Nominated for Nothing: The Academy should've bathed in “Saltburn”'s excesses

"Saltburn" was provocative, sure — maybe too much for voters' tastes. Jacob Elordi alone was enough to get us tub-thumping.

They were destined to score zero Academy Awards, but they won our attention throughout a year (and awards season) like no other. Ahead of the 96th Oscars ceremony on March 10, Entertainment Weekly is breaking down the year's best movies, performances, and directorial achievements that were nominated for nothing.

The film: 2023 was a banner year for the return of some of our most distinctive and gifted auteurs, including Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, Greta Gerwig, and Alexander Payne. It also brought us the highly anticipated sophomore feature of Emerald Fennell. In 2021, Fennell, who audiences then knew best as Camilla on The Crown, swept in and won a screenwriting Oscar with her audacious debut, Promising Young Woman

Following that debut triumph, audiences waited to see what provocative project Fennell would take on next. The result was Saltburn, a gloriously demented tale of Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), a boy who absolutely cannot bear the idea of being ordinary. In his quest to be special, he befriends posh Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi) through a series of elaborate lies, earning an invitation to the titular family manse for the summer. But once there, Oliver will stop at nothing to enmesh himself in the world of the British elite as he lusts after the wealth and status of the Catton family.

The film is bursting with brilliant performances, but the two who earned the most awards buzz were Keoghan’s slippery central live-wire act and Rosamund Pike's delightfully obtuse, narcissistic Catton matriarch, Elspeth. Many assumed that, if nothing else, Fennell might sneak into the Best Original Screenplay category again. And though it was never a serious contender in these categories, Saltburn deserved notice for its lushly Gothic cinematography, dizzying production design, and its winking, clever use of mid-aughts fashion in its costume design.

<p>MGM</p> Barry Keoghan in 'Saltburn'


Barry Keoghan in 'Saltburn'

Why it wasn’t nominated: It’s just too weird. Saltburn reigned supreme as the most polarizing film of the year, with some (including EW) hailing it as a perverse psychosexual thriller and others deriding its outré storytelling. To some degree, the film fell victim to being misunderstood. Much of the discourse surrounding Saltburn involved the ways it failed as a class critique, in part due to the inherent likability of the Catton family. But Fennell, herself a member of the British upper crust, wasn’t making a movie about class — she was making a movie about obsession and desire underpinned by the trappings of British country house dramas. Her commitment to the film's eroticism and go-for-broke attitude distracted some from what the movie was really trying to say.

But let’s be honest, Saltburn never had a chance with the historically more conservative and older voting body that is the Academy. From scenes of Oliver licking up Felix’s dirty bathtub water — bodily fluids and all — to the “I’m a vampire” moment to impassioned grave-f---ing to Keoghan’s uninhibited final dance, Saltburn is bursting with scenes that tread the line between Gothic camp and shock value. Viewers are either all-in on Fennell’s vision or turned off by its excesses, an admirable no-holds-barred approach to filmmaking. But not one that makes for the more staid projects the Academy tends to favor. Still, if you'll excuse the metaphor, choosing not to nominate Saltburn for a single thing is the Academy really showing its ass.

Amazon/MGM Rosamund Pike in 'Saltburn'
Amazon/MGM Rosamund Pike in 'Saltburn'

Why history will remember it better than the Academy did: Saltburn will likely always remain a divisive film, but it’s already won a devoted audience outside of awards voters. The internet is obsessed with it. According to Deadline, Saltburn themed videos garnered over 4 billion views on TikTok — and the movie spawned plenty of memes related to its use of Sophie Ellis Baxter’s catchy “Murder on the Dance Floor” (which also catapulted to No. 1 on Spotify’s viral U.S. singles chart).

Saltburn performed decently in theaters, opening to one of the best per-theater averages of the year for a limited release. But it really found its audience on streaming, securing the highest week-over-week growth for any film on Prime Video in 2023 with its viewership growing by four times over its first few weeks on the platform. Keoghan might not have an Oscar nomination for his work, but his unhinged portrayal of Oliver has won over viewers who can’t get enough of the sense of gleeful abandon he brings to the role (or his naked dancing).

Additionally, as Fennell’s filmography grows, Saltburn will stand as a proclamation of her strong point-of-view as a filmmaker. Fennell’s work has the capacity to be wildly misunderstood, but she’s unapologetic in her provocations and her view of the world as a candy-colored psychotic playground. Saltburn is compelling, beautiful, and over-the-top, and it will likely only win more fans as Fennell continues to expand her oeuvre. And if it's not for you, well, you better not kill the groove.

EW's countdown to the 2023 Oscars has everything you're looking for, from our expert predictions and in-depth Awardist interviews with this year's nominees to nostalgia and our takes on the movies and actors we wish had gotten more Oscars love. You can check it all out at The Awardist.

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