EW analyzes why Gaga, Balfe, Ruth Negga, and Denis Villeneuve were left out on Oscar nominations morning.

The 2022 Oscar nominations gave long-standing contenders Will Smith, Olivia Colman, and Benedict Cumberbatch reason to celebrate on Tuesday morning — but, like a cloud of flies sent by Patrizia Reggiani to terrorize Lady Gaga in Italy, they also brought painful tidings of snubbery for past frontrunners.

Among the most surprising omissions were Belfast star Caitríona Balfe, Passing supporting actress Ruth Negga, DGA-nominated Dune director Denis Villeneuve, and Gaga, who previously earned the distinction of becoming this season's only performer to hit every major precursor for her work in House of Gucci.

But, as the stars' respective fanbases continue to process the snubs, it's important to remember that there are often simple explanations for every shock to the awards system. Below, EW breaks down why each of the aforementioned players ultimately fell short of reaching Oscar gold, and why precursor statistics are increasingly unreliable when gauging the state of the race.

Lady Gaga in House of Gucci / Caitriona Balfe in Belfast
Lady Gaga in 'House of Gucci' and Caitriona Balfe in 'Belfast.'
| Credit: Fabio Lovino/MGM; Rob Youngson / Focus Features

Best Actress: Lady Gaga in House of Gucci

Once thought to be an outlying contender in a movie that received so-so reviews from mainstream critics, Gaga's leading performance in Ridley Scott's crime drama House of Gucci overcame the odds to establish the A Star Is Born Oscar winner as a serious, bankable actress (Gucci is the top-grossing drama at the domestic box office in two years).

It became clear that Gaga's chances hung onto more than a prayer in the name of the Father, Son, and House of Gucci, as she quickly racked up the kind of pre-Oscars report card that doesn't just get you nominated, but bags the gold. With support from critics (NYFCC, Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes) and industry voters (SAG, BAFTA) alike, Gaga felt like the safest bet in a chaotic category.

In hindsight, we can assume one of two things likely happened: first, Gaga's rise dovetails with Spencer star Kristen Stewart's fall. As brilliant of a film as Spencer is, general audiences may not have liked that it presented the story of an icon known and beloved by millions with daring liberties, in a deliberately fantastical (yet masterfully crafted) fashion. It's likely that some industry members felt the same way, as the film failed to score notices from SAG and, more surprisingly, BAFTA. With Gaga hitting those precursors that Stewart missed, the Academy's acting branch may have thought Gaga was performing well enough on the circuit that she didn't need their votes, and instead filled out their ballots in favor of Stewart, who they may have assumed needed it more after her SAG snub.

The other scenario is a bit more complicated. To combat a lack of diversity among nominees, BAFTA altered the way it votes in recent years. Acting categories contain multiple slots, with the top two determined by BAFTA-wide popular votes, while the rest of the bracket is filled out by a very, very small jury. When it comes to BAFTA, we simply don't know whether Gaga was the popular vote-getter or not, as the group doesn't release their vote tallies. Let's say, for the sake of this argument, that Gaga was not the popular pick, and was actually chosen by the small jury. So, instead of being the consensus pick across the industry, she could've actually been a contender boosted by smaller circles. Particularly with certain journalist collectives, they might've hoped to exploit her A-list celebrity status and industry clout to gain bigger platforms through the season.

Looking back, the fact that SAG's nominating committee is made up of less than 2,000 people pooled from its 100,000-plus total membership also indicates her initial support might not have been as widespread as we presumed — not to mention the mistake we all made (yet again) of equating the taste of the Golden Globes (just over 100 journalists) and Critics Choice (roughly 500 journalists) voters as barometers for industry affection.

A potential third scenario also exists, as outlined in an EW interview with an anonymous member of the Academy's writing branch following Hustlers star Jennifer Lopez's shocking snub at the 2020 ceremony: "The snubs of Jennifer Lopez for Hustlers and of Adam Sandler for Uncut Gems are in part high versus low culture. I think some of the new members of the Academy don't have the same affection we have for comedic actors or more mainstream actors stepping outside of that," the writer told EW, suggesting that the Academy's push to include more members from worldwide regions could've contributed to the disparity as well. "[International voters] have a stronger division of high and low culture, so they didn't appreciate those performances the way Americans did."

