Thoughts on the 94th Oscar Nominations

Logo for Oscars 94th Nominations

The Oscar nominations are out, and despite all the well-deserved doubt about the useuflness of such things, I'm eager for the chance to pretend that something is still normal.

I have a few immediate responses:

(1) As has been the case in recent years, I haven't seen a good many of the leading nominees. I must resolve to do better.

(2) My man Denis Villeneuve directed the completely magnificent Dune, an epic crowd-pleaser that was evidently good enough to earn 10 nominations but not good enough to earn a nomination for Best Directing. I'm not sore yet since I haven't seen the other films, but I ready to be sore once I see them.

(3) I have only seen one of the Best Actress performances and it was a doozy. In The Lost Daughter, Olivia Colman delivered what is now her trademark: a non-showy yet somehow cracklingly vivid look inside a hard-to-define character. Coleman is supported by a cast all doing exactly the same thing, so the effect is powerful. This was a superb norm-challenging movie that many audiences might find perplexing or infuriating, so there's some charm to that.

(4) I have only seen one of the Best Actor performances and it was audacious. In "The Tragedy of Macbeth," cinema icon Denzel Washington goes for a more stage-feeling performance that is actually kind of heartbreaking. His just-now-showing-his-age Macbeth benefits from us knowing how valiant and noble the younger Denzel was in his youth, and he brings to the role a sort of weary what-the-fresh-hell-is-this approach that seems perfect for our pandemic era. The supporting cast ranges from note-perfect (Stephen Root) to uneven (my beloved but possibly miscast Frances McDormand). As is not uncommon in productions of this play, the performance of the Witches is so completely dazzling that it steals some thunder from the actual leads. In this case, it was Kathryn Hunter playing all three Witches (and another important character I won't reveal) who did the furious upstaging.

— J.F. "Jeff" McCullers