Friday, January 17, 2014

15 Thoughts on the 2014 Oscar Nominations (for 2013 Films)

1. This year Oscar spread the love a bit thinner than usual in the acting categories. Of all the acting nominees, only three -- Gravity's Sandra Bullock and Philomena's Judi Dench in Best Actress and Captain Phillips' Barkhad Abdi in Best Supporting Actor -- represent their films solo, and those three are all in Best Picture nominees. That might partly explain the snubbing of Saving Mr. Banks' Emma Thompson, who was shortlisted by all of the major precursors, to make way for both American Hustle's Amy Adams and August: Osage County's Meryl Streep, who I presume were duking it out with Thompson for the fourth and fifth Best Actress spots.

2. A few years ago when Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill were, respectively, The Hangover dude and the guy I was always confusing with Seth Rogen, I never would have guessed in 2014 they'd both be two-time Oscar nominees.

3. I'm not saying that the two films were creative equals, though I definitely enjoyed the less-heralded one more than I did the multiple Oscar nominee, but if 12 Years a Slave had been released in 2014 instead of last year, would the Academy have shown more love to Lee Daniels' The Butler? I was fairly certain that Oprah Winfrey at least would get a Best Supporting Actress nod, but I'm not going to complain that Blue Jasmine's Sally Hawkins, who really should have been a 2008 Best Actress nominee for Happy-Go-Lucky, stole her spot (presumably).

Personally, I would have given her Julia Roberts' place, not because I had a problem with Roberts' performance in August: Osage County but because she really should have been competing with the leading ladies. I wonder if she, not Meryl, would have made the Best Actress line-up had she campaigned in the appropriate category. Twenty years ago, when Roberts was to mainstream cinema what Jennifer Lawrence is to it today, and the Academy was taking a brief break from Streep, that would have been a no-brainer.

4. Movie songs are rarely hit singles anymore, but remember the days when you could count on at least one Best Original Song nominee being a Billboard Hot 100 hit that nearly everybody knew? Quick sing the chorus to one of this year's nominees! While I wait, let me say this: I'm glad the Academy was paying attention to that early scene in Her when The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O took over the film for a minute or two with "The Moon Song." Sadly, I don't see her beating the guys in U2, who, interestingly, were previously nominated for "The Hands That Built America" from 2002's Gangs of New York, the first Oscar-nominated Martin Scorcese-Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration, which shared a titular styling (noun-preposition-place) as well as a municipal setting (Manhattan!) with their current Oscar-nominated one, The Wolf of Wall Street.

5. The Academy really must have hated All Is Lost. Not only was Robert Redford left out of Best Actor, but Golden Globe winner Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros failed to be nominated for Best Original Score.

6. I saw Amy Adams' first Best Actress citation -- for American Hustle -- coming (though I figured it would be at the expense of Meryl Streep, not Emma Thompson), but I'm pleasantly, ecstatically, surprised that Christian Bale is up for Best Actor. I think he is the most deserving nominee of the Hustle cast. This makes the second time that he and his The Fighter costar Adams are up for Oscars for appearing in the same movie and the second (consecutive) time that Silver Linings Playbook nominees Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are, though the latter two have been demoted this year from lead to supporting, while the formers have done the opposite. (Fun fact: Amy Adams was previously nominated for Proof alongside her Best Actress competition Meryl Streep, her Julie and Julia costar who was the only one nominated for that film.)
7. Continuing along my Amy Adams train of thoughts, doesn't it seem like she's had to work a lot less hard for her five Oscar nominations than Michelle Williams had to work for her three? Both were Best Supporting Actress Oscar-nominated for the first time for 2005 performances (in Junebug and Brokeback Mountain, respectively), and after Williams landed her second consecutive Best Actress nod for My Week with Marilyn two years ago, she seemed almost destined to be either an Oscar winner by age 35 or a near-perennial nominee like Adams is now. Both are looking less likely now.

8. I'm an Amy Adams fan, but possibly Junebug aside, has she been nominated for a role that she stamped so indelibly that you just couldn't imagine anyone else pulling it off? I could have seen a number of actresses in Adams' shoes in Doubt, The Fighter, The Master and American Hustle, but Adams is the only actress I can imagine getting Oscar nominations for all four. Does she benefit from being a director's favorite who keeps getting cast in "prestige" films? Her last three nominations have been for performances in Best Picture contenders, and aside from the year she got her first nod for Junebug, she's always been one of at least three nominees from the film for which she's nominated.

