January 27, 2014

Oscars 2013: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 10:00 am
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Complete List of Nominees

Traditionally, the early, early, so incredibly early morning announcement of the Academy Award nominations is a straightforward affair in which the Academy president and a well known actor or actress read off the nominees in about half of the 24 categories. Last year, they decided to have a little more fun with it and get host Seth MacFarlane to make the announcement, joined by Emma Stone, in a looser, more freewheeling ceremony that found them adding some humorous commentary to the nominations. It was a nice change of pace, so this year…they went back to doing what they used to do. It might have been less fun, but it got the job done.

Before I proceed with my thoughts on how things panned out, I have to say something that risks becoming an annual rant. With each passing year, I get increasingly irritated with the rampant use of the word “snub.” Every actor, film, director, songwriter, etc. who was in the conversation but didn’t get nominated was “snubbed.” Except, no. They weren’t. The word snub implies that someone or something was ignored disdainfully. Disdainfully. Perhaps these people need to look up the word “disdain.” According to Merriam-Webster online, it means “a feeling of strong dislike or disapproval of someone or something you think does not deserve respect.” Few if any of the realistically potential nominees that failed to make the cut were on the receiving end of widespread disdain. They simply had the misfortune of falling short in categories where voters were presented with too many options. In other words, they were not fucking snubbed, and I’m tired of lazy efforts to inject a kernel of controversy into the Oscar narrative by using that word to imply that, for example, voters have some kind of problem with Tom Hanks, whose performance in Captain Phillips was overlooked. Believe me, there’s enough controversy in this whole annual season of awards shenanigans without manufacturing it because you can’t find a more accurate word than “snub.” I should have counted up how many times I saw it in the past week and half. Remind me to do that next year when I inevitably express my ire on the matter yet again.

Now then, to the topic at hand. I was only 100% correct in one category: Best Adapted Screenplay. In the past couple of years, I’ve correctly called three or four categories, so I didn’t fare as well this time. On the other hand, there were 12 categories in which I was only off by one. That’s double my tally from the past two years. So on average, I think I did okay. And when I compare myself against 10 other pundits whose sites I follow, I did just about as well as any of them. So I feel like I’m not out of my element playing this game in the first place.

Here are thoughts on some of the races…

I suspected that we’d have another year with nine Best Picture nominees, and I was correct. I wasn’t totally correct about what those nine movies would be. I thought Saving Mr. Banks, despite an underwhelming reaction from the guild nominations, would rank high with enough Academy members to earn it a space here, but there was no saving Mr. Banks. It scored only one nomination…and not the one that it was most expected to get. I also thought that Lee Daniels’ The Butler was more likely to be a top choice for many voters than Philomena, which pushes similar emotional buttons but on a less epic scale. Turns out the warm charm of Philomena had the edge after all. The Butler didn’t earn a single nomination, while Philomena got four. The space I had alotted for Mr. Banks went to The Wolf of Wall Street, which was on the bubble for me. I wasn’t sure how well it was playing to Academy members. Pretty well, as it turns out: five nominations, all in top categories.

There were still some good movies left out, and some reactions I read questioned why the Academy would choose to nominate only nine movies when they could pick up to 10. But it doesn’t work like that. It’s not as if the Academy is a group of 25 people sitting around a table and making decisions about what to include and what to omit. The nominees are determined by a mathematical process that factors in the number of ballots submitted and how voters ranked their Best Picture choices. The Wrap‘s Steve Pond always offers some helpful explanations, but in the end it’s worth noting that when the current system of voting was applied to ballots from years past, going back a decade from when this rule of 5-10 possible nominees was instituted just to see what would have happened, the accountants determined that no year would have yielded 10 nominees. It would always have come in between five and nine.

One nice stat for this category is that with Her and American Hustle in the running, Megan Ellison becomes the first woman to be nominated for Best Picture twice in the same year. She also joins the illustrious company of Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Roos and Scott Rudin as only the fourth producer to hit that mark at all (Coppola and Roos in 1974 for The Conversation and The Godfather Part II, Rudin in 2010 for True Grit and The Social Network). Ellison and her production company Annapurna Pictures have only been on the scene for a few years, but she has established herself as an essential figure, funding the work and supporting the visions of some of the most prestigious filmmakers working today. In addition to Her and American Hustle, she produced Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, and also had a hand in Spring Breakers, The Grandmaster and Killing Them Softly. If early buzz is any indication, she could be back here next year as a producer of Foxcatcher, the highly anticipated new film from Moneyball and Capote director Bennett Miller.

