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Grownups Seize the Spotlight in 2024 Oscar Nominations

Stars over 50 were nominated in all acting categories, and the best picture contenders owe their success to older viewers

spinner image Colman Domingo in "Rustin," Robert Downey Jr. in "Oppenheimer," Robert De Niro in "Killers of the Flower Moon," Jeffrey Wright in "American Fiction," Paul Giamatti in "The Holdovers" and Jodie Foster and Annette Bening in "Nyad."
(Clockwise from left) Colman Domingo in "Rustin," Robert Downey Jr. in "Oppenheimer," Robert De Niro in "Killers of the Flower Moon," Jeffrey Wright in "American Fiction," Paul Giamatti in "The Holdovers" and Jodie Foster and Annette Bening in "Nyad."
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Left to Right: Netflix; Universal Pictures; Netflix; Apple TV+; Orion Releasing; Focus Features)

Young moviegoers may flock to see superheroes in spandex, but the kinds of films that last, and tend to win Oscars, are often the favorites of viewers over 50. The 2024 Oscar nominations also proved the clout of grownup talents in the industry’s most prestigious competition. Eight out of 20 nominations in the acting categories went to actors over 50 (compared to nine last year). There were some appalling snubs, too, including worthy grownup candidates.

Here’s a look at how grownups did in the Oscar nominations:

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The best pictures were the grownup pictures

Every one of the 10 contenders for best picture was substantially driven by older audiences and their good taste — yes, even Barbie, the year’s biggest hit, which appealed to every generation. The most-honored movies were arguably the smartest: the brainy, talky Oppenheimer, with 13 nominations, the bizarre, oddly innocently sexually explicit, highly original feminist fable Poor Things (11 noms) and Killers of the Flower Moon (10 noms). And all the rest are worth a grownup’s time: American Fiction, Anatomy of a Fall, The Holdovers, Maestro, Past Lives and The Zone of Interest. This is a banner year for quality cinema.

Four of the five nominees for best director were grownups

Flower Moon director Martin Scorsese, 81, Oppenheimer’s Christopher Nolan, 53, Poor Things’ Yorgos Lanthimos, 50, and The Zone of Interest’s Jonathan Glazer, 58, were recognized for the kind of art-house movies that could not survive without the 50-plus audience.

A film about a 60-plus veteran was a win for two 60-plus veterans

Both Annette Bening, 65, and Jodie Foster, 61, earned kudos for the biopic Nyad, Bening as the celebrated athlete Diana Nyad, who swam from Cuba to Key West, Florida, at 64, and Foster as the coach who cheered her on. Foster won two Oscars before turning 30, but it’s as perilous for an actress to be in her 60s as it is for an athlete. They were the only grownup nominees this year in female acting categories. Their honor is a win for everyone who isn’t 30 anymore. (And of course both won AARP Movies for Grownups Awards this year, too.)

Most contenders for best actor were in their AARP years

As usual, male actors faced less age discrimination in the Oscar race than women did. The Holdovers’ Paul Giamatti, 56, in his second movie for director Alexander Payne, 62, got the nomination he deserved but did not get for their first, 2004’s Sideways. Payne thinks Giamatti lost then because he made it look too easy — he was so believable as a neurotic wine snob, voters assumed he was playing himself. This time, nobody could deny the hilarity and poignancy of his prep-school teacher performance.

Jeffrey Wright, 58, aced the role of an embittered author in American Fiction, a high-IQ satire shot in 26 days. And the most surprising and gratifying nomination was Colman Domingo, 54, as Martin Luther King Jr. adviser Bayard Rustin in Rustin. Civil rights leader Rustin was long forgotten because he was gay, Domingo is only the second openly gay actor ever nominated for playing a gay character (after Ian McKellen in 1999’s Gods and Monsters), and Domingo was no shoo-in for a nomination this year. But he made it, a win for the 50-plus and others. (Domingo also won this year’s AARP Movies for Grownups Award for best actor.)

Grownup actors hogged the spotlight in supporting roles

Oppenheimer’s Robert Downey Jr., 58, the odds-on favorite to win the best supporting actor Oscar as the nuclear physicist’s nemesis Lewis Strauss, surprised nobody by making the list, nor did Robert De Niro, 80, as a real-life gangster in Killers of the Flower Moon. But Mark Ruffalo, 56, sometimes unjustly snubbed by Oscars (no honor for 2000’s You Can Count on Me), got his fourth supporting actor nom for his least sympathetic role, as the vain, swinish swain of the Frankenstein-like heroine in Poor Things.

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Michael J. Fox lost out, for inside-Hollywood reasons

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, which won AARP’s Movies for Grownups Award for best documentary, was shut out of the best documentary features category. Not that Fox, 62, isn’t revered by Hollywood for his work and his incredible courage after Parkinson’s struck him — plus his wit and gift, evident in the film. But the movie scored at the Emmys, with seven nominations, more than any other nonfiction contender, and won four. The worst thing for an Oscar hopeful is to win at the Emmys.

Julianne Moore did not get her due

Moore, 63, pulled off an extraordinary acting feat as a character inspired by Mary Kay Letourneau in May December. But the movie’s blend of satire and sincere sentiment proved too odd for the voters, so Moore was snubbed. The subject matter, a teacher’s affair with an underage student, resulting in marriage and children, was also uncomfortably toxic. Oscar voters often prefer a character they can cheer or jeer without ambiguity, and this is a movie about painful ambiguities.

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