9. One other Amy Adams thing: She's the only Best Actress nominee who isn't a previous winner. The two who have won Best Actress -- Bullock and Streep -- were supposed to costar in the 2005 film Prime and once famously made out onstage after tying for the Critics Choice Best Actress award. Meanwhile, former Best Supporting Actress winners Blanchett and Dench, who were both nominated for costarring in 2006's Notes on a Scandal, both have been nominated for playing Queen Elizabeth I, the role that brought Dench her win for Shakespeare in Love in 1999, the year Blanchett was Best Actress-nominated for the first time for Elizabeth. (Oh, and incidentally, there goes Leonardo DiCaprio, Blanchett's fellow Oscar nominee in The Aviator, the film for which she won Best Supporting Actress in 2005, in Best Actor.)

10. Poor Jeremy Renner. Of American Hustle's five major players, he's the only one who was never in the Oscar discussion (therefore it's not really a snub that he was the only one not nominated), which probably has more to do with the fact that Mayor Polito was the movie's least showy character, reacting to the story rather than driving it. Going into the film, he already had two Oscar nominations (one in the lead category, one in supporting), so I guess we can think of Hustle as Bale's and Cooper's chance to play catch-up.

11. This is the second year in a row that a Best Picture nominee directed by a Best Director nominee (Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle's David O. Russell) has also landed nominations in each of the acting categories. Has that ever happened before? Apparently, Russell is an actor's best bet to get nominated. Are you reading this, still-un-nominated Dennis Quaid, Donald Sutherland, Ewan McGregor, Richard Gere and Cameron Diaz?

12. Is the Academy officially over Tom Hanks? He was snubbed for not one, but two performances this year. Saving Mr. Banks is understandable, considering that he was never a main contender, and the movie was overlooked in all of the major categories (though its music was recognized in Best Original Score), but the Captain Phillips omission is harder to ignore. The film's Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay nominations as well as Barkhad Abdi's Best Supporting Actor nod indicate that the members of the Academy liked the movie itself but Hanks, maybe not so much. Did they see those final scenes? (By the way, couldn't the people in the audience for the nominations announcement have pretended to be a little bit more enthusiastic about Abdi's nomination? Maybe since it was the first one announced, they were still waking up.)

13. Can someone please explain how Blue Is the Warmest Color missed out in Best Foreign Language Film? When Chris Hemsworth and the Academy president were reading the nominees and the first one was Belgium's The Broken Circle Breakdown, I was certain they were going in alphabetical order by country, or perhaps using The Life of Adele, the literal English translation of Blue's French title, La Vie d'Adele.

14. Is Oscar a little ageist? Well, considering that for the second year in row there's an over-80 acting nominee (Nebraska's June Squibb, 84, in Best Supporting Actress), probably not. But what happened to Best Actor's once-looming status as a grandpa category this year? It always skews slightly older, but one month ago, the five presumed nominees -- Bruce Dern, 77, Chiwetel Eijofor, 36, Tom Hanks, 57, Matthew McConaughey, 44, and Robert Redford, 77-- made it seem more geriatric than usual. By replacing Hanks and Redford with Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio, both 39, the shortlist immediately became more representative of Gen X thespian talent. (And now we can say that both Redford and DiCaprio have been overlooked for playing the title character of an adaptation of The Great Gatsby, whose 1974 version co-starred DiCaprio's current Best Actor rival Dern.)

Over in Best Actress, the inclusion of Adams, 39, over Thompson, 54, means that the category where there's usually at least one ingenue in the running, has only one actress under 40, the age when great roles for actresses presumably dry up.

15. Does Matthew McConaughey have a better chance in Best Actor because he's in two Best Picture nominees (Dallas Buyers Club and The Wolf of Wall Street) and therefore the Academy will get to see more of his work while screening the movies? (I have a feeling he has the vote of Best Actress nominee Sandra Bullock, his costar in his 1996 breakthrough A Time to Kill.) Will this won't work in favor of Amy Adams, who was also in two Best Picture nominees, American Hustle and Her? Attention, Cate Blanchett. Best Actress just became a two-woman race!

See all of the Oscar nominees here.
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