I Am DB

February 14, 2018

Oscars 2017: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars,TV — DB @ 12:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,

(Class of 2017 photo from Annual Nominee Luncheon. Click image for larger version to play Spot the Celebrity.)

Complete List of Nominees

For an Oscars geek, the morning of the nominations might be even more exciting than the night of the show. By the time Oscar night comes around, dozens of precursor awards have been handed out, each category has been narrowed down and while there are always surprises, there are only a few ways things could go. But nomination morning offers up so many more possibilities, as the field is still wide open and anything can happen. Well…maybe not anything. The Book of Henry wasn’t about to show up on the Best Picture list, nor was Dwayne Johnson’s performance in Baywatch going to score him that long elusive Best Actor recognition. But within the realm of reason fortified by 90 years of Academy Awards history, anything can happen on the morning of the nominations.

Beginning as always in the dreaded 5 a.m. hour, this year’s nominations once again tried something a little different. After last year’s abandonment of the traditional live announcement in favor of a video intercutting comments and memories from past Oscar winners with a bland reading of all the nominees by an anonymous fembot, this year’s presentation combined the two approaches. Before a crowd of gathered press, Academy President John Bailey made some brief introductory remarks, then turned the program over to Andy Serkis and Tiffany Hadish, who announced the nominees. The video component came in the form of some stylish introductions for the below-the-line categories, each starring a female actress/Academy member. Priyanka Chopra, Rosario Dawson, Gal Gadot, Salma Hayek, Michelle Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana, Molly Shannon, Rebel Wilson and Michelle Yeoh appeared in the intros, which added some fun to what can be a dry event while also shining a small but notable spotlight on a diverse group of women. The structure was still a bit awkward, as Serkis and Haddish would read each category’s nominees and then introduce another video. It might have felt less disjointed if each participating actress could also have read their category’s nominees, but of course the videos would have been produced long before the nominees were known, and the logistics of having each actress present to read the nominees live would be complicated. Academy headquarters essentially go on lockdown the night before the announcement, and the presenters spend the night there. That operation is easier to accommodate with two people than with a dozen. Still, this was definitely an improvement over last year, and Haddish added some inadvertent entertainment value as she struggled reading many of the nominee names but maintained her sense of humor throughout.

If for some inexplicable reason you don’t want to watch the entire 30 minute announcement, you can at least check out the intro videos here. I wish I could have learned more about how these came to be, who directed them, etc., but I couldn’t find any details. Missed story opportunity, EW.com.

I had a pretty good morning as far as predictions go. I was only 100% in four categories (Actress, Supporting Actor, Production Design and Sound Mixing), but in 12 others I missed by just one. I don’t have too many thoughts to share on how things shook out, but here are a few.

BEST PICTURE
My typical go-to decision to predict nine nominees worked out this year, and I only faltered by including The Florida Project, which was the one I was least sure about as I finalized my picks. I took it off the list, put it back on the list, took it off the list…and finally put it back on, thinking the voting contingent that had supported child-centric movies like Room and Beasts of the Southern Wild in recent years might propel this indie gem onto the final list. I’m sure it had support, but not enough to land it a spot. The nominee I failed to predict – which came as a surprise to just about everyone; I didn’t see any lists that had it – was Phantom Thread. The re-teaming of Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis did extremely well, with a few other unexpected nominations on its way to a tally of six. There’s no question that PTA is widely admired in the Academy, but you never know from film to film how much they’re going to show it.

By the way, reviewing past editions of this annual post, I realize it’s been a few years since I railed against the constant use of the word “snub.” Every media outlet covering the nominations loves to point out all the movies that were snubbed and the actors that were snubbed. I feel I’d be remiss not to get back atop my soapbox and briefly decry this yearly exercise in stupidity. EW.com‘s list of snubs and surprises pointed out six Best Picture snubs. That amounts to two-thirds of the entire list of nominees. And if any of the nominated films had been passed over, those would have been called out as snubs. Of the movies that did get nominated, only one was really a surprise, with maybe two more thought to be on the bubble. None of these so-called snubbed movies pointed out were any better positioned or more widely expected to be nominated than most of the movies that actually were. These aren’t snubs, idiots. They’re just movies that missed out. Please stop being lazy and talking about these movies that came up short as if there was anything more to their omission than falling victim to an overcrowded field and the whims of several thousand voters.

BEST DIRECTOR
Thank God. Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig both made the cut, for Get Out and Lady Bird respectively, sparing us the litany of opinion pieces we’d have been subjected to if either or both had failed to be recognized. Don’t misunderstand me; the historical scarcity of women and people of color in this category (and many others) is not unworthy of attention. Peele is only the fifth black director ever nominated (John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen and Barry Jenkins precede him) and Gerwig only the fifth woman (after Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and the sole winner, Kathryn Bigelow). Those stats are sufficiently shocking. But as they relate to the recent #OscarsSoWhite outcry, or #OscarsSoMale – which isn’t a thing, but could be (the acting categories notwithstanding) – they are far more the result of a chronic lack of opportunity for filmmakers in those demographics to tell their stories to mainstream audiences than they are of an ingrained bias on the part of Academy voters. So above any other reason, the presence of Peele and Gerwig pleases me because it means we don’t have to hear about an imaginary aversion within the Academy to directors who aren’t white males.

Now…about the white males. While it wasn’t a big surprise by this point in the season, the nomination for Christopher Nolan was cause for his fans to celebrate after he had been left out of this category two or three times too many over the years. Hopefully this is only the first of many more to come. The category’s big surprises were the absence of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri‘s Martin McDonagh and the inclusion of Phantom Thread‘s Paul Thomas Anderson. I thought this might be one of those rare years where the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and Academy were in complete agreement, but McDonagh was the point of diversion. Given Three Billboards‘ momentum in the Best Picture race – top honors at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards make it a strong contender – he seemed a likely nominee, but not a lock. I suspect he came close, but in the end he was kept at bay by an unexpected swell of support for Anderson. No complaints from me about the turn of events that delivered PTA into the final five. He’s one of my favorites, and Phantom Thread finds him in peak form.

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BEST ACTOR

One of my instincts paid off here, and one didn’t. The one that did: James Franco missing out. Of course, nearly every outlet commenting on his “snub” (grrrr) wrote about it as if the accusations against him during the Oscar voting period – first via a series of tweets and then elaborated upon in a Los Angeles Times story – were the reason he wasn’t nominated, definitively. I’m less certain. Although Franco got a lot of recognition throughout the season, including Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nominations and a Golden Globe win, I had my doubts all along that an Oscar nomination would follow. Yes, it’s important to weigh all the precursor awards to gauge who and what has momentum, but you also need to do some thinking for yourself about what does or doesn’t feel like it will resonate with Academy members. You won’t always be right, but these things are impossible to ever fully know, so sometimes you need to apply reason and instinct. Anyone doing so should have questioned Franco’s chances. That performance was never a sure thing…as much as anything can be a sure thing. Franco is funny in The Disaster Artist, no doubt, but at the end of the day the performance is an impersonation of someone whose natural state feels like a vibrant exaggeration to begin with. Franco may do an uncanny Tommy Wiseau, but was he going to get an Oscar nomination for that? Possibly. Yet there was always reason to doubt, even before he got swept up in the #MeToo movement. I’m sure the accusations cost him some votes, but I’m not convinced they made the difference. We’ll never know, but my gut tells me Franco would have been omitted regardless.

The instinct that failed to pay off was Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya. I didn’t, and still don’t, understand the elevation of his performance to any list of the year’s very best. He does good work and serves the movie perfectly well; I’ve got nothing negative to say about him. I’m just confounded by the level of acclaim he’s garnered. Yes, he was armed with a Golden Globe nomination and additional nods from SAG, BFCA and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), and yes, that precursor quartet usually leads to an Oscar nomination…but not always. I let the occasional exceptions to that rule, along with my own opinion – which would surely be shared by the majority of voters – convince me that Kaluuya might not make it. It was possible. But it wasn’t likely, and I probably should have known better. If I thought he deserved the nomination, would I have predicted him? I probably would have.

Thinking that Franco and Kaluuya would miss, I predicted Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. There was room for Washington, but Hanks was once again left out. Although I wasn’t able to make room for Denzel on my personal list, he was definitely right on the edge. I hope the nomination brings some attention to Roman J. Israel, Esq. The movie is decent, but Denzel is the reason to see it. He’s never played a character like this before, and it was fun to see him do something so different.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
I was off by two in this category. I didn’t think Mary J. Blige would make it despite having reasonable momentum. The part seemed too small and too lacking in the kind of showcase moments that would catch the attention of enough voters to gather her the necessary support. But here she is, and her nomination marks the first major-category recognition for a Netflix release. Mudbound picked up three additional nominations, including recognition in another top-category: Best Adapted Screenplay, where director and co-writer Dee Rees became the first black woman ever nominated. Netflix would have liked Mudbound to crack the Best Picture race, but the nominations it did get – some of which made Oscar history – help disprove the idea of a bias against the company and its releases.

My other miss was Lesley Manville. Many hoped but few expected that the Phantom Thread co-star would find a spot, but voters’ undetected appreciation for the movie carried her along, much to my delight. Manville is excellent as Daniel Day-Lewis’ steely sister and business partner. She doesn’t necessarily say much verbally, but speaks volumes with her posture and facial expressions. And when she does talk, she can cut right to the bone. Well done, Academy!

Alas, pleasant surprises usually come at another contender’s expense, and in this case Holly Hunter and Hong Chau were the two most notable omissions. Hunter was widely expected to be included, and although I enjoyed her greatly in The Big Sick, I don’t know that the role merited a nomination. I’m more disappointed by the absence of Chau. I understand Downsizing didn’t catch on, but Chau was something special, and her multilayered performance was deserving. Hopefully the attention she did garner for the movie will at least lead to more prominent roles in high profile projects.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY AND BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

I missed by one in each screenwriting category, but in both cases I was happy to be wrong. I mean…I would rather have been right…but I’m glad about the picks the Academy made that I didn’t. For Original Screenplay, that was The Big Sick. It had unwavering momentum going in, and most pundits expected it to be there, but I thought it might be taken down (with an attack to the kneecaps, maybe?) by I, Tonya. In the Adapted Screenplay race, the Writers Guild of America’s (WGA) choices were mirrored, which meant a nomination for Logan. Maybe still stinging 10 years later from the omission of The Dark Knight, I didn’t think the Academy would go for a comic book adaptation, even one as grounded and somber as Wolverine’s swan song. But how great to see it here, the first writing nomination for a movie based on a “superhero” comic. Expecting it to be passed over, I instead predicted The Beguiled. I didn’t really think that would be included, but it seemed more probable than Logan.

