This morning, at the bright and early hour of 8:18am ET, black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross and all-around gay icon Leslie Jordan appeared on a livestream to announce the nominees for the 2022 Academy Awards.
In two parts, the pair gradually crushed some dreams while fulfilling several others. There were plenty of expected names called: Jane Campion’s spellbinding The Power of the Dog, the ostensible frontrunner for months, exceeded expectations, leading the pack with the most nominations at 12. Meanwhile, Denis Villeneuve’s impressively cinematic work on Dune followed right behind, receiving a solid 10.
As always, however, snubs and surprises could be found elsewhere. Lady Gaga, who many started to predict as the eventual winner after Kristen Stewart was snubbed by the Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA, was shut out, along with the rest of her House of Gucci co-stars. Meanwhile, Kristen Stewart made the comeback of a century, re-establishing herself at the top of the Best Actress heap with a surprise nomination. Then, there was Drive My Car, whose route (sorry, I had to) to Best Picture (as well as Director, Adapted Screenplay, and International Feature) has been the fascination of the industry for months. Below, find my twelve biggest snubs and surprises.
SNUB: Ruth Negga in Supporting Actress
There was a time when I never thought that Ruth Negga would be nominated for the phenomenal supporting work she does in Rebecca Hall’s Passing. Back when I saw the film premiere at Sundance 2021, I was immediately taken by her powerful performance as a light-skinned Black woman who’s been living as white for years. In this quiet film about racism, desire, and deception, Negga shined as Clare, a complex, borderline duplicitous character who realized too late in life that what she’d given up to live a life of luxury and privilege had also deprived her of developing any real, true connections with those around her.
Still, it was too early to determine if a performance this deliberately opaque, in a movie this small, from a director this new, would ever translate to The Academy. My spirits started to rise as Negga racked up nominations in several telling precursors (SAG, BAFTA, Gotham, Spirit). Add to that the fact that Negga is already an Oscar nominee (for Loving, in 2017), and suddenly, she seemed like a lock in a category that had always been rather open. Unfortunately, this morning, Negga — and Passing, in general — came up totally blank. While her category still featured some of the expected names (King Richard’s Aunjanue Ellis, The Power of the Dog’s Kirsten Dunst, and West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose), I was thrown to see the inclusion of Judi Dench, whose role in Belfast was miniscule compared to what Ruth delivered in Passing.
SURPRISE: Jessie Buckley in Supporting Actress
While Judi Dench’s surprise inclusion irked me, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Jessie Buckley’s name called first. A tour-de-force in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s incredible The Lost Daughter, Buckley, playing the younger version of Olivia Colman’s lead in flashbacks, received raves for her performance from critics and even nabbed a few nominations for it from groups like Film Independent and BAFTA. Still, few expected to see her go all the way. Though The Lost Daughter has been riding a wave of critical acclaim since its December release, for a while, it seemed likely that its best chances were for Adapted Screenplay and Lead Actress — both categories where the Netflix drama also secured well-deserved nominations.
SNUB: Lady Gaga in Lead Actress
Perhaps there’s something to be said about the fact that House of Gucci, by all means a messy film that could be considered an affront to good taste, completely blanked (save for a Hair/Makeup nod) on Oscar nomination day, despite being the only non-Marvel, adult-oriented drama to become a legitimate box office success story in our current pandemic reality. Nothing about its direction, screenplay, editing, or cinematography warranted awards attention. But the acting could not be denied — or, at the very least, Lady Gaga’s acting could not be denied. (Though I am admittedly a fan of Jared Leto’s unhinged turn as failson Paolo, I was never in agreement with the awards attention he seemed to be getting for what is, ultimately, an SNL skit come-to-life.)
Turning in a brilliantly over-the-top performance of camp excellence, Gaga, already an Oscar winner, carries the film on her back — and judging by the response she’s gotten from awards bodies so far (even nabbing a win from the notoriously picky New York Film Critics Circle), all signs pointed to a second acting nomination for the woman born Stefani Germanotta. That she didn’t make the cut this morning feels wrong, especially given the inclusion of Jessica Chastain, whose leading role in The Eyes of Tammy Faye is somehow even more over-the-top and ridiculous than Gaga’s. While the Screen Actors Guild’s embrace of Gucci as a whole (they were nominated for Cast) seemed to secure Gaga’s place in the final Oscar lineup, I guess it’s true that Ridley Scott’s latest was just too much to go the distance.
SURPRISE: Kristen Stewart in Lead Actress
I know, I know. How dare I call Kristen Stewart’s Oscar nomination a “surprise” when she was crowned an early frontrunner after Spencer premiered in Venice and, more importantly, has spent the last several months sweeping the critics circuit? Well, my dear reader, it still is a surprise — a pleasant one, but a surprise nonetheless. Despite Stewart’s early momentum, Spencer, as a film, has failed to translate in other crucial ways. Signs that Stewart might be in trouble first appeared when the actress failed to secure a nomination from the Screen Actors Guild (which, famously, has the most overlap with The Academy). They continued a few weeks later, when she was snubbed by BAFTA. Why these crucial nominating bodies ignored what easily qualifies as one 2021’s best performances is beyond me. (Was it Stewart’s Twilight past? Her proud queerness? Or were the British just mad about how the film depicted the Royal Family?) But either way, her chances this morning felt far from “written in stone.” That she pulled it all off is a cause for celebration. I can’t wait to say “Oscar Nominee Kristen Stewart” in casual conversation.
