film nominated for best picture since 1990 would be disqualified under the proposed measures, including this year’s slate.
It serves as a friendly reminder that we still have a lot of work to do in Hollywood regarding equality and representation and have to hold studios to account each and every year.
To see the current rankings for each individual category, visit Variety’s Oscars Hub. Make sure to bookmark the 2022-2023 Awards Season calendar for all key dates and timelines for the season.