Oscars snubs and surprises: Barbie wasn’t the most egregious omission

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
6 Min Read
Oscar snubs included (clockwise from left) Barbie; May December; and Past Lives.
Oscar snubs included (clockwise from left) Barbie; May December; and Past Lives. Credit: Warner Bros./Warner Bros

The morning after the Oscars nominations is always rife with, “but what about?!”. It’s a time-honoured tradition and this year is no different.

Every category only allows for five nominees (except for best picture which takes in 10) so if you added up all the unjustified omissions with those who rightly were included, it would easily exceed the limit.

Some Oscars years go exactly as expected but this year, there are some genuine surprises and some egregious snubs. No doubt, it was a competitive field and one which featured the cultural phenomenon of Barbenheimer.

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The conversation today has been overtaken by the shut-out of Barbie’s Greta Gerwig from the directing category and Margot Robbie from the best actress category but the outsized focus on that has distracted from the many more snubs and surprises which deserve to grab the headlines.

SNUB: Past Lives and the other Greta

It was always an uphill battle for indie darling Past Lives to grab a big haul of nominations. The small-budget American film was made by a first-time feature director in Celine Song, most of its dialogue is in Korean and its unconventional pacing and structure may have been too subtle for those chasing thrills.

The filmmaking skill and storytelling nous it takes to make Past Lives, a movie that’s far more about the unsaid and the physical space between its main characters, is towering. It’s a deeply emotional film anchored by a masterful Greta Lee, who tapped into deep yearning of her character Nora for a life not lived, a relationship not pursued. It has one of the most poignant, moving and surprising endings in cinematic history.

While a best picture nomination is no small feat, Lee should’ve been recognised in best actress. Her omission is actually the real injustice in that category, not Margot Robbie failing to make the cut. And Song’s command over Past Lives’ ebb and flow of tension and release, as well as its overall vision, should’ve landed her a nod in the directing race. At least, at this point, Song is a frontrunner in original screenplay.

Greta Lee in Past Lives
Greta Lee in Past Lives Credit: Jon Pack/Twenty Years Rights/A24/TheWest

SNUB: Charles Melton for May December

Huzzah for Sterling K. Brown and Mark Ruffalo, who both snuck into the best supporting actor category for comedic performances, an art form that is rarely acknowledged by the Academy.

But, there should be more justice for Charles Melton who turned in a stellar performance in May December, Todd Haynes’ melodrama inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau saga. Melton as the 36-year-old man who had been seduced and raped as a 14-year-old child by a much older woman, now his wife, went from near-catatonia to heart-rending breakdown.

He won a swathe of critics groups awards and was toasted around the industry but had missed out on some significant precursor nominations including the Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA lists. Perhaps what worked against him was that he was previously best known as one of the young stars of supernatural teen soap Riverdale, and his co-stars Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore both missed out. May December got a surprise original screenplay nomination though.

Charles Melton in May December, to be released in Australia on February 1.
Charles Melton in May December, to be released in Australia on February 1. Credit: Supplied

SNUB: Barbie’s Greta Gerwig

Barbie remains a favourite to win in some below-the-line categories such as original song and production design, and its gargantuan box office cemented the film’s status as legitimate cultural moment. But was it a perfect film? No.

But neither was Oppenheimer (13 nods), which makes the disparity in nominations between the two rather revealing. Already the presumed frontrunner, Oppenheimer is going to get a free pass on its problems – maybe due to the perception its subject matter is weightier.

Director Greta Gerwig drove the ambitious creative vision of a film that fired on so many levels with its humour, heart and smarts and it’s still infuriating that the mostly male and stale director’s branch of the Academy couldn’t find room for two female directors in its nominations line-up.

French director Justine Triet, nominated for the superb courtroom drama Anatomy of a Fall, should be there but it feels as if her inclusion knocked out Gerwig, previously nominated for directing Ladybird. Why can’t we live in a world where both could have made the cut? And throw in Celine Song too. Now, that would’ve been an exciting directors line-up.

