Each year, critics and movie buffs decry the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ list of nominees for the Academy Awards, chastising the Academy for missing obvious choices, overlooking powerful performances, or focusing on too narrow a set of films. Shortlists generally show the Academy favoring classic Oscar fare and honoring some offbeat indie picks, while snubbing other deserving movies.
Here are some the biggest surprises and most shocking omissions from this year.
“Selma” claims a Best Picture nomination, but falls short in other top categories
While getting a Best Picture nomination, the critically acclaimed civil rights drama “Selma” failed to garner any other nominations in top categories. The Academy did not nominate star David Oyelowo for his superb portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr., director Ava DuVernay (who would have been the first woman of color to be nominated for Best Director in a traditionally male-dominated category) or the screenplay.
Selma’s weak showing at precursor awards was chalked up to guild voters not receiving screener copies of the film, but weak support at the Oscars is still surprising. The movie received the least nominations for any Best Picture nominee this year (its only other mention was for Best Original Song) — a failure which cannot be fully explained by the movie’s late release, given the stellar showing of “American Sniper.” Either the movie didn’t connect with voters or criticisms about its historical accuracy proved crippling.
What was once a potential front-runner will now very likely spend the rest of the Oscar race reduced to a footnote, which is a shame. Fortunately, Oscar snubs don’t always dictate a movie’s legacy, and the artistic achievements of “Selma” should overshadow its poor awards showing.
“American Sniper” surprises with spectacular showing
Dark horse Best Picture contender “American Sniper” broke away from the pack, accumulating six nominations, including Best Picture. But in one of the biggest surprises of the day, star Bradley Cooper broke into the Best Actor race, despite no-showing at precursor awards. The story of the United States’ deadliest sniper also got a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination and many technical nominations. Despite a Director’s Guild Award nomination, Clint Eastwood expectedly missed out on Best Director, considering the strength and breadth of competition. Regardless, this former dark horse is now at the front of the pack, and is one to watch going forward.
Popular commercial films were given the cold shoulder
Overall, the slate of nominees represents typical historical dramas with some more offbeat films, but the more commercially successful contenders fell short all around. Expected Best Picture nominee “Gone Girl” not only failed to make the list, but Gillian Flynn’s excellent adaptation of her own novel failed to get an Adapted Screenplay nomination (while the screenplay for the polarizing “Inherent Vice” surprised). The Best Actress nomination for Rosamund “Amazing Amy” Pike was the only mention given to David Fincher’s hit.
“Interstellar” reaped five technical and musical nominations, but missed out in top categories, representing another loss at the Oscars for the consistently snubbed Christopher Nolan (the fact he still has never been nominated for Best Director is baffling).
In one of the most surprising omissions, the Academy did not nominate “The LEGO Movie” for Best Animated Feature. Considering it was the most critically and commercially successful animated film of 2014, its absence seems a serious oversight. The audience greeted its absence with an audible groan.
It is worth noting that some nominees may go on to become big hits. “The Imitation Game” is doing well and should receive a lot more business after its strong showing. “American Sniper” looks like it may be a smash, and “Selma” also only started its theatrical run last weekend. Regardless, the lack of big box office hits in the eight Best Picture nominees is noticeable considering the category was recently expanded to give room to the sort of acclaimed, popular movies which were nevertheless left out this year.
Bennett Miller sneaks into the Best Director race
One of the biggest surprises of the day was Bennett Miller’s nomination for Best Director for “Foxcatcher.” This is the first time since the Best Picture category expanded in 2009 that a nominated director’s movie has not been a Best Picture nominee.
Steve Carell scores in Best Actor
It looked like Steve Carell was getting pushed out of the hyper-competitive Best Actor category, with the BAFTAs indicating he might end up in the Best Supporting Actor race. But Carell ended up with a well-deserved Best Actor nomination for his dramatic transformation in “Foxcatcher.”
“Nightcrawler” and its momentum fails to pay off
Despite a terrific showing at precursor awards, autumn surprise “Nightcrawler” fell short in major categories, apart from a Best Original Screenplay nomination. It missed out on an expected Best Picture nod and Jake Gyllenhaal’s terrific lead performance went unnoticed. While it was not traditional Oscar fare, it looked like the Academy would honor it.
Marion Cotillard bumps Jennifer Aniston
Dark horse Best Actress nominee Marion Cotillard ended up bumping Jennifer Aniston from the race. The nomination is surprising considering Cotillard’s film “Two Days, One Night” missed the Best Foreign Language Film shortlist despite acclaim, coupled with Aniston’s nomination by the Screen Actors Guild.
Laura Dern appears in the Best Supporting Actress category
Despite little notice from precursor awards, Laura Dern received a surprise Best Supporting Actress Nomination for her great work as Cheryl Strayed’s (played by Best Actress nominee Reese Witherspoon) mother in “Wild.”
“Birdman’s” invisible editing stays invisible to Academy
It seems like the Academy actually thought “Birdman” was filmed in one take, as the editing wizardry that helped the movie pull off its “one-shot” magic trick went unnoticed in the Best Film Editing category. This omission could actually mean trouble for “Birdman” and its Best Picture hopes, since there is a strong historical correlation between Best Picture winners and Best Editing nominations.