While The Power of the Dog and Dune lead the pack, a host of once-hyped star-led projects failed to resonate with voters
Sandra Bullock in The Unforgivable Photograph: Kimberley French/NETFLIX
The Guardian-Benjamin Lee
After months of speculation, this week finally gave us some answers, the 2022 Oscar nominations revealing some surprises among the easy-to-predict pack. Jane Campion’s queer psychodrama The Power of the Dog was the big winner, with 12 nominations, a richly deserved haul for a film some wondered might be a little too alienating for the Academy.
But the unusual and unsettling film proved popular, along with Dune, Belfast and West Side Story, dominating categories that had little room for filler. In a competitive year, there was no room for these Oscarbait also-rans:
The Last Duel
Making two considerably scaled films during the pandemic that were also considerably rather good was an achievement Ridley Scott deserves some sort of honorary Oscar for – an achievement made all the more impressive given the overall shoddiness of so many Covid-era offerings. But while sleek melodrama House of Gucci might have been more commercially lucrative and more prominent during awards season (but not with the Academy, more on that later), it was his ambitious and knotty epic The Last Duel that deserved more recognition. A complex attempt to correct an egregious historical injustice, the film subverted the sexism that so often dominates films of that ilk and elicited A-game performances from Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck, who was criminally nominated for a Razzie for his role. The Academy sadly remained as uninterested as audiences.
Dear Evan Hansen
It was a worryingly rocky year for musicals at the box office, with In the Heights and West Side Story hitting a bum note with audiences although both were at least warmly received by critics, the latter going on to score eight Oscar nominations. Left out in the cold by all though, was poor Dear Evan Hansen, the Tony-winning play that became a Razzie-nominated movie, a spectacular fall from grace for a project once primed for big things. The writing was on the wall, and all over Twitter, ever since the first trailer dropped with twenty-something star Ben Platt’s unsettling high school get-up an object of mass ridicule and things only worsened on release when the film surrounding him was unveiled as similarly off-key.
Netflix might have picked up multiple nominations for The Power of the Dog, The Lost Daughter and Don’t Look Up but there was, deservedly, no Academy love for its drab Sandra Bullock vehicle The Unforgivable, a misfiring remake of a British miniseries. The actor, a winner in 2010 and a nominee in 2014, went for the well-worn de-glamming route, playing a woman just out of prison after being convicted of murder, but like her last Netflix film Bird Box, she had to settle for stats over statuettes. It was a monster hit for the streamer (Bullock is now the only woman with two films in their all-time top 10 most watched) but critics and voters wisely turned their noses up.
House of Gucci
There were a number of audible gasps yesterday as the nominations were announced (No Negga! But Buckley! And Drive My Car!) but easily the biggest shock of the morning was the lack of Lady Gaga, a star who’d remained one of the major best actress frontrunners for the entirety of the season. Her performance in House of Gucci had been somewhat divisive (although not as much as co-star Jared Leto’s) as was the film itself and the Academy ultimately decided against it, bar a token nomination for makeup and hairstyling. Twitter raged but Gaga remained ever-professional, wishing all nominees the very best via Instagram. It was the second snub of the year for Ridley Scott but this one was at least moderately successful at the box office.
It was a good year for Monsters and Men director Reinaldo Marcus Green. His Richard Williams drama King Richard maintained strong awards buzz from its Telluride premiere right up to the big announcement, scoring six nominations including one for best picture. But as one surfed the highs, his other 2021 film skirted the lows, another well-intentioned star-led biopic, this time about the devastating true story of Joe Bell, the father of a gay teen who killed himself. Premiering at the virtual Toronto film festival back in 2020, the film was met with lukewarm reviews and faded from there, a tiny release with little to no marketing attached earlier this year. Star Mark Wahlberg, who gives one of his best ever performances, was perhaps hoping for a redemption arc that never came.
The pandemic hasn’t been kind to director Joe Wright, who last summer saw his starry thriller The Woman in the Window offloaded to Netflix, where it became a giddily mocked hate-watch, recently nominated for a number of Razzies. He also used the time to retell the much-told tale of Cyrano, ambitiously shooting a big and brash musical at the height of Covid’s second wave in Italy. Reviews were mostly positive, if a little muted, after its premiere at last year’s Telluride film festival and for a while, star Peter Dinklage’s name was part of the best actor conversation. But the film emerged with just one nod for costume design, despite superficially ticking a number of Oscar-friendly boxes, ending up as yet another movie musical performed to an empty theatre.
The Tender Bar
It’s been a while since George Clooney has seen himself a part of the Oscar race, an absence that’s not been down to a lack of trying. While the two-time winner (as supporting actor for Syriana and producer for best picture winner Argo) has mostly retreated from acting, he’s made a concerted effort to cement his status as a film-maker instead. But his more recent work hasn’t made much of an impact from The Monuments Men to Suburbicon to The Midnight Sky and now The Tender Bar, a sentimental adaptation of Pulitzer-winner JR Moehringer’s memoir. Ben Affleck, starring as JR’s uncle and surrogate father, picked up a Golden Globe nod but the film was rejected entirely by Oscar voters and met with a shrug from critics.
The music biopic, one of the most repetitive and genuinely exhausting genres in Hollywood, still continues to impress Academy voters bringing mostly undeserved awards attention to recent films like Bohemian Rhapsody, The United States vs Billie Holliday, Judy and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. But this year, former best supporting actress winner Jennifer Hudson couldn’t jimmy her way up into the best actress category with her role-of-a-lifetime work as Aretha Franklin in Respect. The passion project, which Hudson was picked for by Franklin herself, was criticized as being a little too formulaic on release and voters decided to ignore the film entirely.