'Oppenheimer' dominates Oscar nominees, Greta Gerwig passed over for best director

Though Christopher Nolan is regarded as the big-canvas auteur of his era, he’s never won an Academy Award, nor have any of his films won best picture. This, though, could be his year.

Associated Press

Jan 23, 2024, 4:00 PM

Updated 182 days ago

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After a tumultuous movie year marred by strikes and work stoppages, the Academy Awards showered nominations Tuesday on Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster biopic, “Oppenheimer,” which came away with a leading 13 nominations.
Nolan’s three-hour opus, viewed as the best picture frontrunner, received nods for best picture; Nolan’s direction; acting nominations for Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr. and Emily Blunt; and multiple honors for the sweeping craft of the J. Robert Oppenheimer drama. Though Nolan is regarded as the big-canvas auteur of his era, he’s never won an Academy Award, nor have any of his films won best picture. This, though, could be his year.
The year’s biggest hit, “Barbie,” came away with a nominations haul slightly less than its partner in Barbenheimer mania. Greta Gerwig’s feminist comedy, with more than $1.4 billion in ticket sales, was nominated for eight awards, including best picture; Ryan Gosling for best supporting actor; and two best-song candidates in “What Was I Made For” and “I’m Just Ken."
Gerwig was surprisingly left out of the best director field. She was nominated for best director in 2018 for her solo directorial debut, “Lady Bird.” At the time, Gerwig was just the fifth woman nominated for the award. Since then, Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) and Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”) have won best director. Before those wins, Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker,” in 2010) was the only woman to win the Oscar’s top filmmaking honor.
Both Martin Scorsese’s Osage epic “Killers of the Flower Moon” and Yorgos Lanthimos’ Frankenstein riff “Poor Things” were also widely celebrated. “Poor Things” landed 11 nods, while “Killers of the Moon” was nominated for 10 Oscars.
Lily Gladstone, star of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” became the first Native American nominated for best actress. For the 10th time, Scorsese was nominated for best director. Leonardo DiCaprio, though, was left out of best actor. The late Robbie Robertson, who died in August, also became the first Indigenous person nominated for best score.
“Poor Things,” a dark Victorian era fantasy about Bella Baxter's sexual awakening, received nominations for Lanthimos' direction, Emma Stone's leading performance, Mark Ruffalo's supporting performance and widespread nods for the old-school craft of its fantastical design.
The 10 films nominated for best picture were: “Oppenheimer,” “Barbie,” “Poor Things,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “The Holdovers,” “Maestro,” “American Fiction,” “Past Lives,” “Anatomy of a Fall” and “The Zone of Interest."
That group, which mirrored the Producers Guild Awards nominees, went much as expected and, as critics noted, a remarkably strong collection of films. For the first time, three of the best picture nominees were directed by women: “Past Lives” by Celine Song; “Anatomy of a Fall" by Justine Triet, who was also nominated for best director; and Gerwig's “Barbie."
But surprises abounded in other categories.
The best actor category had been seen one of the most competitive. In the end, the nominees were Murphy, Paul Giamatti ("The Holdovers"), Jeffrey Wright ("American Fiction"), Bradley Cooper ("Maestro") and Colman Domingo ("Rustin"). Domingo's nomination, for his performance as civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, made him just the second openly gay man to be nominated for playing a gay character, following Ian McKellen for the 1998 film “Gods and Monsters."
“American Fiction,” Cord Jefferson's insightful drama about a frustrated novelist, had an especially good day, collecting five nominations. That included a nod for Sterling K. Brown for best supporting actor. Robert De Niro ("Killers of the Flower Moon") rounded out that category with Downey Jr. and Gosling.
Best actress was also closely contested. Along with Gladstone and Stone, the nominees were Carey Mulligan ("Maestro"), Annette Bening ("Nyad") and Sandra Hüller (“Anatomy of a Fall"). That left out Margot Robbie, the star of “Barbie," and Fantasia Barrino from “The Color Purple."
In supporting actress, the frontrunner Da'Vine Joy Randolph of “The Holdovers” continued her march to her first Oscar. She was joined by Blunt, Danielle Brooks ("The Color Purple"), Jodie Foster ("Nyad") and America Ferrera ("Barbie").
Lead nominees “Oppenheimer," “Barbie,” “Poor Things” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” made for a maximalist quartet of Oscar heavyweights. Nolan’s sprawling biopic. Gerwig’s near-musical. Scorsese’s pitch-black Western. Lanthimos’ sumptuously designed fantasy. Each utilized a wide spectrum of cinematic tools to tell big, often disturbing big-screen stories. And each - even Apple’s biggest-budgeted movie yet, “Killers of the Flower Moon” - had robust theatrical releases that saved streaming for months later.
The Associated Press notched its first Oscar nomination in the news organization’s 178-year history with “20 Days in Mariupol,” Mstyslav Chernov’s harrowing chronicle of the besieged Ukrainian city and of the last international journalists left there after the Russia invasion. It was nominated for best documentary, along with “Four Daughters," “Bobi Wine: The People's President,” “The Eternal Memory" and “To Kill a Tiger."
“20 Days” is a joint production between The Associated Press and PBS’ “Frontline."
The nominees for best international film are: “Society of the Snow,” (Spain); “The Zone of Interest,” (United Kingdom); “The Teachers’ Lounge” (Germany); “Io Capitano” (Italy) ; “Perfect Days” (Japan).
The nominees for best animated film are: “The Boy and the Heron”; “Elemental”; “Nimona”; “Robot Dreams”; “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse."
The best-picture collection of films - all of which played in theaters for at least a month, including Netflix’s “Maestro” - reflected the industry’s rebalancing after years of experimentation during the pandemic. Netflix came away with the most nominations of any studio with 18, but industry consensus has, for now, turned back to believing cinemas play a vital role in the rollout of most movies. Apple and Amazon, which in 2022 acquired MGM, have each made theatrical a priority.
In heaping nominations on “Oppenheimer,” Oscar voters are poised to do something they haven’t done in a long time: Hand its top award to a big-budget blockbuster. Granted “Oppenheimer” isn’t your average big-screen spectacle, but the academy has for years favored smaller films for best picture, movies like “CODA,” “Nomadland” and last year’s winner, “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Ben Affleck’s 2012 film “Argo” was the last best picture winner to surpass $100 million domestically. “Oppenheimer” grossed $326.8 million in the U.S. and Canada, and nearly $1 billion globally.
Historically, blockbusters have helped fueled Oscar ratings. Through the pile-up of award shows (an after-effect of last year’s strikes) could be detrimental to the Academy Awards, the Barbenheimer presence could help lift the March 10 telecast on ABC. Jimmy Kimmel is returning as host, with the ceremony moved up an hour, to 7 p.m. EST.


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