One other comment about Best Original Screenplay. Given the robust support for Phantom Thread, it’s surprising that it did not land writing recognition. Paul Thomas Anderson is a four-time screenwriting nominee (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice), and this could have been an obvious place to honor a typically unique Anderson vision. But voters stuck to the script – no pun intended – and nominated the five favored choices. I can’t argue with that, even if it would have been nice to see Phantom Thread. This category has felt mostly locked for some time now, with Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri all but assured and all supremely deserving. As discussed above, I thought there was some wiggle room with The Big Sick, but that I, Tonya would have been the beneficiary. This was always going to be a tough race to penetrate, and Phantom Thread probably came up just a bit short.

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BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Seriously? Victoria & Abdul? Over Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2? If I were one of the Academy’s top officials, I would be deeply concerned about whatever ailment befell the members of the Makeup and Hairstyling branch causing them to all go blind over the past year. For clearly that’s what must have happened. There can be no other logical explanation for Victoria & Abdul beating out Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. If there’s one place this year where I might consider calling out a snub, this would be it. I don’t know what bias the branch members might have against the crew from Guardians, but maybe there’s some bad blood somewhere in there, because this is such a comically incomprehensible outcome that there must be an agenda at work.

Okay okay…I didn’t see Victoria & Abdul. But I’ve seen the trailer and I’ve seen pictures and I’m confidant I’ve seen enough to know that there’s no way anyone can make a legitimate case for Victoria & Abdul over Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 in a category recognizing achievements in makeup. Are you kidding me with this?

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
The big shock here was the absence of Dunkirk. Although CGI tends to dominate the landscape, practical effects often find a place among the nominees, and Dunkirk was heavily favored, given the overall admiration for Christopher Nolan’s film and its impressive staging, particularly the aerial sequences. Less of a shock but still a surprise was the omission of The Shape of Water, another widely appealing contender and Best Picture prospect with VFX work that’s beautiful if not necessarily groundbreaking. Instead, the visual effects branch members eschewed their tendency to recognize at least one “prestige” film, and kept the focus on the effects themselves. Dunkirk and The Shape of Water would have been deserving, but so are the two films seen as taking their spots: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Kong: Skull Island. The former showcased a wide variety of superb work, from CG characters and creatures to environments to the impressive de-aging of Kurt Russell for his flashback scene. Kong, meanwhile, boasted outstanding creature effects, not just in the form of the towering simian, but in the titular locale’s many other denizens, most of them as creepy as they are gigantic. The 10 semi-finalists were all impressive this year, so some tough choices had to be made.

 

See, that wasn’t so bad. Just a little light reading between the behemoth prediction posts. Until the next one of those comes along, here are my wishful thinking Oscar categories and nominees, not necessarily concerned with five per category. Because I’m a rebel and I like to break the rules.

BEST POSTER

[Larger Versions: mother! (Lawrence); mother! (Bardem); The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; All the Money in the World; Murder on the Orient Express; Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (IMAX); Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Teaser); Wilson; Kong: Skull Island (IMAX); Kong: Skull Island; Baby Driver; Colossal; Wonder Wheel; The Hitman’s Bodyguard]

BEST TRAILER
Dunkirk (Final); It (Teaser); The Lego Batman Movie (Batcave Teaser)Logan (Teaser); mother!; Thor: Ragnarok (Teaser)Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Red Band);

BEST CASTING
Baby Driver – Francine Maisler
Battle of the Sexes – Kim Davis, Justine Baddeley
The Big Sick – Gayle Keller
The Florida Project – Carmen Cuba
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – Sarah Halley Finn
It – Rich Delia
Lady Bird – Allison Jones, Ben Harris
Phantom Thread – Cassandra Kulukundis
The Post – Ellen Lewis
Spider-Man: Homecoming – Sarah Halley Finn
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Sarah Halley Finn
Thor: Ragnarok – Sarah Halley Finn

BEST ENSEMBLE
Baby Driver; It; Lady Bird; Logan; Mudbound; The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE
Tiffany Hadish – Girls Trip
Sylvia Hoeks – Blade Runner 2049
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Dafne Keen – Logan
Vicky Krieps – Phantom Thread
Brooklynn Prince – The Florida Project
Algee Smith – Detroit
Bria Vinaite – The Florida Project
Fionn Whitehead – Dunkirk

BEST BODY OF WORK
Colin Farrell (The Beguiled/The Killing of a Sacred Deer/Roman J. Israel, Esq.)
Woody Harrelson (The Glass Castle/LBJ/Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri/War for the Planet of the Apes/Wilson)
Caleb Landry Jones (American Made/The Florida Project/Get Out/Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name/The Post/The Shape of Water)

BEST SONG SOUNDTRACK
Baby Driver; The Disaster Artist; The Greatest Showman; Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2; I, Tonya

BEST OPENING CREDITS
Baby Driver; Call Me By Your Name

BEST CLOSING CREDITS
Beauty and the Beast; Call Me By Your Name; The Greatest Showman; Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Wasn’t that fun?

Lastly, here’s a brief montage of all of this year’s Oscar nominated films. May it inspire you to check a few out between now and Oscar night, March 4.

 

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February 19, 2017

Oscars 2016: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars,TV — DB @ 6:15 pm
Tags: , , , ,

(Class of 2016 photo from Annual Nominee Luncheon. Click image to enlarge and actually see who these people are.)

Complete List Of Nominees

With everything going on in the world, it seems particularly frivolous to spend the kind of time I do writing about, reading about, and thinking about the Academy Awards. But I’m much better equipped to talk about this than I am about the more important things going on, and since there are countless people vastly more qualified to discuss and dissect and spotlight those things — some of those people in my very own family — I’m going to stick with what I’m good at and focus on something that makes me happy, since every day there are a dozen reasons to cry.

Actually, that may not be the most ideal way to draw the line, since looking at recent movies also gives us a dozen reasons to cry. Lion, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea — which delivers one of the most devastating scenes of this year, or last year, or 1983, or 1971…I could go on — these are just some of the movies that lately gave us reasons to cry. But these are cathartic tears, the kind made possible by art’s capacity to move us. Good tears, in other words.

Once again, I’m pretty late with this post – external forces are partly to blame this time — but Oscar voting only started last Monday and closes on Tuesday, so somehow I feel like that lets me off the hook a little bit. I’m not sure why voting didn’t start much sooner after the nominees were announced, but oh well. We’re here now. Phase Two of awards season began at the unfathomable hour of 5:18am on Tuesday, January 24, when the nominees were unveiled in a two-part video produced by the Academy. This was a departure from the tradition of having the nominees announced live by the Academy President and an actor or actress in a room full of journalists and publicists at the unfathomable hour of 5:38am. The video featured past Oscar winner and nominees — including Marcia Gay Harden, Ken Watanabe, Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and writer/director Jason Reitman — talking about their experiences, interspersed with a lady robot reading off the nominations in each category. It was a nice experiment, but maybe could be adjusted in the future, as it wasn’t entirely successful. The interviews included some trite, “most amazing moment of my life” kind of recollections, and the revelation of the nominees themselves were even more dry than they typically are in the live format. At least with an audience you get some gasps and cheers. Here, just that alarmingly neutral female voice. There weren’t even pictures of the films or actors as each nominee was read. There’s got to be a way to have a little more fun with this kind of format, and to maybe get a couple of those participating actors to actually read the nominees. Filming ahead of time obviously makes that difficult since the nominees can not be revealed until that morning, but making magic is what Hollywood does. I believe in you, Academy! And whatever you do, bring back Gabourey Sidibe, cause she was the best part of this thing.

As for the nominations themselves, I was a pretty happy man that morning, as much as I can be at the unfathomable hour of 5:18. Not only did I do pretty well with my predictions, but there were several cases where I might have missed a call but found one of my personal picks nominated instead. There were at least three times where I audibly exclaimed, and I don’t remember that happening in many an early Oscar morning. Of the 19 categories in which I made predictions, I went 100% in five (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Animated Feature, Best Makeup and Hairstyling), and missed by one in 11. I’m good with that.

Here are some thoughts I had on certain categories…

BEST PICTURE
These Best Picture numbers keep getting the best of me. After three years of nine nominees beginning in 2011, I continued predicting nine, but the last two years yielded only eight. So this year I went with eight…and they nominated nine. I did get those eight correct, and right up until publication I was debating whether to add Hidden Figures —and whether to add it as a ninth, or slide it in and take out Fences or Hacksaw Ridge. I decided to stick with eight and keep my initial list intact, but it was great to see Hidden Figures included. It’s a satisfying crowdpleaser bolstered by terrific reviews and genuine social and historical significance that hit its stride at exactly the right time, in the middle of the voting period. The rest of the line-up went as pundits seemed to expect. I could have seen Fences or Hacksaw Ridge having lost enough momentum to be passed over, but they held on.

BEST DIRECTOR
As is usually the case, the Academy’s picks did not perfectly align with those made by the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), and I was correct that it would be Lion helmer Garth Davis who missed the cut. I thought Martin Scorsese might get the fifth slot, but instead it went to another previous winner, Mel Gibson. This seemed to surprise many people, but not me so much. The industry’s warm embrace of Hacksaw Ridge since its early November debut, and Gibson’s inclusion in the award season melee — from Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nominations to a seat at The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual roundtable of directors — were high-profile evidence that the industry had accepted Gibson back into the fold and moved on from the public displays of bad behavior that so damaged his reputation over the past decade.

Then again, Gibson was never quite the pariah during these past years that everyone seems to think he was. He’s always had A-list friends in his corner — like Jodie Foster and Robert Downey, Jr. — who stood by him and expressed their firm belief that the person who did and said those things is not the person Gibson is at heart. Beyond that, he continued to find employment. Foster directed him in the The Beaver; he starred in the Warner Bros. revenge thriller Edge of Darkness, which was a modest hit in 2010; and he took on the antagonist roles in the popcorn action flicks Machete Kills and The Expendables 3. They aren’t exactly Hamlet, but they have an audience. So Gibson never fully went away; he just hasn’t been this openly welcomed in a long time. Perhaps the applause that greet his name when this category comes up on Oscar night will be a bit quieter than that of his fellow nominees; surely not everyone in the room will have forgotten past events. Or maybe his name will be greeted as enthusiastically as the others. The fact that he got the nomination is a victory.

I also need to mention Arrival director Denis Villeneuve and how great it is to see him score his first Oscar nomination (he directed 2010 Best Foreign Language Film nominee Incendies, but that award goes to the country, not the filmmaker, so although he would have accepted the prize had the movie won, he wasn’t the nominee). I’ve been high on Villeneuve since he landed on my radar with his 2013 kidnapping drama Prisoners, and he was among my personal picks in this category last year for Sicario. This guy is a fantastic director, fully in command of the medium and the stories he’s telling. He wasn’t among my personal choices this year, but I only recently had the chance to watch Arrival for a second time, and I definitely got more out of it this time. I might have included it personally in several categories if I’d had a chance to see it twice before the nominations. Whether I would have included him or not, I’m excited by his nomination.