And speaking of Moneyball, Brad Pitt earned his first nomination as a producer, for 12 Years a Slave. Like Ellison, Pitt is turning out to be a champion for films that don’t have obvious commercial prospects. As the film’s director Steve McQueen has said many times, 12 Years a Slave would not exist without Brad Pitt. So it’s great to see producers who are committed to challenging and offbeat material, and to see the Academy embracing those films.

Of the five directors nominated by the Director’s Guild of America — Alfonso Cuarón, Paul Greengrass, Steve McQueen, David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese — I was right that Greengrass, who steered Captain Phillips, would be the one left off the Academy’s list. I was wrong about who would replace him. The Director’s branch often embraces outside-the-box candidates, which had me hoping they would spring for Spike Jonze, who they nominated back in 1999 for Being John Malkovich. As it turns out, Jonze’s new movie Her was more inside-the-box than many expected it might be, earning five nominations, including Best Picture. That was never a sure thing, so I was thrilled. But I wish Jonze had received the directing nod.

Instead, the fifth slot went to Nebraska‘s Alexander Payne, and I have to say, that disappoints me. Nebraska was great, and Payne is a consistently excellent filmmaker whose movies I always enjoy a great deal, but in my eyes Best Director should be first and foremost a celebration of bold and unique directorial visions. That’s why I’d have gone with Jonze, or why I cited Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine as one of my personal choices. It’s why Gravity‘s Alfonso Cuarón is, at least for now, the category’s frontrunner. Nebraska is a small-scale movie, simple and straightforward. That’s not a slight or a criticism in any way; it just doesn’t stand up for me as a major achievement in directing. I tend to think the same thing when Woody Allen gets nominated for this award. I’m not saying these movies lack the guiding hand of a skilled director. Making good casting choices, getting great performances out of the actors, finding the proper tone, choosing the best takes during editing…these talents are hallmarks of good directing. But with only five slots available, there should be something more in the mix. Something…bigger. If the voters were going to stick with the most likely handful of directors, Greengrass would have been a more deserving choice than Payne. A movie like Captain Phillips has more complications and challenges, and pulling them all off is what I look for next, after boldness of vision, in a Best Director nominee. That’s why another of my personal picks was All is Lost director J.C. Chandor, who scores on both of those counts.

Whatever happens, we hope the players handle it with grace, but that’s not always the case. The day that began with the nominations announcement concluded with the Broadcast Film Critics Association’s Critics Choice Awards, where Captain Phillips‘ nominated screenwriter Billy Ray told Deadline‘s Pete Hammond, “It’s unacceptable that my guys [Hanks and Greengrass] did not get in. That’s the way I feel.” Now I’m a big fan of Ray, who also wrote and directed Shattered Glass and Breach, but who does he think he is and what does he think he’s talking about? Unacceptable is injured military veterans returning home and enduring substandard care at VA facilities. Unacceptable is an institution covering up a sexual abuse scandal. Are those examples too grand? Okay, I’ll take it down several notches. Unacceptable is making an appointment somewhere for 3:00 and not being seen until 4:30. Unacceptable is having the Unemployment Insurance department screw up your payments due to an internal computer glitch, then not processing your claim for weeks as a result, then sending you a letter telling you not to worry because they’re aware of their mistake and they will fix it without any action on your part, then after you’ve waited nearly a month and finally written to them through their website — because it is literally impossible to reach anyone at that fucking place by phone — they respond a week later with news that your claim has lapsed due to inactivity and that you have to re-file to open it again, even though the only reason it lapsed was because they fucked up and then told you not to do anything because they would take care of it, and this is all hypothetical of course but seriously how fucking incompetent are those people, and what was I talking about, oh right, things that are actually unacceptable. I would say to Billy Ray that no one owes him, or Tom Hanks, or Paul Greengrass, an Academy Award nomination. Just getting to make movies is a privilege that he should be grateful for every day, and awards recognition is icing on top of more icing on top of cake. Not getting an Oscar nomination is the first-worldiest of first-world problems, so instead of making a stupid remark like that, Ray should express gratitude for his own nomination and the five others that his movie received. Expressing disappointment for his forgotten comrades is fine, but tossing around words like “unacceptable” is awfully douchey. Not looking good, Billy Ray.

