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Takeaways from the Oscar nominations: heavy hitters rewarded, plus some surprises

After a <em>very</em> long year in Hollywood, Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday morning.
Bryan Bedder
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Getty Images
After a very long year in Hollywood, Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday morning.

The Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday morning, and most of the heavy hitters were richly rewarded. A man was nominated for playing a doll; a woman was nominated for playing a baby (sort of). Ten pictures will vie to be considered best. Let's talk about what happened.

<em>Oppenheimer</em> received 13 Oscar nominations. Above, Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer. <a href="https://www.npr.org/2023/08/14/1193448291/oppenheimer-director-christopher-nolan">Click here for an interview with director Christopher Nolan.</a>
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Universal Pictures
Oppenheimer received 13 Oscar nominations. Above, Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer. Click here for an interview with director Christopher Nolan.

All hail Oppenheimer. Whether Christopher Nolan is your speed or not, the Academy loves him. Oppenheimer, his drama about the man who developed the atomic bomb, led all films with 13 nominations in both what are sometimes considered "major" categories (like best picture, best director, best actor and adapted screenplay) and "technical" categories (like sound, production design, and visual effects). It's not a record; a couple of other films, including Titanic, have received 14. Still, it's a very big total. In another year, Poor Things' 11 nominations orKillers of the Flower Moon's 10 might have led the nominations. But not up against this kind of — forgive the phrase — explosive acclaim.

Sofia (Danielle Brooks) and Celie (Fantasia Barrino) in the 2023 reincarnation of <em>The Color Purple. </em><a href="https://www.npr.org/2023/12/19/1219323296/the-color-purple-review">Click here for a review.</a> Brooks was nominated for her supporting performance.
Eli Adé / Warner Bros. Pictures
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Warner Bros. Pictures
Sofia (Danielle Brooks) and Celie (Fantasia Barrino) in the 2023 reincarnation of The Color Purple. Click here for a review. Brooks was nominated for her supporting performance.

A couple of contenders came up empty or nearly so. There were a lot of films that elbowed their way into big nominations; that's what you get when you start with 10 best picture nominees. But both Origin, the latest film from director Ava DuVernay, and All of Us Strangers, the love story starring Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal, were left out of the nominations. The Color Purplemusical adaptation was nominated only for Danielle Brooks' supporting performance — a richly deserved nod, by the way.

Many of the acting nominees are first-timers, including Lily Gladstone, shown here with Leonardo DiCaprio in <em>Killers of the Flower Moon. </em><a href="https://www.npr.org/2023/10/20/1207089418/killers-of-the-flower-moon-review-scorsese-de-niro-dicaprio">Click here for a review.</a>
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Apple TV+
Many of the acting nominees are first-timers, including Lily Gladstone, shown here with Leonardo DiCaprio in Killers of the Flower Moon. Click here for a review.

A lot of the acting nominees are first-timers. There are 10 first-time acting nominees: Emily Blunt (Oppenheimer), Danielle Brooks (The Color Purple), Sterling K. Brown (American Fiction), Colman Domingo (Rustin), America Ferrera (Barbie), Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon), Sandra Hüller (Anatomy of a Fall), Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer), Da'Vine Joy Randolph (The Holdovers) and Jeffrey Wright (American Fiction). They're a fascinating mix of familiar good actors who you might be surprised are first-timers (Blunt, Domingo, Wright, Murphy), folks who did great work on television before they got much recognition in film (Ferrera, Brown, Brooks), and people who probably feel like relative newcomers to a lot of Oscar voters even though they are emphatically not (Gladstone, Randolph, Hüller).

French filmmaker Justine Triet was nominated for best director for <em>Anatomy of a Fall, </em>about a writer (played by Sandra Hüller, above) accused of murdering her husband. <a href="https://www.npr.org/2023/10/13/1205170704/anatomy-of-a-fall-review">Click here for a review.</a>
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NEON
French filmmaker Justine Triet was nominated for best director for Anatomy of a Fall, about a writer (played by Sandra Hüller, above) accused of murdering her husband. Click here for a review.

