Zac Efron Doesn’t Have Brothers. He Deserved An Oscar Nomination.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got some stuff wrong...again. Here’s who was snubbed—from Melton to Margot.

Zac Efron Doesn’t Have Brothers. He Deserved An Oscar Nomination.
Photo:Courtesy of: A24, Warner Bros. Pictures

The late Stephen Covey (some guy who wrote a lot of schmaltzy self-help books) once wrote that there are three constants in life: Change, Choice, and Principles. To be frank, I tend to doubt Mormon educators (it’s not personal, I reject all organized religion) but I think Covey was mostly onto something. He was, however, missing a fourth constant—one you can all but set your calendar by. Every January since 1953 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announce their selections for cinematic achievements. And every year, they somehow get it wrong.

On Tuesday, Zazie Beetz and Jack Quaid announced the nominations across all 23 categories for the 96th Academy Awards from the famed Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. With 13 nominations, Oppenheimer is—to no one’s surprise—the most-decorated film of 2024. Hot on Christopher Nolan’s UGG slippers are Poor Things with 11 nominations and Killers of the Flower Moon with 10. Meanwhile, Barbie earned eight nominations and Bradley Cooper’s second—exceedingly shameless and sweat-laden—attempt at winning Best Director, Maestro, scored seven. Oh, and something called Nyad nabbed two big ones.

To be fair, I do think some sound decisions were made. Lily Gladstone becoming the first Indigenous woman to be nominated for Best Actress? Imperative! The prolongation of Murphy vs. Cooper? Petty! The possibility of Da’Vine Joy Randolph putting The Idol even further in her past? Please! I even agree with a few of the shutouts, too. I would be Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke’s third faster than either of their quick draws but I’m cool with A Strange Way Of Life being omitted from the Best Live Action Short category. I’m also not at all miffed that Saltburn saw no love. This isn’t the Teen Choice Awards, after all.

Yet, as is the case since the awards’ inception, there are too many truly galling goofs not to mention. Let’s take a closer look:

The Iron Claw of It All

That The Iron Claw—which currently has an 88% critic’s score and a 94% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes—received zero nominations feels…well, cursed. As in, a Von Erich kind of curse. There’s no other plausible reason why it isn’t up for any trophies—least of all, Zac Efron, who proved in six words (“I used to be a brother”) that he is, in fact, a very serious actor.

From start to finish, The Iron Claw grips as tightly as the wrestling dynasty’s signature move. The audience is forced to endure three tragic deaths in two hours and twelve minutes. The film’s pacing, however, is remarkably empathetic to all of the tragedy and offers triumphs—from new babies to very realistic-looking bodyslams—in equal measure. Efron aside, the rest of the ensemble cast (who quite obviously put their bodies through a rigorous training regime and god knows what else) is just as compelling. That scene—those who’ve seen the film know—in which four of the Von Erich brothers are reunited had no good reason to work on paper. On screen though, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, and Stanley Simons transcend tenderness.

It’s a shame that in the end, The Iron Claw wasn’t taken quite as seriously as it deserved. Sure, there’s nothing new about the Von Erichs’ story. Even despite the devotion of brothers, toxic masculinity kills. Unrealized dreams, drugs, and depression, too. But, as it turns out, I didn’t need a Ryan Gosling musical number to confirm once and for all that men’s stories do matter.

May December and Meltonmania

Poor, sweet Charles “Riverdale was my Juilliard” Melton. Since the December 2023 release of May December, the actor was immediately counted as a potential Oscar nominee due largely to his legions of loyal fans and rave reviews. Take this one from Rendy Jones at “Melton delivers one of the year’s most unforgettable and shattering performances. Even in a film that stars Oscar winners Moore and Portman, it’s Melton who leaves you breathless.” It’s true!

The film is hardly perfect (Julianne Moore’s lisp gets lost midway through), and as Jezebel’s Rich Juzwiak wrote, one of the May December’s most central metaphors—Melton’s metamorphosis from emotionally stunted to…less so—is “extremely remedial for a filmmaker as talented as [Todd] Haynes.” Meanwhile, Melton’s portrayal of a man only just realizing the sum total of his life—the choices he made, and more importantly, those he didn’t—is more complex. And impressive.

Anyone who’s a fan of Haynes knows he favors a cunty protagonist, but May December’s hero—and most affecting character—was a quiet, Abercrombie & Fitch-wearing guy who offered more care to his family (and his butterflies) than anyone had thought to give him. Melton’s omission is as much of a heartbreak.

Margot Robbie & Greta Gerwig

What can be said that hasn’t been tweeted a million times already? It’s telling that Ken (Ryan Gosling) received a nomination over Barbie. Of course, Gosling had more of an obvious narrative arc—not to mention two musical numbers and some terribly funny dialogue—when compared to the titular character’s more internal, existential epiphanies. Even still, that Robbie and Gerwig, who’ve been candid about the great pains they both went to just to get this glaringly ambitious movie made, aren’t nominated for Best Actress and Best Director, respectively, does suck. Even a woman who wasn’t particularly moved by Barbie can admit that.

Greta Lee & Celine Song

I don’t mean to be crass…well, yes I do. How the fuck were Greta Lee and Celine Song left out of the Best Actress and Best Director category for Past Lives? I don’t know a more polite way to phrase that question. Song’s directorial debut, a decades-spanning love story that will no doubt wreak absolute havoc on your mental well-being, garnered countless accolades this season (including, I’ll note, the Best Picture award by the National Society of Film Critics). A beautifully acted and achingly resonant story has a way of doing that…except, of course, where the academy is concerned.

What’s perhaps more befuddling though, is that Past Lives nabbed a Best Picture nomination. So, a director and two outstanding leads aren’t at all deserving of credit in the creation of a film capable of winning Best Picture? The same—obviously—should be asked of Barbie, too.

All of Us Strangers

All of Us Strangers is visually stunning—that much an audience can glean immediately. Enough about Paul Mescal, though. Andrew Haigh’s story about Adam, an aging, anxiety-addled writer (Andrew Scott) who finds resolve in his daydreams about his deceased parents, and later, in a relationship with his younger neighbor, Harry (Mescal). Somehow, fantasy and reality serve Adam in synchronicity, and just when you begin to think he could live forever this way, there’s a swift, shocking reminder that, well, he can’t. Jamie Bell and Claire Foy shine, and Mescal is—unsurprisingly—great as Adam’s lonely lover. But Scott—and all of his expert expressions and childlike utterances—is a star deserving of far more recognition this awards season.

Honorable Mentions: Rachel McAdams, Dominic Cessa, Penelope Cruz, and Leonardo DiCaprio

I didn’t see Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret but I did see this clip in which Rachel McAdams has a tough conversation with the titular character and yeah, I cried at my computer during a workday. Dominic Cessa—in his first film, by the way—also got me to weep big, ugly tears in The Holdovers as a son eager to please his ailing father and absent mother. In Ferrari, Penelope Cruz did what she does better than anyone in Hollywood: adeptly portray a woman who welcomes grief without allowing herself to be stifled by it. And finally, I know he hardly needs more applause given he’s already won once and been nominated countless times, but how Leonardo DiCaprio managed to make a heinous man in Killers of the Flower Moon occasionally pitiable, should’ve at least guaranteed him another round.

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