BEST ACTOR
Of the five nominees, Viggo Mortensen was the one who felt the most vulnerable going in, even with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nomination under his belt. But he made it, along his four fellow SAG contenders, and I have to acknowledge it, because Viggo Mortensen is awesome. A great actor and class act all the way (scroll to the end of this recent interview for his story about the dinner he organized for his Captain Fantastic kids after the SAG Awards). He’s one of those actors — Sigourney Weaver, Ed Harris, Bill Murray and Michael Keaton are others that come to mind — who I really really want to see win an Oscar, so with every new role they take on that sounds like it has that sort of potential, I get excited for them and hope that the movie and performance are good enough, and catch the right wave of attention and bring them into the award season orbit. He’s not going to win, but I love that he got the nomination.

I was also happy to see Andrew Garfield score his first nomination. It should have been his second, but he missed out in 2010 for The Social Network. His character is Hacksaw Ridge is a tricky one, so unflappably earnest and pure that he could have come off as laughable. But Garfield found his way into the character’s core and sold the role 100% and then some. It’s been great to see him celebrated for it throughout the season.

BEST ACTRESS
The biggest surprise of the morning in terms of an expected nomination that did not come to pass was easily Amy Adams’ absence from the Best Actress list. It’s perplexing for a couple of reasons. One, as I mentioned in the previous post, the Academy adores Adams. Two, the movie was obviously embraced across the Academy, with recognition above the line — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay — and below the line, from Cinematography to Sound Mixing. Given how central her performance and her character’s emotional state is to the entire fabric of the movie, her omission is rather stunning. With nominations not only from nearly every critics organization during Phase One, but also from key bodies like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (distributor of the Golden Globes), BFCA, SAG and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), Adams was considered nearly as sure a thing as sure things Natalie Portman and Emma Stone.

We have to remember, though, that each branch nominates its own, so looking at all the other mentions Arrival earned doesn’t ultimately matter. One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, and although Adams missed out amongst her peers, I’d wager she collected plenty of votes and came awfully close to making the list.

The question of who took Adams’ perceived spot has a different answer depending on how you saw the nominations going. Some might say it was Elle‘s Isabelle Huppert. By this point in the season, however, I felt Huppert was a good bet. So to me, the surprise is Ruth Negga. She didn’t came out-of-nowhere, having remained consistently in the mix since Loving‘s early November release (in fact the buzz for her and the movie really started last May at the Cannes Film Festival). But given the number of compelling performances that could have been nominated this year, Negga had become a longer shot, and she represents the only nomination received by Loving. I was thrilled to see her recognized, as she was one of my personal picks, but it was a fiercely competitive field, and any number of actresses deserved a spot only to miss out. Chief among them in my eyes are Rebecca Hall and Annette Bening. It was never expected to happen for Hall, unfortunately, but Bening was firmly in the running, so her omission is tough to take. She’s wonderful in 20th Century Women — dry, relaxed, introspective…I’ve never seen her play anyone quite like the character she plays here, and I’m sad she wasn’t honored for it.

I certainly would have preferred to see Bening over Meryl Streep, who earned her 20th nomination, breaking a record previously held by Meryl Streep. I love Meryl as much as anyone, and I enjoyed Florence Foster Jenkins quite a bit — more than I expected to. I have nothing bad to say about Streep’s performance; there was just stronger work this year that deserved recognition.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
One the most pleasant surprises among this year’s nominations was Michael Shannon, recognized for his intense, oddly comedic and sad portrayal of a West Texas detective working a case sometimes outside the boundaries of the law. Shannon earned strong reviews and awards buzz when the movie came out, but as the season unfolded it was his co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson who took people by surprise with the most visible recognition (though Shannon was nominated by the BFCA). Taylor-Johnson was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award, and pulled off a huge upset by winning the former. That had led most pundits to expect that if anyone from Nocturnal Animals managed a nomination, it would be him. So it came somewhat out of left-field when Shannon’s name closed out the Academy’s list of Supporting Actor nominees. It’s the actor’s second nomination — his first was in 2008 for Revolutionary Road, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates — and in both cases he came up from behind as a long shot. Many people thought he’d be in the running last year for the drama 99 Homes after he earned Golden Globe, SAG and BFCA nominations. It didn’t happen, but his peers celebrated him this year even without any of those accolades boosting his visibility. The nomination is even more surprising because it represents the only one collected by Nocturnal Animals, a film which several other organizations honored in multiple categories. BAFTA was especially high on it, citing it in nine races.

If anyone is seen as missing out at Shannon’s expense, it’s probably Hugh Grant. He received career-best notices for his work opposite Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins, and odds looked good for him to receive his first nomination. Some pundits seem to think that category confusion may have cost him the honor, as his Golden Globe nomination came for Best Actor (Comedy or Musical) while his other nominations – SAG and BAFTA among them – were for Supporting Actor. I’m not convinced this was a factor. The Golden Globes have a bit more room to play with given their separation of drama and comedy, but Grant’s role pretty clearly is a Supporting one, and I’d be surprised if those Academy voters who did include him on their ballots did so in the Lead Actor category vs. Supporting.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Cheers to the writers for honoring the bizarre and imaginative screenplay for The Lobster, by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou. It didn’t pick up any other nominations, but its premise and execution had to earn it a place here. Hell or High Water, La La Land and Manchester by the Sea were all favorites, but it was tough trying to surmise what might get the fifth spot. I guessed Captain Fantastic, and I know that was a popular choice among other players of this game. I’d have been pleased with that, but I was also happy to see Mike Mills nominated for 20th Century Women, which begins with the great idea of a single mother enlisting the help of two other women in her life to help educate her teenage son in how to be a good man. Mills’ mother was the inspiration for Annette Bening’s character, just as his father inspired the character that Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for playing in Mills’ previous film, Beginners. His script is personal, warm, and generous to all of its characters. Terrific choice by the branch.

It’s also worth pointing out that Hell or High Water writer Taylor Sheridan got his first nomination, a year after missing out for Sicario, which as mentioned above was directed by Denis Villeneuve. That movie should have brought nominations for both of them. Nice to see them both here this year.

BEST FILM EDITING
I was a little surprised to see Manchester by the Sea miss out on this. This category tends to include the leading Best Picture nominees whether or not they seem to feature the most effective editing, but Manchester does take a somewhat non-linear approach to its story by withholding details of the event that defines Casey Affleck’s character when we meet him. It isn’t until midway through the film that we learn what happened to him, and even then the story is doled out in small fragments within a single sequence.

One nomination of note: Joi Mcmillan, co-editor of Moonlight, becomes the first African-American woman nominated for an Oscar in this category. With the #OscarsSoWhite movement still active in calling attention to the scarcity of women and people of color in behind-the-scenes positions, this recognition is great to see.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Another of my audible exclamations on the morning of the nominations came when Passengers was nominated for Best Production Design. Not only was it among my five personal picks, but I specifically made a point of praising the movie’s design and wondering why no one was talking about it as a contender in this area despite the Academy’s frequent recognition of more traditional “spaceship” movies. Too often, movies that aren’t seen as the Academy’s cup of tea are overlooked in areas where they nevertheless stand out, and not given the consideration they deserve. Although it was released at the height of awards season, Passengers was always a commercial play more than an awards one, but good for Academy voters who gave it a look and recognized its achievement in specific areas, regardless of its overall reception or its intended audience. Further demonstrating the movie’s achievement in this realm: The Art Directors Guild handed Passengers the prize in their Fantasy category, where it topped Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Doctor Strange and Rogue One.

This is one of two categories where my predictions were off by two; I got Arrival, La La Land and Fantastic Beasts; I missed Jackie and Silence. But those two slots went to Passengers and another of my personal picks, Hail, Caesar! (its sole nomination), so I have no complaints.

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN

The nominees here include Jackie, a movie I would have nominated in several categories (sorry, Aunt Geri). This, however, was not one of them, even if it was among my predictions. I would agree that Jackie boasts some of the most striking and beautiful costumes onscreen this year, but when many of those costumes are re-creations of already famous outfits — even iconic, in the case of the pink suit from the day of the assassination — then it irks me to see the results, however impressive, honored over work that didn’t have the benefit of countless photographs and even film footage to guide the design team. While clothes that Mrs. Kennedy wore in more private moments might have had to be imagined, many if not most of the outfits in Jackie are based on things actually worn by the former First Lady and those around her. I don’t want to minimize the difficulties, challenges or ultimate achievement that go into re-creating the design elements — be they costumes or sets — of true-life events, but when you’re singling out the five best achievements of the year, it has always seemed unfair to me when films that had the advantage of historical evidence are celebrated over original works.

Original work like the kind featured in Kubo and the Two Strings, whose vestiary praises I sung in the previous post. Failing to nominate the exceptional work in Kubo — which would have made it the first animated film to receive such an honor, though not the first to deserve it — was a huge missed opportunity for the Costume Design branch. I would love to know if it got a lot of votes and lost by a small number, or if there weren’t many voters who gave it serious consideration. I have to believe the former, because I don’t see how anyone who works as a costume designer and takes their craft seriously could fail to pay due attention to such sumptuous work.

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG
In the previous post I mentioned that with so many strong contenders in the mix, the category probably couldn’t handle three songs from La La Land, which would mean the exclusion of John Legend’s contribution, “Start a Fire.” However I had forgotten the current rule that no more than two songs from a movie can get nominated, so as it turned out the category really couldn’t handle three. But the two expected tunes from La La Land — “City of Stars” and  “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” — made the cut. With 91 songs to choose from, there are obviously a lot of ways for this category to go, but I’m pretty disappointed by the absence of Sia’s “Never Give Up” from Lion and especially “Drive It Like You Stole It” from the sadly underseen Sing Street – omissions that are all the more frustrating when they were partially kept at bay by Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” from Trolls. Okay, everyone loves JT, and the song was an instant hit when it came out last May (seven months before the movie’s release, to capitalize on its summery vibe). It was the best-selling song of the year in the U.S., and it’s fun and energizing and will probably make for a great production number on Oscar night that will have the crowd grooving. But c’mon, this song is the the sugariest stick of bubblegum you could imagine. I’m not saying a song has to be deep or particularly substantive to deserve an Oscar nomination, but “Drive It Like You Stole It” is just as infectious as “Can’t Stop the Feeling” — more so, to my ear — and definitely more interesting lyrically. It doesn’t strive to be much more than a catchy pop song either, but it has a little bit more to say than “feel the music, get up and dance.”

