Thursday, January 15, 2015

Oscars 2015: Reaction to the Nominations

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning and, like every year, there were some snubs and surprises. But, I must say, this year felt especially surprising. Considering what a great year it was for film, a lot of the nominees struck me as being generally unimpressive, while far more deserving work was passed over. Not only were the notable omissions surprising, they felt very unjust. When one makes predictions about awards ceremonies, it's important to keep personal opinions out of it or you will always be disappointed. But, nonetheless, a lot of these nominations just feel wrong. So, today, I really feel like a bit of an Oscar grouch.

Pictured: me right now
As the Oscars draw closer (they air on February 22nd) I will offer a more in-depth analysis and make predictions in all of the categories, but for now, here are my first thoughts on today’s nominations. You can find the whole list of nominees here.

Every year the Oscars has a couple of wildcard films that might break their way into the field. This year, it was American Sniper, which had a slow start in terms of building awards buzz due to a very late release, but started doing well at the later guild awards. It proved to be the major surprise this year. I had not predicted it to be a best picture nominee but after it started picking up a bunch of technical awards, it became clear it was going to be on the list. And it beat out deserving contenders like Foxcatcher, Gone Girl, and Nightcrawler. Nightcrawler had only an outside chance of making it so I’m not too surprised by this, but Gone Girl was seen as a definite contender and got snubbed not just here, but in multiple categories. The worst snub for me, though, was the absence of Foxcatcher because is actually did perform well with the nominations. It picked up two acting nominations, a directing nomination, and a screenplay nomination (and, with the exception of Mark Ruffalo’s nomination, none of those were guaranteed). So, when all of these elements are so strong, how is the film not recognized as a best picture of the year? On the plus side, Selma got a nomination, which I was starting to think would not happen seeing as how it got snubbed in every other category other than Best Song. I’m also glad to see Whiplash, once seen as a long shot in this category, get recognized. That’s the type of film that makes a case for having the extended field of Best Picture nominees—a really great movie that otherwise might not have gotten recognition. Also, we can pretty much just agree now that Boyhood is going to win Best Picture, right? It's pretty much guaranteed at this point, and it is certainly worthy of the trophy.

I’m glad to see Wes Anderson get his first ever director nomination for The Grand Budapest Hotel. And Richard Linklater and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu are, deservedly, the frontrunners to take home this award. But the other two nominations were surprising. I for one am really glad that Bennett Miller got recognized for Foxcatcher—he does such amazing work, especially with his ensemble. But the other award leaves me scratching my head. Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game? Really? What about that directing was extraordinary? Like everything about that movie, it was decidedly good to average, and his inclusion here over the more deserving contenders like Ava DuVernay and David Fincher is frustrating.

My shock at the warm reception for American Sniper continues here. With such a competitive category, Bradley Cooper is a definite upset, beating out much more deserving candidates such as David Oyelowo, Ralph Fiennes, Timothy Spall, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Especially Jake Gyllenhaal. After being nominated for pretty much every other award out there, how does Gyllenhaal, who gave by far one of the best performances of the year, not get the Oscar nomination he so richly deserved?

The big surprise here is the always deserving Marion Cotillard, who delivers what is supposed to be an incredible performance in Two Days, One Night, but who has been mostly out of the running at most major Oscar ceremonies. Who did she beat out? Jennifer Aniston for Cake. Was Aniston ever a real contender to win? No. Everyone’s going to lose to Julianne Moore. But Aniston really did deserve it with a career-defining performance. I’d hoped to see her work recognized, and after all of her accolades up until now, it’s surprising that it is not.

No huge surprises here, but…Robert Duvall for The Judge? Really? I mean, he has gotten a bunch of nominations for this, including a SAG and Golden Globe nomination, but…really? The Judge is so generic and his performance so solid but ordinary that a nomination for Duvall honestly seemed unlikely to me. I thought he’d be bested by Josh Brolin for Inherent Vice, but no. Duvall is probably the most surprising not surprising nomination this year.