Well, we knew it was going to be a bittersweet morning with this category, and so it was. There was that Tom Hanks omission, and Robert Redford was passed over as well. Tom Hanks, despite being Tom Hanks, was never a sure thing here. If there were an award for Best Five Minute Excerpt of a Performance, he would be both nominee and winner, cause those last few minutes of Captain Phillips…wow. For the rest of the movie though, Hanks’ performance, while excellent, was the kind of subdued, sturdy work that could go either way. In a less competitive year, he surely would have made it. This time, he got pushed out.

The morning of the nominations coincided with the first day of the Sundance Film Festival, which always begins with a press conference attended by Redford. Naturally he was asked about his Oscar miss, and he was as sanguine as you’d expect from someone who has been around Hollywood for decades. While acknowledging that a nomination would have been great, he said what matters most is that he is proud of the film and proud that it was made independently. He also said he was well aware of the business and the politics of the Oscars, and suggested that the film’s distributor might have done more to get the movie out there. That could be true, though Redford himself didn’t campaign too aggressively. Not that one should have to campaign to win an Oscar, but this whole thing is a game, and that’s how it’s played. Sometimes it might make the difference between an actor getting nominated and not.

This issue was front and center during the 2009 race when Mo’Nique was the Best Supporting Actress frontrunner for Precious and did not buy into the idea of campaigning, believing that the performance should speak for itself (and citing her young children and her day job as a talk show host as reasons she could not work the awards circuit for four months). She discussed it on her show with guests Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, both previous nominees who tried to explain to her why campaigning was part of the process. In the end, she won the Oscar on merit, but she is probably in a minority of people who went the distance without doing the dance.

There are any number of reasons why Redford (and Hanks) may have been passed over, and as the nominations loomed, they were the most vulnerable of the perceived frontrunners. One person who campaigned with vigor was Bruce Dern, and it paid off for him. Perhaps the Academy only had room for one 77 year-old Hollywood veteran who starred in the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby and was seeking the second acting Oscar nomination of his career. The newest Great Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio, did make the cut for The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s still not the best work of his career, but it’s damn good, so congrats to you Leo. With Dern, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey getting the nominations they were expected to, the last slot went to Christian Bale, which makes me happy. Even though the category’s abundance of options forced me to exclude him from my list of personal picks, his performance is my favorite thing about American Hustle, and I’ve grown even more fond of it as the weeks have passed.

So that one Saving Mr. Banks nomination that felt pretty safe was for Emma Thompson, but it wasn’t to be. I thought Meryl Streep might be the one to get squeezed out if Amy Adams were to make it in, but instead it was Thompson who fell off the list of expected nominees. She took the news with her typical brand of practical humor, saying, “You just go ‘Oh!’— and then you (say) ‘Ooh, that means I can work in March instead of getting into another frock and heels.'” Some have even wondered if Thompson’s chances were hurt when her friend and Angels in America co-star Streep presented her with the Best Actress award at the National Board of Review ceremony and made comments in her introduction about Walt Disney’s sexist and racist tendencies. I read some reactions online after that suggesting that Streep had hurt Thompson’s chances. But the speech came on the night before nomination ballots were due to the Academy, at which point it was likely too late to have any effect…not that I think it would have been an issue anyway.

On a side note, Streep’s assessment of Disney got a lot of attention. Some in attendance at the NBR event felt the remarks were inappropriate, while others didn’t seem to mind. Her comments were debunked by writer Amid Amidi on the site Cartoon Brew, and upheld by Disney’s grandniece Abigail. Whatever the truth, I think it’s about time that Song of the South got a DVD release already. That’s my takeaway.

As for Streep, she might not have been singing “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” on nominations morning, but my oh my, for her it was a wonderful day. Her nomination for August: Osage County is her 18th. People love this woman, and clearly I was an idiot to think her peers would overlook her. As I wrote in the caption of her photo in my previous post, “Me, not get nominated? I’m Meryl Streep, bitch!” So she is, and even after all this time, as she tells Jimmy Kimmel, the accolades don’t get old.

As for Amy Adams, the Academy is pretty fond of her too. This is her fifth nomination since 2005, and her first as Best Actress.

