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'The Power of the Dog' receives the most Oscar nods

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Movie box offices may not be booming yet, but that's not going to keep Hollywood from throwing itself a big party. Academy Award nominations came out today. Ten films are up for best picture, led by the Netflix Western "Power Of The Dog" with 12 nominations.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "POWER OF THE DOG")

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: (As Phil Burbank) Twenty-five years since our first run together. Nineteen hundred and nothing...

SHAPIRO: The sci-fi epic "Dune" was next with 10 nominations.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUNE")

TIMOTHEE CHALAMET: (As Paul Atreides) They're picking my family off one by one.

SHAPIRO: And then came the musical "West Side Story" with seven.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WEST SIDE STORY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Here come the Jets like a bat out of hell, someone gets...

SHAPIRO: Also with seven, Kenneth Branagh's growing up in Ireland story "Belfast."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BELFAST")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Buddy.

COLIN MORGAN: (As Billy Clanton) We're looking to cleanse the community.

JAMIE DORNAN: (As Pa) Touch my family and I'll kill you.

SHAPIRO: We are joined now by critics Aisha Harris, who hosts Pop Culture Happy Hour, and also Bob Mondello. Good to have you both here.

AISHA HARRIS, BYLINE: Thank you.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Great to be here.

SHAPIRO: Well, how did this morning's nominations compare to what you both expected? Bob, you want to go first?

MONDELLO: They were way too close to what I expected. I have to say the one thing that I am relieved by - everybody was predicting that Lady Gaga was going to get nominated for best actress and that Jared Leto...

SHAPIRO: For "House Of Gucci."

MONDELLO: Right. And Jared Leto was going to be nominated. And with those accents, there was a lot of acting going on. But, oh, my God.

SHAPIRO: I think Jared Leto got a Razzie nomination, if I'm not mistaken.

MONDELLO: That was - it was so - oh, that perform - ah, ah, anyway, I was terrified.

SHAPIRO: Aisha?

HARRIS: Yeah, I'm kind of with Bob on this. I wasn't at all surprised to see "Don't Look Up" get nominated. It is one of those movies that I think the academy would like to feel good about nominating because it's about climate change, supposedly, and it's gotten a lot of people talking.

I also wasn't surprised about "King Richard" because this is sort of straight down the middle Oscar fare...

SHAPIRO: This is Will Smith playing the father of Venus and Serena Williams.

HARRIS: Yes, yes, a biopic. It's Will Smith doing an accent. So he's like, quote-unquote, "stretching" his career, his acting limits. And so it seems like that was a very obvious pick.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about the top contender, "Power Of The Dog." It was a beautiful movie, brilliantly acted. As I watched it, I kept waiting for it to either turn into "Brokeback Mountain" or "No Country For Old Men." But it took a subtler approach to storytelling. Why do people love this movie so much?

HARRIS: Netflix has done, I think, a really good job of pushing this movie. I've seen way more people talking about it than I would have expected had it been released in theaters. And I think that also Jane Campion, she's no stranger to the Oscars. And so I think a lot of people...

SHAPIRO: She's the director of this film.

HARRIS: Yeah. As a director of the film, she's been nominated before, and I think this is going to be a really big deal for Netflix if it does wind up winning.

SHAPIRO: Bob, what do you make of this movie's success?

MONDELLO: Well, it's just - it's so effective. Of all the pictures that are nominated this year, it was the one that I just sort of instantly thought, OK, that's a best picture nominee. And the acting is absolutely sensational. It's just - it's gorgeous to watch those performances.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about diversity. Last year, it was a watershed. Almost half the acting nominees, 9 out of the 20, were people of color. Before that, there was the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. How does it look this year?

MONDELLO: Really badly. It's - this year is a lot less about inclusion, quite clearly. They missed a lot of opportunities to do kind of interesting things in the nominations. I was kind of hoping that Ariana DeBose, who is in "West Side Story" as Anita, would be up against Rita Moreno, who was Anita all those years ago...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Was the first Latina woman to win the Oscar, yeah, for her role as Anita.

MONDELLO: Now, wouldn't that have been a wonderful thing? And they didn't do that.

SHAPIRO: OK. But that was never actually going to happen, Bob.

MONDELLO: Oh, but it could have. It might have. Aw, come on. But anyway, realistically, it's gone from - I think it was nine nominees of color in the last Oscars, and it's down to four this time. And so it's - this is, I think, a disappointing turn of events, not unpredictable, but, you know, yeah.

SHAPIRO: Aisha, apart from the Anita face-off, what were you hoping to see that this year's nominations might not have delivered?

HARRIS: I mean, I was very disappointed that "Passing" was completely shut out. I would have loved to see Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga get nominated.

But, you know, on the other hand, I think there was a little bit of promise in the fact that "Flee," the documentary, the animated documentary, as well as "Drive My Car" were nominated in multiple major categories, including for "Drive My Car" best picture and international. And "Flee" was also animated and international and I think one other award. So it's good to see, you know, that there is a bit of diversity happening and more opportunities for international films to not just be pigeonholed into being in the international category.

SHAPIRO: Let me just end by asking each of you what you would most like to see take home the statue in late March when this ceremony happens in person.

HARRIS: Well, of the ones that were nominated for best picture, "Drive My Car" is the one that I would love to see win. I was just completely moved by it. And I've said this before, but it's a three-hour movie that I think earns every single minute of it. And I say this as someone who doesn't usually like movies that are over two hours. So that is a ringing endorsement from someone like me.

SHAPIRO: Bob.

MONDELLO: That's true, and it is wonderful, and I would kind of agree with you, but I'm kind of rooting for "Power Of The Dog." I really thought it was extraordinary. It'd be interesting to see Netflix win. It's just amusing that they want an Oscar so badly after they've - they're in the process of shutting down an awful lot of movie theaters. So...

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Bob Mondello and Aisha Harris. Thank you both.

MONDELLO: My pleasure.

HARRIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.