The most inclusive Academy Awards nominations in history spread the wealth to several movies, which means that even after handing out the little gold trophies for more than nine decades, Oscar is still setting records.
For the first time ever, two nominees for the directing trophy are female (only Kathryn Bigelow, for 2009's "The Hurt Locker," has won). They are Emerald Fennell for "Promising Young Woman," which also earned her original screenplay and best picture nominations, and Chloé Zhao, the first woman to pull off a rare four-bagger: director, screenwriter, editor and best picture for "Nomadland."
The nominations have been criticized in recent years, with the hashtag #oscarssowhite used to describe all-white acting slates. But in a season when big-budget contenders were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, more independent films got attention. Of the 20 competitors for four acting prizes, nine are of color, led by the late Chadwick Boseman and previous winner Viola Davis for "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield of "Judas and the Black Messiah" will compete against each other in best supporting actor. Three producers of "Judas" are the first all-Black team ever nominated for best picture.
Having two female nominees in the directing race is noteworthy as well because that category has been slow to recognize women. Zhao and Fennell are just the sixth and seventh nominated as directors in the 93-year history of the Oscars, which have overlooked Greta Gerwig ("Little Women"), Dorothy Arzner ("The Wild Party") and Barbra Streisand ("The Prince of Tides").
The acting nominations are inclusive in other respects, too. Anthony Hopkins, 83, who plays "The Father," is the oldest-ever best actor contender. "Sound of Metal" star Riz Ahmed, who is of Pakistani heritage and grew up in England, is the first Muslim nominated for best actor (two-time supporting actor winner Mahershala Ali also is Muslim). Paul Raci, a supporting actor nominee for "Sound of Metal," is a hearing person, but the child of deaf parents performs in both English and American Sign Language. And Steven Yeun and Youn Yuh-jung of "Minari" perform almost entirely in Korean.
"Mank," which scored in many craft categories, earned the most nominations with 10, including best picture. Filmmaker David Fincher picked up his third best director nod and is the only one of this year's directing contenders who's not a first-timer.
Overall, "Nomadland," largely filmed in or near South Dakota's Badlands, earned six nods, including two for producer/actor Frances McDormand, whose first feature producing credit gives her a chance to join husband Joel Coen as a best picture winner.
Several other nominees for the top prize — "The Father," "Judas and the Black Messiah," "Minari," "Sound of Metal" and "The Trial of the Chicago 7" — also earned six nominations. "Promising Young Woman" has five.
The Hollywood studios that used to dominate the Oscars largely sat out this season's awards, although a few, including "Judas" from Warner Bros., did premiere in theaters. That left room for streaming services to rule: Netflix, which has best picture contenders "Mank" and "Chicago 7" among its productions, is up for a total of 35 awards. Amazon, which made "Sound of Metal" and three other contenders, has 12 nods.
There weren't many surprises in the main races, although some contenders were overlooked, including "Never Rarely Sometimes Always," considered a best screenplay contender. Voters skipped a chance to posthumously recognize Jack Fincher, who wrote the "Mank" screenplay decades ago and whose son, David, finally got it made. One of David Fincher's directing competitors, Thomas Vinterberg for the Danish "Another Round," came out of left field, but the directors' branch of the Academy has historically been as willing to cite artists from other countries as it has been to ignore women.
Bloomington native Pete Docter saw his co-writing/co-directing effort "Soul" nominated for three awards, including best animated feature (he's a two-time winner in that category, for "Up" and "Inside Out").
Drew Kunin, a 1979 graduate of Minneapolis' Washburn High School, earned his third nomination in the sound category for "Mank." Taking a break on the New York set of Darren Aronofsky's "The Whale" on Monday, Kunin said he's pleased voters noted the nuances of the 1940s-set "Mank," where the sound team worked to create a "patina" that sounds like an old movie — one that, "even if you're watching on your TV, sounds like you're in a theater." Kunin, who previously took his mom Anita, of Minneapolis, to the awards, isn't sure he'll be able to travel to the Oscars or the low-pressure nominees' lunch that precedes it, which he says "is more fun than the ceremony."
Michael Scheuerman will go if it's possible. A 1984 graduate of Stillwater High School who now lives in Oregon, he will contend in the documentary short film race for "Hunger Ward," which he coproduced (you can watch it on Pluto for free). Scheuerman and others on the "Hunger Ward" team were up at 5:15 a.m. Pacific Time to see their names called. "Who knows how many of us will be able to go — over 100 of us worked on the movie — but it'll be great to celebrate," he said.
Big-budget titles typically only score nominations in the craft categories, but with many of those movies delayed this year, it was difficult for any to gain a footing. "Tenet" scored nominations for its visual effects and production design, but "Wonder Woman 1984" was shut out of the effects race by the little-known kids' movie "Love and Monsters."
As part of Monday's Oscars announcement, it was also revealed that the April 25 ceremony will be divided between two venues to make social distancing possible. Awards will be handed out at the regular site, the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, and at Los Angeles' Union Station, which is often a shooting location for movies including "The Dark Knight Rises" and Joel and Ethan Coen's "Hail, Caesar!"
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367