I was never confident about Daniel Brühl’s chances, but I took my cue from his Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Critic’s Choice and Golden Globe nominations and rolled the dice. If I had a better read on The Wolf of Wall Street‘s prospects, I might have bumped him for Jonah Hill, who got the spot that I’d given to Brühl. As it turns out, Rush never made it out of the pit; it didn’t get a single nomination.

Great to see Bradley Cooper nominated again, his second in a row; along with Christian Bale, he was my favorite part of American Hustle. Michael Fassbender, Barkhad Abdi and Jared Leto all got in, and after all the talk above about campaigning, Fassbender managed his nomination without doing a lot of promotion. At least, not as much as he apparently did a few years ago for Shame, only to be passed over by the Academy. It’s good to see Abdi nominated for his debut performance. From driving a limo to starring opposite Tom Hanks to receiving an Oscar nomination…talk about a Hollywood story. He was excellent in Captain Phillips, and I hope the industry can find a place for him after this. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of obvious parts waiting for him. Is there a role in a future Game of Thrones season for this guy?

Unsurprisingly, the Academy did not nominate James Franco for Spring Breakers. But I would really love to see the ballots and find out how many votes he got, if any. He must have gotten some

It’s a shame Oprah didn’t break in for Lee Daniels’ The Butler. She had maintained her buzz since the movie’s August release, and she really did melt into the role of Forest Whitaker’s boozy wife. Like Emma Thompson though, Winfrey stayed positive. Her assumed spot went to Sally Hawkins, who was championed by many critics for her role as Cate Blanchett’s sister in Blue Jasmine. Hawkins missed out on a Best Actress nomination in 2008 for Happy-Go-Lucky, so her many fans must be happy to see her land her first nomination.

I included Julia Roberts among my predictions but felt it could have gone either way for her. She ended up getting nominated, and while she wasn’t among my personal picks, I enjoyed her in August: Osage County and I’m glad to see her back at the table…just as long as it isn’t the same table from that movie’s dining room, because nothing good seemed to come to anyone sitting at that thing.

As the only member of American Hustle‘s cast who was essentially a sure thing, Jennifer Lawrence collected her second consecutive nomination after winning Best Actress last year for Silver Linings Playbook. At age 23, she also becomes the youngest actress to have earned three Oscar nominations. Even more impressive, American Hustle becomes only the 16th movie ever — and the second in a row! — to earn nominations in all four acting categories, following Silver Linings, also directed by David O. Russell. Prior to that film, the last movie to be nominated in all four categories was Reds in 1981. Now Russell has done it back-to-back. With the eight acting nominations collected by these two films, plus the three for The Fighter in 2010, he has now directed 11 Oscar nominated performances in four years, three of which have won. These achievements put Russell in the company of the great William Wyler. None of Hustle‘s nominees are considered frontrunners in their categories (well, maybe Lawrence, but we’ll save that for another post), but Russell has cemented his credentials as one of the best actor’s directors working right now, a point driven home in Bradley Cooper’s great speech on behalf of Hustle‘s ensemble when they won Best Cast in a Motion Picture at the SAG Awards.

I hung onto the idea that Inside Llewyn Davis would at least get some major-category love from the writers, but no such luck. Dallas Buyers Club took the one spot that seemed up for grabs, but the biggest takeaway here is that Gravity did not get nominated. It was considered a stretch for this race anyway, but its absence may lead some to write off the movie’s chances for a Best Picture win. But that’s not necessarily true. While it is extremely rare for a movie to win Best Picture without its screenplay getting nominated, it has happened a few times over the years. Excluding the first few Oscars, for which records aren’t complete, five movies have managed it: Grand Hotel (1931/32), Cavalcade (1932/33), Hamlet (1948), The Sound of Music (1965) and Titanic (1997). (I was an intern at James Cameron’s production company Lightstorm Entertainment during Titanic‘s Oscar season, and although everyone there was celebrating the movie’s record-tying 14 nominations on the morning of the announcement, the Executive Producer was still griping that it didn’t get the screenplay nod, losing out to surprise nominee Woody Allen. She complained that he “phoned in” the script for Deconstructing Harry.)

Anyway, Gravity seems like the kind of movie that could win Best Picture without the screenplay nomination, but it certainly is against the odds. Interesting related note: not including those five movies just mentioned, there have only been 23 movies to win Best Picture without also winning one of the writing awards.