Patricia Arquette, Keira Knightley, Emma Stone, and Meryl Streep were all locks. But with a fifth nomination up in the air, everyone wondered who would sneak in! Would it be Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year? How about Naomi Watts for St. Vincent? It even looked like longshot Tilda Swinton, who gave what I thought was the best performance of the year in Snowpiercer would actually make it into the running. But, no. The fifth nomination went to Laura Dern for Wild. Dern is undeniably a talented actress, but her role in Wild is…I don’t know. Her nomination feels mostly settled on rather than earned. Like when Mitt Romney got the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

These are good nominees. I like these nominees. Good job, Oscars. You did a good. I am still mad at you, but, for this category at least, you did a very good. Nightcrawler gets its only nomination here and, while it deserved more, at least its something.

The huge upset here is Gone Girl, which I thought had a shot at outright winning this category. The screenplay was masterful and, in what was widely considered a fairly weak field to choose from, its snub here is especially shameful. Especially over a group of fairly unimpressive nominees, seemingly chosen for the film’s overall prestige as opposed to actual writing talent. I wasn’t nuts about Inherent Vice or its screenplay, but can certainly understand why it was nominated based on ambition alone. I’m hoping Whiplash pulls off a win—after a strange decision by the academy to classify it as an adapted screenplay instead of an original one, it stands out as by far the most deserving of these candidates.

Oh wow. Oh wow wow wow. This is probably the biggest upset of the day with The Lego Movie failing to get a nomination. I’m pretty sure everyone is scratching their heads over this one. But it does blow the field wide open. Instead of The Lego Movie, the academy honored three films from smaller, independent studios—The Boxtrolls, Song of the Sea and Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya. The award will probably go to one of the higher-profile competitors. How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6 are worthy frontrunners.

Often one of the most difficult categories to predict, it’s hard to be too surprised by anything…but it is nonetheless surprising that the film about Roger Ebert, Life Itself, which was very well-received and beloved by the film community, failed to make it. Look for Edward Snowden doc CitizenFour to take home the title.

Not much to say about these—the biggest snub in this category is the Belgian film Two Days, One Night for which Marion Cotillard got an acting nomination, BUT that film was snubbed a while ago when it failed to even make the shortlist for the nominations. The winner will be either Poland’s Ida or Russia’s Leviathan.

Not much to say here. Some great choices, really. I’m glad Mr. Turner got nominated. That was some gorgeous cinematography, to be sure.

This is a neat category for me as it features some really creative costumes, in a category that typically goes to those who simply make the best period piece costumes. Even the two period pieces had some really interesting things going on—Inherent Vice’s biggest success was that it really captured an era and the costumes were a big part of that. And while Mr. Turner had the standard “gorgeous period piece costumes” there was a lot more quirkiness going on than in most. It’ll be interesting to see which route the academy goes down in terms of actual voting—will the showboaty pieces of Into the Woods and Maleficent  win out over the more realistic—but still pretty wacky—costumes of the other nominees? Time will tell.

The biggest surprise here is that the spooky underscoring from Gone Girl’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross—who previously won in this category for The Social Network—fails to score a nomination. Once again, Gone Girl gets snubbed. But the snub that hurts me most is Antonio Sanchez not getting recognized for his percussive score for Birdman, which was very distinct, unique, and which served the film beautifully. Compare that to the very nice, but pretty typical scores you find in Mr. Turner and The Theory of Everything and it’s clear to me which score is more truly original.

While the songs “Grateful” and “I’m Not Going to Miss You” were not expected, the other three nominees were the big ones that everyone was ready to see announced. So, there are no huge surprises in this category. I love Begin Again, and the tune “Lost Stars” is lovely, but look for Selma’s powerful closing anthem “Glory” to be the frontrunner on Oscar night.

I’m at a loss as to how Birdman was not nominated here, considering that the editing work convincingly made the film seem like a single take. How does that not get recognition? In a just world, this award will go to Whiplash for its final scene alone—an epic, nine minute drum solo that was cut together from, I believe, 23 hours of footage.

I don’t really know much about sound editing. So I default to wanting Birdman to win because I want Birdman to win most awards. I’m sure that the producers of Unbroken—once seen as a legitimate Oscar contender and potential Best Picture nominee, are glad that their film walks away with a sound editing nomination.

