The 2014 Academy Award nominations were announced on Thursday morning. With 10 nominations, including Best Picture and a Best Director nod for Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity looks like the favorite going into the awards ceremony on March 2. But American Hustle, which also earned 10 nominations, has proven to be very popular among awards voters and could win the big prize. Additionally, 12 Years a Slave earned nine nominations and its Golden Globes win for Best Picture could be a precursor to an Oscar victory in the same category.
As with most any award in entertainment or sports, focus often quickly turns to those who were snubbed. The Oscars are certainly no exception to that. It's probably the first thing most analysts and fans point to. Never afraid to pile on here at The AP Party, I have to point out a couple of those snubs myself. Along with those mentions, here are a few other quick observations from the 2014 Oscar nominations.
Best Actor Was Absolutely Loaded
Tom Hanks, the lead actor in a Best Picture nominee, didn't get a nomination for Captain Phillips? Also, he's Tom Hanks! But it's not just about his name and reputation. If you saw Captain Phillips, Hanks was incredible in the last third of the film. I would argue he should've been nominated just for the scene in which he's being examined by a nurse after being rescued and trying to process the ordeal he's been through.
Robert Redford seemed like a strong contender for All is Lost. Maybe this was just the wrong year for a screen legend to get what would essentially be a lifetime achievement award. There were too many other great candidates. But Redford carrying a movie almost entirely on his own, with very little dialogue, was one of the most compelling performances of the year.
I also thought Joaquin Phoenix warranted consideration for Her. Phoenix acts against a voice for most of the movie and has to convey excitement, joy, pain and love with no one physically sharing those scenes with him.
But when talking about snubs, which of the actual nominees could be replaced by someone arguably more deserving? In this case, I would knock off Bale off the list. Bale obviously impressed in American Hustle by putting on weight, sporting a ridiculous combover and adopting a convincing New Jersey accent. But I would argue that the movie successful because of its ensemble cast, the sum of its parts rather than an individual performance.
Yet we're still talking about three actors for one remaining spot. I don't think you could justify booting any of the other four nominees in this category. Best Actor was just an incrediby tough draw this year. Someone was bound to get overlooked.
Captain Phillips Was Snubbed Elsewhere
Another notable snub was Paul Greengrass not being among the five nominees for Best Director. (Her director Spike Jonze was also snubbed.) Perhaps I'm biased because I thought Captain Phillips was the best movie I saw last year. But it's baffling to me that a film with such dramatic tension, that shot so much footage at sea and included a gripping, masterful sequence depicting the Navy Seals' rescue of Hanks's character isn't receiving more recognition.
(In talking so much about Captain Phillips' snubs, however, one of the cooler nominations of the day was Barkhad Abdi earning a Best Supporting Actor nod for his portrayal of the lead Somali hijacker. While he can seem villainous and fearsome in the movie because his face conveys so little emotion, Abdi also shows how those in his position had little choice but to become pirates if they wanted to survive.)
As much as I enjoyed Nebraska, I wouldn't consider it one of Alexander Payne's best films. The movie is carried by its actors, notably Best Actor nominee Dern and Best Supporting Actress candidate June Squibb. Saturday Night Live alumnus Will Forte is also surprisingly good. Maybe Payne deserves credit for that, for choosing to keep his camera (and editing) still and letting his cast shine. But his undertaking doesn't compare to the work of his fellow nominees (and other deserving hopefuls).
Jonah Hill, two-time Oscar nominee
Sure, that's an easy joke with Hill making his name in raunchy comedies. But he's been rather outspoken about wanting to transition to dramatic roles and showed in a Rolling Stone interview last year that he takes himself very seriously. Hill's role and surprise Best Supporting Actor nomination for Moneyball obviously opened some doors for him, and he capitalized on that opportunity by winning a key role in a Martin Scorsese film.
His performance in The Wolf of Wall Street is largely comedic, but there are some serious notes to it. I'm thinking especially of a scene in which Hill's character realizes that his mentor, the man who introduced him to dealing stocks and making ridiculous amounts of money, has lost his fortune and can no longer escape the FBI. And he conveys it all with his face, not over-the-top pratfalls or goofy expressions.
Inside Llewyn Davis Got No Love
This is fodder for the argument that film critics don't matter as much as they used to. The National Society of Film Critics picked the tale of a folk singer struggling through the early 1960s Greenwich Village folk music scene as the best film of the year. Several critics, including the New York Times' A.O. Scott, made the Coen brothers' latest film their top choice.
Yet it didn't receive a Best Picture nomination. Oscar Isaac had nowhere to go in the Best Actor category. You would think a movie about a musician might earn a Best Song nomination. But the signature song from the film, "Please Mr. Kennedy" wasn't eligible for the category, apparently because it closely resembles other songs from its era.
Other films that seemed to be Oscar contenders, yet may not have been critical darlings like Inside Llewyn Davis, include The Butler and Saving Mr. Banks. During a year in which nine films were nominated for Best Picture, one of these seemed likely to be included. But Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena were somewhat surprising nominees and squeezed out other presumed candidates.
No Documentary Nomination for Blackfish?
Just because a movie was widely seen doesn't mean it's deserving of Oscar consideration. We know that. Otherwise, Iron Man 3 and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire would be Best Picture nominees.
To be fair, I only saw two of the five films up for Best Documentary, Dirty Wars and 20 Feet from Stardom. I was happy to see Stardom nominated, as it turned a spotlight on people and a story that hasn't received its due attention. That's what so many good documenatires accomplish. But Dirty Wars — while provocative and arguably also drawing attention to underreported aspects of our involvement in Afghanistan, Yemen and other countries — seems to be more about reporter Jeremy Scahill and his crusade, rather than the stories he's attempting to uncover.
But I'd argue that more people saw Blackfish last year than any of the five films in the Best Documentary category. That's likely especially true over the past two months as Blackfish was in heavy rotation on CNN before and during the holidays. The movie drew such impressive ratings and generated so much conversation on social media that the network added additional showings to its schedule. Blackfish is also streaming on Netflix, attracting even more viewers and feedback.
How many documentaries have such an effect on the culture at large? Musical acts such as Heart and Trace Adkins have canceled performances at SeaWorld after seeing the film and how the park treats the killer whales it keeps in captivity. SeaWorld could suffer major losses in attendance and revenue because of Blackfish.
Again, this aftermath doesn't mean that Blackfish is a better film on its merits than The Act of Killing or The Square. But not being nominated speaks to the disconnect that many people feel toward the Oscars, despite their significant cultural influence and popularity. When people don't see films they saw and/or enjoyed being recognized, the Academy Awards hold less meaning.