After the huge success of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” (2017) – four Oscar nominations and a win for Best Original Screenplay – and its 2019 follow-up “Us” – no Oscar nominations but a SAG Award bid for Lupita Nyong’o – many people had very high expectations for his latest movie, “Nope.”
Like Peele’s previous two films, “Nope” is a straight-up genre movie, but it’s also one that sublimates itself with layers that dig deep into old Hollywood and its treatment of historically excluded racial minorities as well as animals. In the movie, Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer have inherited their father’s business, Haywood Hollywood Horses, a ranch that breeds and trains horses used for films, television, and commercials, though they’re confounded by a mysterious object in the sky that keeps knocking out the power.
It’s another strong spin on a few popular film genres from Peele, although it isn’t faring as well as either of his previous two movies at the box office, opening with $44 million and then having a substantial drop. But even if “Nope” doesn’t quite match the $176 million domestic gross of “Get Out” or the $175 million gross of “Us,” does it still have some potential for awards love when that time arrives?
The movie has generally been received well, even if opinions are all over the place, but that divisive nature means “Nope” has an uphill climb for Best Picture and Best Director. However, Peele previously won an Oscar for writing “Get Out,” and his original screenplay for “Nope” is possibly an even more layered piece that allows for a wide variety of interpretations. It already has direct competition for one of those five slots from another genre film, “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” and there’s a lot more coming in September, including Todd Field’s “Tár” and the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical “The Fabelmans.”
While Kaluuya received his first Oscar nomination for starring in “Get Out” and won an Oscar for “Judas and the Black Messiah” in early 2021, his role as O.J. Haywood just isn’t as showy as Keke Palmer’s performance as his sister, Emerald. And unfortunately, her lead performance may struggle to make an impact at the Oscars as well since horror performances tend to have a tough time making headway there (just ask Nyong’o). “Nope” is another case where a filmmaker’s below-the-line crafts may end up receiving the most awards love, especially at the various guilds and societies that hand out awards leading up to Oscar night.
For “Nope,” Peele reunited with his “Us” production designer, Ruth De Jonge, and it’s impressive work building the entire Western town of Jupiter’s Claim, as well as the Haywood ranch in a California valley that itself has lots of film history. (Previously, ranches owned by William Mulholland and Howard Hughes existed on the land where “Nope” was shot.)
As much as I appreciated and was more than slightly envious of Em’s cool Jesus Lizard T-shirt (likely borrowed from Brandon Perea’s Fry’s Electronics employee, Angel), modern-day non-fantasy costumes rarely get much love from the academy, though kudos to costume designer Alex Bovaird (recently nominated for an Emmy for HBO’s “The White Lotus”) for going big on the rock tees.
Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema was already nominated for an Oscar for his work with filmmaker Christopher Nolan on “Dunkirk” (and the two are reuniting for next year’s “Oppenheimer”), and his prowess with a camera is on full display in “Nope,” especially for those who watch it in IMAX, since it was shot with IMAX cameras. Because a lot of the amazing shots were done in-camera (enhanced by visual effects), the Academy’s cinematography branch might enjoy the movie.
One area where “Nope” should truly shine is Best Sound at the Oscars as well as with the sound organizations: the Motion Picture Sound Editors and the Cinema Audio Society. Much of the film revolves around the sound created by “Jean Jacket,” the UAP (or Unknown Aerial Phenomenon) that O.J. and Em encounter as it echoes around the valley. Although it’s hard to single out just one person in the sound department, re-recording mixer and supervising sound editor Johnnie Burn is a good place to start.
On top of that, the visual effects used to create “Jean Jacket” and integrate it with the live action elements is one of the reasons why that category may be the movie’s second best bet for an Oscar nomination. The design and animation used to create “Jean Jacket” is nothing short of astounding, and much credit for that needs to go to VFX supervisor Guillaume Rocheron.
Another supremely talented Peele collaborator is composer Michael Abels, who has scored all three of his feature films and who pulls out all the stops with the orchestral score for “Nope,” which spans the various genres in play in Peele’s film. Although Abels has been composing since he was young, “Get Out” was his very first film score, and he’s just gotten better with each film.
We still have a long way to go before academy members need to start wrapping their heads around their nominations, and festival season begins at the end of this month, offering tons of competition for a summer genre film like “Nope.” But nothing is ever certain this early in the year.
Best Bets: Sound, Visual Effects
Possibilities: Original Score, Production Design, Original Screenplay
Long Shot: Keke Palmer
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