There were plenty of unexpected aspects of this morning’s Academy Award nomination announcements, but maybe the biggest was the fact that there are only eight Best Picture nominees. Ever since the rules changed to allow between five and ten nominees in this category (depending on how many films get a certain number of first-place placements on voter ballots), there have been nine. I was pretty sure that either Gone Girl, Interstellar, or Unbroken would be in, but I’m pleasantly surprised to see Whiplash get some love. I expected that film would be too small to get recognized outside of J.K. Simmons’ performance, but I guess not. Interesting.

I swear, there must have been a conspiracy to exclude Selma from the categories it deserved to be recognized in. Ava DuVernay not being nominated for Best Director is a travesty. Honestly, I think she did a better job than any of the men who were actually nominated. I don’t understand how hard it is to see what a great job she did. I guess Richard Linklater would probably take this regardless just for the scale of Boyhood’s achievement, which is fine. But DuVernay being ignored in favor of a random dude like Morten Tyldum makes me think back to Kathryn Bigelow and Zero Dark Thirty being snubbed and Behn Zeitlen getting in for Beasts of the Southern Wild. Do women directors just not exist in the Academy’s eyes? Also, where is David Oyelowo in the Best Actor category? Again, he gave a better performance than any of the actual nominees. Maybe they just thought it would be funny for Bradley Cooper to lose three years in a row.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film I liked a lot but did not love, and I’m shocked to see it get so much love from the Academy. It’s tied with Birdman for the most nominations, at nine. Not because it’s an unusual film for them to laud — it’s actually the most Academy-friendly film of the bunch for being a love letter to “the way things used to be” — but it was released way back in March of 2014. Films released that early almost never get nominated. The famous historical outlier is The Silence of the Lambs, which took home the “Big Five” categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best [Adapted] Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress) despite being released even earlier in the year than Grand Budapest. Silence of the Lambs would have been an unusual nominee whenever it was released, though, so it’s hard to compare any other film to such a hardcore outlier as it.

The most surprising exclusions were in the specialty feature categories, and I was sure both were the frontrunners: Life Itself for Best Documentary and The Lego Movie for Best Animated Feature. I’m not in love with Life Itself, but it’s at least tangentially about movies (which the Academy typically can’t resist) and it’s about a figure who I thought was well-liked in Hollywood. Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour, which I reviewed a few months ago, is now the clear frontrunner, and I’m very happy about that.

The Lego Movie’s absence is even more shocking, though I suppose it makes sense. The Academy is largely made up of old people, and I can see how it might have been too loud and flashy for them. I love The Lego Movie, but if it had to go to make room for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, you’ll hear no complaints from me. Usually there’s at least one foreign animated film with an interesting visual style that gets a token nod amongst the big Hollywood tentpoles, but this year there were two: Song of the Sea as well as Princess Kaguya. I expect How To Train Your Dragon 2 will take this one, though, which is a shame.

I find it hilarious that Birdman didn’t get a Best Editing nomination. I’ve been open about my…let’s call it “apathy” for that film, but of all categories to leave this film out of, the one that it most deserves to be lauded for is a weird choice. I can only imagine that voters looked at the single-take format and thought, “Well, there aren’t any cuts, so I guess that means there wasn’t any editing.” Of course, the fake single-take concept requires more careful and elaborate editing than any of the films that were nominated. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it deserves a seat at the table, but the only reason to leave it out is if you genuinely didn’t consider what editing means in the context of such a film.

So, is there anything I’m happy about this year? Well, if I had my druthers, most of these categories would be entirely different, but I’m not an unrealistic man. I know that Under the Skin and Goodbye to Language were doomed from the start because this entire affair is based on money and politics and those films had neither behind them. I don’t think that any of the nominated films (that I’ve seen) are totally awful. A few nominations did pleasantly surprise me. I was expecting the brilliant Inherent Vice to be totally shut out, but Paul Thomas Anderson did snag a Best Adapted Screenplay nom. Inherent Vice had my favorite screenplay of the year, so I’m very happy to see it represented. I’ve yet to see Two Days, One Night, but I’ve heard nothing but ecstatic raves from those who have. There tends to be at least one acting nomination from a foreign film that is otherwise absent from the list, and Marion Cotillard is it this year.

Rosamund Pike getting nominated for Gone Girl wouldn’t have been a massive surprise going into the announcement, but the film’s lack of recognition in categories it should have been a lock for (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score, Best Editing) make her nod here a little incongruous. She’s a miracle in that film, and I thought perhaps her darker edges would scare voters away. If only Ben Affleck could’ve been recognized for his equally brilliant work in Gone Girl. 

There were some expected nominations that I’m also pleased with. As I mentioned above, I loved The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. It’s arguably the most well-deserved nomination of any film in any category. The same goes for Citizenfour. Whiplash uses editing like it’s playing a musical instrument (ugh, I know, lame metaphor, sorry) and it gave me heart palpitations in the theater, so it’s nice to see it recognized. Though I expect it only got in because most Oscar voters read “Best” as “Most”, and Whiplash has very noticeable editing. That Best/Most paradigm usually translates to bad things getting nominated (see: Steve Carell in Foxcatcher), but it did good work here.

Speaking of Whiplash, its inclusion in the Best Adapted Screenplay category is further evidence that Academy rules and regulations are total nonsense. The screenplay for the full-length feature Whiplash was not based on any previously published material. However, when writer and director Damien Chazelle couldn’t get the feature made, he turned it into a short film instead. That short film was made in order to get the feature financed, and it succeeded. However, because the short film came out first — even though it was based on the original feature-length screenplay — the Academy considers Whiplash to be adapted from it. What they consider “original” and “adapted” never makes any sense. For instance, if your film isn’t based on anything but it’s a sequel with characters from a previous film, it’s “adapted”. If your film is based on real events but it isn’t directly based on a published book or something similar, it’s “original”. So you get films that are clearly taken from real events like Foxcatcher called original, even though other true-life stories like The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything are adapted, because those two films are based on books and Foxcatcher technically isn’t. It’s totally absurd.

It’s strange that Interstellar got so roundly ignored, but its visual effects are undeniably great. I even liked Hans Zimmer’s score, and I normally loathe his work. It did get some obvious technical nominations, even one for Best Sound Mixing amongst all the controversy over its supposed terrible sound mix. I saw it in 70mm IMAX and had no problems understanding dialogue, but people were so up in arms over it that I thought it might get left out. I’m not head-over-heels for Interstellar, but I liked it a fair bit more than many people, and I would’ve been happy to see it in the Best Picture lineup.

Overall, these isn’t a particularly exciting or noteworthy batch of nominees. This is one of those years that people will look back on and think, “Something called The Theory of Everything got a Best Picture nomination?” Decades from now, when Selma has officially garnered classic status, it’ll be a fun bit of trivia that it lost Best Picture to a different accepted classic: Boyhood. And people will think, “Eh, Boyhood was okay. I liked Manhood a lot more.”

 

 

Featured Image:  Birdman, Sony Pictures Classic