The 2024 Oscar nominations have arrived, and it was a huge morning for the likes of Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things” as predicted. Nolan’s atomic bomb epic led the pack with 13 nominations, further cementing its status as a best picture frontrunner after winning top prizes at the Golden Globes and Critic’s Choice Awards earlier this season.
More from Variety
As is always the case on Oscar nominations morning, dozens of critically-acclaimed films found themselves with zero nominations. A24 landed two best picture nominees (“Past Lives” and “The Zone of Interest”), but it also had a handful of other great titles get completely shut out like “The Iron Claw,” which featured awards-worthy work by Zac Efron in the lead role, and “Priscilla,” easily one of Sofia Coppola’s strongest works yet. Neon triumphed with “Anatomy of a Fall,” but its other awards season titles “Origin” and “Ferrari” sadly missed the mark despite critical acclaim. Even former Oscar winners like Nicolas Cage (“Dream Scenario”) and Jessica Chastain (“Memory”) delivered some of their best performances and still got snubbed by the Academy.
Check out Variety‘s annual list of great films rejected by the Oscars below.
A Thousand and One
A.V. Rockwell’s feature debut “A Thousand and One” won the grand jury prize at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and picked up the Gotham Award for breakthrough director and several best actress nominations for Teyana Taylor’s electrifying performance as a young mother reconnecting with her son. Alas, the intimate drama backed by Focus Features was overlooked by the Oscars. The film was named a Variety critic’s pick out of Sundance. The review reads: “Rockwell uses the full range of cinematic expressivity to turn a small, often tragic story of raw deals and rash decisions into an admiring portrait of survivorship, determination and resourcefulness.”
The Iron Claw
Zac Efron’s career-redefining dramatic turn in Sean Durkin’s family wrestling drama “The Iron Claw” was perhaps the film’s best shot at an Oscar nomination this year, but Efron never broke out of his status as a long-shot Oscar dark horse. The film tells the story of the Von Erich family, a dynasty of wrestlers from Texas who won championships and found enormous popularity all while battling a so-called family “curse,” a heartbreaking run of personal catastrophes. From Variety’s review: “Efron has undergone a physical transformation nearly as dramatic as De Niro’s in ‘Raging Bull.’ We’ve seen dozens of actors pump themselves up, but Kevin’s body is a mass of steroidal muscle he wears like a second skin, and under his choppy bangs he’s both handsome and slugged. Efron, with heavy-lidded eyes, resembles David Cassidy crossed with the Hulk.”
Cailee Spaeny won the best actress prize at the Venice Film Festival and picked up a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the title role of Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla,” but the Oscars overlooked the rising star. Same goes for Jacob Elordi’s quietly menacing supporting turn as Elvis as well as Coppola’s deft directing and screenplay. From Variety’s review: “As Priscilla, Cailee Spaeny has an avid stare and a sharpness of spirit, and she makes a point of playing the teenage Priscilla as a typical American girl of her time, courtly and decorous, though with a taste for adventure…As for Elordi, he doesn’t look all that much like him. Yet his louche body language is perfect, and what he does with Elvis’s voice brings him closer to being a dead ringer than (in my opinion) Austin Butler was.”
After winning best picture and a handful of other Oscars with “Everything Everywhere All at Once” last year, plus best actor for Brendan Fraser’s “The Whale” performance,” A24 had a rougher time breaking into the awards race this year. The studio’s “Past Lives” picked up nominations, but other titles such as “Dream Scenario,” “Priscilla,” and “The Iron Claw” all got shut out. There was a time when the former title debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival that star Nicolas Cage became an Oscar dark horse for his performance as a man who becomes a worldwide celebrity when he starts popping up in people’s dreams. Variety’s Peter Debruge praised Cage for delivering one of his best performances ever in “Dream Scenario,” adding the film is a “brilliant look at viral celebrity.”
All of Us Strangers
One of the most acclaimed films without a single Oscar nomination is Andrew Haigh’s “All Of Us Strangers,” which showed up on many top 10 lists and earned six BAFTA nominations. Searchlight ran a strong campaign for Andrew Scott in the best actor race, but the film’s quiet box office release surely didn’t help its cause at the Oscars. From Variety’s review: “The ‘Weekend’ writer-director channels his gift for vicarious intimacy and erotic chemistry in this stylish supernatural puzzle…Loosely inspired by Japanese writer Taichi Yamada’s 1987 novel ‘Strangers,’ Haigh’s low-key English-language adaptation is a curious kind of ghost story, at once incredibly tender and profoundly devastating as it slowly reveals its secrets.”