Oh well. What’s done is done. But you should go watch Sing Street. Right now.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Another of my most pleasant nomination surprises came in this category, and once again it was for Passengers. I mentioned Thomas Newman’s score in my predictions post, but didn’t think it had much of a chance. I even lamented that I pushed it off of my personal picks, but it was right there for me, essentially on even ground with the five scores I did pick as my own choices. Newman is Hollywood royalty (his father Alfred is one of the most famous film composers of all time, whose work includes this brief but iconic piece) and a beloved composer who has been nominated in this category 12 times before (and maddeningly, is still seeking his first win). Whether or not his stature among his peers helped him this year or they just dug the music, it was a nomination I was happy to see. Ditto for Mica Levi’s Jackie score, which was also one of my personal picks, but one I thought might be too odd and untraditional to penetrate deeply enough into the ranks of the music branch. Happily, they surprised me. Less happily, they also surprised me by passing over Abel Korzeniowski’s lush, romantic Nocturnal Animals score, which has a classic, old-school Hollywood feel that I thought would be a big appeal to this crowd. Maybe it was, but not enough so to crack the final five.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Most people with an interest in visual effects were probably surprised by the inclusion of Deepwater Horizon, and I would have been too had I not attended the branch’s Bake-Off event, as I discussed in the previous post. Hearing the VFX supervisor talk about his team’s work made me realize how deserving the movie was, and I was glad the voters felt the same way. The bigger question mark was whether or not they would honor the stop-motion animated Kubo and the Two Strings. I wasn’t sure they would, as my predictions showed, nor was I sure they should, as my commentary expressed. But despite my mixed feelings, I have to say that seeing the movie show up on the list of nominees brought me a big smile. Even though I didn’t include it among my personal picks, I knew what a triumph it was for everyone up at Laika Entertainment to receive this nomination — only the second ever for an animated film.

I thought the spot that ended up going to Kubo would be given to Arrival, given the branch’s frequent tendency to nominate at least one “prestige” film. Among the ten films left in the running when the Bake-Off was held, Arrival was the only one in serious running for Best Picture and other top awards, so history led me to expect it among the final five. The movie’s visual effects look great, but in a tough year that also could have resulted in deserved nominations for Passengers and Captain America: Civil War, I think the final picks represent a terrific array of work.

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BEST SOUND MIXING AND BEST SOUND EDITING

When discussing the sound categories in my predictions post, and the wide array of films from which they could come, I named 16 titles that I thought represented the field. Even with that many, I still left one off that ended up getting nominated for Sound Mixing: Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, a movie that came out way the hell back in January 2016, the day after last year’s Oscar nominations were announced. I was an idiot not to have kept this movie on my radar; Bay’s movies tend to do well in the sound categories, and had I remembered it, I definitely would have had it among my list of movies to consider, whether or not I’d have ultimately predicted a nomination. So that was a glaring oversight on my part.

I didn’t include La La Land in my predictions for Sound Editing because musicals and music-centric movies never get nominated here. Sound Mixing, yes. Sound Editing, no. I knew this movie could potentially be the one to change that, but I went with precedent. Sure enough, it came through, pushing La La Land to a record-tying 14 nominations, and ruining all future chances when making predictions in this category of saying, “Musicals never get nominated for Sound Editing.” So thanks for that, Academy. As if this isn’t hard enough…

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
As usual, I didn’t make predictions in this category, having not seen any of the films in the mix. But I was aware of the movies in the running, and aware that one of the most frequent winners from critic’s groups was O.J.: Made in America, a nearly eight-hour sociological deep dive into the life, professional career and downfall of O.J. Simpson. The project was created for television as part of ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series, but because it was briefly exhibited in movie theaters in New York and Los Angeles, it qualified for Oscar consideration and made the cut. Count me among the contingent that finds this unfair. Yes, technically the movie qualifies. But this was not created to be a theatrical documentary, and it’s not right that other films — which were intended to be films (not epic television projects) and had to work within a traditional theatrical running time — should have to be measured against a piece that had hours more to explore its subject and tell its story. Regardless of how good it is – and by all accounts it’s an incredible piece of work – it shouldn’t be considered alongside other films whose directors had to make harder choices about what to sacrifice and what to focus on. The movie is considered the frontrunner, but if I were one of the other nominated filmmakers, I’d find it extremely frustrating not to be judged on a relatively even playing field.

On a more positive note, the great Ava DuVernay — who should have been a Best Director nominee in 2014 for Selma — is a nominee now for her doc 13th, which argues that the mass incarceration of African-Americans is effectively the continuation of slavery. Hopefully this is the first of many Oscar nominations DuVernay will collect in time. (By the way, 13th‘s distributor Netflix has addressed the disparity in running time with O.J.: Made in America by putting out billboards and banner ads that highlight its more traditional length.)

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Now then…I can’t wrap this post up without commenting on one aspect of this year’s nominations that has already been frequently-discussed. Much of the reporting in the minutes and days after the announcement centered on the inclusion of several actors of color among the nominees, as well as three films in the Best Picture category focused on African-American characters. Many outlets were quick to declare #OscarsSoWhite a thing of the past. This year’s nominations indeed take us in the direction we should be heading, but let’s not be too quick to declare Hollywood a post-racial paradise of inclusion.

First of all, none of these movies — Moonlight, Fences or Hidden Figures — arrived in theaters as a reaction to the past two years’ unfortunate lack of diverse stories and performers nominated for Oscars. Movies take a long time to make. They take a long time to write, a long time to gestate and develop, and a long time to land financing. That’s all before the cast and crew takes shape and the movie actually gets shot and then edited and assembled in post-production. It doesn’t happen in a year’s time. It seldom happens in even two years’ time. That means these movies were already in the works. If anything, they may have been put on an accelerated track for release to ensure they hit theaters within a year of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, but whenever they were going to arrive, the important thing to remember is that they were going to arrive.    Whether or not they would have gained traction with the Academy in a different year would be subject to all the other movies in the mix, but you can safely bet they would all still have been in play. The fact remains, however, that the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag will be hiding in the wings, ready to be dusted off and displayed again anytime the year’s most celebrated movies do not reflect the diversity of the real world.

Of course, directing that rallying cry at the Oscars was misguided from the start, as the problem is not with the Oscars but with the studios and producers who decide with their millions of dollars what movies get made. The more movies depicting varied cultural, racial and sexual characters and experiences, the more likely that audiences will find those movies, that critics will champion those movies, and that award-giving bodies will honor those movies. It’s all about what gets made. That’s where the focus should be. The Academy has been making big moves toward diversity for longer than the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag has existed, and as positive and important as those moves are, they’re not going to solve the problem of more diverse representation at the Oscars. So by all means, enjoy the representation featured among this year’s  nominees, but don’t yet claim the battle for diversity is won. Let’s see how things look in two years, four years and beyond. That’s the test.

Now with that said, let’s end things on a fun note…assuming that you find any of this fun. Each year in my Favorite Movies of the Year post, I put forth some nominations for Oscar categories that don’t exist but are fun to consider. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to complete one of those posts since the 2013 list, so I’m transferring my fake Oscar categories here instead. From my one-man Academy, which is not bound by the five-roster rule, my categories and nominees are:

BEST POSTER

[Larger Versions: The Birth of a Nation (Noose); The Birth of a Nation (Flag); Patriots Day; Certain Women; 13th; The Handmaiden; Jackie; Pride & Prejudice & Zombies; De Palma]

BEST TRAILER
Fences (Teaser #1); La La Land (City of Stars Teaser); La La Land (Audition Teaser); Zoolander 2 (Teaser)

BEST CASTING
Captain Fantastic – Jeanne McCarthy
Hell or High Water – Jo Edna Boldin, Richard Hicks
Indignation – Avy Kaufman
Little Men – Avy Kaufman
Loving – Francine Maisler
Manchester by the Sea – Douglas Aibel
Moonlight – Yesi Ramirez
Other People – Allison Jones
Silence – Ellen Lewis

BEST ENSEMBLE
20th Century Women; A Bigger Splash; Captain Fantastic; Fences; Hidden Figures; Manchester by the Sea; Moonlight; Nocturnal Animals; Other People; Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE
Julian Dennison – Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Alex R. Hibbert – Moonlight
Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
Sunny Pawar – Lion
Lewis McDougall – A Monster Calls
Angourie Rice – The Nice Guys
Trevante Rhodes – Moonlight
Ashton Sanders – Moonlight
Neel Sethi – The Jungle Book
Hayden Setzo – The Edge of Seventeen
Theo Taplitz – Little Men

BEST BODY OF WORK
Mahershala Ali (Free State of Jones, Hidden Figures, Moonlight)
Michael Shannon (Complete Unknown, Midnight Special, Loving, Nocturnal Animals)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Arrival, Doctor Strange, Miles Ahead, Miss Sloane)
Rachel Weisz (Complete Unknown, Denial, The Light Between Oceans, The Lobster)
The Woods (Captain Fantastic, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Jungle Book, The Lobster, Pete’s Dragon, Swiss Army Man, The Witch)

BEST SONG SOUNDTRACK
20th Century Women; Deadpool; Everybody Wants Some!; La La Land; Sing Street

BEST OPENING CREDITS
10 Cloverfield Lane; Deadpool; Nocturnal Animals; A Monster Calls

BEST CLOSING CREDITS
A Bigger Splash; Deadpool; The Jungle Book; Kubo and the Two Strings

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February 14, 2016

Oscars 2015: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 7:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Complete List of Nominees

And so we are deep into Phase Two of awards season, with the Oscar nominations announced and the guild awards rolling out. I’ve already been asked several times who’s going to win the Oscar in this category or that. To which I’ve responded, “Does it matter? They’re all a bunch of racists, apparently, so who even wants one?”

Unfortunately, that’s where we have to begin this year, as the nominations set off a firestorm of controversy when acclaimed films about black characters like Straight Outta Compton, Beasts of No Nation and Creed were not nominated for Best Picture, and for the second year in a row, all the acting nominees are white.

A lot has already been said about this topic. Like…a lot. It’s been in the news nearly every day since the nominations were announced. I wrote about this in last year’s corresponding post, and having just re-read that, I feel it’s pretty spot-on, thank you. I don’t know what I can add this year, especially with so much already said by so many others. But it’s too big a story to ignore. I can’t get wrapped up in all the awards nonsense and spend all the time I spend writing about the Oscars and not wade into this mess. The whole reason I’m posting this a month after the nominations were announced is that I’ve been trying to stay abreast of all the developments and respond to specific points that have been made, but it’s been too much to keep up with. So for now, I’m going to leave it alone, and hopefully get to it in the next post. At this point, it’s well past time to review the nominations, so let’s stick to that.

