This year, as with every other year, there’s a big controversy about the Oscar nominations.
In 2023, it mostly centers on the Best Actress category. While the race is largely seen as being between Cate Blanchett for Tár and Michelle Yeoh for Everything Everywhere All at Once, no Black actresses were nominated in the category, with the omitted including two, Danielle Deadwyler for Till and Viola Davis for The Woman King, who had been expected by many prognosticators to be nominated in the category. (The other two nominees are Michelle Williams for The Fabelmans and Ana De Armas for Blonde; the latter is a performance that was much-praised in a movie that was not.)
Nominated, however, was Andrea Riseborough, a talented but somewhat journeyman actress who got her first nomination for a little-seen independent drama called To Leslie. The performance had been completely off the radar until the closing weeks of the nominating season, when a group of Riseborough’s Hollywood friends, led by Kate Winslet, began a coordinated push to nominate the performance.
This led to an investigation by the Academy into whether that campaign had broken nomination rules, with a determination made that Riseborough would not lose her nomination. If she had, she would not have been replaced by the 6th-place finisher, but rather the category would have gone forward with only four nominees.
Was this unfair, that this actress in a film that nearly nobody has seen got recognized, over others who didn’t enjoy such a campaign? Yes, it was. But with the Oscars, as usual, nothing is fair.
What were the five best performances by actresses in 2022? There’s not really any objective way to quantify that, so the next best thing we have is for thousands of people to vote. And with thousands of people voting, you’re going to get some odd results from time to time.
So there are efforts to persuade the Oscars electorate, with everything from swag to parties to personal persuasion campaigns. Every single year, movies and performances are nominated for Oscars not because they were necessarily better, but because they campaigned better.
Is this a fair system? Absolutely not, and there’s no denying that the Oscars have an absolutely disgraceful record when it comes to nominating and awarding people of color. But it’s hard to imagine what possible reforms could guarantee a better outcome, as long as the Academy is voting.
As for my opinion, as someone with no Oscar vote: Like most people in the world, I have not seen To Leslie. As a critic, I have access to virtually all For Your Consideration mailings and mailing lists and was offered the chance to see just about every nominated movie this year at least once, but that was never the case with To Leslie. I believe it was in the virtual library at one film festival I covered, but I did not get a chance to watch it.
The Other (Possible) Nominees
I am a great admirer of Danielle Deadwyler’s performance in Till and named her in my Best Actress ballot in multiple critics group votes. I didn’t think The Woman King was one of Viola Davis’ best performances, and she hasn’t exactly been hurting for Awards honors in the past.
I do think Best Actress is between Yeoh and Blanchett and would be happy if either of them wins. I enjoyed Williams’ turn in The Fabelmans — though I know not everyone agrees — and while I liked De Armas in Blonde, I didn’t consider it nomination-worthy. I also thought Mia Goth’s turn in Pearl was deserving of consideration as well.
The irony is, this was a rare year in which the Best Picture category had no major missteps. I usually hate at least one nominated film, but this year, all ten were at least passable.
But the truth is, if you’re expected the Oscar nominations to always be fair, you’re going to be disappointed.