Oscars 2020: The Biggest Surprises in the Nominations

For months each year, the industry puts a tremendous amount of time and effort into predicting the Oscar nominees. Yet, without fail, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences manages to deliver some surprises. This year, of course, was no different.

A good deal of the discussion around the Oscars revolves around who was snubbed. However, we won’t be getting into the artists and films who failed to attract the academy’s attention. Rather, we’re looking at the Oscar nominations we weren’t expecting to hear at all.

Bong Joon-ho at the Golden Globe Awards
Bong Joon-ho at the Golden Globe Awards | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

‘Joker’ leads with 11 nominations

Hollywood awoke bright and early on Jan. 13, 2020 to recognize the year’s best cinematic achievements. Actors John Cho and Issa Rae presented the nominations. And while many of the presumed frontrunners remain the same, the academy did show surprisingly strong support for a few films.

With more nominations than any other movie, Joker scored an incredible 11 nominations. Everyone assumed Joaquin Phoenix would land a Best Actor nod, but Joker even crept into the Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay categories. Co-writer/director Todd Phillips now follows Adam McKay (The Big Short) and Peter Farrelly (Green Book) as the latest comedy director to make the leap to Oscar fare.

Likewise, Oscar voters came out hard to recognize co-writer/director Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. The South Korean film is looking like a major contender in a number of major categories, including Best Picture.

Even The Two Popes and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — neither one considered major Oscar players — each landed three Oscar nominations. And Jojo Rabbit got an unexpected Best Supporting Actress nod for Scarlett Johansson.

But the academy has more in store

Beyond those surprises, the academy included several movies few expected would make the nominations at all. Netflix’s holiday animated film Klaus, for instance, landed a nod for Best Animated Feature, a category that doesn’t even include Disney’s Frozen 2. Likewise, Bombshell — which seemed like it might fall just shy of the cut — landed acting nominations for stars Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie.

In addition to Robbie’s and Johansson’s nods, one of the other biggest surprises came in the Supporting Actress category. Kathy Bates — who won an Oscar for Misery back in 1991 — scored a nomination for Richard Jewell. The Clint Eastwood-directed film vastly underperformed when it hit theaters. So many assumed its Oscar chances had been flushed away with it.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Ad Astra, and Knives Out also earned a single nomination each. The films landed in the Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Mixing, and Original Screenplay categories among several heavy hitters. But the nominations fell short for Marvel fans, as Avengers: Endgame — which Disney was campaigning hard for — only got a nod for Best Visual Effects.

Will there be any major upsets?

The academy included many surprise nominations among the expected dominance of films like The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. But will any of these unexpected nominees actually walk away with the awards themselves? With wild cards like Joker and Parasite, it feels like a year where anything can happen.

For all the disappointments the 2020 nominations bring, there’s still a lot of interesting developments to discuss and celebrate. For example, this could be the first time the Oscars will recognize a foreign-language movie or a comic book movie as the year’s best film. That statement alone proves this year’s Oscars promise to surprise us. And we can’t wait to see how this year’s most contentious races pan out.

The 92nd Academy Awards air on ABC on Feb. 9, 2020.