It was another middling year for me on the predictions front. Of the 19 categories I covered, I only went five-for-five in two: Best Actor and (somehow) Best Sound Mixing. But in 10 others, I missed by just one…though perhaps I lose a point for expecting Alicia Vikander’s Best Supporting Actress nomination to be for Ex Machina. The Academy voters cited her for The Danish Girl — clearly a lead performance, but one that the studio campaigned as Supporting to give her better odds at a nomination.

Let’s drill down into some of the categories, shall we? While you want to glory in being as accurate in your predictions as possible, there’s also fun in seeing where you went wrong and what unfolded that went against your instincts, where your theorizing went wrong, and where it went right. If you consider any of this fun, that is.

BEST PICTURE
I once again predicted there would be nine nominees, and for the second year in a row there were only eight. I got seven of them, but missed Room. I opted for Carol instead, and also included Inside Out. In the previous post, I mentioned Room and Carol as movies I’d read were not being received as enthusiastically by Academy members as they were by critics. Goes to show that you can never be be sure how 6,000+ people are going to come down on something. Because Carol director Todd Haynes is a more established filmmaker than Room‘s director Lenny Abrahamson, I thought Carol would have a stronger base of support and would make the cut thanks to a small but passionate contingent. Instead, Room turned out to be the movie that got the necessary boost, and I’m thrilled to see it here.

As for Inside Out, I had thought that given its level of acclaim, it would have found a place here just like previous Pixar efforts Up and Toy Story 3 did in 2009 and 2010. But after the nominations were announced, I became aware of something I hadn’t realized. In 2009 and 2010 — the two years where the Academy went with a guaranteed slate of ten Best Picture nominees — voters were asked to list ten movies on their ballots. (I knew that part.) Beginning in 2011, however, when the change was made to a system that would result in anywhere from five to ten nominees, ballots reverted back to just five choices for voters to write down. I didn’t know that. If I had, I wouldn’t have predicted a nomination for Inside Out. With ten selections to make, voters are more likely to honor an animated film. With only five selections, they’re more likely to stick with live action and leave movies like Inside Out to the Animated Feature category. Live and learn.

Mad Max: Fury Road, meanwhile, overcame historical odds and landed in the Best Picture race, coming in behind The Revenant as the second most nominated movie of the year. In the narrow scope of this year’s award season, it may not be surprising, but given how outside the Academy’s “top award” box this movie is, the fact that it’s now a Best Picture nominee is pretty astonishing. It’s great to see the Academy recognize the artfulness of this movie — both the staging and creation of its incredible action, but also the character drama and underlying themes that propel the story. The movie is more than one big car chase, and the Academy’s recognition is a ringing endorsement of that fact.

BEST DIRECTOR
The most surprising omission from this year’s nominees came in this category, with The Martian director Ridley Scott being left out. He was supposed to be one of the day’s absolute sure things, with many at that point already dubbing him the sentimental favorite to win. Whether his omission was a matter of too many voters deliberately choosing elsewhere, or a matter of them thinking he was a lock and therefore giving their vote to someone else — something I suspect happened to Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow in 2012 — we’ll never know. I didn’t think Scott deserved a nomination for The Martian, so I’m okay with his absence. I loved the movie and he did a great job with it, but it didn’t strike me as such a strong directorial achievement as to be singled out among the year’s five best.

I only guessed three out of five in this category, expecting Scott to get in, and going for Steven Spielberg over Adam McKay. Overlooking McKay was a dumb move. I knew The Big Short was apparently doing really well with Academy members, and with the DGA nomination under his belt, I shouldn’t have underestimated him. I thought his comedy background would hinder his chances with this crowd. But the evidence for his nomination was all there, and I ignored it.

The other big surprise in the category was the man who took Scott’s perceived slot: Room’s Lenny Abrahamson. He was a real longshot, not expected to go the distance. So not only were those rumblings about Academy members staying away from Room unreliable, they belied how taken with the movie voters actually were. It may have only landed four nominations, but it was never going to place in the crafts categories, so its showing in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay is a huge victory. Too bad the actors branch couldn’t overcome their reticence to nominate children by recognizing the movie’s not-so-secret weapon, Jacob Tremblay. Given the enthusiasm for the movie, you’d think voters would have gone to bat for him. But with the exception of Best Picture, each branch votes for their own, and apparently not enough actors could find a place for him, even though their SAG counterparts did.

BEST ACTRESS
I was mildly surprised that Charlotte Rampling made the cut. Many pundits expected her to be nominated, but I left her off my list, thinking 45 Years was too small to get noticed, and her performance too subtle and quiet to stand out. I also thought the lack of a BAFTA nomination was a big omen, but I was obviously wrong. She made it…and promptly killed her chances with some poorly worded comments on the diversity controversy (seriously, Charlotte…you’re not helping.) No no, I’m kidding: ignorant and tone-deaf as her comments were, she didn’t kill her chances. She never had a chance. Her nomination is her reward.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Of all the non-white actors who were in the conversation this year, the one with the best odds of a nomination seemed to be Beasts of No Nation‘s Idris Elba. As we know, it didn’t happen. Some blamed the fact that Netflix didn’t have experience mounting an Oscar campaign. Some blamed the movie’s difficult subject matter. Some blamed a bias against black actors. The film’s subject matter is the only one of those possibilities I believe might have been a factor. But I’d bet a lot of people did watch the movie, and I’d bet a lot of those people did vote for Elba. Just not enough, in the end…though interestingly, he did go on to win the SAG award. Sylvester Stallone, Mark Rylance and Christian Bale survived from Phase One, while Mark Ruffalo and Tom Hardy — who were largely absent from the precursor awards — found a place too. I’ve been baffled all along by the consistent inclusion of Bale. He’s a great actor, of course, and I enjoyed him in The Big Short, but I just don’t see it as an award-worthy performance at all. If anyone from that movie should have been singled out, it was Steve Carell, and even he wouldn’t have made my cut. I remain disappointed that Jacob Tremblay didn’t get nominated for Room, as I mentioned above. He would really belong in Best Actor, but that was never going to happen, so Best Supporting Actor would have been his spot if he had made it. Still, Tremblay seems okay with being passed over. He’s having a blast, Instagramming his way from one starry red carpet event to another and making the talk show rounds, proving hilarious and adorable at every turn.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Despite a lot of attention paid to category fraud this year, Academy voters fell in line with studio campaigning and nominated Carol‘s Rooney Mara and The Danish Girl‘s Alicia Vikander in this category, despite both actresses being co-leads in their films. Vikander received far more attention during Phase 1 for her role in Ex Machina, but The Danish Girl always seemed more in the Academy’s wheelhouse. I still thought, as did several others, that her many critics citations for Ex Machina would translate here, but it did turn out to be The Danish Girl that earned her a nomination. She’s superb in both movies, so…either way, really.

It’s great to see Jennifer Jason Leigh finally earn an Oscar nomination after years of excellent work, and although Rachel McAdams has been around for far less time, she’s a versatile and always reliable actress, so it’s nice to see her here too. I wasn’t convinced she would make it for her strong but unassuming work in Spotlight, but the movie — whose fortunes some thought might be fading when the nominations came around — is still making a big impression on people.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
After Ridley Scott, the second most shocking omission this year came in this category, with Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs script failing to make the cut. This one astounds me. It should be the winner here, as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t read the source material for any of these contenders, but who are we kidding: neither have the voters. No one is ever really evaluating this category by how successfully the source material is translated to the screen. They’re going off the movie itself. Even without reading the source material, I doubt that any of the nominees — all of whom did excellent work — crafted anything as creative, unique, or just plain smart as what Sorkin did with Steve Jobs. Very disappointing.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
My risk in predicting The Assassin didn’t pan out, as the voters in the Cinematography branch stuck with a more expected set of nominees. Despite all the fanfare over The Hateful Eight‘s 70mm shoot and use of anamorphic lenses literally not employed since the 1960s, I thought the film’s mostly interior settings would hurt its chances. Not so, with three-time winner Robert Richardson earning his ninth nomination. Not at all undeserved; I just wasn’t sure it would happen.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
I was a little surprised to see The Revenant here. So much of the film’s settings and locations are natural landscapes; beautiful, but not appearing to require the work of a production designer so much as a location scout. That’s not to diminish the work that did go into the film from an art and set decoration perspective, but it does seem that with so much good design efforts to consider, this slot might have been more deserved by something like Carol, Crimson Peak or Ex Machina.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Again, The Revenant is a bit of a head-scratcher to me. Clearly, as evidenced by the field-leading 12 nominations, Academy members across all branches were big-time in the bag for this movie. But this nomination — and the Production Design nod, to a lesser extent — strike me as the kind of unimaginative thinking that leads voters to just fill in a favorite movie all the way down the line without really considering the options. If members of the Costume Branch were taken with the look of heavy furs and 1800s winter wardrobes, they’d have made a better choice going for The Hateful Eight, where the costumes at least had some creative flair. And for a branch that usually prizes color and elegance above all, a nod for the drab outfits of The Revenant over Brooklyn or Crimson Peak is curious.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Poor Vin Diesel. This was the one category where Furious 7 actually stood a decent chance of earning a nomination, but it didn’t happen. Diesel’s Oscar dreams have died hard this year, but he surely has another half-dozen Fast and Furious movies coming down the road that could finally end the series’ inexplicable Oscar drought. Keep on truckin,’ Vin.

At least Fifty Shades of Grey is now an Academy Award nominee.

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Still trying to figure out what the hell The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is.

BEST SOUND EDITING AND SOUND MIXING
I did surprisingly well in these categories, nailing the Mixing lineup and missing Editing  by just one. The frequent trend of four common nominees between the two categories and one loner in each continued, and I correctly guessed the shared contenders: Fury Road, The Force Awakens, The Revenant and The Martian. My shot in the dark that Bridge of Spies would land in Sound Mixing turned out to be right – go figure. I may ostensibly understand the general definition of these two categories, but I still don’t really get it, or have any idea how to evaluate it. Nevertheless, I know enough to know they made a good call by including Sicario in Sound Editing. The sound work in that movie was stellar, and huge contributor to its incredible sense of tension that was sustained throughout.

