Every entertainment lover waits with bated breath for the Oscar nominations announcement each January. Awards prognostication has taken off with the advent of the internet, with countless critics groups and awards obsessives competing (both formally and informally) to become the most accurate predictor of nominations and wins for Hollywood’s highest honor.
Human beings don’t always fit into perfect patterns, though, and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members often zig where everyone thought they would zag. These potential nominees looked like sure things for nominations based on their track record with other awards, the relative popularity and quality of their films, and how closely these potential nominees align with AMPAS’s taste, but something went wrong. Meet the 21st-century Oscar snubs…so far.
Greta Gerwig – Best Director, Barbie (2023)
While not exactly a surprise to Oscar obsessives, the noise on the Internet surrounding Greta Gerwig not receiving a nomination for Best Director for Barbie was so loud that they could probably hear it on the I.S.S. (and also in the theaters for I.S.S., starring Oscar winner Ariana DeBose).
The billion-dollar grosser struck a chord with audiences, and Gerwig received nominations from every major precursor. The Directors' branch of the Academy, however, doesn’t go for populist, big-budget box office smashes unless it’s one of the top two Best Picture contenders (see: James Cameron getting a nomination for 2009’s Avatar but not 2022’s Avatar: The Way of Water).
Gerwig holds the record for having directed the most Best Picture contenders of any woman, as each of her first three features has received a nomination in the top category. Not even revered 2023 Best Director nominees Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan can claim such an impressive feat. However, Gerwig's only Best Director nomination came for her debut feature, Lady Bird.
Gerwig still received a nomination for Best Picture as a producer of Barbie, as well as a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay with co-writer and husband Noah Baumbach. The miss for Best Director still stings, though, even if her spot went to the one woman nominated, Justine Triet, for this year’s Palme d’Or winner Anatomy of a Fall. Call Gerwig's the most notorious of all 21st-century Oscar snubs, at least so far.
Margot Robbie – Best Lead Actress, Barbie (2023)
While costar America Ferrera managed to snag an out-of-nowhere nomination in the more fluid Best Supporting Actress field, Margot Robbie missed a nomination for Best Lead Actress despite receiving nominations from every major awards body for her picture-perfect performance as the face of the biggest film of the year.
Her miss perplexes, but something similar has happened before: In 2018, her performance as Queen Elizabeth I in Mary Queen of Scots received nominations from BAFTA (the British counterpart to AMPAS) and SAG, but missed at the Oscars in favor of Marina de Tavira's performance in nomination leader Roma. It doesn’t make sense for Barbie to receive eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, but not one for the actress who played the titular role. Robbie and her fans can only comfort themselves with her nomination for Best Picture as a producer of the film.
Viola Davis – Best Lead Actress, The Woman King (2022)
For her ferocious portrayal of General Nanisca in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s muscular The Woman King, Viola Davis received nominations for Best Lead Actress from every major precursor. During the awards season that extended into 2023, she won a Grammy, securing her EGOT status.
But as much as everyone loves Viola Davis, AMPAS blanked The Woman King completely. Instead, Davis fell victim to a late grassroots social media campaign for Andrea Riseborough in the microbudget indie To Leslie. Clearly, not enough voters saw The Woman King, or else they wouldn’t have dared to risk invoking the ire of Nanisca.
Denis Villeneuve – Best Director, Dune (2021)
When a film gets double-digit nominations from the Academy, one of them is usually for Best Director. However, Denis Villeneuve broke that trend with his critically and commercially successful adaptation of Frank Herbert’s beloved sci-fi novel Dune.
The film landed nominations in every possible tech category, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture, but not for the man at the helm of the ornithopter. BAFTA became the most revealing precursor for Dune, nominating the film in every possible tech category, Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. Despite Villeneuve’s Best Director nominations from the Golden Globes and the DGA, AMPAS simply fell in line with their British counterparts.
Lady Gaga – Best Leading Actress, House of Gucci (2021)
Few people know how to manipulate their image as successfully as Lady Gaga. An avid student of pop culture, the erstwhile Stefani Germanotta put on her best ingenue drag during the rollout of her film debut, A Star Is Born, in 2017 and received an Oscar nomination for her troubles.