One woman director is in, a couple of others are out. French filmmaker Justine Triet was nominated for best director for Anatomy of a Fall, the devastating story of a woman suspected of being responsible for the death of her husband. But both Greta Gerwig, who directed the much-nominated Barbie,and Celine Song, who directed the beautiful best picture nominee Past Lives,were left out of the category. Both their lead actresses, Margot Robbie and Greta Lee, went without nominations in that category, too.

Remember <a href="https://www.npr.org/2023/07/21/1188326902/barbie-oppenheimer-review-barbenheimer">Barbenheimer</a>?
/ Jaap Buitendijk, Warner Bros. / Melinda Sue Gordon, Universal Pictures
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Jaap Buitendijk, Warner Bros. / Melinda Sue Gordon, Universal Pictures
Remember Barbenheimer?

Barbenheimer turned out fine for everybody. It's funny to look back now and remember that the showdown between Barbie and Oppenheimer, because they opened the same weekend, was ever treated as any kind of either-or competition that would have a single victor. They both made a ton of money, though Barbie made more; they both received a bunch of Oscar nominations, though Oppenheimer received more. (Barbie had eight, including one for Ryan Gosling's extraordinarily silly supporting work as Ken. More true comedy nominations, please!) They were very different kinds of "event" pictures we could stand to have more of: well-made, surprising, vibrant and memorable, in completely different ways.

Sandra Hüller plays a mother who lives next door to Auschwitz in <em>The Zone of Interest. <a href="https://www.npr.org/2023/12/22/1220438850/the-zone-of-interest-review-auschwitz-holocaust">Click here for a review.</a></em>
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A24
Sandra Hüller plays a mother who lives next door to Auschwitz in The Zone of Interest. Click here for a review.

International films continue to perform well. In 2018, Alfonso Cuarón's Roma was only the fifth non-English-language film to ever be nominated for both best international film and best picture. But just since then, there have been four more: Parasite, Drive My Car, All Quiet on the Western Front and now The Zone of Interest, the disturbing study of a family living happily just outside the walls of Auschwitz, where the father is commandant. The short version? There's no longer any reason to suspect that a film with subtitles won't be nominated for best picture, which is a great development.

<em>Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny </em>starring Harrison Ford (above) brought composer John Williams his 54th Oscar nomination. <a href="https://www.npr.org/2023/06/29/1185140078/indiana-jones-is-back-for-his-fifth-and-perhaps-final-adventure">Click here for a review.</a>
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Lucasfilm Ltd.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny starring Harrison Ford (above) brought composer John Williams his 54th Oscar nomination. Click here for a review.

John Williams and Thelma Schoonmaker set (or keep extending) records. Williams, who has written much of the most beloved rousing movie music of the last 60 or so years, received his 54th nomination for the score of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. It's more nominations than any other living person has. And Schoonmaker, longtime collaborator of Martin Scorsese, became the most nominated editor ever when she was recognized for the ninth time, for his film Killers of the Flower Moon. (She's won for Raging Bull, The Aviator and The Departed.) Both Williams and Schoonmaker are examples of essential collaborators without whom celebrated directors could not do their work, whether they're making tragic epics or swashbuckling adventures.

Want to catch up on last year? Here's what NPR critics picked as the best movies and TV of 2023.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Clockwise from top left: <em>Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One</em>, <em>Passages</em>,<em> Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse</em>,<em> Four Daughters</em>,<em> Only Murders in the Building</em>,<em> Hijack</em>
/ Paramount Pictures; MUBI; Sony Pictures; Jour2Fête; Hulu; Apple TV+
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Paramount Pictures; MUBI; Sony Pictures; Jour2Fête; Hulu; Apple TV+
Clockwise from top left: Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, Passages, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Four Daughters, Only Murders in the Building, Hijack

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.