'Emancipation' denied: Apple TV+ Oscar bait flops, 'Mole' earns nomination

Emancipation denied: Apple TV+ Oscar bait flops (but Mole gets a nom)

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'Emancipation' on Apple TV+ stars will Smith
"Emancipation" will not be the second Apple TV+ film to win a Best Picture Oscar.
Graphic: Apple TV+

The Apple TV+ Christmas special The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse earned an Oscar nomination Tuesday in the Animated Short Film category. And Brian Tyree Henry picked up a best supporting actor nom for his role in Causeway, the indie film starring Jennifer Lawrence as a wounded Afghanistan vet returning to her hometown.

However, Apple’s streaming service will not be earning back-to-back Best Picture Oscars. It’s big Oscar bait release — Emancipation, the Civil War-era movie starring Will Smith as a slave fighting for his freedom — was completely shut out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Apple TV+ scores pair of 2023 Oscar nominations

The Oscar nomination for The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse is probably the most high-profile nod earned by Apple TV+ this year. The 34-minute animated film tells of the unlikely bond between four friends as they explore the meaning of kindness, courage and hope. The Cult of Mac review calls it “one of the best animated films the streaming service has yet produced.”

Meanwhile, the Apple TV+ film Causeway gained recognition — but not for its star, Jennifer Lawrence. Instead, Brian Tyree Henry earned a nomination in the Actor in a Supporting Role category.

In that film, Lawrence plays an injured vet trapped in her hometown. But the Cult of Mac review calls out the supporting actors. “Henry is a consistent joy, a force of nature, and the part of James allows him to show how much he can say without coming out and saying it. Those sad eyes deliver monologues in this movie. He’s incredible.”

But Will Smith’s Emancipation gets shut out

Apple TV+ clearly set up Will Smith’s Emancipation as a potential Oscar winner. However, the historical epic didn’t pick up a single nomination. And it’s probably not for the reason many people think.

At the 2022 Oscar ceremony, Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock onstage in front of millions of viewers. He later called it “a horrific decision,” but many people still wondered if the members of the Academy would punish the film for Smith’s mistake.

Perhaps we’ll never know. Emancipation doesn’t seem like it would have earned any nominations no matter what happened at the 2022 Oscar ceremony. Director Antoine Fuqua’s movie generated a lackluster 42% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. As The Atlantic put it, “The mediocre film offers plenty of its own reasons for people to not watch.”

The full list of 2023 Oscar nominations is available on the Academy’s website.

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