For her next film, Ridley Scott’s ill-fated House of Gucci, she became a Serious Actress, donning extra polished clothes and speaking constantly about how she pored over hours of footage of Patrizia Reggiani – the wife of Gucci fashion house scion Maurizio, who conspired to have him killed – and had trouble getting her out of her head.
It worked, nabbing Gaga the Best Actress award from the prestigious NYFCC as well as nominations from BAFTA, the Golden Globes, and SAG for her over-the-top performance. The Academy, however, said “arrivederci,” giving the film a sole nomination for Makeup & Hairstyling, and landing Gaga among the biggest 21st-century Oscar snubs.
Lupita Nyong’o – Best Lead Actress, Us (2019)
Toni Collette’s no-holds-barred performance in 2018’s Hereditary primed the Academy to nominate a female horror lead, winning the second-most critics prizes for Lead Actress (only behind Olivia Colman, who won the Oscar for The Favourite).
Lupita Nyong’o’s brilliant double act in Jordan Peele’s Us one-upped her, receiving nominations from CCA and SAG, a runner-up prize from LAFCA, and a win from NYFCC. Everything seemed to point to Nyong’o breaking through the Academy’s notorious anti-horror bias, but it didn’t happen. Failing to get any nominations from BAFTA or the Golden Globes, Us didn’t play as well with the international set, leading to an Oscar lineup of traditional Oscar baity roles.
Ethan Hawke – Best Lead Actor, First Reformed (2018)
For his career-best performance as the troubled Pastor Toller in Paul Schrader’s minimalist crisis-of-faith drama, Ethan Hawke won Best Actor prizes from LAFCA, NSFC, NYFCC, the Independent Spirits, the Gothams, and about 30 other critics’ groups. The film also received numerous citations in Best Film, Director, and Screenplay lineups but nothing from BAFTA or the Golden Globes.
The film’s severe austerity surely did it no favors with the notoriously anti-“art film” Academy, but Hawke’s critical praise seemed too big to ignore. Respect for Schrader manifested in an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, but awards watchers everywhere left nomination morning feeling like they, too, wanted to drink a glass of drain cleaner after not hearing Hawke’s name among the Best Lead Actor nominees.
Timothée Chalamet – Best Supporting Actor, Beautiful Boy (2018)
The year after his acclaimed, Oscar-nominated breakthrough in Call Me By Your Name, Timothée Chalamet staked his claim as one of the most talented actors of his generation in the true-life addiction drama Beautiful Boy.
Adapted from journalist David Sheff’s memoir of the same name about his son’s battle with meth addiction and his son’s first-hand account of his experiences, the film had two juicy roles that could have hit with the Academy. While Steve Carell never got any traction for playing David, Chalamet found some in the afterglow of his previous nomination.
Nominated for the big four televised precursor awards (BAFTA, CCA, Golden Globes, and SAG), Chalamet seemed like one of the four locks for a nomination, but he got caught in the crossfire between A Star is Born’s Sam Elliott and BlackKklansman’s Adam Driver, who had traded places in the fifth Best Supporting Actor spot all season.
First Man – Best Original Score (2018)
Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to the massively successful musical La La Land received a curiously muted reception. However, Justin Hurwitz’s brilliantly counterintuitive score, which embraced the peaceful yet heavy quiet of outer space that also fills its version of Neil Armstrong, was universally singled out for praise.
Despite winning at both the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards, Hurwitz missed at BAFTA despite the film getting seven nominations. Unfortunately, that spelled doom for his Oscar chances.
Bo Burnham – Best Original Screenplay, Eighth Grade (2018)
Because of eligibility requirements, the Writers Guild of America doesn’t have the best track record for nominations that predict the Academy’s. However, WGA nominees without corresponding Oscar nominations don’t win, which makes Bo Burnham’s win for Eighth Grade truly special.
Burnham may have received nominations from Critics’ Choice and the Independent Spirit Awards for his extraordinarily sensitive screenplay, but every other major precursor passed. The film, a Sundance hit released by A24 that summer with a shocking R rating (for frank talk that reflects the way actual teenagers speak with complete accuracy), received numerous other citations, though, with star Elsie Fisher receiving a Gold Globe nomination for Best Lead Actress and Burnham winning the DGA Award for Best First-Time Feature Film.
