Jordan Peele just opened his his third straight movie at #1 at the domestic box office with this year’s sci-fi horror spectacle Nope, and even though word-of-mouth seems to be a bit more mixed than it was for his previous two features (an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 76 on Metacritic, and a B CinemaScore), there are enough elements worthy of commendation here – from Keke Palmer’s instantly iconic Final Girl performance to Hoyte van Hoytema’s captivating IMAX cinematography to Michael Abels’ spine-chilling score – that it’s not absurd to ask, “Can Nope have a significant presence in any Oscar races this awards season?”
Peele famously won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his debut feature film, Get Out, in 2018 (a film which also received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor) but his follow-up feature, 2019’s Us, couldn’t nab a single nom, even for star Lupita Nyong’o, who was already an Oscar winner herself (for 12 Years a Slave), despite earning Critics Choice and SAG nominations for her performance that season. Thus far, Nope looks to be following Us’ trajectory – it hasn’t captured the cultural zeitgeist the way that Get Out did, and it even lacks a true lead dramatic performance to champion in the acting races (as good as Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer are), but it’s no slouch in other departments.
While Peele himself may not earn recognition for his directing and writing this time around (despite Nope being his biggest and most audacious achievement in directing to date), his crew could perhaps fare a bit better. First up for consideration is cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, a long-time collaborator of Christopher Nolan’s (and former Oscar nominee for Dunkirk) whose work here is being hailed by almost everyone who’s seen Nope, including those who didn’t care for the film overall. The cinematography is crisp, clear, chilling, and oh so expansive as it captures the film’s alien’s assault on one Californian valley, and if you’ve seen Nope in IMAX – as it was shot and as it was intended to be seen – your praise of Van Hoytema’s work is probably even more profuse.
Van Hoytema does face some tough competitors in Best Cinematography this year (Bardo’s Darius Khondji, Babylon’s Linus Sandgren, Killers of the Flower Moon’s Robert Richardson, The Fabelmans’ Janusz Kamiński, Avatar: The Way of Water’s Russell Carpenter, Empire of Light’s Roger Deakins, and hell, even The Batman’s Greig Fraser) so I wouldn’t say he’s a sure thing by any means right now (especially since Best Picture contenders tend to dominate this category), but I also wouldn’t be surprised to perhaps seem him pop up somewhere this season, as he is a respected cinematographer, and his work here is essentially universally seen as exemplary.
Up next we have editor Nicholas Monsour – best known for also editing Peele’s Us – who does a great job cutting between characters in the film during its most suspenseful setpieces and finding the best way to maximize tension by piecing together each protagonist’s parts in the film’s climactic “final plan.” However, given that Nope’s length has been criticized by some detractors of the film (a complaint that commonly falls on editors) and given that Monsour will have to contend with much bigger names this year (Killers of the Flower Moon’s Thelma Schoonmaker, Babylon’s Tom Cross, etc.) all of whom come from potential Best Picture nominees (which usually receive precedence here), it’s unlikely he’ll be collecting his first Oscar nomination this time around.
More likely Oscar recognition for Nope could actually come in the sound or visual effects categories, both of which are typically more supportive of “blockbuster” contenders. The only problem with the sound category is that, following the Academy’s consolidation of the Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing categories into one Best Sound category, you have the same amount of films competing for five spots, when there used to be ten available (which allowed for unique “one-off” nominations for unconventional contenders). Top Gun: Maverick is likely already a shoo-in to receive a sound nomination (and probably win), so that’s one spot already gone, and Nope will also have to fight fellow blockbusters The Batman, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and Avatar: The Way of Water, as good as it’s alien sound effects may be.
Visual effects is quickly becoming crowded as well, after both Avatar: The Way of Water and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever debuted tremendous (and visually striking) teaser trailers and Everything Everywhere All at Once became a potential Oscar juggernaut this spring, touting a seven-person VFX team that made that multiverse action extravaganza as epic as it was. Nope does have some showy work to spotlight – the alien design in particular is quite arresting – but it could find itself crowded out by movies with even more to show off, like Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, for instance. Still, I’d say this is one of the best bets for Nope and the line-up with the most wiggle room so far of what we’ve discussed.
Last, but certainly not least, we have Mr. Michael Abels in Best Original Score, who is painfully overdue for Oscar consideration – especially after being overlooked for Us’ chilling compositions – but with Nope not being a major Oscar contender elsewhere, I’m not sure this is the score that Academy voters will embrace. In addition, Best Original Score is stacked this year with a slew of former winners fighting for spots (The Fabelmans’ John Williams, Babylon’s Justin Hurwitz, Women Talking’s Hildur Guðnadóttir, Empire of Light’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and so on and so forth), so it could be difficult to gain traction with bigger names in bigger projects, as wonderful as his work is here (his best yet, in this writer’s opinion).
Overall, I wouldn’t expect Nope to make a play for any major awards at the Oscars this year unfortunately, but if it strikes gold anywhere, I’d keep an eye on the technical categories like Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects (and particularly the latter two), where voters might feel generous enough to acknowledge not just one of the best-made blockbusters of the year technically, but one of the best made movies, too.