Making sense of the Academy Award nominations

81st Annual Academy Awards Set Up at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on February 21, 2009
Wow. After all that build up, including months of analysis, the Academy still managed to surprise us. I knew that we were going to get a shocker or two, but early this morning the Oscar nominations threw everyone, myself included, for a bit of a loop. I’m sure you all have seen the nominees by now, but what is there to take from all of this? I’ll be updating predictions tomorrow to reflect who’s in better or worse position for wins now, but today I’m going to just give some quick reactions and try to make sense of it all. Wish me luck…

First of all, here’s who did the best. The nominations were led by Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, which each received nine citations. Next in line with eight was The Imitation Game, while both American Sniper and Boyhood scored six each. Foxcatcher, Interstellar, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash claimed five, while Mr. Turner took four. Finally, Into the Woods and Unbroken scored three, leaving every other contender with two (like Inherent Vive, Selma, and Wild) or fewer. Suffice to say, this wasn’t necessarily the combination that pundits like myself expected. We knew Birdman would do well, for example, but American Sniper, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Imitation Game all exceeded expectations. On the flip side, Gone Girl (one nomination) and Selma were snubbed all over the place.

Of course, the big category was Best Picture, where for the first time we had eight nominees, not the presumed nine due to the sliding scale (side note…can we just go back to ten?). The nominees here were American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash. That left Foxcatcher and Nightcrawler just shy as probably the numbers nine and ten contenders, and as such out in the cold. I managed to get these picks right, but it’s just an odd looking lineup to me. It more or less locks in Boyhood for the win too, but more on that in the coming days and weeks.

Best Director blew me away by having the return of the Lone Director. For those of you who don’t know the reference, it means a filmmaker nominated for Best Director without their movie getting into Best Picture. When there were only five spots in Picture, it happened here and there, but when it went to ten, that possibility went away. Now, apparently it’s possible again with the flexible number of slots. The nominees here were for Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman, Richard Linklater for Boyhood, Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, and Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game. Ava DuVernay was the sad snub for Selma, while you would have thought Clint Eastwood would have made it in considering all of the American Sniper love. Miller is our surprising Lone Director, but this still seems like Linklater’s to lose. Anderson and Iñárritu are threats though, so sit tight there. They have at least a shot at pulling off an upset.

The acting categories offered some surprises as well. Best Actor featured Steve Carell for Foxcatcher, Bradley Cooper for American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game, Michael Keaton for Birdman and Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything, snubbing Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler and David Oyelowo for Selma. Best Actress was made up of Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night, Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything, Julianne Moore for Still Alice, Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl, and Reese Witherspoon for Wild, meaning that Jennifer Aniston missed for Cake. Best Supporting Actor was actually the one lineup that went as expected, having Robert Duvall for The Judge, Ethan Hawke for Boyhood, Edward Norton for Boyhood, Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher, and J.K. Simmons for Whiplash nominated. Lastly, Best Supporting Actress consisted of Patricia Arquette for Boyhood, Laura Dern for Wild, Keira Knightley for The Imitation Game, Emma Stone for Birdman, and Meryl Streep for Into the Woods, leaving Jessica Chastain and Rene Russo out in the cold, for A Most Violent Year and Nightcrawler, respectively. The frontrunners of Arquette, Keaton, Moore, and Simmons remain the same, essentially.

In Best Adapted Screenplay, we saw Gone Girl snubbed, leaving American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash as the nominees. Gone Girl was perhaps the initial frontrunner there, so the category is now wide open. With Best Original Screenplay, it more or less was the expected five, as Birdman, Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Nightcrawler got in. Boyhood could easily win, though Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel will give it a real run for its money. Elsewhere, presumed frontrunner The Lego Movie was snubbed in Best Animated Feature (a wide open field now), Life Itself was left off the list in Best Documentary Feature (which now seems incredibly likely to go to Citizenfour), Interstellar didn’t crack the Best Cinematography lineup (Birdman’s to lose), and Gone Girl also missed out in Best Original Score (probably going to The Theory of Everything), just to name a few of the interesting tech category omissions.

Overall, there were certainly things to celebrate with the Academy picks, as well as snubs to mourn. That’s just the name of the game. We’re on to phase two now, with the nominees battling it out for Oscar wins. It’ll be competitive, that’s for sure, so keep following us for all the news as it happens…

Stay tuned, as I’ll have updated predictions for you all tomorrow!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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