“Not since ‘Roots’ has an American drama taken such an ambitious, all-encompassing approach to the stain of slavery,” Variety critic Peter Debruge wrote when naming Ava DuVernay’s “Origin” the seventh best film of 2023. Neon tried its best to launch an Oscar campaign around the film and its tour-de-force lead performance from Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, but the Academy ultimately overlooked it.
Debruge continued: “’Origin’ is not about ancestry, but the seeds of a system that dehumanizes one group so that others may dominate them — a dynamic for which Pulitzer-winning author Isabel Wilkerson found analogs in Nazi Germany and the Indian caste system. If ‘Origin’ sounds like a lecture, think again. Rather than making another documentary, à la remarkable “13th,” DuVernay personalizes Wilkerson’s research, dramatizing how a woman wounded by national tragedy (the murder of Trayvon Martin) and personal setbacks (casual racism, the loss of loved ones) connected disparate ideas to reframe the country’s most difficult conversation.”
Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard earned acclaim out of the Venice Film Festival for their performances in “Memory,” with Sarsgaard even winning the best actor prize, but distributor Ketchup Entertainment just didn’t have the Oscar campaign budget to ever turn this emotional character study into a real contender. Chastain stars in the film as Sylvia, a social worker and recovering alcoholic who becomes a caretaker for an old high school classmate suffering from dementia (Sarsgaard). From Variety’s review: “Chastain has made far more awards-friendly movies than this, but she’s never appeared more vulnerable on-screen — as both the character and a performer willing to tackle what’s sure to be a divisive character.”
Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” proved to be one of his most divisive movies, but there’s no denying the eye-popping beauty of the film’s costumes and production design. Like every Anderson movie, the film is a visual stunner to such a jaw-dropping degree that it is always shocking when the Academy doesn’t even go for it in categories such as best production design. “Asteroid City” befell the same fate as “The French Dispatch,” another elaborately constructed Wes Anderson production that found itself with zero Oscar nominations.
The psychosexual thriller “Eileen” was always going to be too much of a daring genre swing for the Academy’s taste, but here’s hoping one day Oscar voters take a liking to such bonkers films and performances like the sexy and hypnotic supporting turn conjured by Anne Hathaway here. The 1960s tale centers on a relationship forged by two women (Thomasin McKenzie and Hathaway) who work at a juvenile detention facility. The film was named a Variety Critic’s Pick: “It might prove an off-putting cocktail in some quarters, but the weirdos among us will find ‘Eileen’s’ sheer chutzpah, couched as it is in classy, clever filmmaking, curiously exhilarating and addictive.”
Michael Mann’s “Ferrari” didn’t have enough gas to break into the Oscars this year, a shame considering Penelope Cruz’s Oscar buzz and a SAG Award nomination for her supporting performance. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman named “Ferrari” the third best movie of 2023: “Mann brings off a masterful piece of supple ’70s storytelling in this thrilling, humane, high-stakes biographical drama about three months in the life of Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver), the legendary Italian automaker…Driver gives Ferrari a coiled authority, and Cruz is Lady Macbeth fierce as his wife and business partner, who must subsume her rage when she learns that her husband not only has a mistress (Shailene Woodley, good despite a thin accent) but a secret second family.”
Chloe Domont’s Sundance sensation “Fair Play” ought to have been a contender for at least its screenplay, but Netflix’s other Oscar contenders like “Maestro” and “May December” took precedence this awards season. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman named “Fair Play” the ninth best movie of 2023: “You could say that this delectably heated-up drama about two hedge-fund analysts, Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) and Emily (Phoebe Dynevor), who are carrying on a serious romantic relationship they have to keep secret (because it breaks the rules of their firm), is like something Adrian Lyne would have made in the ’90s. Except that it may also be the most telling, plugged-in portrait of the killer go-go finance world since Oliver Stone’s ‘Wall Street.’”
David Fincher’s “The Killer” was never going to be a best picture contender, but watch this hugely-entertaining adaptation of Alexis Nolent’s graphic novel and you’ll most likely agree it should have been a major contender (and perhaps even an Oscar frontrunner) for best sound and best film editing.
