At last, from the rosé-tinted haze of campaign season, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences emerged from its Beverly Hills Fortress of Solitude (The Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater) and made its will known early this morning, sending the Oscar-bloggeratti into a tizzy of analysis and prognostication with just a touch of outrage. In other words, par for the course when it comes to the Oscars.
Many of the chips fell where you’d expected: after winning the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama, Richard Linklater’s indie epic Boyhood continued its silent but steady march towards potential Oscar glory with six key nominations. Meanwhile Birdman, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s deliciously deranged film about film stars flopping on broadway, walked away with the most nominations at nine. However, the morning’s most pleasant surprise may have been that Wes Anderson’s meticulously appointed The Grand Budapest Hotel tied Birdman for most nominations, despite an early-year release that many Oscar watchers thought would be a handicap. (Among those nominations was a call out to Departures’ friend Adam Stockhausen for his lavish, playful production design, and a long overdue directing nod to Wes Anderson.) In retrospect The Grand Budapest Hotel’s scrupulous craftsmanship likely endeared it in many of those below-the-line-categories (like Editing and Cinematography) that so often play havoc on a non-professional’s Oscar ballot. However, Boyhood remains the likely favorite to win Best Picture—and Richard Linklater to win Best Director—given all the plaudits from critics groups. Still, Boyhood’s small size might leave the film vulnerable to an upset. It faces a dose of competition from The Imitation Game, which has both eight overall nominations and the indomitable Harvey Weinstein behind it. Or, with all those nominations, could The Grand Budapest Hotel be the one to steal the win? It’s possible; but as big a fan of Anderson as I am, my heart (and the odds) still belong to Boyhood. The movie’s simple humanity makes it stand out from all the other nominees.
Of course, the snub heard around the world this morning was Selma’s director Ava Duvernay (unless you’re a plastic block enthusiast, in which case The Lego Movie being left out of Best Animated Film was particularly galling). While the highly regarded Civil Rights epic did earn a Best Picture nomination, Duvernay sadly didn’t get her chance to make history as the first African-American female to be nominated for Best Director. Foxcatcher’s Bennett Miller snuck in there as the fifth nominee after favorites Anderson, Iñárritu’s, Linklater, and The Imitation Game’s Morten Tyldum. The Academy’s lack of diversity is nothing new (ergo, American Sniper’s surprising six nominations). It is possible that the controversy about Selma’s playing fast and loose with LBJ’s Civil Rights record hurt the film’s chances. (Although in fairness, The Imitation Game doesn’t necessarily do full justice to travails of closeted genius Alan Turing.) Perhaps more likely, Selma suffered from a bungled awards campaign that didn’t get enough screeners out to Hollywood’s guilds in time (courting the Guilds is a necessary precursor to an Oscar nomination since their membership overlaps so heavily with the Academy). The fact that David Oyelowo, whose brilliant take on Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t controversial in the least, didn’t get nominated for Best Actor either also suggests that the lack of campaigning could have been the real culprit—American Sniper’s Bradley Cooper seemingly swiped his place among favorites Michael Keaton, Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Stevel Carrell.
Among the other acting nominees, the biggest surprises were Marion Cotillard’s Best Actress nomination for her stunning, but little seen performance in Two Days, One Night and Laura Dern making the cut for Supporting Actress in Wild—although it seems Julianne Moore (Still Alice) and Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) have these two categories all but sewn up respectively. The biggest lock for a win—and the hugest shock if he doesn’t—remains J.K. Simmons for his thunderbolt performance in the little Sundance-wining-indie-that-could, Whiplash.
Invariably, despite the months-long analysis by bloggers, critics, and armchair enthusiasts alike, the Oscars store a surprise or two for the actual ceremony. Could Boyhood stumble? Would Selma win Best Picture without winning any other major categories? And whatever happened to Gone Girl? We’ll just have to wait with bated breath for another month until Neil Patrick Harris gets on the show (and hopefully breaths some life into it) with his patented grin and nuclear charisma. Until then, get to work on those Oscar ballots!