Still, Burnham had the third most precursor wins of any film that year going into the Oscar nominations, making his miss, while not exactly surprising, feel like a punch to the gut.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Best Documentary Feature (2018)
The Documentary branch of the Academy arguably has the least populist taste of any branch, regularly snubbing big populist hits even if they receive critical acclaim. Celebrity biographies, or bio-docs, routinely fall victim to this curse, including this year’s extraordinary Still: A Michael J. Fox Story.
Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, an emotional look at the life and work of Fred Rogers, creator of the beloved children’s television program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, won more precursor awards than any other documentary in 2018, including the Independent Spirit, NBR, and PGA Awards. Unfortunately, it also won the Critics’ Choice Award, which raised everyone’s hopes that the Academy would follow suit.
However, awards prognosticators have recognized the CCA Award for Best Documentary as the kiss of death for documentaries’ Oscar hopes. The Critics’ Choice Association, somewhat contrary to their name, has a much more populist bent in this category than AMPAS’s Documentary branch, often leading to 21st-century Oscar snubs like this.
Amy Adams – Best Lead Actress, Arrival (2016)
Amy Adams missing a nomination for her performance in Arrival still makes no sense. How did this woman, at the peak of her career, miss a nomination for anchoring one of the year's most-nominated films with such an uncommon mixture of intelligence and emotional vulnerability?
Adams scored nominations for every major precursor award and won the NBR award for Best Actress. Arrival grossed over $100 million at the box office and had positive reviews from critics and audiences. Adams received universal praise for her performance, with many critics citing it as one of her best. The film’s narrative gambit in the third act rests entirely on her shoulders, and she nails it, giving an intellectually rigorous film genuine warmth and emotion. Even eight years later, her miss remains one of the biggest 21st-century Oscar snubs.
Alicia Vikander – Best Supporting Actress, Ex Machina (2015)
Yes, Alicia Vikander did win an Oscar this year. Sadly, she won it for her (lead) performance in Tom Hooper’s moribund The Danish Girl, not Alex Garland’s thrilling Ex Machina. Critics could argue that she actually did win for Ex Machina, as voters occasionally consider an actor’s body of work if they’ve had a big year (see: Grace Kelly in 1954), and that the film won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
For any other film, the latter wouldn’t mean much, but in Ex Machina, Vikander becomes the visual effect. As the artificially intelligent robot Ava, Vikander’s face is just as crucial to the film’s overall impact as the work of the visual effects artists who animated her robot body. Ava wouldn’t register as believable without her performance, which would take the audience out of the film.
For her magnetic breakout role, Vikander received nominations from BAFTA and the Golden Globes and the Runner-Up prize from the National Society of Film Critics, and won the LAFCA award for Best Supporting Actress. However, confusion surrounded her category placement for both performances this year. With the power of a full-court press from Focus Features behind it, The Danish Girl’s category fraud (she’s arguably the title character and is onscreen for over half the film’s running time) won out over the independently-made sci-fi flick.
“See You Again” – Best Original Song, Fast 7 (2015)
No, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s tribute to The Fast & The Furious series star Paul Walker didn’t have an especially notable precursor run. However, it had something the other nominees for Best Original Song this year didn’t have: popularity.
“See You Again” didn’t just hit number one on the Billboard charts; it stayed at number one for twelve weeks. At the time, this tied the song with Eminem’s Oscar winner “Lose Yourself” as the longest-running rap number-one single. It hit over a billion Spotify streams and received three Grammy nominations, including Song of the Year.
Hits as massive as “See You Again” can get nominated even if the Academy doesn’t care for the film as a whole (just look at “Lose Yourself”). Still, instead of going for the emotional rap ballad from the silly car movie, AMPAS decided to nominate the big number from the titillating sextravaganza Fifty Shades of Grey and only showcase three of the five nominated songs during the show because their singers weren’t stars.
David Oyelowo – Best Lead Actor, Selma (2014)
Sometimes, quality does win out on the awards circuit, as it did when Ava DuVernay’s Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma received Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Song. However, the film received nothing for DuVernay, cinematographer Bradford Young, or its massively talented star, David Oyelowo.
