The 2015 Oscar Nominations’ (Few) Good and (Many) Bad Surprises


Oh Oscar, you bastard, why do we let you get under our collective skin, every damn year? This morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their nominees (full list here) — and they were chock-full of surprises, both delightful and infuriating. (Your film editor tries in general, and will particularly try here, to avoid using the word “snub,” with its connotations that anyone is owed anything.) So let’s take a look at the major categories, and where those surprises landed.

Best Picture American Sniper Birdman Boyhood The Imitation Game The Grand Budapest Hotel Selma The Theory of Everything Whiplash

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Foxcatcher landed nominations for Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay, but no Best Picture — which is weird, since they could’ve nominated up to ten films (and usually go for nine; the math behind the final number is weird and complicated). Also, The LEGO Movie’s fans assumed/hoped that its exclusion from the Best Animated Feature category was due to a Best Picture nomination, but nope; they apparently just didn’t like the damn LEGO Movie, “Everything Is Awesome” aside.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: Early on in the nomination announcements, it became clear that the Academy really, really liked Whiplash — nominating not just odds-on Supporting Actor fave J.K. Simmons, but its screenplay, editing, and sound mixing. It was by no means a shoo-in in those categories. Oh, and considering its many shut-outs elsewhere (more on those here), the nomination for Selma was, by that point in the announcements, both a surprise and a relief.

Best Actress Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything Julianne Moore, Still Alice Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl Reese Witherspoon, Wild

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Despite everyone agreeing that Cake was crap, Jennifer Aniston’s Golden Globe nomination was making her look like a real contender here; that got shut down. And Amy Adams, an Academy favorite (five Oscar nominations, no wins) seemed like a pretty safe bet for Big Eyes, which did get her a Golden Globe Sunday (after Oscar nominating ballots were due, alas).

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: YAAAAY MARION COTILLARD. The stunningly gifted French actress — and 2008 Oscar winner — gave two award-worthy performances this year, in both Two Days and The Immigrant. But with The Weinstein Company spite-blocking Immigrant and little campaign budget or muscle at the disposal of Two Days distributor Sundance Select, Cotillard seemed like a long-shot; her inclusion here is a reminder that Oscar voters occasionally see these things clearly — and we needed that reminder this morning.

Best Actor Steve Carell, Foxcatcher Bradley Cooper, American Sniper Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game Michael Keaton, Birdman Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: David Oyelowo. And David Oyelowo. And have I mentioned David Oyelowo? His stunning turn as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that the legend was also a man, one of warmth and humor and complexity, while capturing the cadences and energy of the oratory without resorting to imitation. Oh, and not for nothing, but if he had been nominated, maybe we wouldn’t have 20 white people out of 20 acting nominees. Just a thought! Also, Jake Gyllenhaal (for Nightcrawler) and Ralph Fiennes (for Grand Budapest) had worked up a pretty good head of steam over the past few weeks, but they apparently couldn’t squeak into a fiercely competitive race.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: Because that field was so competitive, some wondered if early favorite Carell might get squeezed out (particularly considering that — personal opinion here, I know, but! — it’s a supporting role). Out of the rest of the bunch, Cooper seemed iffiest, but keep in mind that this is an actor clearly beloved by his nominating peers; Sniper marks his third nomination in as many years.

Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette, Boyhood Laura Dern, Wild Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game Emma Stone, Birdman Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Jessica Chastain and Rene Russo, magnificent in A Most Violent Year and Nightcrawler (respectively), seemed like pretty safe bets — particularly since they were both far better than some of these nominees. And yeah, I know Carmen Ejogo (for Selma) and Carrie Coon (for Gone Girl) weren’t really in the conversation, but still…

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: With all the attention Reese Witherspoon’s received for Wild, I hadn’t heard much chatter for Dern, who is very good as her mother. But she’s pretty much great in everything, and hasn’t been nominated since 1992, so good for her. On the other end of the spectrum, Jesus Christ, what would Meryl Streep have to do to not get nominated for Oscars anymore?

Best Supporting Actor Robert Duvall, The Judge Ethan Hawke, Boyhood Edward Norton, Birdman Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: These were probably just wishful thinking, but boy it would’ve been great to see something here for Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice or (yes) Tyler Perry in Gone Girl.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: Let’s not pretend like Robert Duvall’s nomination for the widely derided The Judge is anything more than a bullshit sentimental favorite situation — or that it matters, since Simmons has this one all sewn up anyway.

Best Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman Richard Linklater, Boyhood Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Sigh. Ava DuVernay could’ve been the first African-American woman nominated for Best Director, and they missed it by that much. Which is not to say she should’ve been nominated solely for that reason; she should’ve been nominated because Selma’s direction is flawless, its Edmund Pettus Bridge sequence or the march to the county clerk’s office or the execution of Jimmie Lee Jackson directed with more skill, passion, and electricity than the entirety of something as bland as The Imitation Game. (Side note: no one seems all that surprised that Clint Eastwood wasn’t nominated; his DGA nom seemed, and continues to seem, like an anomaly rooted in idolatry).

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: Yes, Morten Tydlum’s inclusion is unfortunate, though not unexpected. More surprising is the nomination for Bennett Miller; though an earlier nominee for Capote (but not Moneyball), he was the only one here who wasn’t nominated by the Director’s Guild earlier this week, and (as previously mentioned) Foxcatcher didn’t make the Best Picture cut.

