Click here to view the full list of nominations for the 86th Academy Awards
The Oscars: “Recognizing the year’s best films…”
…or, at least the ones that come out October-December, feature a towering lead performance, are financed and distributed via major studios, and push the boundaries in terms of story and form just hard enough to challenge the general audience without offending them. We get it – the Academy Awards will always be the best of the safe. We actually get a pretty decent line-up of nominations this year featuring overlooked and significant films from around the world and a few unexpected and well-deserved appearances, but praise and politeness isn’t nearly as fun as a good bout of complaining, so here’s how the Academy completely screwed up.
Hasn’t Llewyn Davis had a hard enough life? The Coen Brothers melancholic character study about a struggling folk singer in 1961 Greenwich Village was our second favorite film of the year but is outright ignored by the Academy in the nominations. Oscar Isaac is a revelatory success as Llewyn and just unknown enough an actor to pull off the sensitive, unkempt character. Isaac performed all of the folk songs in the film (both classics and originals) himself – forget acting, the guy is an astounding musician in his own right. The Coens tell their most downtrodden story yet, and it’s all so wonderfully watchable. Considering only nine of the ten available Best Picture slots were used, this the most shocking snub of the year.
The Best Foreign Language category culls the great films of every country in the world into only five nominations. After each country submits one official pick for consideration, the selection is narrowed down to a shortlist of nine films before the official top five are selected. As you might suspect with this level of exclusivity, each nomination is a must-see. I’m particularly proud of mesmerizing Italian knockout “The Great Beauty” and the anxiety-inducing thriller “The Hunt” from Denmark which do appear in the final nominations. The obvious missing link is a film from Iran called “The Past” that was considered a sure-thing to most English-speaking audiences who were captivated by its twisted domestic drama. We’ll have to chalk it up to director Asghar Farhadi having won Best Foreign Language Film only two years ago for “A Separation,” but “The Past” is nonetheless an excellent movie that deserves the attention. Also failing to make the cut after appearing on the shortlist is a great World War II drama from Hungary, “The Notebook” – my favorite film from the Chicago International Film Festival in 2013 and a movie that really could have used the push towards American audiences.
Let’s talk Best Actor. Everyone knows Leo has had it coming for a decade now, and “The Wolf of Wall Street” may be his best performance yet. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Bruce Dern are mind-bogglingly good, and Matthew McConaughey has had a great, career-changing year. The main problem with the acting categories is that five picks is just never enough to cover the notable work being done in a full year and that remains particularly true this season. Besides the actors nominated, there’s Robert Redford’s poetic isolation in “All is Lost,” Jaoquin Phoenix in “Her,” and how about Tom Hanks in “Captain Phillips?” Hanks sells the intensity of that Greengrass film with a matter-of-fact performance that culminates in an unforgettable closing scene that takes his reputation as a powerful actor to a new level without muttering more than a few words. I had also hoped to see the late James Gandolfini honored for his gentle and very funny work in “Enough Said” where he stars opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
The documentary category is well-chosen but missing Sarah Polley’s essential introspective family mystery “Stories We Tell.” Maybe its early summer release put it just outside of memory when stacked against more recent projects. On full-hearted little people-studies, at least “20 Feet From Stardom” was recognized, and thank god for “The Act of Killing” – the film that absolutely needs to win in this category. But I’m sure the most popular snub vote is for “Blackfish” – a film that’s been hugely successful as a call to action against SeaWorld after appearing on Netflix Instant and carrying generally very positive hype amongst the mainstream.
“Blue is the Warmest Color” sadly was not eligible for Best Foreign Language Film this year (due to its release date) but could have made its way into other categories – specifically in honoring actress Adele Exarchopoulos beautiful and committed work. Emma Thompson (“Saving Mr. Banks”) was also unexpectedly outted from the running for Best Actress. Category main-stay Meryl Streep (“August: Osage County“) deservedly returns for what must be her 180th nomination at the Academy Awards. On the supporting side, I’m proud of Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave“) and Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine“), but I’m baffled by Jennifer Lawrence’s inclusion (imagine how I felt when she actually won at the Golden Globes) for her work in “American Hustle“. I wasn’t fond of David O. Russell’s clunky follow-up to “Silver Linings Playbook” and Lawrence in particular failed to impress me by essentially reprising the same exact tone that got her the Oscar for that comedy.
Overall, we’re working with some fantastic films that represent great technical and creative achievement. If only the attention given to good work could extend just a little further into the independent arena so that rougher films like “Short Term 12,” “Fruitvale Station,” and “The Spectacular Now” could have a place at the most-watched awards show of the year.
Did I cover everything you’re fuming about? Start your own discussion! Leave a comment with your favorite pick and most infuriating snub.