Effortlessly channeling King’s gravitas and charisma, Oyelowo received nominations from CCA, the Golden Globes, and the Independent Spirits but no major wins despite giving a transformational performance as an important historical figure – a.k.a. Academy catnip. Having recently rewarded 12 Years a Slave with the Best Picture prize, AMPAS returned to their old ways and filled the acting categories with only white nominees, leading the old “Oscars So White” hashtag to start trending again, unfortunately not for the last time.
Gillian Flynn – Best Adapted Screenplay, Gone Girl (2014)
Throughout the 2014 awards season, Gillian Flynn received nomination after nomination for adapting her own best-selling novel to the screen. Flynn’s book was a major talking point when it was released, and David Fincher’s film turned it into a full-on cultural moment, making a star out of Rosamund Pike and turning her “Amazing Amy” into an icon.
Flynn’s subversive thriller found its perfect match with Fincher’s slick direction, but despite getting nominated for every major precursor award and even a win from CCA (which has touted its status as a top Oscar predictor), her name was missing from the final list of Oscar nominees.
Flynn likely would have been nominated had the Academy managed to take their heads out of their butts and classified Damien Chazelle’s screenplay for Whiplash as original. Although Chazelle wrote the feature screenplay first, he adapted it into a short film in order to secure funding for the feature.
Solely because the short came first, the Academy classified the feature film as an adaptation of the short film. Had they followed the lead of the Writers Guild (which had vetted and classified Whiplash as original) or even informed Chazelle and the producers and allowed them to appeal before sending out ballots, things could have happened very differently.
Ben Affleck & Kathryn Bigelow – Best Director, Argo & The Hurt Locker (2012)
The “Ben” heard ‘round the world remains one of the most iconic moments in the history of 21st-century Oscar snubs, as Seth MacFarlane ended his announcement of the nominees for Best Director at the 85th Academy Awards with “Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild.” The producers knew what they had, having MacFarlane and Stone announce the nominees in non-alphabetical order for maximum suspense and surprise.
It paid off – as soon as MacFarlane said “Zeitlin,” the room of journalists erupted with cheers and boos, having realized that the two long-supposed front-runners for Best Director, Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow, had both missed a nomination. Just days later, Affleck would go on to win Best Director and Best Picture at the Critics Choice and Golden Globe Awards, solidifying the film’s front-runner status.
Did the Directors' branch assume Affleck and Bigelow were safe? Did someone poison the well against them? Or did the work of the nominated directors speak more to the branch members’ tastes? The world may never know.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Best Picture (2011)
The years with a sliding scale of anywhere between 5-10 nominated films for Best Picture led to some strange exclusions from the category, but none make less sense in hindsight than David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
After nabbing nominations for the Producers Guild of America award for Best Picture and the DGA award for Best Director, the film received five Oscar nominations, including Best Actress for Rooney Mara, but neither Picture nor Director. This doesn’t look too surprising on its own, but on Oscar night, the film won Best Editing, one of the categories with the most direct correlation to Best Picture wins (about two-thirds of Best Picture winners have also won Best Editing). Since the 1950s, less than ten films without a Best Picture nomination have won Best Editing, and Dragon Tattoo remains the only film to do so in the expanded era since 2009, making its miss in Best Picture even more surprising.
Albert Brooks – Best Supporting Actor, Drive (2011)
One of Hollywood’s most beloved comedians, Albert Brooks spent the 2011 awards season receiving career-achievement awards disguised as Best Supporting Actor prizes for his against-type performance in the cult classic Drive.
Receiving more nominations from critics’ groups than anyone else, he managed major nominations from CCA, the Golden Globes, and the Independent Spirits and wins from the NSFC and NYFCC. Misses at BAFTA and SAG signaled that critical love for his performance hadn’t transferred to the industry.
Sure enough, the hyperviolent, super-stylish Drive received a sole Oscar nomination for Best Sound Effects Editing. To this day, Brooks still has only a single Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting Actor in 1987’s Broadcast News), a paltry showing for a career that included such memorable hits as Defending Your Life and Lost In America.
