Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscar Nominations: Winners and Losers

People have been telling me for a while that I need to create a film blog, and at long last, I have finally heeded their advice. And I figured that there was no better way to kick off said blog than with a discussion of something about which I care most: The Oscars!

Oscar nominations were released this morning and, while there was not too much that came way out of left field, with such a great year for film and a field that was packed with awards contenders, there were definitely some films which got edged out. So, let's talk about the biggest surprises of the year!


Films: August: Osage County, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Inside Llewyn Davis, Rush, Saving Mr. Banks

These five films had a good amount of Oscar buzz going for them as they approached the Oscar season. The Butler seemed like the most awards-baity awards bait of all time, featuring a standout ensemble cast and an important subject matter. Over time, the buzz faded a bit, but it was still in the running to receive acting nominations for Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey. Not only did Whitaker and Winfrey end up out of the running (which is especially surprising for Winfrey, who many had claimed would win the prize when the film was released), but the film received zero nominations and will be unrepresented on Oscar night. Also unrepresented is Ron Howard's gripping racing drama Rush. While Rush had never been a huge contender, it made a strong case for some technical awards, and seemed like a definite lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination for star Daniel Bruhl. Now, Bruhl is not a big name, but he has been nominated for just about every other acting award there is for this film (BAFTA, SAG, Golden Globe, and several Critic's Choice Awards). Bruhl's snub here might be overshadowed, by, say, Oprah Winfrey's, but is one of the more shocking omissions for me at least.

Unlike The Butler and Rush, Saving Mr. Banks and Inside Llewyn Davis did receive nominations, but still underperformed. Saving Mr. Banks had always been a bit of a wild card-- it didn't really have a lock on any nomination, but was never quite out of the running for Best Picture, Best Actress (Emma Thompson) or Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hanks). Unfortunately for it, none of its wild card spots actually paid off and the Oscar hopeful ended up with just a single nomination in the Best Original Score category. A film which had quite a bit more buzz was Inside Llewyn Davis, from Oscar darlings the Coen Brothers. But despite buzz in lots of major categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay, its only two nominations come in Sound Mixing and Cinematography. It's certainly a disappointing showing for the well-received film, which couldn't even garner a Best Original Song nomination for the fun and fantastic "Please Mr. Kennedy."

August: Osage County didn't do too terribly, with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts picking up expected nominations in the acting categories, but the film had a disappointing showing nonetheless. A film once named the early favorite to win the whole shebang, its lukewarm reception was not enough to overcome the desperate marketing attempts of the producers. I thought it would score a Best Picture nomination on the influence of the producers alone, but am honestly glad to see it failed to make the list. Another big blow for this film is not receiving a best screenplay nomination-- as it was written by Tracy Letts, based on his Pulitzer-prize winning play.

Acting: Daniel Bruhl, James Gandolfini, Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Oprah Winfrey

I've already spoken about Bruhl and Winfrey in the previous section. Gandolfini's snub here is, I think, deserved-- he gives a sweet and understated performance in Enough Said, but if he had been nominated, it would have simply been in recognition of his whole career, and would have taken the spot from someone more deserving for this year. Still, especially coming off of a SAG nomination, Gandolfini had seemed like a strong possibility and he should be included in any list of surprises. Some would also say that Robert Redford's lack of nomination for All Is Lost is a snub, although I personally never thought he'd make the list. Bruce Dern had the old-guy-comeback nomination all wrapped up. Still, it is sad that Redford will not be recognized on what might be his last chance.

But, the big shock here-- even bigger than Winfrey being overlooked-- is Tom Hanks not getting a nod for Captain Phillips. Hanks had at one point seemed like he would be a double nominee this year, getting nominations for both Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks, but ends up completely empty-handed, being beaten to the nomination by Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street. Hanks gives a powerful performance-- especially in the film's final moments-- and was seen as a lock by almost everybody. But, the Oscars clearly favored American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street this year (which I'll touch on more in a bit) and so their stars grabbed the final two spots and Hanks got edged out. This bodes poorly for Captain Phillips' chances as a whole. Although it racked up an impressive 6 nominations, including Best Picture, three of those nominations are in the editing and mixing categories. With director Paul Greengrass not getting a nomination, and Hanks also being snubbed, this film's chances are rather dead in the water and it will likely leave empty-handed on Oscar night.


One of the bigger snubs for me actually comes in the Best Documentary Feature category. The SeaWorld expose' Blackfish was pegged by many as an early favorite to win (and should be seen by everyone-- it's on Netflix!) yet fails to score a nomination. I'm personally hoping this means that the award will go to the powerful, disturbing, and completely unique The Act of Killing which truly attempts something unlike anything I've ever seen in a film before.

While it was never going to be a frontrunner in the major categories, it's still surprising to see zero nominations in the technical categories for this summer's giant-robots-versus-subterranean-aliens flick Pacific Rim. Remember, even the Transformers films have received nominations in the past for their visual effects, and Pacific Rim excelled technically. Yet, it's empty-handed. Also in this vein is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Another film with strong technical achievements, and a great popular reception (not to mention an Oscar-winner fronting the franchise), this is the second time a Hunger Games film has been completely left out of the running for the Oscars. Again, this isn't terribly surprising, but especially with the positive reception to Catching Fire, it seemed as if a technical nomination was not completely out of this film's grasp.

Another notable name missing from the list is Pixar. The studio which churned out Best Animated Feature after Best Animated Feature fails to get a nomination for Monsters University, which will be especially painful if the frontrunner-- Frozen-- wins, as it's from Pixar's rival studio.