From Variety’s review: “Just watching Fassbender do push-ups in his black rubber gloves wires up the atmosphere. When the killer puts music on his earbuds to get into his groove, it becomes the needle drop as homicidal pop-opera soundtrack. The target arrives, and as we watch him move about the apartment, the film generates the hypnotic tension one remembers from ‘The Day of the Jackal’ or certain moments in Brian De Palma films. We realize that the chemistry of cinema hasn’t just put us in the killer’s shoes — it has put us on his side. We want to see him do the deed.”
“Saltburn” turned into one of the year’s most love-it-or-hate-it offerings, so its awards prospects were never a guarantee among Oscar voters despite the film hailing from “Promising Young Woman” Oscar winner Emerald Fennell. The movie picked up steam during the season with Golden Globe nominations for Barry Keoghan and Rosamund Pike, plus several mentions on the BAFTA Film Awards long lists. And yet, perhaps Keoghan licking up Jacob Elordi’s bath water wasn’t the Academy’s cup of tea. From Variety’s review: “A tall drink of Evelyn Waugh spiked with Patricia Highsmith bitters, Fennell’s sophomore feature boasts a distinctive, splashy look for its demented critique of pomp and privilege among England’s elitist upper class.”
Directed by Ben Affleck from a script by Alex Convery, “Air” tells the true story of how Nike’s basketball division signed then-NBA rookie Michael Jordan into a historic partnership that revolutionized the world of endorsement deals with the creation of the Air Jordan brand. “Air” grossed $74.7 million worldwide, with praise from audiences (with an “A” Cinemascore) and critics, alike. In his review, Variety chief film critic Peter Debruge compared the underdog tale to “this generation’s ‘Jerry Maguire.’” The film picked up some Golden Globe nomination in the comedy or musical categories, but it never became much of an Oscar contender beyond that this awards season.
Gael Garcia Bernal should’ve been a way bigger Oscar contender for his performance in “Cassandro,” which tells the true story of the openly gay Mexican wrestler who found fame and glory in a notoriously homophobic sport. Bernal has often been overlooked by the Academy, and here he gives one of his most deeply-felt and beautiful performances. From Variety’s review: “Thanks to the dream casting of Mexican star Bernal as ‘the Liberace of Lucha Libre,’ ‘Cassandro’ arrives with a kind of instant credibility, which director Roger Ross Williams protects by eschewing any sign of camp, opting instead for stately, respectful cinematography and a wistful horn score from composer Marcelo Zarvos.”
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
The Barry Jenkins-produced “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt” is yet another masterful A24 movie that got rejected by the Oscars, but writer-director Raven Jackson’s lyrical vision was always going to be a tougher sell to the Academy no matter how gorgeous it is. From Variety’s review: “A film of astonishing lyrical beauty…Raven Jackson‘s film is a thoughtful, fragmentary portrait of a Black woman over four decades of rural Mississippian life. It’s deeply invested in the investigation of tradition, family and memory, and the sensory, evocative language of the title befits its gorgeous 35mm imagery, which is so tactile that at times, if you touched the screen you wouldn’t be surprised to find its surface textured beneath your fingers. Maybe scaly like fishskin, or springy like grassland, or cool and sodden like clay.”
Glenn Howerton earned a best supporting actor nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards thanks to his work in “BlackBerry,” Matt Johnson’s dark corporate comedy-drama about the rise and fall of the smartphone company. Howerton should’ve emerged as a more serious Oscar dark horse. From Variety’s review: “Frantic, irreverent and endearingly scrappy, ‘BlackBerry’ spins comedy from the seat-of-their-pants launch and subsequent flame-out of ‘that phone that people had before they bought an iPhone,’ as one character puts it…this sly tech-world satire freely extrapolates from journalists Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff’s book ‘Losing the Signal,’ refashioning that wild ride into something that approximates their favorite movies.”
Flora and Son
“Once” and “Sing Street” director John Carney had one of the biggest breakout hits of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival thanks to “Flora and Son,” starring Eve Hewson as a struggling single mother who takes up the guitar as a way to bond with her rowdy teenage son. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a washed-up L.A. musician who helps Hewson’s mother learn the power of music. Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman called the film “irresistible” in his Sundance review, adding: “It’s small of scale, unabashed in its pop sincerity, and has a quality that has always brought life to musicals, but that has now gone out of style. You might call it innocence.”
