The 2022 Oscar nominations are finally out and that means the 2021-2022 awards season is finally coming to an end after a seemingly neverending year of watching things at home. The membership changes undertaken by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seem to be continuing their effect this year, as the nominations contain some category-hopping from critical darlings and a general level of diversity and—dare I say—taste that had been lacking from the Oscars for a long, long time.
That said, there were still the same problems that have always plagued the Oscars, as well as a few interesting flubs, snubs and even pleasant surprises. The younger, less white and male representatives of Hollywood are slowly altering what’s being honored (and presented to the general public as worthy of attention), but makeup-heavy biopics and preaching politics still managed to wow the easily wowed. That said, with The Power of the Dog as your most-nominated film (kinda blowing last year’s Mank out of the water), things aren’t as bad as they could be.
Here are the good, bad and ugly takeaways from 2021’s Oscar nominations:
Get in, Loser. We’re Going All-In on Drive My Car
Only a few years ago, the idea that a long, quiet, contemplative, non-English drama would break out of the Best International category at the Oscars was nothing but a daydream. Something film critics pined for, but would never expect. The love shown to Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car in the nominations is already a huge indicator of the Academy membership’s sea change, and an indicator of where that membership is finding out about movies. Drive My Car landed nominations in the International category, but also in Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay—all without the kind of fancy campaign pushing many of the nominees onto voters. To me, this is evidence that local critics groups and a few key publications were essential in convincing people to sit down and enjoy this movie, which is both good in the here and now (yay, Drive My Car!) and good for future independent cinema (yay, small movies without massive For Your Consideration budgets!).
Jane Campion: Potential Champion
With The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion becomes the first woman ever nominated twice in the Best Director category, after she and The Piano lost to Steven Spielberg and Schindler’s List in 1994. Campion and Spielberg are going head to head again this year, but the results might be reversed—don’t be surprised if West Side Story’s star-crossed Sharks and Jets get overshadowed by horny ol’ Bronco Henry. If Campion wins, she’ll only be the third woman to ever claim the Best Director statue.
Kristen and Kirsten
K-crews, turn up. Both Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst earned their first acting nominations, for Spencer and The Power of the Dog, respectively. The pair have been turning in exceptional performances for what seems like forever—probably because they were both extremely good child actors—so this feels long overdue. Stewart was a standout in Spencer to the extent that her lead performance is the only thing the Academy honored surrounding the movie, while Dunst’s supporting turn perfectly fit into The Power of the Dog and its slew of nominations.
Kevin Feige Denied
After MCU Czar Kevin Feige expressed his displeasure that the Oscars didn’t favor superhero movies (aside from their visual effects, which are what 99.9% of what those films are), there’s a heartening bit of schadenfreude to be taken from the fact that the new Spider-Man and all the other half-hearted Marvel offerings that were eligible for this year’s awards were once again contained to the world of VFX. Even then, it’s a little depressing—Shang-Chi has one of the ugliest and grayest third acts in the Marvel canon, while Spider-Man: No Way Home’s best effect was its stunt casting. But as long as it puts an end to the speculative “Spider-Man’s Big Box Office Means Best Picture!?” headlines, I’m happy.
Troy Kotsur, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Ascension, Dune and Other Pleasant Surprises
While I had a suspicion that the Academy would vibe with CODA’s feel-good, music-oriented, tear-jerking story of a deaf family and their hearing daughter, I was less sure about how that would manifest. With a handful of nominations, the film had a solid showing, but the most-deserved nod went to the excellent Troy Kotsur. The first deaf male actor to ever be nominated (his CODA co-star Marlee Matlin was the first deaf actor to ever win back in 1986 for Children of a Lesser God), Kotsur’s turn is hilarious and touching and warm—basically all the best things about the movie he’s in, condensed into a character that feels completely honest. Similarly, it was nice to see The Mitchells vs. the Machines shown some love in an animation category that snubbed excellence like Belle for the same ol’, same ol’. The Mitchells vs. the Machines is certainly not the same, nor is it ol’ in any sense. Ascension was one of our picks for the year’s best documentaries, but usually that doesn’t quite translate to the Academy’s more…Octopus Teacher-leaning ways. And as a card-carrying Dune Goon, I couldn’t help but be pleased that the pretty and totally odd sci-fi had a great showing.
Not Even Close To Horny Enough
The Oscars are many things, but horny is clearly not one of them. Some of the biggest snubs this year revolved around some of its most sexual films: Titane’s car-fucking mania, Zola’s zany stripper ‘n’ sex work saga, Red Rocket’s tragicomic porn star, Benedetta’s extremely blasphemous nuns. These sharp and unique movies could’ve been prime candidates for Screenplay or, in Simon Rex’s case, Actor nominations, but the Academy loves cold showers and black-and-white cinematography. Boo to this.
We Know You Saw Licorice Pizza and Yet No Alana Haim?
If Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza was totally shut out, I’d get it. It’s arty and weird and had some dumb controversy surrounding it fueled by dolts. But it didn’t. It got Screenplay, Director and even Picture nominations! And yet…no Alana Haim? She and Cooper Hoffman (whose snub feels a bit more palatable, considering an extra-tough Best Actor year) are this movie. Haim stands out not only as particularly incredible—funny, nuanced, magnetic—but as so much better than some of the cynical and awards-grubby plays by movie stars like Jessica Chastain and Nicole Kidman that did get nominated.
Who Stole My Pig (Nomination for Nicolas Cage)?
Ok, ok, so maybe Pig was never going to be a huge Oscar hit. But Nicolas Cage not only turns in one of the year’s best performances, he’s also got a great story: A movie star/critical darling on his way back up after a decade slumming it and weathering an online environment that’s turned him into a meme? It’s a perfect comeback tale, denied. Justice for this new, soft, quiet Cage.
While the documentary nominees are relatively solid, a major entry from a major filmmaker distributed by a major studio is missing. Robert Greene’s fantastic Procession, which sees six survivors of childhood sex abuse from Catholic priests reclaim and reenact their trauma, is absent despite rave reviews and a Netflix acquisition. Maybe the subject matter was too heavy, even for the Doc committee. Maybe they didn’t want to rock a boat that continues to need capsizing. Regardless, the film is excellent and sharply put together—and thanks to its streaming home, it’s easy to seek out even without an Oscar nomination.
David Sirota Will Never Shut Up Now
Ex-Bernie Sanders staffer David Sirota, the guy who co-wrote Don’t Look Up and then got Extremely Mad Online about it, is now an Oscar nominee thanks to the film’s Best Screenplay nod. If you thought his asinine Twitter was annoying before, you’d better hope he doesn’t win. Or, maybe, it’ll actually be worse if he loses, so he can claim that the Academy voters don’t care about climate change. What a doofus.
Bad Biopic Behavior Rewarded Once Again
At least the wigs weren’t as bad as last year’s Hillbilly Elegy, but the fact that Jessica Chastain’s “Uruk-hai levels of makeup and prosthetics,” as I put it in my The Eyes of Tammy Faye review, got a nod alongside whatever the hell Nicole Kidman was doing in Being the Ricardos is a real shame. It encourages this kind of silly, transformation-as-acting thing that rarely results in anything watchable. Instead, these planned ploys feel designed for Oscar FYC clips and behind-the-scenes YouTube videos showing just how hard it was to make these actors look like people they do not look anything like. If these were entries into the reality show Face Off, I’d be happy to see them in the makeup challenge. As acting nominations, they highlight only a willingness to sit in a chair for hours. In the words of Michael Jordan: Stop it. Get some help.
Free Guy: Best Visual Effects Nominee
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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