But, now that we've talked about the snubs, let's look at the list as a whole. Which films fared the best? Here are my picks for the three biggest "winners" of the nominations.


American Hustle-- The best picture race has always been a three way heat between 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, and Gravity, with the former two the more likely films to win. American Hustle and Gravity each received 10 nominations while 12 Years received 9, so all had great showings, but American Hustle has one major advantage after today's nominations: it received nominations in all four acting categories. This is a rather large feat. Although another David O. Russell film, Silver Linings Playbook, managed this last year, the last time this had been done before that was in 1981 for Reds. And while Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence seemed like locks for a nomination, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper certainly were not, and their inclusion in these competitive categories bodes well for the film's chances. It's still a close race between American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave (although don't be shocked if Alfonso Cuaron wins best director for Gravity) but after these nominations, American Hustle got a push in the direction it wants to go in.

The Wolf of Wall Street-- This film has always been a bit of an enigma, with its late release meaning that it didn't get much consideration at some of the early awards shows. It received positive reviews, but amongst it there were some decidedly negative ones, and with such a good year for film, some predicted it would simply be beaten out in the major categories. I never thought it would fare badly-- the Oscars love Scorsese and his name alone gave it good chances in the Best Picture and Best Director categories. But this film succeeded well beyond what would have originally been predicted. It may have only received five nominations, but they're in major categories (picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay) and overall had a great showing. Perhaps most surprising-- even moreso than DiCaprio beating out Tom Hanks-- is the inclusion of Jonah Hill in the supporting category. The film is unlikely to win any of these five awards, but it still performed better than expected.

Nebraska-- This film has always been a strong bet for a Best Picture nomination, and had rather secure nominations for Bruce Dern and June Squibb, but the reason I name it as one of the big winners of the nominations list is for one reason only: Alexander Payne's nomination for Best Director. Payne's understated style makes him very different from the other four nominees on this list, and is one of the bigger surprises here. While his nomination was always a possibility, it seemed like the fifth spot would be going to someone like Greengrass, or Spike Jonze for Her, or Jean-Marc Vallee for the extraordinarily well-received Dallas Buyers Club (by the way, Vallee's exclusion here officially kills the chances of Dallas Buyers Club gaining a surprise Best Picture win). Again, Payne won't win, but his inclusion marks that among the nine best picture nominees, Nebraska slightly edges out some of the rest in terms of courting Oscar voters' favor.

Other thoughts:

Not only do we have to say "Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill," but now it's two-time Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill. And good for him-- it's an impressive run for someone who is still seen primarily as a goofy comedian.

I loved Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine but hated the film (I'm so glad it didn't get a Best Picture nomination, as some thought it would), and am especially perplexed by Sally Hawkins' inclusion in the Best Supporting Actress category.  Hawkins is a wonderful actress, but her role is simply not a nomination-worthy role, and that she is here over Winfrey is rather mind-boggling to me. Her inclusion might have more to do with her infamous snub for her starring role in Happy-Go-Lucky than with anything else, as the Oscars love to play catch up and right any perceived wrongs they've made in the past. Which means that maybe there's still hope Jim Carrey actually will be nominated one day...though don't hold your breath.

The Best Makeup category is always fun for me because it often leads to critically-reviled films scoring a nomination (in previous years, films like Click and Norbit were able to say they were Oscar-nominees because of this category). This year is no exception. Along with the acclaimed Dallas Buyers Club, the other nominees in Makeup and Hairstyling are The Lone Ranger and Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. Great.

As always, if you have a chance to see any of the nominated shorts (live action short, documentary short subject, or animated short) then do it. They're often some of the best films of the year.

I love  the love for Philomena. This film was released without much fanfare and has managed some major nominations here based almost entirely on the fact that the film is just really good. It was not originally seen as a strong awards-contender, but has performed well and received four nominations, including for Best Picture. Yes, good. See this movie. You will like it. I can all but guarantee you will like it.

What do you think are the major snubs and surprises? Please comment and discuss, and stay tuned for more Oscar talk, including my predictions for the winners as the Oscars draw nearer!


  1. Captain Phillips being "dead in the water" lol lol lol

  2. Great review, Miles! I can't believe that the DVD for "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" is actually going to say "Academy Award Nominee" on it! I thought Tom Hanks was snubbed big time, but I am willing to bet that a lot of the nominees in that category were close. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the only one on that list that I would have said was a shoe-in. Given that everyone has to vote again, he might not even win. The Oscars might decide to play some catch-up and give DiCaprio what I like to call a "cumulative career Oscar" for the Aviator, Blood Diamond, heck maybe even his lack of nomination for Titanic. And he was very good in The Wolf of Wall Street, so it wouldn't be un-deserved. I bet that Bruce Dern, Christian Bale, Tom Hanks, and Forest Whitaker received a similar number of votes, and Hanks and Whitaker lost out by a small margin. Bruce Dern will likely join the come-back but not good enough for a win category (Mickey Rourke, Peter O'Toole). Alan Arkin's win for Little Miss Sunshine was an anomaly win. Captain Phillips didn't become an Oscar contender until the end of the film, and that doesn't bode well for its chances overall. Act of Killing is going to be hard to beat. Miyazaki might pull off a win although I must say, I was really disappointed by "The Wind Rises" (read: I fell asleep). I think American Hustle is going to do really well, but I am completely unsure whether it can beat 12 Years for Best Picture.