The only big surprise here was that Monsters University missed the cut. Since the creation of this category in 2001, the only other Pixar film that has been eligible but not nominated was Cars 2. I’d take Monsters over The Croods or Despicable Me 2 any day, but the members of the animation branch felt differently. Sympathies to my friends at Pixar.

When one of the clear frontrunners of the entire awards season has excellent work in these below-the-line categories, it usually picks up the nominations, so the absence of 12 Years a Slave from this lineup is quite a surprise. Still, this was another category with too few slots and too much deserving work, so something had to give. But few thought it would be 12 Years.

American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave are pretty unimaginative choices for this category. I predicted them both to make it, but I would have been happy to be wrong if it meant the voters had looked beyond the obvious. At least they nominated the exquisite design work of Her. I hoped they would go for it, but didn’t expect them to.

Over the last few years, this category has offered a number of bewildering nominees, and this year the voters upheld that tendency by nominating the title track from a basically unknown Christian faith movie called Alone Yet Not Alone, which met the Academy’s qualifications with a week-long release in September. Skeptics keep asking how such an obscure song from an unknown film could be nominated over tracks from better known movies, sung by artists like Jay Z, Taylor Swift and Coldplay, but the question expresses ignorance of the process by which the branch votes. As I said in the previous post, summarizing an explanation by The Wrap‘s Steve Pond, the Academy assembles a DVD containing clips for each eligible song exactly as it appears in the movie, and sends that to all members of the branch. If the song plays over a montage, that’s the scene on the DVD. If the song is sung by a character in the movie, that’s the scene on the DVD. If the song plays over the end credits, then that portion of the end credits is what appears on the DVD. So really, it doesn’t — and shouldn’t — matter how famous or not the movie or the singer is. Voters are looking at each song, as it’s used in the movie. Which isn’t to say that higher profile songs that might be getting a lot of radio play or permeating the culture in other ways don’t have an advantage, but if voters are approaching their task with good intentions, they’re playing that DVD and giving every song a fair shot. It’s an imperfect system, most significantly because the DVD only includes three minutes of each song and because end credit tracks are at a disadvantage, but one thing it does seem to do is level the playing field a bit so that songs by famous musicians aren’t automatically handed nominations just because they have more exposure.

The fact that Bruce Broughton, the nominated co-writer of “Alone Yet Not Alone” is a former governor of the Academy’s music branch has led some to question the integrity of the nomination, but that’s nonsense. For one thing, branch governors usually are active members of the film community, and therefore could find themselves nominated at any time. Broughton acknowledges that he made some phone calls asking people to pay attention to the song amidst many higher profile contenders, but he says that was the extent of his campaigning. Even if he did hire a publicist to raise awareness of the song before reaching out to people himself, which he seems to deny, his campaigning efforts are still mild compared to what goes on with studios and production companies who have deep pockets. I love the Oscars, but I’m not blind to the bullshit. Beware of introducing the concept of integrity into the process, lest the entire house of cards collapse. Much of the politics involved is dispiriting, and could be fixed if the Academy had the desire to do so. But some of it is just the reality of any democratic process. Did some members of the branch vote for the song because of a friendship with Broughton? Probably. But does anyone think that’s the first time in the history of the Academy Awards that people have voted for their friends?

Suspicion grew into sour grapes for some artists whose songs were not selected. One anonymous contender who missed out on a nomination told The Hollywood Reporter, “It doesn’t really surprise me — I think it’s just the latest example of how true art sometimes is overlooked by those in a position to make decisions about what is paid attention to and what is not — but it’s disheartening to a lot of artists.” In a more extreme example, a publicity firm representing a non-nominee went so far as to hire a private detective to investigate whether Alone Yet Not Alone met the Academy’s qualifications for advertising during its week-long run. But the Academy upheld the nomination. I have to laugh that anybody would go to those lengths, but the comment about “true art” being overlooked is almost as obnoxious as the Billy Ray comment referenced earlier. The song’s writers are no less deserving of the title “artist” than anyone else. And while “Alone Yet Not Alone” would be way down my list of deserving nominees, it’s a gentle, solemn hymn that is pretty enough, and all the more impressive for being sung by a 64 year-old quadriplegic whose lungs are so weak “that her husband needed to push on her diaphragm while she recorded the…song to give her enough breath to hit the high notes.”

