Oscar Beat: The Snubs, Surprises, and Lessons Learned from Today’s Nominations

     January 15, 2015

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This morning, as I sat down and got ready to watch and relay the day’s Oscar nominations, I found myself hoping to see some surprises.  The year’s various races had kind of coalesced over the past few months and nearly all the major categories seemed pretty solidified save for one or two slots.  Today’s nominations didn’t disappoint in the surprises department, but for the most part, they weren’t necessarily the good kind. The word “snub” has become overused as of late, but it genuinely applies to a couple of shoulda-been contenders in this year’s crop of candidates.

After the jump, I run down the biggest oversights, surprises, and what we can glean from today’s Oscar nominations.

The Pleasant Surprises

inherent-vice-joaquin-phoenix-paul-thomas-andersonLet’s start with something positive, shall we?  I was tickled by a few of the surprise nominees today, and probably most delighted with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Inherent Vice.  It’s a nutty film, but incredibly impressive nonetheless.  I think some got bogged down in trying to follow the plot, but Anderson’s script deftly carries the audience on an adventure through Doc Sportello’s drug-fueled lens, resulting in a wonderfully enjoyable—and surprisingly poignant—viewing experience.  And adapting Thomas Pynchon is no easy task, so I was happy to see Anderson’s peers single out his work, even if it was only one of two nominations for the film overall (though the Best Costume Design nod was also a happy surprise).

It was also kind of great to see Bennett Miller land in the Best Director race, especially since Foxcatcher wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture.  This is the first time since expanding the Best Picture category that we have a Best Director nominee for a non-Best Picture film, and I gotta say Miller’s notice is very well deserved.  Foxcatcher may not be the most pleasant film to watch, but the filmmaker’s handle of the tone, careful weaving of the story, and intense, meditative focus on the characters is mighty impressive.

ida-movie-imageAnother somewhat unexpected nomination was the Best Cinematography nod for Ryszard Lenczweski and Lukasz Zal’s beautiful, haunting work on Ida.  Not only is the film captured in striking black and white, but it utilizes a rare 1.37 aspect ratio to brilliant effect, framing the characters in a stunning manner.

And even though she doesn’t have a ton of screentime, I was happy to see Laura Dern singled out for her moving work in Wild.  Dern was at one point a favorite to land a nomination for this category, but once the December onslaught began her name was somewhat forgotten.  I’m glad to see the Academy didn’t overlook her performance, and only wish they would’ve shown more love for the film as a whole.

Lastly, while not a complete surprise, it’s nice to see Wes Anderson finally recognized by the Academy in a serious manner.  Previously only nominated for his screenplay work, The Grand Budapest Hotel somewhat impossibly survived a very early release date to tie with the most overall nominations total, including a Best Director nod for Anderson.  Very deserving, and long overdue.

The “Snubs”

the-lego-movieAnd now for the complaints.  The day’s biggest surprise had to be leaving The LEGO Movie off the shortlist for Best Animated Feature.  I’m honestly having a hard time comprehending this decision, as the film has been steamrolling through all of the previous Best Animated Feature awards with the win.  It’s possible voters just assumed everyone would be voting for it, so they opted to show some love to other candidates instead.  Or maybe the Animated Feature branch just isn’t crazy about Phil Lord and Chris Miller—after all, they did fail to nominate Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  Today’s snub is really just baffling, though the silver lining is this opens up How to Train Your Dragon 2 for a deserving win.

Jake Gyllenhaal certainly seemed to be on track to maybe net a deserving Best Actor nomination for his work in Nightcrawler, but alas, it seems as if we had too much faith in the Academy to recognize that film.  Many thought a Best Picture nomination or even a Best Director nod was in the cards, but the film’s only recognition came in the form of a Best Original Screenplay nomination.

And how do you not nominate David Oyelowo for his tremendous performance as Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma?  I understand Paramount had some trouble getting this Oscar campaign on the right track, but really, Academy members had screeners for the film in early December.  Beyond that, the film’s been in theaters for weeks now.  They had plenty of chances to see it.  Four of the five nominees today are for portrayals of real people.  You don’t think a complex, nuanced, and raw performance of one of the great leaders of all time is worthy of consideration alongside a sociopath, two British geniuses, and a trained killing machine?  This is the snub I’m disheartened by the most.

selma-david-oyelowoWhile we’re on the subject, how about a nomination for Ava DuVernay?  It’s no secret the Academy has a tough time singling out work by/stories about women (not a single Best Picture nominee has a female lead—some barely have female characters at all), but DuVernay’s work in Selma was undeniably astounding.  Set aside the fact that she imbued a historical drama with immediacy and a relevance to the times we live in today, she’s simply a fantastic filmmaker and one of the most exciting up-and-comers in the business.  I understand DuVernay was a bubble candidate for the Best Director nod at best (again, the Academy is loath to recognize women—see: Kathryn Bigelow’s snub two years ago), but it’s more than a little distressing to see Morten Tyldum recognized for a serviceable job on a fairly standard biopic while DuVernay is ignored for doing something wholly different—and powerful!—with the genre.

Again, the nearly complete shunning of Selma isn’t totally surprising, but it’s so disheartening to see the Academy greet a truly unique, moving, and non-saccharine historical drama with a “ho-hum” response when they opt to single out boring, bland, and wholly generic biopics and “prestige dramas” year after year.

What We Learned

american-sniper-bradley-cooperAnd so what can we glean from today’s Oscar nominations going forward?  Well, for one, they really like American Sniper.  Director Clint Eastwood’s military drama scored 6 nominations overall, including a Best Actor nom for Bradley Cooper, who’s become a bona fide Academy Favorite—this is his third Oscar nomination in a row.  We’ve also learned that it is possible to be a hit with the Oscars when your film is released before the October-November-December awards avalanche.  The Grand Budapest Hotel opened in theaters all the way back in March and tied today with the most overall nominations, proving that a genuinely good film (and a smart, patient awards campaign) can sometimes result in plenty of Oscar love regardless of the release window.

We also learned that the Hobbit trilogy was officially a bust, since the franchise’s most CG-filled entry didn’t even land a Best Visual Effects nomination.  Honestly, the CG work in The Battle of the Five Armies veered on the cartoony side at times.  I don’t know if it was the HFR snafu or what, but the awe and wonder that The Lord of the Rings instilled was just completely gone, despite technology having advanced significantly in the interim.  A far cry from the 13-Oscar clean sweep that Return of the King enjoyed a decade ago.

And, again, I think it’s safe to say the overwhelmingly white male demographic of the Academy has a tough time recognizing stories about women.  Nothing for Wild beyond actress nominations, and only one nod overall for Gone Girl—a female driven story with a complex female character, a box office and critical smash, directed by one of the best and most beloved filmmakers working in the business.  Many were expecting at least a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Gillian Flynn (she was even considered an early frontrunner), or maybe another Best Original Score nomination for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, but nope.  Nada.

And with that, we have our official 2015 Oscar nominees.  I’d by lying if I said it wasn’t a fairly boring and depressing batch of contenders, but there are still a few bright spots to be found.  Look for continuing coverage as the various studios position themselves for the win in the coming weeks.  The 87th Oscars will be hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and telecast live on ABC Sunday, February 22nd.

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