I do have some catching up to do with some of the nominees. Most significantly, there is American Sniper which got in for Picture, Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. The film opens wide this weekend, so either Sunday or Monday, I will see it. There is also Two Days, One Night and Still Alice in Best Actress – I was already planning on seeing Two Days, One Night (alongside foreign nominee Leviathan) at the Lightbox not this weekend, but next – and at some point one assumes Still Alice will actually open (worse comes to the worse, the local art house – The Princess – has it in February). Other unseen by me include song nominee Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me (which it doesn’t look like I can see before the ceremony – but I can certainly listen to the song), Foreign Nominees, the aforementioned Leviathan alongside Wild Tales, Tangerines and Timbuktu – and who the hell knows when those three will be released, and doc nominees Last Days in Vietnam and The Salt of the Earth (ditto). I may well try to see the animated short nominees before the ceremony – it’s always a great time seeing them – but the two other shorts I probably won’t (and like here, I won’t do winner predictions for them either).
As for surprises – well, there were some. I didn’t really see Laura Dern getting the fifth supporting actress slot – I liked Wild way more than I thought I would, but it really is the Reese Witherspoon show in terms of acting (Dern is quite good, but doesn’t have much to do). I knew American Sniper was coming on strong, but I was still surprised that Bradley Cooper got into a very crowded best actor field. Marion Cotillard likewise surprised me with her nom for Two Days, One Night – beating out Jennifer Aniston who campaigned her ass off for Cake. I haven’t see either film, so I cannot comment that Cotillard deserved it over Aniston – but the former is in a Dardenne film after all. I was very pleasantly surprised that the brilliant Inherent Vice got two nominations – Adapted Screenplay and Costume Design, richly deserved both, but I had thought the Academy was going to stay far away. Similarly, kudos for picking Ida for cinematography for its beautiful black and white work. I love that Bennett Miller got a director nod for Best Director for his brilliant Foxcatcher – and somewhat happy that it is the return of the “lone director” nomination that went away when the Academy expanded the Best Picture field 5 years ago. I was also very happy to see two great, foreign animated films make the list – Song of the Sea and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.
Which brings me to the snubs. As much as I loved Song of the Sea and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, I am saddened that it came at the expense of The Lego Movie - which was my favorite in this category (and perhaps my biggest WTF moment of this morning’s announcement). I am equally saddened that the Best Documentary I saw this year – Steve James’ Life Itself about the late, great Roger Ebert didn’t make the cut. I have no idea what the hell the documentary branch has against Steve James, but this is the third large snub they have given him – following Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters, so I have a hard believing it’s not something (and, strangely, for both Lego and Life, I think the Academy as a whole would have given both the win – but the branches didn’t bite). My favorite (for the time being at least) foreign language film of the year was Force Majeure, which made the Academy shortlist, but not the final five – a disappointment to me.
And now, we must address the two biggest elephants in the room – Gone Girl and Selma. The Academy has come under increasing scrutiny for being made up almost exclusively of old, white men – and the criticism that comes along with them nominating mostly films about white men. But by virtually ignoring both films, the Academy has basically said they don’t give a shit. I somehow understand why the Academy as a whole didn’t love Gone Girl – they rarely go with thrillers anyway, especially ones this bloody and controversial. But the fact that no individual tech branches went with it – not even for its utterly great score – is somewhat embarrassing. Even more embarrassing is that they didn’t nominate Gillian Flynn for her amazing screenplay, adapting her own novel. They did find room for Rosamund Pike in best actress – but then what the hell else were they going to go with.
Selma is even odder. The film somehow found its way into the Best Picture race, but only scored one other nomination – for Best Original song. No director nomination for Ava DuVernay, who would have become only the fifth woman nominated for Best Director (and the first African American woman), no David Oyelowo for Best Actor, no screenplay, cinematography, costume, production design, etc. nominations either. To me, Selma not being a bigger player in the Oscar race is the most mystifying omission of the morning. The other big ones – like Gone Girl and Nightcrawler (which only received one nomination, for screenplay) – make at least some sense, even if they had stronger guild support. They are the kind of darker, edgier films that the Academy often shies away from anyway. But Selma? To me, the film screamed Oscar – and it was a legitimately great film to boot. I sometimes think people are a little too hard on the Academy when it comes to cries of sexism or racism – but they earned them today.
It’s not all bad news though. I never thought I’d live to see the day that a Wes Anderson film lead the nominations – but with 9, it is tied with Birdman for most. I also never thought I’d live to see the day that a Richard Linklater film seemed like a shoo-in for Best Picture and Director – and yet, here we are. And also, we should remember one very important thing about the Oscars – it doesn’t make the films you love any worse if they didn’t get in, and the ones you didn’t like didn’t get any better just because they got in. Great work is its own reward to the people making the movies – and loving a great movie is its own reward for us in the audience.
I’ll be back at least once or twice more throughout Oscar season with some more thoughts on the race – in particular when I catch up with all the nominees, and when I do my own year in review, which I am planning on starting on Monday January 26th. I still need to catch up with some of the more acclaimed film – whether Oscar nominated or not. Tonight, for example, I’m finally going to see Nuri Blige Ceylon’s three hour, Palme D’or winning Winter Sleep – which I have been anticipating for much longer than this morning’s nominations.