Gerwig has been nominated in adapted screenplay, alongside her creative and life partner, Noah Baumbach.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 30: Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie attend the "Barbie" Celebration Party at Museum of Contemporary Art on June 30, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. "Barbie", directed by Greta Gerwig, stars Margot Robbie, America Ferrera and Issa Rae, and will be released in Australia on July 20 this year. (Photo by Hanna Lassen/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 30: Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie attend the "Barbie" Celebration Party at Museum of Contemporary Art on June 30, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. "Barbie", directed by Greta Gerwig, stars Margot Robbie, America Ferrera and Issa Rae, and will be released in Australia on July 20 this year. (Photo by Hanna Lassen/Getty Images) Credit: Hanna Lassen/Getty Images

SURPRISE: Margot Robbie

On the acting side, much has been made of Margot Robbie’s exclusion from best actress but that was an intensely competitive field and a race that is narrowing down to a head-to-head between Killers of the Flower Moon’s Lily Gladstone and Poor Things’ Emma Stone (Stone is only the second woman ever to be nominated for both producing and acting in the same film, the first was Frances McDormand for Nomadland).

Certainly, it doesn’t look good when Ryan Gosling collected a nomination for playing Ken when Robbie didn’t for playing Barbie – and he’s pissed and has said so via a statement – but maybe we’re forgetting that even at the time of release, there was a lot of chatter that he basically stole the movie.

But Robbie’s hard work in turning a toy line into an emotionally resonant movie has been acknowledged where she really deserved to be, as a producer in best picture. Arguably, that was her most significant contribution.

What was a surprise (and probably a relief) was America Ferrera being nominated in best supporting actress, an outcome that was far from certain. But that monologue was enough to get her over the line.

Also, let’s remember that Barbie took in $US1.44 billion at the box office. It’s doing fine.

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ryan Gosling, left, and Margot Robbie in a scene from "Barbie." (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ryan Gosling, left, and Margot Robbie in a scene from "Barbie." (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP) Credit: AP

SURPRISE: Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio was an assumed frontrunner for a best actor nomination in Killers of the Flower Moon but as the voting deadline neared, it started to feel wobbly when he missed out on both BAFTA and SAG nominations.

The actors branch of the Academy votes for the acting nominations so there was bound to be some correlation between SAG and Oscars. And DiCaprio has felt like he was on the cusp and vulnerable to being pushed out by someone like Colman Domingo for Rustin, which is what happened.

Working against him was that his character was a deceptive and slimy coward who didn’t even have the callous certainty of Robert De Niro’s evil mastermind. Plus, all reports point to DiCaprio magnanimously campaigning for co-star Lily Gladstone at every industry event rather than for himself.

While Killers of the Flower Moon nabbed 10 nominations overall, it was a surprising omission in adapted screenplay, which Martin Scorsese and seven-time nominee Eric Roth were widely expected to nab.

Lily Gladstone, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Killers of the Flower Moon," in cinemas now.
Lily Gladstone, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Killers of the Flower Moon," in cinemas now. Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Apple TV

SNUB: Shut out completely

There was a raft of films this year that were hoping for one or two acknowledgements on the nominations list but, in the end, all were crowded out.

Some had outside shots in a few categories, such as British ghost and love story All of Us Strangers (Andrew Scott for best actor, Paul Mescal best supporting actor, Andrew Haigh in directing), the buzzy Saltburn (Rosamund Pike in best supporting actress and Linus Sandgren in cinematography) and Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny in best actress, Stacey Battat for costume design).

While others might’ve expected a nomination in specific categories. These include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (animated feature), Asteroid City (production design), Fallen Leaves (international feature), Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (documentary feature) and American Symphony (documentary feature).

All of Us Strangers starred Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal.
All of Us Strangers starred Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal. Credit: Supplied

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