The Academy once again goes its own way with a singular list of Oscar nominees

Posted by · 5:37 am · January 16th, 2014

As it always does, the Academy had a few things of its own to say this morning as the 86th annual Oscar nominations announcement was full of intrigue. Never too closely resembling the buzz we're all going on as ballots are turned in, the organization went its own way in a few key areas, putting smiles on some faces, slapping frowns on others.

The biggest note as you look through the list of nominees is that Disney's “Saving Mr. Banks” almost completely missed the boat. It landed a single, solitary nomination, for Best Original Score (which it largely owes to the amount of respect Thomas Newman has in that branch, this being his 12th nomination to date). It's a movie about Hollywood patting itself on the back with handsome production values and two of the most respected actors around in key roles. What happened?

Frankly, the campaign on this one seemed bungled from the start. Disney didn't put its best foot forward by dropping the film at the London Film Festival and failing to let press in the States help carry early buzz. Then decisions were made along the way that certainly didn't help it catch a stride, like dubiously positioning it as a drama for the Golden Globes when it would have been a sure-fire nominee in comedy (and actress Emma Thompson, snubbed today, might have given Amy Adams some real heat for the win). These things don't all fall on the shoulders of campaign. At the end of the day, the Academy likes the movie or it doesn't. But it's hard to win a marathon when you shoot yourself in the foot.

Speaking of Tom Hanks, we all knew someone was going to be the victim of a crowded Best Actor field and his name was always one of those bubbling to the top as a potential snub. In the end, the two latter-season players – Christian Bale in “American Hustle” and Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street” – were both strong enough to squeeze in (and by the way, this is the second year in a row David O. Russell has landed nominations in every acting category for his players after breaking a three-decade drought of such an occurrence with “Silver Linings Playbook” – expect even MORE stars to line-up to work for him).

But getting back to Hanks, “Captain Phillips” just didn't quite hit on all the cylinders we might have expected going into the announcement. Six nominations is nothing to sneeze at, but the directors branch, for instance, didn't find room for Paul Greengrass in their lineup. The cinematographers couldn't squeeze Barry Ackroyd in that category despite the fact that we know he was in the mix given the seven ASC nominations. (And by the way, Sean Bobbitt's snub in that category for “12 Years a Slave” really stings.)

And so I come to it: “12 Years a Slave.” The film landed nine nominations, a great haul, but not the field-leading spread we might have anticipated. That designation goes to the 10 nods landed by “American Hustle” and “Gravity.” So it showed a little weakness this morning, and leaves you wondering whether that Golden Globe stunner on Sunday night might remain the high mark of the season. I'm of the mind that this Best Picture race is between the nomination leaders, but one can't be too negative to see Steve McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o all chalked up for Oscar nominations. Fox Searchlight has run a classy campaign throughout, never pushing so hard as to come off greedy and gross. In the hands of other companies, this film might have been shoved down everyone's throats. So they can sleep at night, and indeed, they absolutely still have an angle on this race.

The editing category is interesting, and as ever, it's a good indicator of what is and isn't in the race given that no film has won Best Picture without being chalked up here since “Ordinary People” in 1980. Though the winner of the editing Oscar that year – Thelma Schoonmaker for “Raging Bull” – was snubbed today, unceremoniously, for her gargantuan task of whittling “The Wolf of Wall Street” into a film that, for many, zips by despite a three-hour running time. The players are “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips” (though, no director nod),” “Dallas Buyers Club” (the surprise) and “12 Years a Slave.”

All of that said, after last season, the stats fly out the window. “'Argo' can't win now that Ben Affleck wasn't nominated for Best Director” was the rhetoric at roughly this moment 365 days ago. We all know how that turned out, and it's for the better that such definitives be dashed. Now passionate campaigns can go to the suits and say, “Look, we have a shot despite the numbers.”

Which brings me to “Dallas Buyers Club,” rewarded today as Focus Features sails into the sunset with six nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. That's a pretty good way to go out, and they should push for big wins for Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, given how much love obviously exists for the film throughout the Academy.

Oh, and in the end, Harvey Weinstein didn't experience his first Best Picture off-year since 2007 after all. The love for “Philomena” found purchase as the film was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture. Good for him (though I think even he would admit he wasn't quite sure how his slate would shake out this year – those four plus two for “August: Osage County,” two for “The Grandmaster” one each for “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” “Cutie and the Boxer” and “20 Feet from Stardom” and a goose egg for “Fruitvale Station” and “Lee Daniels' The Butler” and mark his entire Oscar showing this year — not terrible, but…).

Other bits and bobs: Sally Hawkins popping up in the Best Supporting Actress category did not, alas, indicate the kind of support that would find “Blue Jasmine” a Best Picture nominee.

Jonah Hill, perhaps the hardest worker on the “Wolf of Wall Street” campaign circuit, was rewarded with his second Oscar nomination in three years, and I'm truly happy for him because it's a dynamite performance.

The Best Original Song category, as ever, had a few tricks up its sleeve; the breathless campaign for Pharrell Williams' “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2” paid off and everyone will now be scrambling to see “Alone Yet Not Alone.” Lana Del Rey was the snub of note there for her “Great Gatsby” track “Young and Beautiful,” leaving one to wonder if the sneaky campaign to question its eligibility found purchase.

As I suspected, Sarah Polley's “Stories We Tell,” despite being one of the most critically acclaimed documentaries of the year, was vulnerable with a very fickle branch. She was passed over along with the activism of “Blackfish,” which is a shame. But this is a golden era for the form and these snubs will happen.

Oh, and speaking of snubs (Guy will have more on the surprising misses of the morning soon enough), Pixar hit the skids with “Monsters University,” it's first miss in the Best Animated Feature Film category since “Cars 2,” and the only film in the company's portfolio to miss besides that sequel, come to think of it. GKIDS' “Ernest & Celestine” managed to find room after all.

And finally, the sound branch sure did go all in for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” in a way I wasn't quite expecting, but it is certainly a thrill ride compared to last year's installment.

That's about all I have to say at first blush. I'm sure we'll be digging through the announcement for other nuggets of note throughout the day, with the Critics' Choice Movie Awards being the first shot at a red carpet for many of today's nominees coming later tonight. I'll be at what's sure to be a very pleased “Wolf of Wall Street” table and I can't wait to commiserate on the intriguing experience of this season with the boys.

As for predictions, I'd say I had a slightly below average year. Most categories I went 4/5 with Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Foreign Language Film being the only spots where I nailed it 100%. Overall I went 92/122, 82/107 out of those that most predict (i.e., excepting the shorts categories).

From here we dive into phase two and it's a whole new ballgame. How will it continue to take shape? We'll be right here, learning as much ourselves as the 2013-2014 Oscar season forges ahead.

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