 

Chris Rock copyThat’s really all I have to say about the nominees at this stage. The big show is two weeks away, so we’ll see each other before then. Chris Rock is hosting, and in this year of racial controversy, who better to comment on the drama? I have a great idea for the opening of the show. The announcer says, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your host for the evening, Chris Rock!” And out walks Louis C.K., nodding and doing his understated, I’m-kind-of-uncomfortable-right-now Louis C.K. thing. “I…I know you were expecting Chris. You were probably expecting Idris Elba or Will Smith too, but you know…anyway the Academy quietly decided that in keeping with the theme this year…” and then he’d just kinda point to his face with a telling look. And it would go on for a minute until they figured a way to get Rock out there. I imagine maybe Louis calling Chris and tracking him down to Jerry Seinfeld’s house. They put Jerry on screen, Chris is over his place just hanging out in a tux, Louis and Jerry convince Chris that the show needs him, he agrees to come, and then Jerry drives him over, the ride becoming a riff on Seinfeld’s web series, this time called Comedians in Cars Getting Oscars. I dunno — it’s a work in progress. I’ve got two weeks to figure out the second part, but the opener is gold.

Anyway, after three years of being produced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who insisted on stuffing the show with musical numbers, this year’s producing duties fall to the ebony and ivory team of Reginald Hudlin and David Hill. Hudlin is a writer/producer/director/executive with many credits in film and television, while Hill is best known for his work on live sporting events. Interestingly, Hudlin and Hill were talking about a focus on diversity at the show months ago, long before the nominees were determined. They’ve stated that diversity also means taking into account movies that are popular with audiences but don’t necessarily find themselves represented at the Oscars. (Furious 7, you may yet get your moment in the Oscar sun.). Hill, whose work in the sports world often focused on telling personal stories of the athletes in the game, talked of bringing that kind of device to the Oscars as a way to better acquaint audiences with nominees in the below-the-line categories. He also said he wants to construct the show in such a way that the awards are not given out in a totally random order, but that they have a flow and build to night’s final award, Best Picture. So…pretty much they’re talking about doing what was done for the 2008 awards, which is probably the overall best and most creatively produced Oscar ceremony I’ve ever seen, and did almost everything Hudlin and Hill have talked about, except for personalizing the lesser known nominees. Not a bad model to emulate. One idea I’m not crazy about, which was introduced earlier this week at the nominee’s luncheon, was asking all nominees to submit in advance a list of people they’d like to thank, and then the list will scroll across the bottom of the screen like a 24-hour news ticker. The idea is to encourage the winners to say something interesting during their time on stage, as opposed to just reading a list of names that have personal significance to them, but mean nothing to anybody watching. I understand the instinct, but the idea seems pretty crass to me. I kinda hope most people just don’t submit anything.

Okay…I’m sure nobody reading this cares about any of this stuff, so I’ll end it here. Your time would be better spent catching up on nominated movies.

(Class of 2015 photo from Nominee Luncheon. Click image to enlarge and scan for recognizable faces.)

 

 

February 14, 2015

Oscars 2014: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 4:00 pm
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Complete List of Nominees

Yes. The Oscars are next weekend. Which makes this post, like, three weeks overdue. So instead of devoting precious time to self-deprecating commentary about that, I’ll get right into it. As always, the morning of the Oscar nominations offered surprises both satisfying and disappointing. In a nice move that I hope becomes a new tradition, all 24 categories were announced live, instead of just the usual “top” ones. J.J. Abrams and reigning Best Director Alfonso Cuarón handled the first part, followed by Chris Pine and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs with the big categories as well as some additional below-the-line races. As is my usual habit, I got up at 5:30 in the morning to watch the announcement live, and had to settle for local TV news coverage since apparently E! Entertainment Television — a channel entirely dedicated to covering the entertainment industry — didn’t feel that the Academy Award nominations merited interrupting a block of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. And the local news channel couldn’t be bothered to air the full announcement, cutting to a commercial in the middle of Abrams reading the nominees for Best Animated Feature. Nice move, dipshits. Luckily the event is preserved on YouTube, so I can go back and relive all the excitement for years to come.

 

Okay, so the excitement was minimal.  It could have used some of the playfulness that Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone brought to the shorter announcement two years ago. Still, it was nice to see all the nominees get their due with a public acknowledgement instead of being relegated to a press release. And by the way, what was up with Isaacs bizarre pronunciations of really simple names and titles? I’ll forgive her the slip-up of calling Best Cinematography nominee Dick Pope “Dick Poop,” which she immediately corrected, but what about the way she kept saying Richard Linklater as if his name was a three-parter: Richard Link Later. Or the distinct emphasis she placed on “The” in The Theory of Everything when announcing Best Actress nominee Felicity Jones. I know it’s early in the morning, but these are not hard names.

I had a middling year in terms of my predictions. There was no category in which I went 100%, though perhaps the judges will give me partial points for Best Picture. I predicted there would be nine nominees, and there were only eight…but my nine included the eight that made it, so that’s something, right? In 12 categories, I was only off by one, which matches my guesses from last year. But my average was dragged down by having my single worst category since I’ve been keeping track, with only one of the five Best Sound Mixing predictions correct.

Here are some thoughts, category by category…omitting a few where I have nothing to say at this stage.

BEST PICTURE/BEST DIRECTOR
This was the fourth year that there could have been anywhere between five and ten nominees, and I said in my last post that I would continue to guess nine — the tally for the past three years — until I had evidence not too. Well, now I’ll have to figure out what to do next year, based on only eight movies making the cut this time around. The one I had anticipated which didn’t make it was Nightcrawler, which had reportedly been playing like gangbusters with Academy members. Those reports are probably true, but apparently there wasn’t quite enough support to hit the necessary number of votes that would have secured a nomination.

After all of my skepticism and fretting, the Academy finally embraced Wes Anderson, with The Grand Budapest Hotel scoring nine nominations, tying with Birdman for the most of the year. But the big story out of the nominations was the disappointingly weak showing for Selma, which did score one of the year’s coveted Best Picture nominations, but only managed one other, for Best Original Song. It was absent from key races in which many, including myself, thought — or at least hoped — it would be recognized. Ava DuVernay missed out on a Best Director nomination, David Oyelowo didn’t make the Best Actor list, and the screenplay was overlooked as well. Cinematography and Editing might also have been possibilities had the film been embraced. Selma‘s underwhelming presence, combined with the blinding whiteness of the 20 acting nominees, led some impetuous voices (Al Sharpton, special interest groups like ColorOfChange.org) to proclaim racial motivations, while more level-headed responses (producer Reginald Hudlin, author Mark Harris) understood that several factors were likely at play, and racism was among the lesser of them.

As the latter two commenters — and several others as well — have noted, the problem is not with the Academy but with the industry at large. The film industry simply doesn’t create enough opportunities — in any capacity, on either side of the camera — for non-whites, or to a lesser but still highly problematic extent, for women. (Jessica Chastain touched on this issue in a wonderful, eloquent speech the evening the Oscar nominations were announced, when she was presented with an award by the Broadcast Film Critics Association for her body of work in 2014.) So taking the Academy to task is the wrong battle right from the start. Yes, the 2012 Los Angeles Times report about the Academy’s demographics, which was referenced in almost all of these reactions to the Selma omissions, shows that the Academy is overwhelmingly white, male and older. But so is the entire industry (white and male, at least; I’m not sure about older). Until that changes, the Academy can only do so much. And it is doing something. The organization extended invitations to far more people in 2013 and 2014 than it typically used to per year, and the desire for greater diversity has been the driving force behind this. Even Spike Lee, a critic of the Academy’s problems in this area and someone who has been personally affected by them, acknowledges that efforts to broaden the membership have been happening (while mincing no words about Driving Miss Daisy‘s victory in the same year that his seminal race relations masterpiece Do the Right Thing earned only a Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor nomination). But it will still take time to flush out the ranks and turn this crusty Caucasian sausage party into a membership that has greater balance among races and genders.

I could go much further into all of this — it deserves its own post, really — but this piece is already weeks overdue, and most of what I’d say has already been well covered by others. To that point, this article from Vulture is a great overview of some of the problems that befell Selma‘s Oscar campaign, pairing nicely with observations in the Mark Harris piece linked to above. Also, to the discussion about DVD screeners not reaching key voting groups in time to make a difference, I would add Kris Tapley’s remarks from the comments section of an article he wrote on In Contention, where he points out:

With screeners going out around 12/19, arriving 12/21 — typically mailings for directors and actors don’t arrive direct. They go to agencies. Which were more or less closed by then for the holiday. I have little doubt a great many people didn’t get their screener until after the New Year, and by then, voting was already well underway (and I’ve even heard from some who got paper ballots a full week before the end of the year this season, which is odd).

In addition, Ava DuVernay herself said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly conducted about a month before the nominations were announced that she did not expect to be in the final five, citing her lack of connections within the Academy. I don’t think that necessarily makes a difference, as I’m sure some past nominees have received the nod from their peers without being entrenched in their ranks. But maybe we’re all a lot more shocked on her behalf than she is herself. I should also say that yes, Ava DuVernay would have been the first African-American woman nominated for Best Director (and only the fifth woman at all) had things gone that way, but that should not have been the reason to vote for her. The reason to vote for her should have been that she demonstrated superb directorial skill in realizing Selma. Simple as that.

Like Mark Harris, I won’t be so naïve as to say a form of institutionalized racism was not at play in any way. The EW article about DuVernay quotes an anonymous Academy member saying, “It’s almost like because she is African-American, we should have made her one of the nominees. I think that’s racist. Look at what we did last year with 12 Years.” That last bit could be interpreted in a few ways, and one of them (just one; I don’t know what this member intended to convey) suggests that by voting for 12 Years a Slave, the Academy has met its quota of acknowledging “the black experience.” Would it surprise me if there were a small number of voters who felt that way, whether or not the speaker was one of them? No, it wouldn’t. (For what it’s worth, some Oscar journalists have brought up the fact that many Academy members privately admitted to voting for 12 Years a Slave last year without having seen it.) I’d wonder, though, if voters who held that opinion would feel that honoring The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech and The Artist over three consecutive years was too much recognition of “the white experience.” It’s also difficult to watch Selma take heavier hits over questions of its historical accuracy than films like The Imitation Game, American Sniper and Foxcatcher and not wonder why the film coming under the most vocal fire for dramatizing real-life events is the one directed by the black woman, depicting a story about black characters and their battle against an oppressive, largely white system. Of course, these annual attacks are ridiculous to begin with. These movies aren’t documentaries, and are not — contrary to what an another anonymous Academy member says in the EW piece, regarding Selma‘s depiction of Lyndon B. Johnson — “obligated to present it [history] correctly.” These movies are fictionalized versions of true events, and as such they are entitled to dramatic license.