Ruth Negga in 'Passing'
| Credit: Netflix

Best Supporting Actress: Caitríona Balfe in Belfast and Ruth Negga in Passing

Caitríona Balfe was one of the first major acting contenders to peak early in the conversation, earning raves out of the fall festivals for a film that, by all indications, was expected to sweep the Oscar nominations the moment it landed TIFF's prestigious People's Choice Award — a key foreteller of eventual Best Picture traction.

Initially succeeding largely on reviews for Kenneth Branagh's lived-in handling of a personal story (it's a semi-autobiographical look at his struggle through the Troubles in 1960s Ireland), the film sustained through the race thanks to the lovable, deeply engaging ensemble cast at its heart. Upon first viewing, it's clear that the family at the film's core is led by a lioness, Ma (Balfe), and her sensitive lamb of husband, Pa (Jamie Dornan). While both of their narratives drive the bulk of the story, the roles of the family grandparents Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds take a clear (but memorable) backseat to the younger set. That distinction is clear when absorbing the film, but all of the film's stars were campaigned in the supporting categories, presenting a problem for a branch like the Academy, which can vote for actors in whatever category its voters choose, regardless of where a respective actor campaigned. Thus, someone like Dench — a beloved, respected, past Oscar winner — in a clear supporting role likely earned more votes in the category than Balfe, who might've split her own chances thanks to category-crossing votes from Academy members who aren't paying attention to social media chatter.

As for Ruth Negga, the case is similar to Gaga's. Though, whereas Gucci soared throughout the winter thanks to a strong box office narrative, Passing came and went on Netflix without much fanfare. At the time, Negga scored big with SAG and, eventually, BAFTA, but it's very difficult for one supporting performance to sustain a large enough profile through to an Oscar nomination, especially when films starring eventual nominees like Dench (Belfast), Ariana DeBose (West Side Story), Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog), and Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard) all have extra heat (and more eyeballs on them) in more above-the-line categories like Best Picture. Jessie Buckley likely slotted in for Negga here, but even The Lost Daughter had a bigger profile on the race at large, as Maggie Gyllenhaal scored a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, as did Olivia Colman in Best Actress, proving there were likely more attention fixed on those films that heated up throughout the race as Passing cooled.

Denis Villeneuve directing 'Dune.'
| Credit: Chiabella James/Warner Bros.

Best Director: Denis Villeneuve for Dune

One more time for those in the back: Oscar juggernauts don't direct themselves. And Denis Villeneuve peppered his sci-fi epic with a tangible spice — his singular perspective, his stamp, and his style are all over the surprisingly intimate blockbuster — that helped the ensemble picture garner 10 overall nominations from the Academy on Tuesday morning.

With such widespread support among the individual nominating branches in multiple tech categories (sound, visual effects, production design, original score, editing, makeup, costumes, cinematography), you'd think the Academy's filmmaking sect would be more in-tune with the vision guiding the man at the helm. Many (including the 2022 Directors Guild of America Awards, where Villeneuve scored a nod) thought that such a large-scale film that excelled in weaving so many exemplary aesthetic parts would be recognized for the direction that brought them together. But perhaps the explanation is simpler than that: Dune went up against strong competition among iconic directors all throughout the year, including eventual nominees Jane Campion, Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Kenneth Branagh — all of whom have deeper, more historically acclaimed ties to the industry than Villeneuve does.

More often than not, when you're up against legends and others with decades-long track records of earning Oscar attention, you're likely going to fall off when it comes to branch that can operate staunchly traditional. But, like all of us, they're susceptible to indulging their own emotional soft spots when it comes to matters of the heart — which explains this branch's (sometimes) renegade choices. Though Dune earned more overall nominations than Ryûsuke Hamaguchi's Drive My Car, in the end, it's possible that the directors merely felt the Japanese filmmaker's dramatic journey on an emotional level more so than they respected Villeneuve's technical achievement.

See who the Academy chooses to win when the 94th Oscars air Sunday, March 27 on ABC. See the full list of nominations here.

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House of Gucci (2021 Movie)

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