The 6 Most Controversial Oscar-Nominated Movies This Year
From backlash to the movies themselves to one acting nomination that could have been revoked.
When it comes to the Academy Awards, there is often some sort of controversy around them—even if it's just about a fan favorite performance being snubbed. But, what about the movies that actually do end up nominated? Sometimes, those can be controversial, too.
This year's Oscar nominees were announced on Jan. 24, but even before the announcement was made, some of the prospective films were already scandalous for one reason or another. Not only that, but one surprise nomination led to an official review by the Academy that could have (but ultimately did not) lead to that nomination being rescinded. Read on to find out about the six most controversial films of the 95th Academy Awards.
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The Whale was being widely debated even before its release, let alone the beginning of awards season. The movie stars Brendan Fraser as a 600-pound man, Charlie, who is dealing with grief and living with a disability in his final days. Right from the start, the movie received backlash for featuring an actor wearing a "fat suit" and prosthetics to play a man of a larger size. Since its release, it has only been criticized further and has been accused of being fatphobic in its portrayal of Charlie.
Voters weren't turned off by this, however. The Whale is nominated for three Oscars: Best Actor for Fraser, Best Supporting Actress for Hong Chau, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling for Adrien Morot, Judy Chin, and Anne Marie Bradley.
Blonde, based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, is a fictionalized account of Marilyn Monroe's life. And some of the invented moments in the movie went way too far for some critics and viewers. Blonde features graphic sexual content and violence, which didn't just earn it a lot NC-17 rating, but a lot of haters. (Just look to the controversy over the movie's depiction of a talking fetus.) Because the film was so divisive, some believed that it shouldn't receive any Oscar nominations at all, but it did snag one: Best Actress for star Ana de Armas.
Unlike Blonde and The Whale, To Leslie wasn't the subject of any sort of controversy upon its release. In fact, most moviegoers likely hadn't even heard of the small, independent film.
But in the weeks leading up to the nominations, a noticeable amount of big, big stars began campaigning on social media for star Andrea Riseborough as Best Actress, often using similar language in their posts. The campaigning itself struck some as being unusual, but when the British actor actually was nominated, there was even more chatter. It was clear that the efforts on Riseborough's behalf paid off, but this led to conversations about whether the lengths a group of (mostly white) celebrities went to see her rewarded was the reason why Black actors whose names came up many times in Oscar predictions (including The Woman King's Viola Davis) were not recognized. The Academy launched an investigation into whether the untraditional campaign broke any lobbying rules and foudn that it didn't, at least to the level where her nomination would have to be revoked.
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Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick is beloved by viewers, critically acclaimed, and huge box office hit. But its Oscar nominations don't come without drama.
First, some critics of the film have dubbed it military propaganda, with its plot revolving about U.S. Navy pilots moving against an unnamed enemy country.
There's also the ongoing argument surrounding star and producer Tom Cruise due to his prominent position in Scientology. In light of the film's success, at this year's Golden Globes host Jerrod Carmichael made a dark joke about the religion. Directly after, he introduced two Top Gun: Maverick stars, Jay Ellis and Glen Powell, making for an uncomfortable moment, even though Cruise himself was not in attendance.
Lastly, the film is involved in a lawsuit, in which the heirs of writer Ehud Yonay are suing Paramount Pictures, claiming that they reclaimed their rights to Yonay's article, which inspired the first film in 1986. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Paramount argued that the new movie was "sufficiently completed" before its rights to the story ran out. The production company filed for the case to be dismissed, which the court rejected.
Avatar: The Way of Water
Avatar: The Way of Water is the highest-grossing movie of 2022, and it might just become the highest-grossing movie of all time. (So far, it's made its way to No. 4 on the list.) But while it's hugely popular, there was a call for a boycott of the film due to how it borrows from North American indigenous people.
"Join Natives & other Indigenous groups around the world in boycotting this horrible & racist film. Our cultures were appropriated in a harmful manner to satisfy some [white] man's savior complex," the tweet reads. At the time this story was published, the tweet has 48,000 likes.
Amid this backlash, a 2010 interview from director James Cameron began making the rounds again—specifically the part in which he says he was inspired by the Lakota people when writing the first Avatar, using language some found problematic and dismissive.
Elvis has admittedly dredged up less controversy than the other movies on the list, but people are certainly divided on its quality.
Star Austin Butler has received plenty of praise for his portrayal of Elvis Presley—including a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination—but other aspects of the movie were less well-received. For example, Tom Hanks' portrayal of Colonel Tom Parker confounded some audiences.
The New Yorker's review calls Elvis "a gaudily decorated Wikipedia article that owes little to its sense of style" while The New York Times critic writes that it "teeters between glib revisionism and zombie mythology, unsure if it wants to be a lavish pop fable or a tragic melodrama." Still, the film made its way to eight nominations, including Best Picture.