Christopher Nolan – Best Director, Inception (2010)
To everyone upset about Greta Gerwig missing a nomination for Barbie, remember that in 2010, Christopher Nolan also missed a nomination for Inception, also the highest-grossing live-action Best Picture nominee of the year. A massive hit that perfectly blended art and commerce, Inception became one of the decade's most iconic pieces of cinema, with Hans Zimmer’s striking score spawning hundreds of imitators in the years since.
Debates still rage about the ending, but Nolan’s miss in Best Director still feels like a dream within a dream from which we have yet to awaken.
The Dark Knight & WALL-E – Best Picture (2008)
Also known as the Best Picture snubs so big that they caused the Academy to change the process for Best Picture nominations immediately.
The Dark Knight and WALL-E both received unprecedented critical acclaim (WALL-E even won LAFCA’s Best Picture prize, the first animated film to do so) and Batmobiles full of money (over $1.5 billion combined), but both got blocked from the Best Picture lineup in favor of films with less critical and commercial success.
Genre bias has always infected the Academy, which prefers to reward prestigious films that make the industry look like a force for real-world good, but that bias finally met its match in these two films. Their Best Picture snubs caused such an uproar that the Academy expanded the Best Picture lineup, nominating two science-fiction actioners (Avatar and District 9) and an animated tear-jerker (Up) for the next year's top prize.
Paul Giamatti – Best Lead Actor, Sideways (2004)
This one still stings. After over a decade of toiling away in bit parts, Paul Giamatti finally landed two big lead roles in a row. The first, Harvey Pekar in biopic American Splendor, won him the National Board of Review award for Breakthrough Performance by an Actor, an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Lead Actor, and a smattering of regional critics prizes. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, perfectly setting him up for recognition in his second big lead role in Alexander Payne’s Sideways.
Released the following year, Sideways stars Giamatti as an unpublished writer and wino taking his best friend on a whirlwind tour of California wine country before he gets married. Giamatti’s performance, both hilarious and deeply vulnerable, received massive amounts of critical acclaim and Best Lead Actor nominations from CCA, SAG, and the Golden Globes, wins from the Independent Spirits and NYFCC, and runner-up citations from LAFCA and NSFC.
While no one besides Jamie Foxx in Ray could have won the Oscar that year, Giamatti seemed to have a nomination locked down. When the nomination announcement came, though, Sideways received nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture, leaving Giamatti out in the cold. It still boggles the mind how the Academy can love a film enough to nominate it for Best Picture but not nominate its lead performance, especially when that performance received as much deserved critical acclaim as Giamatti’s.
Then again, the Academy has never exactly adhered to logic.
Scarlett Johansson – Best Supporting Actress, Lost in Translation (2003)
Scarlett Johansson’s awards run for Lost in Translation explains exactly why she missed out on an Oscar nomination for her alluring, sensitive performance. While she was nominated for the Golden Globe and won the BAFTA award for Best Lead Actress, CCA nominated her for Best Supporting Actress.
Johansson had a great year in 2003 between this and Girl With a Pearl Earring, and while she played an obvious lead in that film, Lost in Translation switches between her perspective and that of Bill Murray’s character, leading some people to declare her a lead and others to declare her supporting.
Without enough of a consensus as to her placement and the competing campaign for Girl With a Pearl Earring, she sadly couldn’t muster up the support needed to get a nomination.
Naomi Watts – Mulholland Drive (2001)
The noise coming from the live audience when Academy President Frank Pierson announced David Lynch’s name as an Oscar nominee for Best Director for Mulholland Drive indicated confusion. Everyone had assumed that the film would alienate too many Academy members to receive any nominations at all, but had agreed that the film’s best chance for a nomination came not from Lynch, who had won the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival, but from breakout star Naomi Watts in Lead Actress.
The film had won the NYFCC and NSFC prizes for Best Film, Best Director from LAFCA, and Best Actress from NSFC, and somewhat shockingly got nominations for Best Film, Director, and Screenplay from the Golden Globes, but didn’t have much of a presence overall throughout the season.
Watts’s riveting, virtuosic performance promised great things to come (which haven’t quite come, but that’s another story), and it has always felt like even the people who liked Mulholland Drive decided to wait for a more conventional film to reward her, which they did three years later for the more Academy-friendly 21 Grams.