2014 Oscar Nominations: A Look at This Year’s (Few) Surprises

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The West Coast entertainment media got up nice and early this morning (or stayed up all night, YOLO), put on their Thursday best, and turned out to watch Chris Hemsworth and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs announce this year’s nominees for the Academy Award. It’s all become a bit rote at this point: months of breathless speculation, relentless campaigning, and meta-narratives, followed by an announcement that honors a lot of the year’s best, while including a few surprises and shutouts.

In the latter category, the most immediate (and ferocious) response was to the Academy’s apparent distaste for Inside Llewyn Davis, which received only two minor nominations (for Cinematography and Sound Mixing); somewhat surprising was the voters’ love for Nebraska (a presumptive Best Actor nominee, but also receiving nods for Director, Picture, Screenplay, and Supporting Actress) and The Wolf of Wall Street (since some wondered if its extreme behavior would alienate the older voting bloc, especially after they took to yelling at Scorsese at screenings). Let’s take a closer look at the major categories, shall we?

BEST ORIGINAL SONG “Alone Yet Not Alone” (Alone Yet Not Alone) “Happy” (Despicable Me 2) “Let It Go” (Frozen) “The Moon Song” (Her) “Ordinary Love” (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)

This would seem the category where the Inside Llewyn Davis snub is most egregious, since even those who disliked the narrative or style or tone would have to admit that the original songs were kind of perfect. (Except Greil Marcus, apparently.) But because their rules are hopelessly out of date, “Please Mr. Kennedy” was ineligible for nomination. Few surprises otherwise, though some had predicted Lana Del Ray’s Great Gatsby number “Young & Beautiful” might get a nod.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater (Before Midnight) Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena) John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall St)

It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Before Midnight got nominated — after all, Before Sunset got a nod in the same category nine years ago — but this viewer still whooped and cheered when it was announced. About the only seemingly presumptive nominee not included here is Tracy Letts for August: Osage County; it would seem that his slot went to Philomena, which ended up being the Weinstein Company’s biggest Oscar success (surprising, in a year that included such seemingly surefire awards bait as August and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom — both nominees, but not for Best Picture — and the shut-out The Butler).

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY David O. Russell and Eric Singer (American Hustle) Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine) Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club) Spike Jonze (Her) Bob Nelson (Nebraska)

In years past, Original Screenplay tended to be the category where voters got daring; previous winners include The Usual Suspects, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Talk to Her, while Boogie Nights, In Bruges, and Moonrise Kingdom were all nominated. And this would also seem a nice place to have nominated Llewyn Davis; the Coens won the category for Fargo and were nominated for A Serious Man. Alas, all of these nominees are also Best Picture nominees, save for Blue Jasmine (and with 15 nominations — far and away a record for the category — Woody Allen tends to get a nomination here any year he makes a particularly good movie). Aside from that, a little surprising to see Gravity left out, even granting that there are some soulless monsters who insist its script is corny and contrived.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE The Croods Despicable Me 2 Ernest & Celestine Frozen The Wind Rises

If they were going to give a nomination to a big-grossing major-studio sequel, Monsters University would’ve seemed the more likely recipient. (Side note: Five years ago, would you ever have imagined a time when Pixar wasn’t just automatically nominated in this category?) Frozen’s kind of the obvious winner, of course, though it’s nice to see The Wind Rises in there.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE The Act of Killing Cutie and the Boxer Dirty Wars The Square 20 Feet from Stardom

The big surprises here are the exclusions of popular favorites Stories We Tell and Blackfish (both directed by women, natch), in favor of the less-expected Dirty Wars and Cutie and the Boxer — both fine films, mind you, but not equal to those excluded titles. Still, this was an especially competitive year in this category, and this is a good group of nominees (particularly 20 Feet From Stardom, whose nomination announcement was my other thrilled squeal of the morning).

