Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Oscar Narrative: Now the Game Begins

Now it really begins, all of that fighting, all of those precursor nominations, and it amounts to this day. The Oscar nominations have been announced, and as always, there were some shockers, some snubs, and some wonderful surprises. Now the real game begins, the final push. Will the front runners maintain their status and waltz to the Oscars in style, or will there be bumps along the way, heated races, and some surprises on Oscar night, just like there were on Oscar nomination morning? That infamous phrase comes to mind: As always, we'll have to wait and see...

But before we get into that, which starts in a few minutes with the Critics Choice Awards, lets take a look at this year's nominations.

Best Picture
For the first time since the Academy introduced the 5 to 10 set up, there have been less than nine nominees. This year, there were eight, and I'm kind of surprised there wasn't a ninth. So the six that I said were in the lead, continued to be in the lead: Boyhood, Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, American Sniper, and The Theory of Everything. Whiplash also made the cut, as I had expected. And Selma did manage to pull together enough number one votes to round out the top eight. But Selma's nod proved just how important number one votes are, compared to broad support at this stage. It only got one other nomination, for Best Original Song, and that could be its consolation prize. Foxcatcher on the other hand, was probably the ninth slot. It got a surprise Best Director nomination (more on that later), the screenplay beat out Mike Leigh and Selma for a slot, and Steve Carell managed to breakthrough in that really tough Best Actor race (so much for my BAFTA supporting actor theory). Yet at the end of the day, it did not get a Best Picture nomination. This is a film that clearly has a lot of respect for all of the pieces involved. But it probably got a lot of second, third, and fourth place votes. In round 2 that would have made it one to watch, but in round 1, the respect was not enough to overpower the Selma contingency that put it over the top. Gone Girl and Nightcrawler both only earned one nomination, including a few surprise snubs, and clearly that guild support didn't translate into Best Picture votes. And despite its classic Academy bait, Unbroken did miss out here, settling for a few deserved technical nominations. I don't know how the rest of the world will react to this twist of fate. How can a film get most of the key nominations that are usually Best Picture prerequisites, yet miss the cut, yet a film with only one minor technical nomination can garner just enough support to make it into this expanded Best Picture race. I love Selma, it is my favorite film of the year, and I have no problems with its nomination, and am incredibly disappointed that Oscar voters didn't recognize DuVernay or Oyelowo. And while it missed the cut in Best Picture, I am so thrilled with all of the support for Foxcatcher. It might have been a cold film, but it was an excellent one, and those pieces of it that were recognized were worthy. So I leave all of this just fine. But this math may have the Academy leadership looking again at its current Best Picture set up. They also are probably a bit disappointed that there were no huge blockbusters in the lineup. That was the reason for the expansion, and while it has worked out in other years, this year not so much.

Best Director
I knew that Clint was weak here, although after Sniper got that Editing nod, I thought that maybe he was going to pull it off, as he had done with the DGA. Alas, I was right in thinking he was the weaker link of the bunch. I did not however see the Bennett Miller nod coming. Especially after I realized that Foxcatcher missed Best Picture. This marks the first time that, despite the expansion of the BP race, that one of the Best Director nominees did not have their film land in Best Picture. With that quirky branch, it was bound to happen. But I just didn't see Miller being the one to finally break that barrier this year. The other four were expected. Despite that, I am so thrilled that Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater have finally gotten director nominations. It is about time. I am surprised though that Damien Chazelle wasn't that fifth slot. He seemed like the oddball choice for that branch this year, and Whiplash did really well across the board. But alas, it was not meant to be. He is still an Oscar nominee, so I'm good.

Except for Best Supporting Actor, each category had its share of surprises. Best Actor had the inclusion of Bradley Cooper. I felt this one coming, but I didn't quite make that final jump to actually predict him. Let's just say this, if anyone still underestimates Bradley Cooper's popularity, then they are idiots. And as I said before Carell managed to get in here as well. The big snub here that I was surprised about was Jake Gyllenhaal, and you'll here me say at least once more how surprised I was that it failed to really register despite guild support. He got the BAFTA, SAG, and Golden Globe nod, and failed to make the cut. This happens, it seems like, with one major contender each year. It is an odd phenomenon, but it happens. Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips, Marion Cotillard for Rust & Bone, are just two recent examples. Of course this year Best Actor was so brutal, that Oyelowo, Spall, and Fiennes were also left off the list. When it is a tough race, with a lot of potential picks, precursors are no guarantee. Speaking of Marion Cotillard, she did miss for Rust & Bone despite tons of indicative precursors. This year, she missed the SAG, Globe, and BAFTA nomination, and still managed to get in over the Golden Globe winner Amy Adams, and Jennifer Aniston who had gotten SAG and Globe recognition. I am so glad for Cotillard, who has been doing such great work since her win in 2007, and yet has never managed to grab that second nod. I'm glad the barrier was broken, and for such a wonderful performance. I am bit disappointed for Jennifer Aniston. She put a lot of work to get this film, and her performance recognized, and really to prove to the world that she is an excellent actress. I didn't end the way she wanted, but I do think she got a lot of great buzz, some awesome nominations along the way, and I hope she proved at least a few people wrong. Finally, there came the biggest surprise of the acting bunch in Best Supporting Actress. Laura Dern deserved a nomination. I would have loved Rene Russo or Jessica Chastain in that slot as well, but Dern's nod makes me really happy. She had two excellent performances this year, and earns her first Oscar nomination in over 20 Years. But I was pretty shocked, because she got no precursors, I mean not even a bunch of critical mentions. That just shows you that sometimes the Academy voters, which overlap, but not 100% with any precursor sometimes go their own way. This and Cotillard's nomination prove that sometimes that is a good thing.

Okay, so these are going to go fast. In the screenplay categories, the only really jaw-dropping snub was Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl, a real shame if you ask me. The Academy voters across the board just did not like Gone Girl, period. Other than that, pretty much as expected, and the Whiplash last minute switch did not prevent it from getting nominated. And honestly, despite Theory of Everything and Imitation Game in that category, Chazelle could be the spoiler. In Cinematography, the inclusion of Ida was a really awesome nomination, and was definitely a surprise, because it knocked out The Imitation Game (the one big award it missed here) for that slot. It was also well deserved. Honestly, other than that there weren't that many big surprises or snubs. Into the Woods missing in Sound Mixing is surprising because they love musicals in that category. The Hobbit missing on Production Design and Visual Effects was a surprise, and despite the fact that the film was terrible, I am a bit surprised that Transformers didn't manage at least one nomination. Birdman missing in editing was probably the biggest surprise of the bunch, but this year's mix of Editing, Director and Picture was a strange combination and didn't match up well. Still, if it was thinking of upsetting, this is a bit of a blow. The Best Original Song category rebounded from its issues last year, among its nominees is Beyond the Lights, a really underrated movie. Not Life Itself and no Force Majeure is a bit disappointing, but those categories are always full of surprises and are kind of a crap shoot in terms of predicting.

Animated Feature
This category gets its own subtitle this year, because of the shocking exclusion of The LEGO Movie. We know the animators love their GKids contenders, they are all uniquely and beautifully animated each year. But I am still jaw-dropped that it missed, and it is honestly, probably the biggest shocker of today across all the nominations. Although it does pave the way for How to Train Your Dragon 2 to potentially take the mantle as the front runner, which is fine with me!

There will be more discussion, more predictions, and plenty of agonizing over picks. Now the real test for these contenders begins. This is the final stretch, the last battle, and it will be a fascinating journey. Stay Tuned!

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