Awards Season Extraordinaire weighs in on the 87th Academy Awards

Vinnie Lione-Napoli

If I had to pick my favorite Thursday of the year, I’d tell Thanksgiving to get lost and instead settle for the wonderful day in January when the annual Academy Award nominations are announced. What could be better than that? 

As I sit here staring at these Oscar nominations that were released just last week, two thoughts constantly pop into my mind: “I am so, so happy for ‘Whiplash’” and “Are you kidding me, Academy?”

Now, let me elaborate by saying that I’m sure the voters are not kidding. Surely they just made some mistakes, right?

I mean, why else would they only nominate “Gone Girl” for Rosamund Pike’s captivating performance, all the while ignoring David Fincher’s trademark directorial skills, the chillingly beautiful score by Fincher’s go-to guys Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross or the surprisingly well-adapted screenplay by source material author Gillian Flynn herself?

I can’t get too upset about “Foxcatcher,” considering the much-deserved recognition for director Bennett Miller and two of the stars, Steve Carell in what may be one of the finest performances I’ve seen in recent memory and the always-great Mark Ruffalo. The film even squeezed out Best Original Screenplay and a makeup nod, but no Best Picture?

As a forewarning, my main aim for this column is not to discuss who should win out of the nominees but instead to discuss the grounds for each nomination and each snub. I’ll save my discussion of who the likely and deserved winners are for a future piece.

Now, anyone following Oscar season at all this year can easily rattle off the handful of films that were heavily expected to see a glimpse of the gold come February. Right now, go through them in your head. Obviously “Boyhood” and “Birdman,” right? Then we have acting tour-de-forces “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything.” Throw “Foxcatcher,” “Gone Girl,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and the unbelievably stellar “Whiplash” in there. Speaking of stellar, “Interstellar” fits in nicely. “Selma” has been under fire as of late, but there’s no denying the Oscar-caliber gravitas there. “Into the Woods” and “Unbroken” have lost some steam, but there’s always hope.

Did you mention “American Sniper?” Oh, right, neither did I. But the Academy did in its nominations six times.

Now I hear the film is great, but what fascinates me is how “American Sniper” received absolutely zero Golden Globe nominations, further cementing the film as an afterthought shoved into the running through sheer luck. One of the most recent instances of a film going from nada at the Globes to respect at the Oscars is 2010’s remake of “True Grit.” And how many of those 10 nods were turned into wins four years ago? None.

Let’s take a closer look at the film side of the Golden Globes in order to get a better understanding of what the Academy was thinking with these nominations. I’ve written in the past about the disparity between Globe nods and Oscar nods, but there is often a semblance of consistency. Even better barometers for success include the Producers Guild picks for the best films and, well, I’m sure you can guess what the Directors Guild and Screen Actors Guild honor.

As many of us already know, the Globes split their Best Motion Picture prize into two categories: Drama and Musical/Comedy. Obviously, the drama field usually contains a higher percentage of films that end up snagging a Best Picture nod at the Oscars due to the “comedy” field usually being forced.

Take a look at 2010, again a so-so year in film. Two of the five Musical/Comedy nominees were the live-action “Alice in Wonderland” reimagining and “The Tourist,” both pretty weak Johnny Depp vehicles, the latter of which holds a stunningly low 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The year before, “The Hangover” won the category. Let that sink in. “The Hangover.”

So, yeah, big shock that Globe winner “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and assured runner-up “Birdman” were the only ones to escape the category. Dating a decade back to the end of 2004, only a single Musical/Comedy winner has won– Best Picture 2011’s black-and-white silent film “The Artist.” The past 20 years? Only two more join the crowd: 2002 musical “Chicago” and 1998 romantic comedy “Shakespeare in Love.”

While these statistics most certainly don’t help the chances of “Birdman” or “Budapest,” this year has thus far been a special kind of race. With most Best Picture winners nowadays coming in the last three months of each year, the March release date of “Budapest” and July release of “Boyhood” are pretty big deals.

We can understand why studios release their Oscar bait in the late autumn, right? The closer to the ceremony films are premiered, the better their chances. Times are changing, as evidenced by the fact that nine out of the first 10 winners were released before September. But these were the ’20s and ’30s, and if studios want their films to be fresher in the minds of voters, they must play the new game: shoot for December.

