2022’s Oscar nominees are full of Jewish connections
This week’s parsha concerns God’s instructions to the Israelites in the wilderness on the design of priestly temple garments, how to properly light the menorah and how to build the golden altar of incense. So perhaps it’s fitting that the Moses-y desert parable “Dune” is now nominated for the Oscar gold in costume design, cinematography and visual effects.
On Tuesday, the 94th annual Academy Awards announced its full raft of nominees, with Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” garnering a whopping 11 nominations. Hans Zimmer (who was previously nominated for his work on “The Prince of Egypt”) got a nod for Best Score. Jewish scribe Eric Roth, along with Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts were nominated for Adapted Screenplay for their treatment of Frank Herbert’s novel, which is surprisingly learned about certain devout Jews’ mythic ability to bend space-time. The film, also up for Best Picture, came second only to Jane Campion’s “Power of the Dog” in nominations this year.
The lesson from “Dune” might appear to be ambitious intellectual property and production design, but might I venture that there is another factor: the casting of one Timothee Chalamet, who also plays a small role in “Don’t Look Up,” nominated for five awards including Best Picture. (Don’t ask; I don’t wanna talk about it, even though Jews I typically like – Nicholas Britell and David Sirota – received recognition for this self-satisfied environmental warning with a likely mammoth carbon footprint.)
Off the ballot for quite good reasons was Chalamet’s fellow LaGuardia High School alum Ansel Elgort in “West Side Story,” a film partially about the leveling of Upper West Side slums that paved the way for their Lincoln Center-proximate alma mater. But the adaptation of Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece did manage seven nominations.
Ariana DeBose was nominated for playing Anita, and, if she wins, will prove history repeats itself, as Rita Moreno (not nominated this time, for her role as Valentina) won in that category in the same role in 1962. Steven Spielberg’s riff on the old classic (Mike Faist, who played gang leader Riff, was not nominated) is also up for Production and Costume Design.
Tony Kushner, whose script reimagined Laurents’ book to make a trenchant commentary on economic xenophobia and added no small amount of Spanish, was snubbed for Adapted Screenplay, though Spielberg eked out a Best Director nomination as well as a Best Picture nod.
Of course, “West Side Story” is also nominated for Sound, though, mercifully, not Best Song, as no new music was added. Though “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from “Encanto” is charting, it’s Lin Manuel Miranda’s plaintive, Spanish language “Dos Oruguitas” that is up in that category. Miranda, it’s worth noting, penned Spanish adaptations of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics for a 2009 revival of “West Side Story.” Miranda’s directorial debut “Tick, Tick… Boom!” features Bradley Whitford as Sondheim and received three nominations, one for lead actor Andrew Garfield as “Rent” composer Jonathan Larson. Garfield said in interviews, he connected to Larson based on their shared Jewish heritage.
Diane Warren, a mainstay for Best Song nominations is up for a tune called “Somehow You Do” from a film called “Four Good Days,” which I’ve never heard of, but which appears to feature the less embarrassing Glenn Close performance of the the 2020s (cough, “Hillbilly Elegy”), though not the one she got nominated for. Warren’s inclusion almost counters the nomination of anti-lockdown crusader and “They Own the Media” balladeer Van Morrison for his musical contribution to “Belfast.”
While Jake Gyllenhaal became infamous in song at the tail end of 2021, his older sister, Maggie, is an Oscar nominee for her adapted screenplay of Elena Ferrante’s “The Lost Daughter,” which scored Best Supporting and Best Actress hat tips for Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman. (I’m not one to out the pseudonymous Ferrante, but rumor has it she, like Gyllenhaal, is Jewish.)
Speaking of celebrity siblings Joel Coen’s first solo outing as a director, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is up for Best Picture, Cinematography and actor for Denzel Washington’s turn as the ambitious Thane of Cawdor.
And on the subject of Americans nominated for playing Brits (a rare reversal) Kristen Stewart’s performance as Princess Diana in “Spencer” is a contender for Best Actress. Stewart, I recently learned, courtesy of a reader, has a Jewish mom, telling Howard Stern in 2019 that she is about a quarter Jewish genetically (per 23andMe) and her mom was adopted by a Jewish family. So, there you have it. First Pablo Larraín gave us a Jewish Kennedy, and now a Jewish royal.
Sadly, Alana Haim, another Jew who did a lot of running in a film this year did not make the cut for the very Jew-y “Licorice Pizza,” though the film is nominated for Best Picture and Best Director and Best Screenplay for Paul Thomas Anderson.
Rounding out the Jewish nominees, Aaron Sorkin, once more denied a spot for Best Director – and in a shocker, even Best Screenplay – is well-represented by nominees J.K. Simmons, Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem in “Being the Ricardos.” All three already have Oscars. Jessica Chastain, while nominated, has yet to win and is up for her role as televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” directed by Michael Showalter.
Surprise, Andrew Garfield is in that one too, and also “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which despite a pretty strong campaign in all major categories, is only up for a technical award. So, he’s maybe not quite as good a Jewish common denominator as Chalamet.
Finally, there is nothing Jewish as far as I can tell about the Best Documentary nominee “Writing With Fire,” but doesn’t it sound like an influential book on the composition of the Torah? Well, at least I think so.