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Frontrunners and snubs: A breakdown of the Oscar nominations

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Hollywood's biggest morning was earlier today. At 5:30 a.m. local time, nominations for this year's Oscars were announced.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The nominees for best motion picture of the year are...

SUMMERS: Surprise, surprise - the IMAX epic "Oppenheimer" by Christopher Nolan leads the way with 13 total nominations, and "Barbie" is there, too, of course. The ceremony will take place on Sunday, March 10. Our critics Bob Mondello and Linda Holmes were crunching all the numbers, and between the two of them, they have seen many of the nominated films. They both join us now. Welcome.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Good to be here.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Good to be here.

SUMMERS: All right, y'all. Let's start with the big list - the nominees for best picture. Who are the contenders this year, Bob?

MONDELLO: Well, there are 10 of them. And I see everything in twos, so I've divided these up. There are two biopics - "Oppenheimer," about the father of the atom bomb, and "Maestro," about symphony conductor Leonard Bernstein. There are two feminist comedies, "Poor Things," which is fierce and weird and retro futurist, and "Barbie," which is Greta Gerwig's friendlier hot-pink comedy that's also the year's biggest box office hit. There are two stories of discrimination - "Killers Of The Flower Moon," Martin Scorsese's Osage Nation epic, and "American Fiction," a satire about race and publishing.

There are two foreign films, the German Holocaust drama "Zone Of Interest" and the French courtroom drama "Anatomy Of A Fall." And there are two that don't fit into my twoness things - "Past Lives," the Korean American romance, and "The Holdovers," which is Alexander Payne's period prep school dramedy. And of those, the clear front-runners in most people's minds are "Oppenheimer" and "Poor Things."

SUMMERS: Linda, over to you. I want to talk about the acting categories and your analysis of today's nominations for npr.org. You noted that this year includes a lot of first-timers. Who's in the running?

HOLMES: That's right. Ten of the nominees in the acting categories this year are first-time nominees. Some of those are familiar faces, and you might be surprised they haven't already been nominated - Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Jeffrey Wright - other ones are newer to Academy voters, although certainly not to acting, people like Da'vine Joy Randolph, who I think is a favorite to win in the supporting actors category for "The Holdovers," which is one of my favorites of the year.

SUMMERS: All right, this one's for both of you. When you look at this list, what was missing?

HOLMES: Well, there are a couple of films that were left out entirely, Ava DuVernay's "Origin" and the love story "All Of Us Strangers." I think the biggest other disappointments for a lot of people have been that Greta Gerwig wasn't nominated for directing "Barbie," and Margot Robbie wasn't nominated for her performance. It is a film that wants to grapple with feminism, with the place of women in the world. And in that context, those omissions do hurt. But on top of that, I really loved "Past Lives," and I was so delighted it got a best picture nomination. And I think its director, Celine Song, and its lead actress, Greta Lee, were very deserving in those categories, and I wish they'd been nominated.

MONDELLO: I agree on all of that. And I just loved the movie "May December," which had Julianne Moore in a - just doing a gorgeous, very complicated job - and Charles Melton, an actor who's known better from television. And both of them were left out of the nominations, too, and that's frustrating. In fairness, the - best actress, particularly, is such a crowded category.

SUMMERS: Yeah.

MONDELLO: I mean, this year, it was really hard to knock it down to 10, let alone five.

SUMMERS: Well, we've talked about who was left out, but any good surprises that you were excited to see nominated?

HOLMES: Well, my disappointment about some nominations "Barbie" didn't get is balanced by my excitement for Ryan Gosling, who was nominated for playing Ken. That's a very silly performance. It's a comic performance.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

RYAN GOSLING: (As Ken) I thought I might stay over tonight.

MARGOT ROBBIE: (As Barbie) To do what?

GOSLING: (As Ken) I'm actually not sure.

MONDELLO: (Laughter).

HOLMES: Not that many performances like that are Oscar nominated, and more should be. So that made me really happy, as did the fact that the nomination for "Zone Of Interest" continues a trend toward non-English language international films being nominated for best picture, which, for a long time, was pretty rare and is now pretty common.

SUMMERS: And Bob, there have been ongoing campaigns to have more inclusion both on and off-screen in the nominated films. So take stock of this year's list in that regard.

MONDELLO: Well, I mean, it's a whole lot better than it was when they started the diversity and inclusion initiative in 2020. Back then, you had #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsSoMale as hashtags. The Academy was really embarrassed. They decided back then to phase in four inclusion standards both on and off-screen, and that was just for best picture nominees. This year, the nominees for best picture are required to fulfill two of those inclusion standards, which is not a heavy lift, and this is especially true if you're a studio picture. And remember, the studios founded the Academy.

SUMMERS: Right.

MONDELLO: So they've made this list of inclusion standards so that if you have enough people in your publicity department who are persons of color or who are LGBTQ or who are members of a marginalized group - enough people behind the camera, you can qualify. And so it was easy for the bigger pictures. What's frustrating is that that has the tendency to ace out the smaller independent films.

SUMMERS: That's NPR film critic Bob Mondello and Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes. You can read Linda's takeaways from this year's Oscar nominations at npr.org. Thanks to both of you.

HOLMES: Thank you.

MONDELLO: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.