At the end of the day though, I just don’t buy the racism thing. In the industry, yes, but not in the Academy. This is an organization that awarded Gone With the Wind‘s Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 (and don’t start in with the fact that she was playing a servant). If the number of black performers who have won since then is low compared to white performers, well again, the Academy can only reflect the industry. Have there been performances by black actors and actresses that should have been nominated and weren’t? Absolutely. Just like there have been performances by non-black actors that should have been nominated and weren’t. Bottom line, only five people get nominated per category, and outstanding work finds itself sidelined every year. But if the Academy were comprised of a bunch of racists, they wouldn’t nominate actors of color at all. Racism isn’t selective. It doesn’t come and go from year to year. If an institution and its members are racist, they’re consistently racist, at least until enough new people who embrace acceptance arrive in large enough numbers to change the institution’s actions. Selma and most of its filmmakers were not nominated this year, and no performers of color were nominated this year, and that’s unfortunate. But it’s not because one year after the success of 12 Years a Slave, Academy members’ latent racism suddenly flared up. In the last 10 years, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer and Lupita Nyong’o have all won Oscars. In the same period, nominations have gone to Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx (in addition to his win), Sophie Okenedo, Terrence Howard, Will Smith, Djimon Hounsou, Eddie Murphy, Ruby Dee, Taraji P. Henson, Viola Davis (twice), Morgan Freeman (in addition to his win), Gabourey Sidibe, Denzel Washington, Quvenzhané Wallis, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Barkhad Abdi. Other non-whites who have won in the same period? Well, only Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. But nominations went to Catalina Sandino Moreno, Penélope Cruz (twice in addition to her win), Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi, Javier Bardem (in addition to his win) and Demián Bichir. All totaled, yes, these numbers are far fewer than they are for white nominees. But if the industry makes fewer movies in which actors of various ethnicities have the opportunity to play great roles, the Academy is not to blame. Even if those movies and roles exist, they have to earn enough acclaim and attention to become part of the Academy conversation in the first place. And even then they have to be lucky enough to break into the list of five nominees. There are always politics at play when it comes to Oscar nominees and winners, but they’re seldom the politics of race. Ejiofor, Abdi and Nyong’o were all nominated last year, but Fruitvale Station‘s Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer were not, nor were Forest Whitaker or Oprah Winfrey for Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Were those four actors the victims of a racist agenda? Or were they the victims of only five nominations available per category and a surplus of deserving contenders, just like Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Oscar Isaac, Emma Thompson, Julie Delpy, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Daniel Brühl, among even more? If the Academy had a race problem, it wouldn’t have nominated or awarded all those people named above. If the Academy were not interested in non-white stories, its members wouldn’t have voted Best Picture nominations to Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Slumdog Millionaire, Precious, The Help, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave and yes, Selma.

Keep in mind that while we talk about the Academy as this giant Thing!, it does not operate on a hive mentality. The Oscar nominations and winners are not decided by a committee sitting around a table arguing and debating. They are decided by roughly 6,000 individual people expressing their own opinions, and then having those opinions collected and tallied.

Finally, let’s remember this above all: no one is entitled to an Oscar nomination. The way people like Al Sharpton and others who decried the all-white acting races and the omission of Selma talk about the situation, you would think that Ava DuVernay or David Oyelowo or Get on Up‘s dynamo Chadwick Boseman were promised Oscar nominations only to have those promises revoked at the last minute. There will always be great work that is passed over for an Oscar nomination, and I have certainly spent my fair share of time ranting about such cases over the years. But it’s all part of the game, and sometimes the movie and the actor you want to receive that honor just doesn’t receive it. Even though everybody thinks they should have. Sometimes they just don’t. The complaining about it is part of what keeps us engaged with the whole circus in the first place. But when that complaining morphs into defiance and allegations and legitimate outrage, it’s time to take a few steps back, get some perspective on what we’re talking about, and demonstrate a little understanding of how processes work before you start convening panels to address them.

All of that said, Ava DuVernay should totally have been nominated.

Whew. I said I wouldn’t get get too deep into this, and look what happened. Okay, just a couple more observations about these two categories. Of the people who did get nominated for Best Director, four of them were widely expected. The fifth slot, which some thought would go to DuVernay and others thought might go to Director’s Guild of America (DGA) nominee Clint Eastwood, instead went to Foxcatcher‘s Bennett Miller. It wasn’t a total shock — he was considered a possibility — but few had him in their final five. Interestingly, Foxcatcher was not one of the eight Best Picture nominees, making Miller the first person to be nominated for Best Director without a Best Picture nomination since 2009’s expansion of Best Picture beyond five nominees. I do wonder — and I’m probably not alone — if Miller benefitted from a boost in support after Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum in Foxcatcher, went on a vicious social media tirade against the film and Miller in late December, suddenly attacking a project he had supported all along. He offered a reserved apology soon after, and several more apologetic tweets after the nominations came out, specifically addressing Miller at certain points, but that initial outburst was lathered in vitriol. Could it have moved some of Miller’s fellow directors to show their support by voting for him? Not that Miller couldn’t have simply earned the nomination 100% because members of the branch admired his work, but these outside factors always make one wonder.

Lastly, American Sniper made the Best Picture list too, though I can think of at least a half-dozen other movies more deserving. Sniper just isn’t that great. I didn’t dislike it, but it’s really nothing special and I’m baffled by all the love. If you watched the clip of the Chris Pine and Cheryl Boone Isaacs above, did you notice that each of Sniper‘s nominations elicited cheers and applause from some of the journalists in attendance? I don’t get it. The movie tread on familiar ground that was covered more compellingly and effectively in The Hurt Locker and last year’s Lone Survivor. It was solid, but by no means one of the year’s best movies. Yet America has embraced it like it was delivered forth by Jesus himself. It entered wide release the day after the nominations were announced, and won an enormous box office victory over Martin Luther King Jr. Day Weekend, bringing in unprecedented numbers for a January release and breaking records along the way. I could bring up the ironies around American Sniper doing such amazing business during that particular timeframe while the movie about the man whose legacy is meant to be honored and remembered on that day struggles to find an audience, but you probably see them for yourself. There’s a lot more to explore with this movie as well, regarding why it’s such a massive hit and why it’s been so controversial, but this time I really am avoiding those waters, if for no other reason than how little they have to do with the movie’s Oscar standing.

BEST ACTOR
We sort of covered David Oyelowo in the previous section, so let’s see what else happened here. I’m not surprised Steve Carell was nominated. Despite his (and Foxcatcher‘s) inconsistent fortunes throughout Phase One of the season, I felt pretty sure that the acting branch would speak up for his unsettling, change-of-pace work. My mistake was thinking that in an effort to deal with a painfully overcrowded field, they would take the same course as BAFTA and shift him into Best Supporting Actor. (Also because that’s probably where he really belongs, though I can see the argument for Lead.) But they kept him in Best Actor, and so it turns out those four guys who seemed like locks as far back as October — Carell, Cumberbatch, Keaton and Redmayne — managed to stay in the game, leaving only one open spot and slew of worthy contenders. I can’t believe it was Bradley Cooper. I’m sorry, but no way. Cooper is great, and I was 100% enthusiastic about his previous two nominations, for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. But this? No way. There is nothing about his performance or character even remotely as interesting or exciting as Jake Gyllenhaal’s in Nightcrawler, and nothing as powerful or magnetic as Oyelowo’s in Selma. Those were the two I thought would get in, but if not them, I can still name a dozen other performances more compelling than Cooper’s. I did name them, in the previous post. Ralph Fiennes, Chadwick Boseman, Matthew McConaughey, Miles Teller, Tom Hardy…literally every single person I listed would deserve this nomination more than Bradley Cooper. I don’t want to suggest he isn’t good in the movie. He is. But lots of people are good, even very good, in their movies. They don’t all deserve Oscar nominations though. We’re talking about one of the five best performances of the year? I’m sorry, but no way.

BEST ACTRESS
For all the emphasis we players of this Oscar nomination guessing game put on the precursor awards to guide our selections, sometimes the tea leaves aren’t worth a damn. Despite several nominations from regional critics organizations, and a handful of wins, Marion Cotillard had not been cited by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, or the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). However to correct my last post, she was among the six nominees from the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), which makes her placement here slightly less unexpected…but not by much. It’s nice to see her back in the game since first winning in 2007 for La Vie En Rose, but few thought she’d make it. Her fellow nominees — Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon (who also produced Pike’s film Gone Girl), Felicity Jones and Julianne Moore — were all expected to place, and most pundits were predicting Jennifer Aniston for the fifth spot, probably because she did have Golden Globe, SAG and BFCA nominations, and there wasn’t a large group of viable contenders to begin with. At least, not without looking to unusual suspects such as Jenny Slate (Obvious Child), Essie Davis (The Babadook) or Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights). It’s rare for someone with all three of those nominations to miss with the Academy. Not unheard of (Leonardo DiCaprio for J. Edgar, Mila Kunis for Black Swan), but rare. I had a feeling Aniston wouldn’t make it, though I guessed — for lack of anything that made more sense to me, really — that Big Eyes‘ Amy Adams would take the open spot.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
No surprises here. Despite his general awesomeness, I thought Duvall would be passed over, given the underwhelming reception for The Judge. I hoped that when the moment of truth came, voters would see through the film’s cliches, picking instead a role more interesting than the one that The Great Duvall was stuck with. But they went for it, making this category identical to the way it shook out with the Golden Globes, SAG and BFCA with Ethan Hawke, J.K. Simmons and Incredible Hulks Mark Ruffalo and Edward Norton filling out the list. (The BFCA added Inherent Vice‘s Josh Brolin to those five, and I would definitely rather have seen Duvall’s slot go to Brolin.) Duvall was good in The Judge because he’s always good, but that’s not good enough for an Oscar nomination.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Laura Dern was one of the bubble contenders for her role in Wild, and she managed to sneak in there, which stirs mixed feelings for me. On one hand, I’ve always been a champion for Dern, who I consider among our most underrated actresses. It’s really nice to see her recognized, 23 years after her only previous nomination (Best Actress in Rambling Rose). On the other hand, Dern’s time in Wild is brief, and while she does typically lovely work, she doesn’t get to do enough of it. I think I end up saying this about at least one acting nominee every year, but with rare exceptions a performance should have more presence and more meat than the one Dern has here in order to deserve an Oscar nomination. But here she is, and I can’t say I’m not happy to have her.

Also, nice to see someone else speaking up for Mr. Turner‘s shoulda-been-a-contender Dorothy Atkinson.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Apologies if I sound like a broken record, but American Sniper?!? Are you kidding me? For what?? Writer friends, please explain this to me, because I truly don’t understand. This movie just isn’t that good. I understand why it’s doing so well with audiences, but I can’t get my head around the award recognition, maybe even more so in this category than in Best Picture or Actor. I can honestly say that in a heartbeat I would have nominated Guardians of the Galaxy over this, and other genre fare like Snowpiercer, Edge of Tomorrow and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Under the Skin would have been a more deserving alternative too, but that movie was beyond the Academy’s sights. Wild was considered a good bet, and although Still Alice didn’t register in this category with other groups, it would have been worthy of a place here. Certainly more so than American Sniper. Best Screenplay. I can’t figure it.