Part of me is proud of Wes Anderson director of “Budapest” and Richard Linklater director of “Boyhood” for proving that the mold can be broken with a truly, truly excellent film as well as a little smart campaigning in the subsequent winter.

But do you know who played the game and lost? Despite their autumn release dates and heavy Best Picture buzz, “Foxcatcher” and “Gone Girl” were the two most notable snubs from the grand prize.

I mentioned earlier that one of my persistent thoughts is how happy I am for “Whiplash.” With a healthy five Oscar nominations this year, one of the best, most underrated films in years finally got some respect. Okay, fine, J.K. Simmons won a Golden Globe for his villainous turn as a psychologically abusive jazz instructor, but the Hollywood Foreign Press Association ignored “Whiplash” in every other field.

“Whiplash” also scored a key nod in the Film Editing category, a longtime indicator of a Best Picture-quality movie. Sure, the winner of this important editing award doesn’t always end up winning Best Picture, but the eventual winner has been nominated every year since 1980’s “Ordinary People” didn’t get recognized for post-production efforts.

So that’s good news for a handful of movies, including “American Sniper” and hooray ”Whiplash,” but “Birdman” wasn’t nominated which is a huge deal. Not only was the film edited to look like one long cut which is no simple task but now a “Birdman” win is unfortunately not too likely. But hey, “Boyhood” should win this category anyway, shooting a film over 12 years is no simple task.

Best Director is also a great indicator of ultimate success. The director of the Best Picture winner is always at least nominated, right? Oh wait, Ben Affleck didn’t for 2012’s “Argo.” But before that, 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy” won the top prize yet did not pick up a directorial nod. “Birdman” is at least here, but where’s “Whiplash?” That hurts my feelings right there, especially considering how masterful the direction was in the climactic scene. At least “Foxcatcher” was nominated here for Bennett Miller, but I’m not expecting the world for the “Moneyball” director.

“Selma” got snubbed pretty badly in a bunch of categories, derailed by alleged historical inaccuracies pertaining to the portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson. Ava DuVernay, a black female director, made history by getting nominated for a Golden Globe. But where’s her Oscar nod? Where’s the nomination for David Oyelowo, who wowed critics with his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I get that there are 10 total lead acting nominees for each gender at the Globes due to the genre split, meaning that five men and five women are going to get canned. Some people are going to be disappointed, but the question is, “who?” The big snubs seem to be not only Oyelowo but also Jake Gyllenhaal for his intensely creepy turn in the underrated “Nightcrawler.”

Jennifer Aniston broke her comedy mold with her acclaimed performance as a chronically depressed woman in “Cake,” yet she was unable to convert her Globe nod into an Oscar one.

While the supporting actors here are all the same as they were at the Globes, only four out of the five supporting actresses are going to the Dolby Theatre in February. Laura Dern got in for playing Reese Witherspoon’s character’s mother in “Wild,” while Jessica Chastain’s fantastic turn as the amoral wife of a benevolent oil tycoon in “A Most Violent Year” went unrecognized by the Academy.

Also, seriously Meryl Streep? Not to discredit your now-19 nominations, but how was she nominated for her role in “Into the Woods” this year? There has to have been room for Chastain by leaving out what felt like a run-of-the-mill Streep performance.

Other notable snubs include “The LEGO Movie” not getting a Best Animated Feature nomination. That’s a massive disgrace right there. What was considered a frontrunner for the category in the beginning of the year has now been completely forgotten. Does nostalgia, or incredibly intricate computer animation for that matter, mean nothing anymore?

Seeing movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy” pop up in the makeup and visual effects fields is awesome, though. I love when efforts to make a film look fantastic are rewarded with an Oscar nod, even if they’re not your typical Oscar fare.

I suppose we’ll just have to see how this goes in about a month. The reason why I questioned whether or not the Academy was pranking us was because I just feel that the nominations are a little…off this year. All the right films are at least present somewhere, but are they present in the right categories?

I’ll return in a few weeks before the ceremony to go into depth regarding who the winners could and should be, which might be easier to predict once the aforementioned guild awards are given out soon.

In the meantime, let me wish Neil Patrick Harris luck. If the choices the Academy makes disappoint, he’d better make sure not to as host.