Even if some voters in the 240-member music branch supported the song out of friendship to Broughton, it still seems unlikely that such loyalty would extend far enough for this song to make the final cut from a field of 75 contenders, many of which are more dynamic and memorable. But here it is, and it’s here to stay. The music branch and its rules remain strange. As another potential nominee who didn’t make it said to The Hollywood Reporter (quoted in the same piece as the “true art” comment above), “I can’t figure any of this shit out with the music branch.” Although perhaps spoken out of sore loserdom, at least the comment seems reasonable.

As for some of the choices that didn’t make the cut, well…there are too many to mention, but I do need to bring up one, which I talked about briefly in the previous post, and which further demonstrates the music branch’s ineffectual processes. That would be “So You Know What It’s Like,” from Short Term 12. The song is a brief, stripped down expression of anger and grief sung (and largely written) by Keith Stanfield, an actor in the film who plays a young man about to turn 18 and exit a foster care facility. Accompanied only by a light drum beat provided by another character, Stanfield’s Marcus begins the song quietly, mumbly at first, becoming more intense as he goes along and ending louder, clearer, and with more forceful pronunciation.

In not nominating this song, the music branch highlights its hypocrisy. The system insists on judging songs in the context of their movies (even though watching just a three minute clip of a song often ends up robbing it of such context), and ends up favoring songs that serve a function in the story over songs that just play over end credits. Yet still, the nominees tend to be full-sounding, “produced” tracks. Nothing wrong with any of that, as long as songs like this one aren’t getting ignored. (I’m also thinking back a few years to “Marcy’s Song” from Martha Marcy May Marlene, which John Hawkes’ character sings in the movie.) “So You Know What It’s Like” is less than two minutes long, but it reveals character and furthers the story better than “Alone Yet Not Alone” or Despicable Me 2‘s “Happy.” Nominating it might have helped to justify a rule that seems pointlessly constricting.

At least “The Moon Song,” from Her, got nominated. It’s first heard during the film being sung by Scarlett Johansson with some help from Joaquin Phoenix, before appearing over the end credits in a version by Karen O. The music branch must have a thing for Johansson; she also sang last year’s nominated song “Before My Time” from the documentary Chasing Ice. I wasn’t familiar with Karen O until she did music for Spike Jonze’s previous film, Where the Wild Things Are. Since then, she’s really been doing some great work in the film world. I liked the song “Strange Love” that she performed for last year’s animated Tim Burton movie Frankenweenie, and of course she sang that razor-sharp, aggressive cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for the teaser trailer and opening credits sequence of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Nice to see her get this nomination.

Will the chosen songs be performed during the show? There’s been some flip-flopping on this in recent years. Three of 2012’s nominated songs were performed live, two of them incorporated into larger tributes during the course of the show. The remaining two songs were spotlighted with clips from their movies. No word yet on how things will go this year, but regardless of what happens on the telecast, one new development is that the Academy is putting on a concert at UCLA a few days before Oscar night to celebrate all the nominated songs and scores. Their hope is that the original singers will be available to perform the songs, and the original composers on hand to conduct the selections from their scores. Then all the nominees, for Best Original Score at least, would appear on stage in conversation along with the directors of their movies.

If the concert is filmed, excerpts could be broadcast during the telecast in lieu of full performances, sort of the way the Oscar show features a highlight reel from the Governors Awards, at which honorary Oscars are presented earlier in the season. On the other hand, live performances on Oscar night could draw on some decent star power. U2 is nominated for “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and Frozen‘s nominated song “Let it Go” is performed by Idina Menzel in the movie and Demi Lovato in a pop version on the soundtrack album. If the song is performed at the show, they’ll hopefully go with Menzel, whose role in the movie gives her a more legitimate claim to the song. Although she’s in rehearsals for a new play, she told Entertainment Weekly she’s already got permission to attend the Oscars if they request her services. And Pharrell Williams might bring some fans to the show too. I would have gone for some other songs over “Happy,” but his track is light and bouncy, and he’s definitely coming off a big year thanks to his contributions to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” (He picked up a few Grammy awards just last night.) Having songs performed on the show may come down to whether the performing artists could be a ratings draw, so we’ll have to wait and see how this roster is valued, and how the concert affects the decision.