Not that Sniper‘s nomination was a surprise. BAFTA called it out, and it got a WGA nod too. I just hoped the Academy would go for something more interesting. The true surprise in this line-up is the absence of Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn adapted her own novel and picked up a number of wins along the way from regional critics, with the BFCA being her most high-profile victory. In fact, across the entire landscape of precursor awards, Gone Girl won far more prizes for Adapated Screenplay than any other film. It seemed like a sure thing, and Academy members have shown their love of David Fincher’s work over the last few years. Not this time. Gone Girl‘s sole nomination went to Rosamund Pike.

The good news in this category is that the last minute shift from Original Screenplay didn’t throw off voters from nominating Whiplash. And Paul Thomas Anderson broke in for Inherent Vice, so that made me happy. That’s a movie that should have been a bigger player this year.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Everything was not awesome for The LEGO Movie. Here was a category where everyone got it wrong. Not only was The LEGO Movie‘s nomination a sure thing, but pretty much everyone assumed it would win. I have a theory about why some animators may not have voted for it, and I can’t explain it without giving a major spoiler. But those who have seen the movie know that it takes an unexpected turn toward the end, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some voters felt that the move was a betrayal, for lack of a better word. Maybe I’m way off base, and there’s no way to know without surveying members of the animation branch, but I could see that being a reason for casting it aside, even if I think my explanation would be an incredibly stupid reason not to vote for a creative and inspired movie worthy of recognition. I also heard reports that many members of the animation branch come from a hand-drawn tradition and a European background, and were maybe put off by the pop culture saturation of The LEGO Movie while also wanting to champion traditionally drawn films. So that might have been at play too.

As it is, the films that were nominated are all quite good. (Actually, I haven’t seen The Boxtrolls, but I heard good things and should finally be able to catch it this week.) I mentioned Irish filmmaker Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea as a possibility, and he did make it, scoring his second nomination and once again taking people by surprise. People seemed equally caught off guard by the inclusion of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, though I’m not sure why. It comes from Studio Ghibli, the legendary Japanese company whose Spirited Away won this category in 2002, and which had Howl’s Moving Castle and The Wind Rises nominated in the years since. So Princess Kaguya was always a viable contender.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
I missed by one in this category, but I’ll give myself a half point for even mentioning the possibility of a nomination for the Polish black and white film Ida, which also scored a nod for Best Foreign Language Film. Although…I described it as “a long longshot” so maybe a half point is too generous. I’ll take an eighth and be on my way.

BEST FILM EDITING
Although Birdman seemed like a good bet here, I shouldn’t be surprised that it missed. I’ve said before that voters — even the editors themselves, at the nomination stage, apparently — often equate best editing and most editing. Birdman, with its numerous long takes, is definitely not among the year’s most edited movies. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t carefully and rather brilliantly put together however, with the editors crucially helping to seal the illusion of the movie appearing as almost one ongoing shot.

I won’t argue with the American Sniper nomination this time. It’s the sort of movie that does well in this category, and I did predict it, though I would much rather have seen the wonderful, more abstract editing of Wild nominated. That’s a big oversight.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Nothing to say here really, except finally, finally, finally, a Wes Anderson movie gets nominated for its set design. A long overdue honor for one of the most visually imaginative directors ever. No, I’m not overstating.

Also, I’m a little baffled by Interstellar showing up in this category. It picked up nominations from other groups along the way, so I knew it was a possibility and said so in the previous post. But the movie didn’t strike me as anything special in the design sense. Everything was well done, but there was really nothing out of the ordinary or so special as to seem worthy of singling out. Not when films like Snowpiercer, The Immigrant and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes were left out. Birdman, too, was the rare contemporary film that seemed to have a shot in this category, as the design of the aged, cluttered Broadway theater added immeasurably to the overall effect of the movie.

Okay, so I guess there were a few things to say here.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Just as with Production Design, it must be celebrated that a Wes Anderson movie finally scored a nomination in this category. I was also pleased that two of my personal picks — Inherent Vice and Maleficent — made the cut, displacing my predictions The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. The latter two did feature some fine costume work, but sometimes period films with Best Picture pedigree get swept into categories like this one at the expense of choices that exhibit a little more thoughtfulness. It’s especially nice to see the costume branch spring for Inherent Vice, which has the period piece factor that these voters love, but a more contemporary period than often gets recognized from a voting block that gravitates toward more historical eras like the one in the also-nominated Mr. Turner. The costume work in Vice goes a long way toward defining the characters, and also did more to capture a specific time and place than the costumes of Imitation and Theory, which seemed more likely to get nominated, so kudos to those who voted for it.

I still think Guardians of the Galaxy deserved a spot here, but with the inclusion of Budapest and Vice, I can’t complain.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Between the crazy number of potential nominees and the problematic method the selection, this category is always a crapshoot, so I was pleased to see four of my five predictions bear out. The one I missed was “Grateful,” from the very good, underseen romantic drama Beyond the Lights, about a talented singer who has been manufactured into a pop star and finally starts to take control of her image and her life. It’s a nice song that ties into the movie’s story, but the same could be said for a lot of songs that seem to get brushed aside by the rules that govern the voting in this category. I’m not sure what makes this one so special as to deserve recognition. It’s not particularly distinctive or powerful. Like I said, it’s nice, but there were more inspired choices to be made here.

Starting with some of the songs from Muppets Most Wanted, all of which were incorporated directly into the movie. I mention that because voters in the music branch are presented with clips of all the eligible songs exactly as they appear in their respective movies, the idea apparently being that songs should be judged as much for context as for musicality. If this is the goal, maybe the category needs to be clearly redefined — and renamed — as “Best Use of an Original Song.” And if that’s the thinking, then voters would have done well to include “Sing Along” from Rudderless, an intimate song performed in the movie’s final scene by Billy Crudup as a father grieving for his deceased son. Yet there lies one of the problems with this method of voting. A song like “Sing Along” really needs to be seen (or heard) in light of everything that’s come before it in order to be understood and appreciated, and with 79 eligible songs, there’s no way voters can watch each full movie to understand every song’s place within that movie. So really, the voters should just receive a CD with each eligible song and judge the song on its own merits. Maybe that ends up benefitting something like “Grateful” even more than the current system. I don’t know. What I do know is that a) the system as it exists contradicts itself at every turn, and b) this fine but average song being nominated over this hilariously clever and loopy one just ain’t right.

Thankfully, the voters didn’t ignore every silly option, giving a nod to “Everything is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie. It would not have surprised me if voters had skipped over this popular tune, which is insanely catchy but admittedly simple and repetitive. (The song appears multiple times in the movie, leaving me to wonder what clip was presented to music branch voters. The portions performed by Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island cohorts Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaeffer only appeared during the end credits version, but they’re a big part of what makes the song so great.)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Although I predicted that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies would be nominated, I acknowledged why it might not be, and it turns out I was right to see its vulnerability. It became the first of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films to miss a VFX nomination. And unless Jackson dives into The Silmarillion, it will also be the last. Also falling short was Transformers: Age of Extinction, which I also predicted but felt was not a sure thing. As it is, we wound up with a strong, respectable slate. Now let’s see if the voters do the right thing when it comes time to pick the winner.

BEST SOUND EDITING/SOUND MIXING
I did dreadfully in Sound Mixing, with American Sniper being my only correct prediction. I was on the fence about whether to go with Interstellar, which did end up getting nominated, because there were widespread complaints about the sound mix being unbalanced, with the sound effects and music score occasionally overwhelming the dialogue so that people couldn’t understand what was being said. Personally, I thought it was a deliberate creative decision intended to evoke accurate circumstances in which noise probably would make it difficult for you to hear someone talking to you. It detracted from the movie for some, but had the opposite effect for me, drawing me into the experience even more. I was happy when Nolan discussed the sound shortly after its release to confirm that his choices with the sound mix were absolutely deliberate. Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure how his approach would affect the film’s Oscar chances in the sound categories. I settled on the idea that the branch would overlook the movie, but I’m happy to see that they appreciated what Nolan was going for.

I also thought Into the Woods would follow the many musical or music-centric films that earned Mixing nominations before. The film missed out, but the branch did give a slot to Whiplash, which was nice to see. It was also great to see Birdman show up in both categories. I mentioned in the last post that the film’s drum-driven score was deemed ineligible for that category, but it’s such a vital component of the movie, and I feel like the two sound nominations acknowledge that, as the score does the job of sound effects and music at the same time. And may I say, having recently seen Birdman again, how ridiculous it is that the music score was not allowed to contend for a nomination? No other score all year was more at one with its movie than Antonio Sánchez’s for Birdman. But the music branch clings pig-headedly to a number of asinine rules that continually undermine the very achievements they are tasked with celebrating. They badly need to get their shit together.

Back to the topic at hand, the most interesting thing about the nominations in these two categories is that they both ignored the summer blockbusters that usually find a home here. No Transformers (the first time in that franchise there hasn’t been a sound nomination), no Guardians of the Galaxy, no Godzilla, no Planet of the Apes, no Captain America, no Edge of Tomorrow or X-Men or Spider-Man. Instead the categories were populated by the more prestige films like Birdman, Unbroken, American Sniper and Whiplash. Yes, Interstellar and The Hobbit are in the blockbuster mold, but the Middle Earth movies have always been big players with the Academy, as have Christopher Nolan’s films.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
I don’t usually cover this category because I never have the chance to see most of the movies, but it’s worth noting that the voters didn’t nominate Life Itself, the documentary about Roger Ebert. It seemed a likely contender, given the subject matter was man who loved movies and dedicated his life to celebrating them (and yes, often deriding them too). It’s also noteworthy because the film’s director, Steve James, has been here before. He’s had a few films that went into the nominations with big buzz only to be ignored, most notably Hoop Dreams, whose omission from this category in 2004 is widely held up as one of the most egregious oversights in Academy history.

Amusing sidenote: one of the five films that did get nominated this year is Finding Vivien Maier, and its nominated co-director is Charlie Siskel, nephew of Gene Siskel. Two ironic thumbs up.

X

Now then, sorry to rush out out of here without cuddling, but I’ve got another big post to write, and it involves me actually making some decisions about what I think will win. So we’ll get together again next weekend, and in the meantime you can amuse yourself with this classic Oscar moment of Jack Black and Will Ferrell.

 

 

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…

BEST PICTURE
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.

BEST DIRECTOR
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.

BEST ACTOR
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.

BEST ACTRESS
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.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
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

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
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.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
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.

BEST ANIMATED FILM
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.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
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.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
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.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
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.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
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.

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
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.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
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.

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