There are always surprises in the long history of the Academy Awards – films that don’t receive the recognition they blatantly deserve, films that blast their way unexpectedly into the race at the last minute, and this year has proven that the Academy still knows how to get critics chin-wagging. In what has been condemned as the “whitest” Oscars since 1998, many are questioning the Academy’s sense of diversity (in this modern world) after it was clocked that every nominee in the acting, directing and writing categories is Caucasian.
Nobody’s going to argue that people of other races should be nominated purely on the grounds of their ethnicity, but the upset has hit particularly hard given that one of the major films of the year, Selma, concerns the black civil rights movement of the 1960s, and that – though it received a warranted Best Picture nomination – its lead actor, David Oyelowo, and director, Ava DuVernay, were left out in the cold. DuVernay of course raises another of the Academy’s repeated controversies: its recognition, or lack thereof, of women. Only one woman has ever won the award for Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow, for The Hurt Locker), and only three others have been nominated in its history. The media backlash, however, is not the most helpful of reactions. How are the Academy to bounce back from this next year? Whatever they do, they’ll now inevitably be accused of over-compensating. You just can’t please everybody – it’s as simple as that. But enough about politics The race itself this year is still a very complex and intriguing one.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s spectacular satire Birdman and Wes Anderson’s deliciously eccentric The Grand Budapest Hotel are leading this year’s Oscar nominations, with nine nods each. Closely following behind are The Imitation Game with eight, and Boyhood and American Sniper with six. Typically, some films have been criminally overlooked in areas which they were largely expected to dominate. Gone Girl is a good example. Rosamund Pike has secured a Best Actress nod, but Gillian Flynn’s adapted screenplay and David Fincher’s direction have been snubbed. This brings us angrily to the case of Mr. Turner. Timothy Spall has now been kicked not once, not twice, but three times – right where it hurts – for his grittily disarming lead in Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. How is it that one can receive the Best Actor gong at Cannes, and yet fail even to be nominated for a Golden Globe, BAFTA, or Oscar? The entire film has been shamefully neglected. It would be some small comfort if BAFTA had honoured the film (you’d think they would welcome such a prestigious British biopic), but instead, they chose to fill up their “Outstanding British Film” category with the likes of Paddington and Pride, none of which come close to rivaling Mr. Turner’s brilliance. It’s some small consolation that cinematographer Dick Pope (not “Dick Poop”, as he was unfortunately labeled when his name was announced), has received recognition from the Academy, but let’s not even get into the absurdity of how Mike Leigh failed to secure a directing nomination.
Arguably the most shocking of all snubs came in the Best Animated Feature category, which failed to acknowledge the delightful inventiveness of The Lego Movie. Perhaps it was just a bit too much “fun” for Academy members, but it had a darker Orwellian feel and a stronger message at its heart than it’s been given credit for. It seems now that solid sequel How To Train Your Dragon 2 is leading the race in this category, which is a shame because it hardly compared to the immensely amusing brick-based comedy.
In the acting categories, the biggest surprises were Bradley Cooper’s rather inexplicable nomination for American Sniper (also equally inexplicably nominated for Best Picture), and Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night. Cooper’s nod has little basis, especially considering the abundance of talent on display in the category this year (Jake Gyllenhaal, Ralph Fiennes, David Oyelowo and Timothy Spall were all excluded from the coveted five), whereas the addition of Cotillard is actually quite refreshing considering that she hardly campaigned, and that the Academy often overlooks fantastic foreign language performances. The Best Actor award should be Michael Keaton’s, unless the Academy are swayed by BAFTA’s decision to give it to some home-grown talent like Eddie Redmayne (which would be a mistake, but it arguably happened in 2010 after The King’s Speech wiped the floor with The Social Network at BAFTA). Julianne Moore appears to have her Best Actress gong firmly in the bag for dementia drama Still Alice, and J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette are sitting very comfortably on their Supporting awards. It’s also great to see Laura Dern acknowledged for her role in Wild, but Rene Russo certainly also deserved a nomination for her meaty support in Nightcrawler; the cosy nest Keira Knightley has somehow built in the category is still baffling.
The real nail-biter is, as ever, the Best Picture award itself. Early on in the season, it was almost a “done deal” that Boyhood would swallow the entire category, but its pedestal has been somewhat shaken of late by Birdman, a film that shares its technical prowess (Boyhood was filmed over twelve years; Birdman is filmed as if it is one continuous take). However, it just seems unlikely that the Academy would ever get away with snubbing Richard Linklater (and his entire crew) after he spent so much of his life on the project. At a stretch, Iñárritu may be able to snatch the Director gong in an unanticipated but understandable move by the Academy, but Boyhood is still the firm and likely favourite to win Best Picture.
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