Thursday, January 16, 2014

2014 Oscar Nominees

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced its nominees for the 86th time this morning, and they've had a pretty respectable year.

You can see all the Oscar Nominees here. I couldn't present them more tidily or comprehensively myself.

This was a fantastic year for midstream (ie, not quite art house, but not quite box office mainstream either) movies, with literally all of my favourite currently working directors - Martin Scorsese, The Coen Brothers, Alexander Payne, Spike Jonze - turning in some of their best work yet (plus we had the privilege of a great Sofia Coppolla - I realise I am fairly alone on that one - and a good annual Woody Allen.

The Academy gave a fairly warm reception to all of these, with the exception of Sofia Coppola and - bizarrely - The Coen Brothers.

Scorsese's controversial Wolf of Wall Street scored 5 nominations, including Picture, Director, Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill) and Adapted Screenplay. Amazingly, the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker got shafted for editing. Bizarre, considering the editing in the trailer alone made me weep and her replacement appears to be the guys behind Dallas Buyers Club. It is a great moment for DiCaprio, though, who has received much rejection at the hands of the Academy since Blood Diamond. He goes all out for Wolf and this is a lovely way to commence his apparent acting hiatus. Also huzzah for Scorsese's nomination - he had us worried there for a moment when Academy members started declaring his film repulsive and viewers fled from cinemas in disgust. Fortunately, the Academy retained its balls this year and remembered that cinema is not Disney Land.

On that note, they all but completely snubbed Saving Mr Banks which, while I haven't seen the film and am willing to believe its perfectly lovely, was a smart move. Pity about Emma Thompson's nomination, but it became inevitable that Amy Adams had to make the cut - and ousting Thompson's performance over Streep's was probably the right thing to do.

Most perplexingly, after a six year love affair with the incomparable, incorrigible Coen Brothers (which included an inspired Best Picture nomination for the surreal A Serious Man), the Academy has completely overlooked Inside Llewyn Davis, one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. Sure, they don't care, but in terms of preserving the year in cinema for future generations, that seems like a pretty big oversight. Sure, Please Mr Kennedy didn't qualify for Song, Director was crowded and Actor was way crowded, but no room in the Best Picture race for a Coen masterpiece? More embarassingly, no Screenplay nod? With Cinematography and Sound Mixing we shall be satisfied. Perhaps they can go back to being underdogs rather than Oscar darlings now, which suits them better anyhow.

Alexander Payne has always felt like more of a writer than a director, although he balances dark comedy and poignant drama like no one's business and never fails to extract quiet brilliance from his actors. It seems fitting then that he surplants both Spike Jonze and expected nominee Paul Greengrass as Best Director nominee for Nebraska, his first film from a screenplay he didn't also write. His low key, monochrome drama about family, money and mortality contends across the board, including Cinematography; a first for a Payne film.

Spike Jonze's glorious-looking Her (releasing soon where I live) did smashingly, despite missing out on that Best Director nod. Oh well. Jonze's postmodern digital age love story contends for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Art Directing / Set Decoration and, perhaps most excitingly, Original Song and Original Score by Arcade Fire (credited as William Butler and Owen Pallett). The Academy has a tendency to sideline rock stars and inventive scores in this category (with the sole exception of The Social Network and perhaps Thomas Newman's work), so this is a solid nod. Don't fret though - the rest of their Original Score nominees - other than Gravity - are predictably pallid. It's a pity Her doesn't contend for Editing and, especially, Cinematography, but let's take small winnings where we can get them.

Even Woody Allen gets a pretty respectable showing for Blue Jasmine, with Cate Blanchett obviously setting the stage for a brilliant acceptance speech on Oscar night, but the delightful Sally Hawkins (she of the dastardly Happy-Go-Lucky snub) and Woody's screenplay come along for the ride. Woody's screenplay almost always comes along for the ride.

Beyond my favourite directors, the three films leading the nominations - and likely battling it out for the top prize - are the life affirming Box Office Special Effects extravaganza Gravity; the gut-wrenching, devastating, gorgeous slavery drama 12 Years a Slave and David O'Russell's crowd-pleasing critical darling ABSCAM con movie American Hustle. It's really no contest. With four acting nods (one for each category) for the second consecutive year, O'Russell is the one to beat for Director and Picture, while Slave missed out on nominations for Cinematography and Score, which does not bode well for its popularity with voters. Gravity will, of course, clean out the technical awards, but if it couldn't even win at the Golden Globes (who anointed Avatar Best Drama), we can stop pretending the Academy is taking it that seriously.

On that note, though, Steve McQueen just became only the third black man ever nominated for Best Director. It would be monumental if he won, especially since his film is just so damn good, but the Academy rarely splits Picture and Director - and never on purpose. For some reason, everyone is besotted with David O'Russell and he seems to have this in the bag. I'm not complaining - unlike Silver Linings Playbook, Hustle looks legitimately good.

On the outskirts of the Best Picture race, float one of the year's best films; Captain Phillips - a thrilling real-life survival story that also takes the trouble to be a thoughtful, and thought-provoking, meditation on terrorism and the perceived value of a life. Greengrass's craft is exceptional, and he turns a rah rah Hero's story into the year's great tragedy, without any emotional sleight of hand. It's a huge bummer that Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass missed out on nominations for their brilliant, tightly wound work. Actor and Director were exceptionally crowded this year, and each ends up with a worthy set of nominees - but I'd gladly boot Payne for Greengrass.

Rounding out Best Picture is gritty AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club - bolstered by two of the most talked-about performances of the year - and Stephen Frears' lovely seeming (nothing's been released here, okay?!) Philomena, floating in from the land of Downton Abbey with Harvey Weinstein's seal of approval, and another pitch-perfect performance from Judi Dench.

Other notable nominees:

  • Before Midnight, thankfully nominated for its sensational screenplay
  • The Great Beauty, nominated for Foreign Language Film and Cinematography
  • Prisoners, remembered for Cinematography, giving Roger Deakins yet another chance to lose
  • Frozen, nominated for Animated Feature and Song, and sealing the deal to be the first Disney film to win Animated Feature (and directed by a woman at that)
  • August: Osage County, contending for Actress (close call Meryl) and Supporting Actress
  • The much-maligned Lone Ranger, nominated for Make Up and Special Effects
  • The much-buzzed Lone Survivor, nominated for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing
The big losers:
  • Sarah Polley's much-celebrated, highly inventive docu-drama Stories We Tell missing out on Best Documentary 
  • Emma Thompson snubbed for Best Actress. Someone had to take the fall. Pity it had to be her. She's so delightful, whatever she does.
  • Robert Redford. Crowded category, but still an ouch. 
  • Tom Hanks downgrading from potential double nominee to zero nominee
  • Pixar's Monster's University snubbed in favour of Despicable Me 2 
  • Inside Llewyn Davis sidelined to Sound Mixing and Cinematography
  • Saving Mr Banks' sole nomination for Original Score - just to let them know they did see it, they just really didn't like it
  • Lana Del Rey. It's possible voters recalled her SNL performance and recoiled in fear.