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM The Broken Circle Breakdown The Great Beauty The Hunt The Missing Picture Omar

Those who hadn’t been paying attention to the category were probably stunned that Cannes winner Blue Is the Warmest Color wasn’t nominated, but it wasn’t even on the nine-movie shortlist, since France didn’t release it until after the October 1 deadline (the film they put in instead, Renoir, didn’t even make the shortlist). Of those nine finalists, it’s a little surprising that The Grandmaster didn’t make the cut, especially since it was nominated in Best Cinematography (nice) and Costume Design; you might be able to chalk that up to the controversy over the bowdlerized version dumped onto dumb ol’ U.S. audiences.

BEST DIRECTOR David O. Russell (American Hustle) Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) Alexander Payne (Nebraska) Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

As mentioned above, Payne (and even Scorsese) were by no means locks here, and presumably played spoiler to such seemingly safe bets as Captain Phillips’ Paul Greengrass and Her’s Spike Jonze. Then again, three of these slots are fairly inconsequential; this one is between McQueen and Cuarón, and will be one of the hardest awards of the night to predict. But either way, history will be made — if either of them takes it, it will mark the first time the award will have a black or Hispanic winner.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) Jared Leo (Dallas Buyers Club)

No big shocks here, though first-timer Abdi was by no means a shoo-in, and some predicted (and, speaking personally, hoped for) a posthumous nod for James Gandolfini’s marvelously against-type turn in Enough Said. If anything, the surprise here is that this is Fassbender’s first nomination (to put that in perspective, it’s Hill’s second).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) June Squibb (Nebraska)

Some are expressing surprise that Oprah Winfrey didn’t pull one for The Butler, but the mixed response to that film (and her lack of a nomination from the starry-eyed Golden Globes) made that a fairly forgone conclusion. Hawkins and Roberts were slightly less sure things, but both are previous nominees in strong ensembles, so that wasn’t much of a stretch either. But I think I can speak for the entire Flavorwire staff in pronouncing lifelong allegiance to Team Squibb.

BEST ACTRESS Amy Adams (American Hustle) Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) Sandra Bullock (Gravity) Judi Dench (Philomena) Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Emma Thompson seemed like a pretty sure shot here, but the Academy seemed unmoved by Saving Mr. Banks (and good for them), nominating it only for Best Original Score. It seems that her slot went to Streep (well played, Ms. Streep), and while these are all fine performances by some of our most respected actresses, boy it would’ve been nice to’ve seen some love for less predictable choices like Adèle Exarchopoulos or Greta Gerwig or Julie Delpy or Brie Larson or…

BEST ACTOR Christian Bale (American Hustle) Bruce Dern (Nebraska) Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Probably the most well-stacked category, and disappointments abound, but hey, there’s only five slots. Oscar Isaacs was everybody’s favorite dark horse here, but as we’ve discussed, the Academy clearly wasn’t having any Llewyn Davis. Joaquin Phoenix was also wonderful in Her, but his bonkers public image and resistance to campaigning were presumably liabilities in this crowded field. Robert Redford was kind of amazing in All is Lost, but it almost seems like the Beloved Living Legend slot went to Bruce Dern — and it’s sorta fine for there to just be one of those, since Ejiofor and McConaughey were first-time nominees. (DiCaprio’s been nominated three times before and never won, and the most recent was clear back in 2007, before his current run of excellent work.) And as for Tom Hanks, well… his was certainly one of the year’s best performances, and those closing scenes alone would win it handily for a lesser-known actor. But it seems safe to bet that the voting logic was something along the lines of, “Eh, he’s already won twice.” Now, why that didn’t translate to skipping previous winner Christian Bale, who knows?

BEST PICTURE American Hustle Captain Phillips Dallas Buyers Club Gravity Her Nebraska Philomena 12 Years a Slave The Wolf of Wall Street

Nine of these are pretty much as expected (aside from maybe Nebraska and, as Leo calls it, Philomania). But this is the snub — and I’ll call it that — that gets to us Llewyn Davis boosters the most, since Academy rules allow up to ten nominees for Best Picture, but their weird voting rules mean they don’t always fill all of those slots. And this year there are nine, and Inside Llewyn Davis should be the tenth, full stop, end of discussion.

The Academy Awards will air Sunday, March 2, pushed back from their February perch by the Winter Olympics, which means an extra week or two of talking and talking and talking about the nominations. Enjoy!