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Oscar surprises: Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough and 'RRR's big chance


"Top Gun: Maverick" is in. "Avatar: The Way of Water" is in. And the stage is set for the most popular-leaning Oscars in years.

Nominations for the Academy Awards were rolled out Tuesday morning, and some major, major crowd pleasers are in the mix. The Best Picture field includes the two aforementioned blockbusters, which have earned more than $3 billion at the global box office, helping to bolster the most popular Best Picture field in years.

That field also includes "Everything Everywhere All At Once," which led all movies with 11 nominations, along with "Elvis," "The Fabelmans," "The Banshees of Inisherin," "Tár," "Triangle of Sadness," "Women Talking" and "All Quiet on the Western Front," representing a healthy mix of audience and critical favorites.

There were several surprises in the mix, some more unexpected than others. We'll get to those in a second.

On the Michigan front, "Bad Axe" missed the cut in the Best Documentary category, after making the shortlist of 15 films to compete for the prize. David Siev's film about his family dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in the rural town in Michigan's thumb area was considered and outsider and, in the end, did not make the final list of five films.

Looking at the rest of the nominees, here are five surprises that stand out.

Tom Cruise out!

The "Top Gun: Maverick" star was on the outside looking in when the nominees for Best Actor were read off on Tuesday. Cruise has been nominated three times previously (the last time was for 1999's "Magnolia") and has never won, and "Maverick" was considered such a triumph for the actor and his trillion watt starpower that he might edge his way into the Best Actor race. That didn't happen: the nominees are Austin Butler for "Elvis," Colin Farrell for "The Banshees of Inisherin," Brendan Fraser for "The Whale," Paul Mescal for "Aftersun" and Bill Nighy for "Living," with the spot that would have been Cruise's going to Mescal, the 26-year-old Irishman in the little seen but critically adored father-daughter drama. Again, let's not feel too bad for Cruise, and he didn't mount an aggressive campaign to land the nomination. His reward is entertaining audiences, and bringing butts back to theaters after COVID nearly killed Hollywood is plenty thanks enough.

Andrea Riseborough in!

A funny thing happened on the way to Oscar nominations. In early January, just as Oscar voters started receiving their ballots, an upstart viral campaign started to swirl around actress Andrea Riseborough in her little seen alcoholism drama "To Leslie" (box office: $27,000), led by stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Edward Norton. Well, it worked: Riseborough earned a nomination in the Best Actress field, the shocker of all the nominees, and will compete alongside "Tár's Cate Blanchett, "Blonde's" Ana de Armas and Michelle Williams (for "The Fabelmans") and Yeoh (for "Everything Everywhere All at Once"). That means Viola Davis, thought to be a favorite for "The Woman King," was left out — the action epic was blanked entirely — as was Danielle Deadwyler in "Till," who was also thought to be in the mix. And suddenly a lot more people are going to be watching "To Leslie."

Brian Tyree Henry earns his first nomination

Paper Boi is headed to the Oscars! "Atlanta" star Brian Tyree Henry earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role in the quiet drama "Causeway," the 40-year-old's first Oscar nomination. Henry edged out "The Fabelmans'" Paul Dano and will compete against Brendan Gleeson ("The Banshees of Inisherin"), Judd Hirsch ("The Fabelmans") Barry Keoghan ("The Banshees of Inisherin") and likely winner Ke Huy Quan ("Everything Everywhere All at Once"). Henry's nomination is the lone nod for "Causeway," which also stars Jennifer Lawrence, and is streaming on Apple TV+.

Diane Warren tries again

Let's try this again, shall we? Songwriter Diane Warren earned her 14th nomination in the Best Original Song category, and is still looking for her first win. Warren has been nominated eight times in the last nine years, and has a strange habit of earning nominations for songs from films no one has heard of. This year is no different, as she's nominated for her song "Applause" from the film "Tell It Like a Woman," both of which are allegedly real. So this is definitely her year, right? Not so fast: This year's Best Original Song category is absolutely stacked, with songs by Lady Gaga ("Hold My Hand," from "Top Gun: Maverick") and Rihanna ("Lift Me Up," from "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever") competing for the prize, alongside the TikTok sensation "Naatu Naatu" (from "RRR"). Maybe for Warren the 15th time will be the charm?

'RRR' misses the cut

That "Naatu Naatu" nod represented the lone nomination for "RRR," the Indian sensation that had a shot at competing in several categories, including Best Director, Best International Feature Film and even Best Picture. While those nominations didn't come to pass, the crowd pleaser's chances in the Best Original Song category are now even stronger, as it could build to become the sentimental favorite in the category, and may have the power to knock off those biggies by Rihanna and Lady Gaga. Will "RRR" have its Oscar moment in the end? All will be known when the Academy Awards are handed out on March 12.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama