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‘Oppenheimer’ Dominates Oscar Nominations, Gerwig Passed Over for Best Director

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"Oppenheimer" leads Oscar nominations with 13 nods, marking a standout year in cinema and potential history for director Christopher Nolan. (AP/Universal Pictures)
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NEW YORK — 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.

Reached by phone Tuesday morning in Los Angeles, Emma Thomas, Nolan’s wife and producing partner, said she woke up to a flurry of congratulatory messages and then roused Nolan with the news.

“Don’t take it as being blasé,” Nolan told The Associated Press, laughing. “We just didn’t want to jinx anything.”

Nolan’s Oscar History

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. Reflecting on the rarity of his film’s success — a lengthy drama dense with talk and the convulsions of history that nevertheless grossed nearly $1 billion — Nolan called Oppenheimer “one of the great American stories.”

“I grew up loving Hollywood movies and believing studio filmmaking can take on anything,” said Nolan. “Seeing audiences respond to that this summer was incredibly thrilling and getting this kind of recognition from the academy, I don’t know what to say, really. It certainly confirms our faith in what studio filmmaking can be.”

Other Notable Nominations

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 Yorgos Lanthimos’ Frankenstein riff “Poor Things” and Martin Scorsese’s Osage epic “Killers of the Flower Moon” were also widely celebrated, with 11 and 10 nods apiece.

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.

“I only wish that Robbie Robertson had lived to see his work recognized — our many years of friendship and Robbie’s growing consciousness of his own Native heritage played a crucial role in my desire to get this film onscreen,” Scorsese said in a statement.

“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.”

Surprises and Snubs

But surprises abounded in other categories.

The best actor category had been seen as 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., Gosling and Ruffalo.

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”).

Though “The Color Purple” had set out with larger Oscar hopes, Brooks ended up the film’s sole nominee.

“I’m very humbled by it all, because I know, as we all know, you can’t do these things by yourself. That’s not how it works,” Brooks said by Zoom from New Zealand where she’s shooting a movie. “I thought it was huge shoes to fill just to come in after Miss Oprah Winfrey. But now I feel like I’m doing this for the team Color Purple, you know?”

Lead Nominees

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 were: “Society of the Snow,” (Spain); “The Zone of Interest,” (United Kingdom); “The Teachers’ Lounge” (Germany); “Io Capitano” (Italy) and “Perfect Days” (Japan).

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 to 7 p.m. EST.

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