Look, we all know that the Oscars, while prestigious, are not the be-all-end-all of film criticism. There are any number of other distinguished guilds and critical conglomerates giving out awards this year, and they’re all well within their rights to recognize a diverse slate of nominees and winners. (Ok, it’s not all that diverse, but you get the general idea.) But the Oscars are still the most prestigious, most public facing of all the awards shows recognizing feature films in the U.S., and for that reason it’s worth giving some weight to the work that does and does not get nominated. The internet is already being plastered with reactions to this morning’s nominations, so as you wade through that, here’s a guide to three things worth calling down the righteous wrath of God upon…and three that you should just accept as within the margin of difference in taste.
Three Things to Yell About
How in the world did Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in Nightcrawler get stiffed? A lot of people got upset last year when Oscar Isaac didn’t make it in for Inside Llewyn Davis, but unlike last year when you had eleven men who legitimately deserved nominations, it’s not a deep field this year. Bradley Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch were both good, but they’re not up to the caliber of Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne (and side note: I could have gotten behind David Oyelowo replacing either of them for his performance in Selma). And Steve Carell’s performance is on par with the frontrunners, but he’s sharing a movie with two other leads. Compare this to Gyllenhaal, who absolutely makes Nightcrawler. I haven’t seen The Theory of Everything yet so I’m dealing with what by all accounts is a tremendous performance by Redmayne on reputation alone, but for my money Gyllenhaal gave the best. Period. Performance. Period. Of anyone. Period. All year. And he’s somehow not even nominated.
If you’re a regular reader of this site, you might know I’ve been saying for a while just how competitive the animated feature category is this year. That’s without having seen The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which I hear is great, or Song of the Sea, which I hadn’t even heard of before, but by its trailer looks beautiful.
But how, oh how, can you leave the visual and comic brilliance of The LEGO Movie off this list. Look, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is great, and it’s hard to get too upset about snubs in a packed category (see #1 of the Things to Not (Yell About) below), but there’s obvious low-hanging fruit here: Big Hero 6. Look it’s a good film, a fun film. But despite its colorful mishmash of San Francisco and Tokyo, it’s got none of the visual brilliance of LEGO or any of the other nominees, failing to outstrip Dragon 2 in what I guess we have to now call “traditional” CGI style. Far beyond that, Big Hero 6’s story just isn’t anything special, and structurally it’s a tiny bit of a mess. Which isn’t to say The LEGO Movie is any great shakes; one of my main criticisms of the film when it arrived was that it leans a little too hard on established narrative tropes and lags just a touch at times. But LEGO is also doing something with those familiar story elements, whereas Big Hero 6 feels like an also-ran. The LEGO Movie was one of the most clever and inventive animated features in years, and it’s unfathomable that it gets left off this list.
Categories Foxcatcher was nominated for:
– Best Director
– Best Original Screenplay
– Best Actor
– Best Supporting Actor
Categories Foxcatcher WASN’T nominated for:
– Best Picture
Huh? I thought the expansion of possible Best Picture nominees from five films to ten a few years ago was supposed to prevent stuff like this from happening. More baffling, it could have been included without dropping anything else! Just because the Academy can nominate ten pictures doesn’t mean it has to last year, for example, only saw nine nominees. This year, the count stands at eight.
Look at that list above again. How can a movie have one of the best scripts of the year, feature two of the best performances of the year, be tied together by some of the best direction of the year, and not be one of the best films of the year? The answer is it can’t be, and Foxcatcher absolutely belongs on the list of nominees. I’d love to hear someone try to explain how this happened.
Things to Not (Yell About)
You know how I was talking about just how packed the field was for Best Actor last year? That a little bit how this year’s Best Actress category looks. So be sorry for Golden Globe winner Amy Adams and nominee Jennifer Aniston, but don’t get too worked up about their exclusion. A lot of people haven’t had a chance to see Still Alice or Two Days, One Night yet, so despite the Julianne Moore’s newly won Golden Globe and Marion Cotillard’s past Oscar win, plenty of people may see them as the easy exits from this list; in fact, they’re the two front-runners. None of the triumvirate of Felicity Jones, Rosamund Pike, or Reese Witherspoon is a powerhouse candidate, exactly, but it’s hard to argue that either Adams or (form reputation, because I haven’t seen Cake yet) Aniston rise meaningfully over any of them. The ladies nominated gave some very good performances. Be happy for them.
Perhaps one of the buzziest “problems” with the Oscar nominees is the lack of nominations for Selma. And while yes, I think it’s to some degree symptomatic of Hollywood’s white male bias (and that’s a bad thing), it’s also very hard to argue Selma into any of the categories it could be up for. Would I like to see David Oyelowo get a nod over Benedict Cumberbatch or Bradley Cooper? Without question. But like the above, it’s close enough that you can’t get too worked up about it. Did Ava DuVernay deserve a nomination as Best Director? Maybe, but Morten Tyldum is the only obvious weak link on that list, and A) it’s still not exactly a weak link, and B) the Academy very obviously took a liking to The Imitation Game. The place it maybe most deserved a nomination over its competition was in the editing department, where it undoubtedly excels, but is a notoriously difficult category to judge.
Speaking of categories which are difficult to judge, especially when we’re doing so with evidence only from the final film, yes, the Adapted Screenplay category has a couple questionable choices. Most people’s biggest problem with Inherent Vice is that the story is nigh impenetrable, which seems like a screenplay issue. In fact, I was talking to some folks about the movie just this week, and even someone who really liked the movie admitted to being pretty confused by the storyline at times. On the other hand, there is some great dialogue and there are some truly memorable moments. Which brings us to American Sniper, another movie that most people haven’t seen, is splitting opinions, but the Academy seemed to favor. For me, the movie is pretty aimless up until about two thirds of the way through, but again, individual scenes are incredibly tense.
Happy Oscar season!