Jamie Foxx earned rave reviews out of the Toronto Film Festival for Maggie Betts’ “The Burial,” in which he plays a smooth-talking attorney who is hired by a funeral home owner (Tommy Lee Jones) to help save his family business. From Variety’s review: “Demonstrating talents far beyond her 2017 indie debut, ‘The Novitiate,’ director Maggie Betts has a rousing old-school crowd-pleaser on her hands with this truth-based (albeit strategically embellished) drama featuring the most entertaining performance yet from Jamie Foxx, who makes a day in court feel like going to church.”
“Passages” centers on a love triangle in Paris between a movie director (Franz Rogowski), his artist husband (Ben Whishaw) and a grade-school teacher (Adèle Exarchopoulos) he meets out one night. Despite Rogowski winning best actor honors form the New York Film Critics Circle awards, the film never emerged as a true awards powerhouse. From Variety’s review: “With ‘Passages,’ American indie darling Ira Sachs makes his first film in France, a brutally honest portrait of a train-wreck relationship in which an openly gay director sabotages his marriage — and maybe his life — by falling for a woman. Affairs happen; that’s nothing new. But this one proves unusually destructive, giving three stellar international actors a chance to tear one another’s hearts to shreds.”
Beau Is Afraid
A24 spent $35 million to bring “Hereditary” and “Midsommar” director Ari Aster‘s third feature, “Beau Is Afraid,” to life on the big screen. The film flopped at the box office with a global gross just over $10 million and became one of the most divisive releases of the year. The film can be a delirious and exhaustive ride at nearly three hours (Variety’s Peter Debruge wrote in his review that the film is “what happens when a technically gifted artist is given too much creative freedom”), but it’s got enough surprises and technical prowess that it’s at least worth a shot, especially as it’s now streaming on Paramount+ With Showtime.
“Transparent” breakout Trace Lysette earned a much-deserved nomination for best lead performance at the Indie Spirit Awards thanks to her work in Andrea Pallaoro’s understated drama “Monica,” but that’s frustratingly as far as her awards prospects reached this Oscar season. Lysette stars in the film as a trans woman who returns home to her estranged family to care for her dying mother (Patricia Clarkson). Lysette is a sensitive force in the lead role, giving such a lived-in performance that even the film’s most intimate moments carry the emotional weight of an epic.
Of An Age
Australian writer-director Goran Stolevski crafts a whirlwind romance drama in “Of an Age,” which centers on a young man who develops an intimate relationship with the brother of his ballroom dance partner over the course of 24 hours. The disorienting and swoon-worthy pull of first love overflows in Stolevski’s handheld direction, while his script embraces the warmth of finding your person with the heartbreak of not having enough time to make it endure. While the film’s central character learns to embrace his sexuality over the course of the film, Stolevski refuses to let his romance drama become a derivative look at queer self-acceptance. It’s all the more refreshing for that.
This high-octane mashup gleefully leaps between kung fu, sci-fi and Bollywood. Nida Manzoor wrote and directed the story of Ria Khan, a teen stuntwoman who vows to break up her sister’s engagement. What begins as a tale of Ria’s naiveite soon turns into something more insidious, as our hero is determined to stop the wedding from happening without alienating herself from family and friends. The heightened reality and camerawork would make “Society” a great companion piece with Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim.” Even when the third act takes a bonkers turn, it’s impossible to not root for Ria to save the day.
“In her fourth film with director Kelly Reichardt (and their best since ‘Wendy and Lucy’), Michelle Williams gives a deceptively quiet performance as a sculptor trying to let life — and the real world — in,” reads Variety’s review of “Showing Up.” “Lizzy Carr (Williams), the central character, is a sculptor who is finishing up a series of ceramic figures she’ll be presenting in a gallery show…what’s the meaning of her life if she doesn’t succeed at becoming an artist, and for all her talent her sculptures turn out to be…a hobby? Part of the gentle enchantment of ‘Showing Up’ is that the film never articulates that question — at least, not in the way I just did. On the contrary, it’s a movie of feints, digressions, sidelong humor, and the randomness of life intruding on the purpose of life.”
Best of Variety