Best Foreign Language Film Ida Leviathan Tangerines Timbuktu Wild Tales

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: We already had an idea of some obvious, and surprising, pass-overs via the previously released shortlist: Cannes Palme d’or winner Winter Sleep, Xavier Dolan’s beloved Mommy, and the terrific Two Days One Night (whose exclusion here seems even more striking now that Cotillard nabbed a Best Actress nod). From the shortlist, I can’t even begin to guess how Force Majeure missed — particularly since it was one of the most widely seen and discussed films in contention.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: It certainly seemed possible that those Wild Tales might prove a little too wild for voters, but that minor note aside, these all seemed plausible.

Best Documentary Feature Citizenfour Finding Vivian Maier Last Days in Vietnam The Salt of the Earth Virunga

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Again, we had a shortlist to work from, so those paying attention had already blown their stacks over a few conspicuously missing titles (The Unknown Known, Whitey, Point and Shoot, Happy Valley). But there are some real puzzlers here. The big shock is the lack of love for Life Itself, one of the most acclaimed documentaries of the year — beloved by critics, to whom it’s kind of a big love letter, but still. (Worth noting: this is the third time, after Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters, that the documentary branch has given director Steve James the shaft.) Also on the shortlist but not the final ballot: Nick Broomfield’s mesmerizing Tales of the Grim Sleeper, the moving Overnighters, the powerful Kill Team, the ingenious Art and Craft, and the wickedly entertaining Jodorowsky’s Dune.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: Last Days in Vietnam is very good! It also feels very much like a well-made PBS documentary (which it was), so it beating out the aforementioned titles is a bit of a shock. (Then again, maybe not: the doc branch has always leaned super-traditional.) And The Salt of the Earth’s nomination may have more to do with the name of co-director Wim Wenders than the actual splash the movie made (which was pretty minimal).

Best Animated Feature Film The Boxtrolls Big Hero 6 How to Train Your Dragon 2 Song of the Sea The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Y’know, we get the feed we cultivate, but the second-biggest surprise from my Twitter timeline (after all those Selma misses) was The LEGO Movie getting left out here. It is a bit of a shock, following its equally surprising loss of this prize to Dragon 2 at the Golden Globes; everybody seemed to loooove that movie, but the party is over, apparently.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: The animation branch actually has a pretty decent history of including independent and foreign animated titles in their nominees (previous examples: Ernest & Celestine, A Cat in Paris, The Illusionist, Chico and Rita, The Wind Rises). Still, it was a bit surprising to see The LEGO Movie get passed over for the far lesser-known Song of the Sea and Tale of the Princess Kaguya.

Best Original Song “Everything Is Awesome,” The LEGO Movie “Glory,” Selma “Grateful,” Beyond the Lights “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” Glenn Campbell: I’ll Be Me “Lost Stars,” Begin Again

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Considering their Golden Globe nominations and marquee names, Lorde’s “Yellow Flicker Beat” (from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1), Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye’s “Mercy Is” (from Noah), and Lana Del Rey’s “Big Eyes” (you know) seemed like pretty safe bets — though it’s important to remember that this nominating branch is kinda bonkers.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: Since Beyond the Lights was generally ignored all fall and “Grateful” wasn’t popping up in any predictions lists, this one was a bit of a jaw-dropper — though it should be noted that composer Dianne Warren is an Oscar fave with six previous nominations (including, and you might want to sit down for these, Mannequin’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” Up Close and Personal’s “Because You Loved Me,” and Armageddon’s “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing,” aka the Jukebox from Hell). Word around the campfire is she did some personal campaigning on this one.

A few other stray observations:

  • Among the most egregious but least-discussed of Selma’s exclusions was Bradford Young for Best Cinematography; Young (who also shot, beautifully, A Most Violent Year) is a black cinematographer who understands that you actually have to light and photograph people of color differently. His work on Selma is stunning, so yet another bummer in that column.
  • A big surprise in the editing category: nothing for Birdman, in spite of the skill with which its editors hid the stitches and cuts that made the movie seem like it was (mostly) all one shot. Once again, “Best Editing” seems to mean “Most Editing.”
  • Considering all of the people complaining about Interstellar’s muddy sound mix, the nominations for sound mixing and sound editing should prove quite controversial with your geekiest of film geek friends.
  • Best Production Design to the rinky-dink-looking Into the Woods? Are you fucking serious?
  • Perceived frontrunner Boyhood actually doesn’t top the nominations tally (thanks to its lack of technical nods); it has six, compared to nine each for Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
  • Those nine nominations make this easily the biggest year to date for Wes Anderson; he’d previously received only three total nominations in three different years, two for screenplay (The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom), one for animated feature (Fantastic Mr. Fox). He matches those three this year alone: for screenplay, direction, and picture.
  • Unsurprisingly, the squaresville Academy didn’t show much love for the other idiosyncratic filmmaking Anderson; Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice received only two nominations, for costume design and adapted screenplay. (Unbroken and Into the Woods got three.) Also receiving two nominations: Guardians of the Galaxy. Also: Selma. More on that to come…