COLUMN: Five snubs and five surprises from the 87th Academy Award nominations
Boy, oh boy! The Oscar nominations for the 87th Academy Awards were announced this morning. Directors J.J. Abrams and Alfonso Cuaron mapped out the little categories and then actor Chris Pine and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs dropped some bombs this morning. As always, there are plenty of surprises and plenty of snubs. Through it all, the frontrunners have already emerged and this race is taking shape, so much so that I could probably and confidently name the eventual winners already today.
Last night, I threw my hat into the ring to predict the "Big 8" categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, both supporting roles, both screenplays). Out of 43 possible nominations, I correctly named 34 of them. Last year, I was 36-for-41, so this year definitely had some curveballs from the trends I've been following on my 2015 Awards Tracker. I'll still take a near 80% score on that any day.
Let's talk about what transpired and let's make some lists of things. As the Oscars get closer, I'll lay out my full analysis and predictions for every category. For now, here are my reactions to the surprises, the snubs, the frontrunners, and the trends from this morning's announcements. As I've said all season, stick with me and I will win you your office Oscar pool!
1) We live in a world where the "The LEGO Movie" is not considered one of the five Best Animated Features of the year. A crime has been committed here, folks. Call forensics, count the hanging chads, somebody wake up Rush Limbaugh or someone loud, and demand a recount. This is some B.S. I knew the Golden Globes were crazy to name "How to Train Your Dragon 2" their winner, but at least "The LEGO Movie" was properly nominated. Now, it doesn't even make the field? Shut the front door.
2) You could double the Best Actor field to cover the likes of David Oyelowo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ralph Fiennes and it still wouldn't be enough. I said it last night. The Best Actor field was the deepest among the acting categories and several deserving members were going to miss the cut. While I'm pleased personally that Bradley Cooper got some love for "American Sniper," he was not better than David Oyelowo for "Selma" or Jake Gyllenhaal for "Nightcrawler." Ralph Fiennes could have been the tenth nomination to break the tie of nine between "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Birdman" for most nominations. Even the Cannes Best Actor winner of Timothy Spall from "Mr. Turner" could have made this field.
3) The Oscars missed a chance at proper history and minority respect with "Selma.". While I'm a big Clint Eastwood backer for "American Sniper," he's been to the top of this mountain before and has plenty of hardware in this trophy case. Never in Oscar history has a black woman been nominated for Best Director. The Academy could have did us all a solid and included Ava DuVernay for "Selma." Furthermore, her film, which is hitting theaters now to rave critical reviews and audience approval, only received two total nominations: Best Picture and Best Original Song. That's far too few for such a great film. As a matter of fact, zero acting nominations were given to any minority performers, which is eyebrow-raising to say the least.
4) Everyone must have forgot about "Gone Girl." Speaking of movies that got forgotten or dismissed, David Fincher's prized mystery/drama only netted one nomination, Best Actress for Rosamund Pike. Boasting that same early October release date slot that gave "Argo" the edge two year ago and a timely DVD/Blu-ray release date this very week, more nominations slipped through the clutches of "Gone Girl." Its adapted screenplay by the novelist herself, Gillian Flynn, has swept and dominated the earlier and smaller group awards for Best Adapted Screenplay. That's a bigger snub than its place in the Best Picture or Best Director races.
5) The Academy gave a posthumous thumbs-down to Roger Ebert. The beloved and well-received documentary on the late film critic Roger Ebert, "Life Itself," has been the second most awarded feature length documentary this season after "Citizenfour." It was a finalist to make the Oscar field, but was, in my opinion, erroneously snubbed. Somewhere, Roger Ebert is giving you a finger up, but it's not his thumb. In a similar minor awards category, the awards season frontrunner for Best Foreign Language Film, "Force Majeure," was snubbed from the final five. That's a slight equal to Ebert's.
1) It has to be mentioned again. There were no minority actors or actresses nominated in any of the four acting categories. I'm not going to get slanderous and call it a "whitewash" and I'm not trying to install a crutch of "equal opportunity" or an Oscar "Rooney Rule" to say that minority candidates are a requirement. I'm not putting on the tin foil hat and seeking conspiracies rivaling the bad playoff officiating in the NFL. I'm just saying, again, this is a little telling and a little embarrassing overall for the Oscars and for the industry. They could have done better, that's all. David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo from "Selma" stand out as omissions. They're not "victims," just snubs, period.
2) "Whiplash" is your Little-Engine-That-Could movie this year. The very known quantities of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Birdman" are tied for the most Oscar nominations with nine each. "The Imitation Game" is right behind them with eight and the favorite for Best Picture, "Boyhood," has six. "American Sniper" also has six nominations. Those were five expected frontrunners with equal strengths in acting and in artistic/technical categories. That's why five strong nominations for a little movie like "Whiplash" is a very respectable showing, especially for its small size and after its difficult classification controversy in the screenplay categories. This film could have had six nominations with Damien Chazelle being a Best Director contender. "Whiplash" was my #1 movie of 2014 and I couldn't be happier with seeing it shoulder-to-shoulder with the big boys. Love it!
3) "Foxcatcher" bucked controversy with a strong showing of five total nominations. A lot has been made about the backlash surrounding "Foxcatcher" and its poor reception from the people the film is based on. That apparently didn't scare any voters, because Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo made the acting fields. Those weren't surprising inclusions, but seeing Bennett Miller and its screenplay grab nominations were minor shockers, considering the competition in both categories.
4) The community of women over 40 have spoken because Laura Dern and Meryl Streep have crashed the party at Best Supporting Actress. These were two surprise names. I think people (myself included) were expecting a younger name like Jessica Chastain to join Emma Stone. I'm pleased as punch that Laura Dern made this field. I was hoping for her, but didn't know how strong her chances were. You can tell that Meryl Streep is here because she's Meryl Streep. "Into the Woods" is no great shakes or a memorable, trailblazing movie. Women over 40 will get their wishes granted because both female acting categories will be won by women over 40. Julianne Moore and Patricia Arquette are near locks.
5) The backlash coming for "The LEGO Movie" and "Selma." I'll lay out one wild scenario of many that will play out over the next few weeks. It's wild notions like this that make awards season crazy. Take a look at the Best Original Song category and picture this conundrum. With "The LEGO Movie" shut out of Best Animated Feature, their catchy "Everything Is Awesome" represents their only nomination. Will voters overreact and make sure that song wins the Oscar as a consolation prize for the beloved film? If they do, they will beat "Glory" by John Legend and Common from "Selma," the recent Golden Globe winner for Best Original Song and the proverbial Oscar frontrunner. With only two nominations, "Selma" is very unlikely to win Best Picture, leaving Best Original Song as the film's only chance of winning an Oscar. If "The LEGO Movie" wins this consolation Oscar, then "Selma" gets completely shut out on the big night, but so does "The LEGO Movie" if "Selma" wins. Who goes home empty-handed? What do you do?! Cue Dennis Hopper from "Speed" and the Dramatic Chipmunk from YouTube.