SURPRISE: Penelope Cruz in Lead Actress
I have been banging my gong about Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar’s superb Parallel Mothers since I first saw the film back in October during the New York Film Festival. Cruz and Almodóvar have, of course, worked together before (All About My Mother famously won the International Film Oscar in 2000), but something about her performance here, playing a new mother forced to reckon with a life-altering discovery about the family she’s trying to build, has stuck with me more than any of her performances before. But with Lead Actress already being the season’s most competitive category, it was difficult to predict whether Cruz — starring in a non-English film that wasn’t released until late December — could impress enough people to slide her way in. Well, she did, and I’m happy.
SNUB: Parallel Mothers in International Film
No, I don’t know which nominated film I’d swap out for Parallel Mothers, but I certainly know that this fantastic film (one of 2021’s best) deserved some additional acclaim. (I have not yet seen Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, so I’m just going to go ahead and say that one.)
SNUB: Mike Faist in Supporting Actor
If there was one thing Steven Spielberg’s reworked West Side Story did best, it was making space for actors who had yet to have their big break. And while no one was as new to the screen as lead Rachel Zegler, several other still-rising actors were given ample space to stake their claim as the future leaders of Hollywood. Much has already been said about Ariana DeBose, who received the film’s only acting nod and might just win it all, but equal praise is owed to Mike Faist, who plays the doomed character Riff not as the pompous bully he’s been written as in the past, but as a poor unfortunate soul, desperate for the company of his now somewhat estranged best friend. Already a celebrated stage dancer and a Tony nominee for his acclaimed performance in Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen, Faist would have been a perfect fifth nominee for Supporting Actor. Alas, The Academy went in another direction, nominating Jesse Plemons for The Power of the Dog and J.K. Simmons for Being the Ricardos alongside the expected suspects, such as Kodi Smit-McPhee, Troy Kotsur (Coda), and Ciarán Hinds (Belfast).
SNUB: Tony Kushner in Adapted Screenplay
The fact that Tony Kushner, the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning brains behind the still-relevant Angels in America, still has no Oscars to his name is nothing short of a travesty. For over a decade and a half, Kushner has sporadically teamed up to work alongside Steven Spielberg, helping the celebrated, three-time Oscar-winning director craft his intricate screenplays. Yet, despite receiving nominations for both of their previous partnerships (for Munich in 2005 and for Lincoln in 2013), Kushner has failed to actually win. With stiff competition from the likes of Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Lost Daughter) and Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), odds were always slim that this would be Kushner’s year to rectify that — but The Academy’s failure to even nominate his West Side Story screenplay stings. While the film’s awards season track record has been spotty, much of its praise has been reserved for its numerous updates, helping to bring this sixty-year-old story into the present-day. In many ways, Kushner’s script is peak adaptation; it’s taking a story and refashioning it for a modern audience.
SURPRISE: Foreign Screenplays
I wasn’t shocked to hear Drive My Car and The Worst Person in the World announced as Oscar nominees this morning. After fighting their way to the top of many year-end lists, both films have steadily staked their claim as guaranteed International Film nominees. What I couldn’t anticipate was hearing their names announced in other categories — screenplay categories, especially. While foreign films have been recognized for their writing before (as recently as 2019, when Parasite eventually won for Original Screenplay), the uphill battle to do so has always been much steeper, namely because Academy members have to actually watch the foreign films first. Nevertheless, their respective nominations (Drive My Car for Adapted Screenplay and The Worst Person in the World for Original) feel well-deserved. Given both films’ appeal to literature (Drive My Car is based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, while The Worst Person is deliberately arranged like a novel, complete with twelve chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue), getting acknowledged for their writing is appropriate and a sign that The Academy might be getting better after all.
SURPRISE: Drive My Car Dominance
Getting nominated for Adapted Screenplay was one thing, but it’s also the least impressive feat Drive My Car achieved this morning. Already a shoo-in for International Feature, Drive My Car exceeded expectations by also securing an individual nomination for its director, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, and landing a spot in the Best Picture lineup, making it the first Japanese film to do so. That a three-hour foreign-language film about Chekhov, grief, sex, healing, and the power of the theater has gone all this distance? We’re most certainly going to have to stan on that one!
SNUB: Foreign Actors
Despite their numerous nominations, neither Drive My Car nor The Worst Person in the World were able to push their actors into the main race. This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, save for the fact that both films are very much reliant on their leads. Without Drive’s pensive Hidetoshi Nishijima or Worst Person’s free-spirited Renate Reinsve, neither of these films would work. (Compare that to a film like Dune, which also failed to nab any acting nominations despite being in second place for total nominations. While the acting in the film was great, Dune was much more a technical feat than it was an actorly showcase.) These snubs speak to a troubling trend for the Oscars: even when they’re pushing boundaries by recognizing foreign films outside of their prescribed category, The Academy seems averse to recognizing these film’s central performances. Look no further than Parasite, which went on to win Best Picture with no acting nominations to its name. (This is hardly ever the case for English-speaking films.)
SNUB: Belle for Animated Feature
To be fair, this isn’t so much a snub as it is just a personal disappointment. By and large one of the most fascinating, visually impressive animated films in recent memory, Belle should not only be a nominee for Animated Feature, but should be a frontrunner to win. While I am a noted fan of Encanto (especially as it relates to the sublime “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”), a simp for the Call Me By Your Name-lite energy of Luca, and the Furby-filled insanity of The Mitchells vs. The Machines, I can’t help but feel slighted that a film as creative as Belle was passed over for something significantly more rote, like Raya and the Last Dragon. The only positive about Belle’s snub is that I’m now completely free to root for Flee, my favorite film of 2021 and the category’s sole nominee to excitedly challenge the form (inasmuch that Flee is a documentary).