From sequels to blockbuster hits, it’s the year the Oscars went mainstream

This is the year the Oscars went mainstream.

The nominations for the 95th Academy Awards, announced in Los Angeles early on Wednesday (AEDT), are an intriguing mix of Hollywood blockbusters, smaller-scale hits and acclaimed art-house films. But the number of massive, populist movies – including franchise films – in contention this year makes this round of nominations a stand-out.

Jake Sully and Neteyam in Avatar: The Way Of Water, which is up for best picture at the Oscars.Credit:20th Century Studios

The academy loses its aversion to the big hits

Hit Hollywood sequels are rarely appreciated at the Oscars but Avatar: The Way of Water, which has taken more than $US2 billion ($2.8 billion) at the worldwide box office, and Top Gun: Maverick, which has taken $US1.5 billion, are both nominated for best picture.

So is the hit rock ‘n’ roll biopic Elvis, which has taken $US151 million in North America and $33 million in Australia. The crazily imaginative sci-fi comedy Everything, Everywhere All At Once has taken $US104 million and is leading the nominations with 11. It is arguably favourite to win best picture.

Other blockbusters have been up for best picture since the first Avatar in 2010, including the original Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody four years ago. But Hollywood franchise sequels haven’t been this prominent since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won way back in 2004.

While not up for best picture, another huge hit, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, is up for five Oscars. It’s another sequel, and part of one of the biggest franchises in the world.

A better representation of the world

The academy has vastly expanded its membership in response to the #OscarsSoWhite revolt and, as a result, the acting nominees are more diverse.

While there are just two non-white actors in the leading actor and actress categories, Cuba’s Ana de Armas (Blonde) and Malaysian-born Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere), there are five nominated in the supporting categories.

Four acting nominees are of Asian descent: Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu (all from Everything, Everywhere) and Hong Chau (The Whale).

Everything, Everywhere, All At Once leads the Oscar nominations.Credit:A24

There are 16 first-timers among the 20 acting nominees, and Angela Bassett (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) is the first acting nominee from a Marvel movie.

But it’s not all good news on the diversity front. After two years of women winning best director – Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), then Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog) – all the nominees in that category this year are male, and all except Daniel Kwan (Everything Everywhere) are white.

The Aussies to watch

The Baz Luhrmann-directed Elvis has secured eight nominations including best picture, actor, editing and cinematographer. Catherine Martin, a producer on the film, has also been nominated for best costumes and production design.

Cate Blanchett is up for best actress, thanks to her performance in Tar; and Brisbane’s Lachlan Pendragon is nominated for best animated short film for An Ostrich Told Me The World Is Fake And I Think I Believe It.

The real Elvis Presley, and Austin Butler in a recreation of the 1968 Christmas television special for Baz Luhrmann’s movie.

But let’s talk about the snubs

Despite Elvis being very much the product of his imagination and style – just as Moulin Rouge! was when it was up for best picture two decades ago – Baz Luhrmann was snubbed for best director.

While Mandy Walker (Elvis) is nominated for best cinematographer, she is still only the third woman to be contending in – wait for it – 95 years.

The strong claims of the terrific Indian action film RRR were overlooked, except for an original song nomination. And, baffling many, there was no recognition for Gina Prince-Bythewood’s historical action film The Woman King – not even a widely-tipped acting nomination for Viola Davis.

Viola Davis as warrior Nanisca in The Woman King.Credit:Sony Films

The brilliant documentary Good Night Oppy – one of the year’s most heartwarming films – was also snubbed. But there was still space for small-scale films with heart, with Bill Nighy drama Living, Andrea Riseborough drama To Leslie and international film nominee Close all recognised.

There’s just over six weeks to go before the Oscars on March 13 (AEDT). Bring it on.

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Email Garry Maddox at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @gmaddox.

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