These nominees are an odd mix of safe choices and unexpected ones. I wonder how many members of the music branch actually listened to The Book Thief score and really felt it was among the year’s five best, and how many simply chose it because it was composed by John Williams. Heaven knows I loves me some Williams, but even the best can just be “meh” sometimes. On a brighter note, the branch also nominated the score for Her, a pleasant surprise since I thought it would be too unconventional for them. I didn’t think they were hip enough to nominate a couple of rockers over more traditional film composers, but I’m happy to be proven wrong. Hopefully this will prompt Warner Brothers to put out a soundtrack album for the movie; there isn’t one currently.

Even more surprising than the inclusion of Her was the exclusion of 12 Years a Slave, easily one the year’s best scores and one that was widely considered a sure thing. I’m not sure what happened there. The only thing I can think of is that voters found it repetitive. The score is driven by one main theme which is used throughout, but it’s such a beautiful melody and there are plenty of variations. (I’m reminded of another film set in the days of slavery which also had a fantastic score consisting largely of one theme, which was also unnominated: James Horner’s score for Glory.) When there’s a frontrunner movie that even comes close to having a chance in a below-the-line category like this and Best Cinematography, it usually finds its way there, whether it really deserves to or not. So the fact that 12 Years a Slave was passed over in both those areas is a headscratcher, since each are areas in which the movie stands out. In fact, missing Cinematography and Score but landing nods for Costume Design and Production Design seems completely backwards to me. The latter two nominations are the kind that happened because of the movie’s overall stature and not so much because the work is among the year’s absolute best. Some pundits are wondering if the lack of assumed Cinematography and Score nominations signal an unliklihood that 12 Years can go all the way. I’m not reading the leaves that way at the moment, but we’ll see how I feel in a month once the race has settled.

Everyone thought the elaborate hairdos of American Hustle would be a lock here, but the movie didn’t make the cut. Nor did The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which I thought might find some love here, if nowhere else. Instead the branch went for Dallas Buyers Club, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger, which tells me that despite the name change from Best Makeup to Best Makeup and Hairstyling, the branch’s voters still look at the skin more than than the hair. Still, I don’t recall much makeup or hair work in Dallas. There was some, but enough — and enough of a standout — to secure an Oscar nod? Not that quantity should trump quality, but surely there were other eligible films that featured both. As for Jackass, I should have known enough to predict that one. The aging makeup that turned Johnny Knoxville into an elderly man didn’t just have to hold up on camera; it had to hold up in real life, face to face, since the movie relies on Knoxville’s character interacting with real, unsuspecting people for a series of hidden-camera pranks. And the makeup branch is not a snobby one. It’s one of the few branches where a movie like Jackass, which is far from typical Academy fare, would be given serious consideration.

The big news here was the absence of Pacific Rim, which most pundits expected to be among the final five. Fewer predicted that The Lone Ranger would make it in, but despite being one of the year’s biggest punching bags (and not really deserving the beating it has taken), members of the visual effects branch were impressed with the movie’s work, much of which centered around a complex action sequence involving a couple of trains. That sequence, and the movie overall, spotlighted the kind of invisible effects that the general Academy membership, now that the vote is in their hands, will have no idea what to do with. Not that the movie has a chance anyway; this category was settled long ago. Still, whatever you may think of The Lone Ranger as a movie, its effects are excellent and it’s nice to see recognition for work that is less obvious but incredibly intricate. Congrats to my friends at ILM for their stellar work on this, and on Star Trek Into Darkness.

With that, the final phase of the season begins. Due to the Winter Olympics, the Oscars are a week later than usual this year. March 2 is the big night, and for what it’s worth, the Dolby Auditorium will be far more welcoming to the LGBT community than the Olympic Village in Sochi. Final voting doesn’t even open until February 14, and between now and Oscar night, the many guilds will hand out their awards, some of which could give a strong indication of where things are headed with the Academy. In fact, some of those awards have already been given out, but I’ll get into all of that goodness when I post my annual absurdly long predictions opus in the last few days before the show. I know, I know…how will you deal with the anticipation? I suggest checking out some Oscar nominated movies.

And now, because I like to end these things with a video, and because I couldn’t find one relevant to this year’s ceremony, and because she didn’t get nominated, here’s Emma Thompson winning a screenwriting Oscar for Sense and Sensibility. I always liked her line about visiting Jane Austen’s grave.

1 Comment »

  1. I agree, I wish Jonze got the directing nomination as well, Her felt effortless!

    Comment by May — January 31, 2014 @ 11:17 am | Reply

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