For those with a true love of the cinema, the awards season often provokes some measure of cynicism, as the patterns of gold-plated recognition tend to favor a specific model of goodness (inoffensive, broadly appealing, familiar) over more off-the-beaten-path or otherwise outré excellence. One might crinkle their nose at the crowd-pleasing pabulum that’s come to be derogatorily known as “awards bait,” but the good news is that its chokehold on the Oscars seems to have loosened in the past few years.
2022’s batch of Academy Award nominations, announced just this morning, gave cinephiles more cause for optimism. The recent wins for such critical darlings as Moonlight, Parasite, and Nomadland suggest that the voting bloc’s tastes have slightly matured as they’ve expanded the ranks of their membership to bolster diversity, and this year’s class of nominees continues the encouraging trend.
The most unlikely success story of the year is already that of Drive My Car, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s three-hour, Chekhov-influenced adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story. Despite its highbrow pedigree, some key wins from smaller awards-giving bodies (earning Best Picture honors from critics’ groups in both New York and Los Angeles was a major coup) pushed the year-end list staple to a quartet of nominations for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and International Feature Film. That’s the same set of nods that Bong Joon-ho picked up for Parasite, and we all remember how that played out for him.
The Danish-language animated documentary Flee scored big with nominations in all three of the categories implied in that description. The International race also includes Norway’s submission The Worst Person in the World, which also rode the wave of publicity from its savvily-delayed theatrical run to a nod for Original Screenplay for director Joachim Trier and his co-writer Eskil Vogt.
In the acting races, the expected reigned, for better and for worse. Impression-style biopic acting filled out the Best Actress slots, with Jessica Chastain (as televangelist Tammy Faye), Kristen Stewart (as an unraveling Princess Diana), and Nicole Kidman (as the one and only Lucille Ball) all making the cut. The most eyebrow-raising omission was for another such performance — Lady Gaga as the very Italian murderess Patrizia Reggiani in the polarizing House of Gucci, which under-delivered with one nomination only — clearing the way for original characters from Penelope Cruz and Olivia Colman.
The so-called “Oscar villains” didn’t fare so well, with Aaron Sorkin and Being the Ricardos losing out on Best Picture and Screenplay noms, while Don’t Look Up saw a full shutout in the acting categories. Meanwhile, well-reviewed selections exceeded expectations, as Licorice Pizza got Paul Thomas Anderson back in the Best Picture and Director listings, and Power of the Dog led the nomination count with a whopping twelve.
Perhaps most exciting of all is the paucity of clear frontrunners. Power of the Dog might be on top by the numbers, but Best Picture is still anyone’s game. Best Actor is going to be a slugfest between arthouse pick Benedict Cumberbatch, acceptance podium mainstay Denzel Washington, and people’s pick Will Smith. Best Actress could conceivably go to any of the five nominees.
We’ve got an extra-long wait ahead of us, with the telecast scheduled for nearly two months away on 27 March. But this is shaping up to be the most unpredictable, hectic, potentially rewarding Academy Awards program since, well, 2019.
Published 8 Feb 2022
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