Every year when Oscar nominations are announced, the Academy offers up plenty of snubs and surprises to cheer and jeer. But rarer is for the voting body to include a name most have never heard of in a major category — this year, in the field of Best Director.
If you’re not a film buff or foreign-film savant, it was likely a bit of a head-scratcher when Paweł Pawlikowski was cited among the five directors recognized, especially as expected contenders Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Peter Farrelly (Green Book), and Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk) were left off the list. Yet the discerning Oscar-watcher could have seen this coming: The Polish-born Pawlikowski is among the most respected filmmakers working today, and his new movie Cold War has generated universal acclaim from film critics. (His nomination alongside Roma‘s Alfonso Cuarón marks the first time since 1976 two directors of foreign-language films were recognized in the same year.)
Pawlikowski’s Cold War, also nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film and Best Cinematography, is a sweeping, evocative romance set in the 1950s which traces how fate brings together a seemingly mismatched pair. Noted for its stunning black-and-white lensing and passionate performances, the movie has been a mainstay on the awards circuit this season, racking up several foreign film prizes as well as honors for its lead actress, Joanna Kulig. And Pawlikowski’s direction has received several mentions as well: He won the Cannes Film Festival prize way back in the spring, and more notably, was nominated in the equivalent BAFTA category — a reliable Oscar harbinger which matched up with four of the Academy’s five directing choices this year, missing only Adam McKay (Vice). (BAFTA nominated Cooper instead.)
“Collaborating with director Paweł Pawlikowski on Cold War has been an incredible experience and honor,” cinematographer Lukasz Zal said in a statement to EW. “I am greatly humbled by this recognition from the Academy. Thank you to Amazon Studios for supporting this film and thank you to the audiences around the world that have seen and embraced Cold War.”
This isn’t to say that Pawlikowski is riding a wave of Cold War love alone. Indeed, his last film was perhaps even more widely acclaimed: Ida, the spare, intimate story of a young nun in 1960s Poland who was orphaned as a baby during the German occupation of World War II, and learns that her parents were Jewish. For Ida, Pawlikowski accepted the 2014 Oscar for Best Foreign-Language film, and it too was nominated for its cinematography. In other words: Pawlikowski is no stranger to the Oscars.
Cold War is Pawlikowski’s sixth narrative feature. He’s also known for directing the English-language critical hit My Summer of Love (2004), which starred a young Emily Blunt opposite Natalie Press in its portrait of two women coming of age in the Yorkshire countryside. (It won the BAFTA for Best British Film.)
Pawlikowski’s mention may have seemed shocking at first glance. But look a little closer at his resume, and you’ll see it was actually a long time coming.