THIS CATEGORY ENRAGES ME. HOW. THE. FUCK. DID. INTERSTELLAR. GET. A NOMINATION. FOR SOUND MIXING. A LOT OF PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT SOUND MIXING IS. WELL, YOU KNOW HOW IN MOST FILMS, YOU CAN HEAR THE ACTORS TALK OVER THE BACKGROUND NOISE? THAT’S DUE TO SOUND MIXING. THAT IS, IN FACT, SOUND MIXING 101. AND INTERSTELLAR FAILED MISERABLY. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. The film has been widely criticized for its atrocious sound mixing (enough so that Christopher Nolan had to actually make a statement to clarify that the sound mixing job was not a mistake). Its nomination here is appalling—for me, of all the disappointing surprises at this morning’s nomination, this one is by far the worst. While Gyllenhaal, for example, deserved a nomination, I wouldn’t say those that were nominated instead of him are undeserving. Here, with Interstellar’s sound mixing nomination, actively bad work is being rewarded. And that is horrifying to me. Fuck you, Academy. Seriously. I hated the movie. But even if I had liked it, the sound mixing would have been terrible. That is, simply, a fact.

I’m really angry about this.

The shortest list of nominees on this list, there weren’t any super big makeup jobs this year apparently. Steve Carell’s prosthetic nose and Tilda Swinton’s old age makeup will probably ultimately lose out to The Guardians of the Galaxy. You know Drax the Destroyer? No CGI. That look was all makeup. You know Groot? Not animation, that was all makeup. Okay, that one was a lie.

The award for which film makes the biggest explosions is thankfully free of Michael Bay this year and showcases the above-average offering of big blockbuster films. Which is why I’m sad that Interstellar will probably beat out the other, good films which are nominated here. I know the effects were good, but…I just really hated the movie. And you know what else I hated? THE SOUND MIXING IN THAT MOVIE?! HOW THE FUCK WAS THAT NOMINATED?! I’M STILL NOT OVER IT!

The sophisticated sounding award for “which film looks the best” offers us an interesting array of nominees this year. The pretty period piece look for The Imitation Game versus the much darker and surreal period piece look for Mr. Turner. The whimsical signaturely Wes Anderson look of The Grand Budapest Hotel versus the grand, dark, fairy tale world of Into the Woods. And then there’s the poorly mixed sound look of Interstellar.

I love the short films. These are highly competitive awards and, every year, offer some pretty outstanding nominees. Now that the nominees have been announced, see if you can find a chance to view these films (for my fellow New York residents, the IFC Center offers screenings of all the Oscar-nominated shorts every year). The only well-known nominee this year is the animated short film Feast, which preceded Big Hero 6. It was good—very sweet, but I will admit I wasn’t blown away by it as many were. I’m excited to see what the other nominees have to offer and I hope that you are too.

And those are all of the categories! One last thing, I was very pleased with how the nominees were announced. Most years, they only announce a few major categories (best picture, best director, the acting categories, etc.) and then release the rest of the nominations online. But for the first time, they actually announced all 24 categories this year. And I think it’s about time. Every category is important, and every category is there to honor outstanding work in the field of film. And I’m glad that sound editing, for example, was given the same revered treatment as best picture.

Share your thoughts on the nominations below! Which nomination pleased you? Which nomination/snub pissed you off the most?

The correct answer is Interstellar's nomination for sound mixing. And before you ask, yes, I am already doing a writeup on why I hate Interstellar so much. Stay tuned, and get pumped.

On a personal note, it's exciting to announce that I started this blog pretty much one year ago-- the first post here was my reaction to LAST year's Oscar nominees. Thanks to those who have read and enjoyed the blog! There are many more cinematic and other cultural endeavors to come!

1 comment:

  1. I should point out that I am aware that the Oscars are problematic. Truly, every year they are. But in a year that was so innovative, to see mediocre work nominated over true creativity has made me more upset than usual. Almost every category features a headscratcher. I care about the Oscars so much because I think it's wonderful that, every year, we even have a ceremony honoring the medium of film. It's a celebration, and a recognition of good work, and that is always worth talking about. In a world where television is so adaptable and evolving and theater is made so inaccessible, I think film is the most consistent and unifying artistic medium we have. And that's why I care about the Oscars. And that's why these nominations have made me so grouchy.