Optimistic Notes About the 2015 Oscar Nominations

The Lego MovieIt’s hard not to feel like trash on the day of Oscar nominations. They’re something we inevitably care about, but often have contempt for how broad and conglomerate their decisions are. They are, though, the decisions of a broad conglomerate, so it doesn’t surprise me that some films and performances fared better than others. The LEGO Movie falling out of Animated Feature *was* a surprise, and not an especially happy one for most, and one which colors the highest grossing animated film this year, suddenly, as a grievously overlooked artistic statement.

And we may crab and complain about how typical and uninteresting this slate of nominees is. We may lament that former Best Picture hopefuls Interstellar, Mr. Turner and Unbroken all but sealing off many of the remaining slots of the craft categories neuters their ability to recognize less widely known accomplishments of this year. Barring nods for Visual Effects (a blockbuster showcase) and Original Song (often deemed an obscurity of a category), last year there were 11 craft-isolated nominees. This year, just five.

But rather than focus on the negatives and complaints, we’re striving to see the bright side. There’s rarely a category that’s entirely devoid of commendable talent, flawed as their eventual lineup may be, so we’ve looked at every category and tried to find something to feel optimism about.

SelmaBest Picture

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

Optimistic Notes: Back in July, everyone expected Boyhood was too minor key and that The Grand Budapest Hotel bowed too early to make it. It may contain the not so fun asterisk that Selma makes Ava Duverney the first woman of color whose film was nominated for Picture, but not Director, but some films just don’t open soon enough to be seen enough.

FoxcatcherBest Director

  • Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
  • Richard Linklater, Boyhood
  • Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
  • Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Optimistic Notes: Bennett Miller is the first Director nominee whose film was not nominated for Best Picture since 2007, when Julian Schnabel was nominated for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Evidently, I like Foxcatcher more than most of the Best Picture nominees, but I’m happy somebody can be acknowledged here where they can’t be elsewhere. It really puts the emphasis on Foxcatcher‘s (atmospherically devastating) direction.

Michael Keaton, BirdmanBest Actor

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

Optimistic Notes: Bradley Cooper has been Oscar nominated three years in a year, and none for a performance he didn’t sincerely give his all to. He’s also the reason American Sniper exists at all, so it’d be somewhat distasteful for the film to be nominated, and him not. Cumberbatch and Redmayne do feel more irritatingly like highly affected biopic performances, yet I wouldn’t necessarily lump Carell into that category. Foxcatcher doesn’t heap too much praise upon its historically relevant character(s). And Keaton’s currently the frontrunner in this category, despite being the only one not playing a real person (unless you count himself).

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One NightBest Actress

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

Optistimistic Notes: I certainly wouldn’t call any of these “weak” performances, though it’s clear the race has been too confined to a bubble. It’s a joy that Cotillard makes it here after being on the outskirts for the entire season, despite giving two of this year’s (and her own career’s) best performances. The award will go to Julianne, but it’s about damn time for her to win. The performance may not be her top tier best, even in this year (Maps to the Stars, yo), but it’s a beautiful physical and emotional showcase of her onscreen devotion.

Mark Ruffalo, FoxcatcherBest Supporting Actor

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

Optimistic Notes: No big surprises here, but all but one of these performances have a justifiable reason for being here. Hawke for managing a quite elegantly humbling transition from restless youth to crinkled adulthood. Norton for lambasting his difficult offstage behavior to give an excellent performance onstage, and giving one onscreen in the process. Ruffalo for lending grace and humility to a dynamic of destructive egos. And while I may not be entirely on board with Simmons, the performance is one hell of a visceral one, and it’s occasionally nice to see a character actor have their day.

Patricia Aquette and Emma StoneBest Supporting Actress

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

Optimistic Notes: Laura Dern may have the least screen time of any of these performances, but she was so moving in what short, beautiful time she had. The Imitation Game may be an offensively inoffensive drag, but Knightley is commendable for lending it some lightness wherever she can, in spite playing a character whose purpose is to closet Alan Turing. Also, little fun fact: First time nominees Patricia Arquette and Emma Stone were both promising young ingenues when they started filming their roles.

Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, Richard LinklaterBest Original Screenplay

  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • Foxcatcher
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Nightcrawler

Optimistic Notes: This was the category where Spike Jonze won for Her last year, and that was beautiful! Bids are on the table for who would be a more entertaining acceptance speech: Wes Anderson or Richard Linklater.

Inherent ViceBest Adapted Screenplay

  • American Sniper
  • The Imitation Game
  • Inherent Vice
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

Optimistic NotesWhiplash feels somewhat dissatisfying here, as part of the joy of this category is reading the books the films are adapted from. The only nominee here that really enticed me to go back to the source: Inherent Vice.

The Tale of the Princess KaguyaBest Animated Feature Film

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Boxtrolls
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Song of the Sea
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Optimistic Notes: The last/only time a stop-motion film won here was Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit in 2005. The last/only time a hand-drawn animation film won here was Spirited Away in 2002. CG-animation isn’t an endangered art form. Keep that in mind, voters? Also to keep in mind, The LEGO Movie now joined the gracious company Mary and Max and A Town Called Panic of animated films overlooked for Oscar.

Abderrahmane Sissako, TimbuktuBest Foreign Language Film

  • Ida (Poland)
  • Leviathan (Russia)
  • Tangerines (Estonia)
  • Timbuktu (Mauritania)
  • Wild Tales (Argentina)

Optimistic Notes: Leviathan‘s nomination here feels like such a lovely miracle, after Russia’s first submission was rejected, them then submitting the film that openly condemns state corruption under the Putin regime. Also, in a year widely declared Oscar’s whitest, Timbuktu makes director Abderrahmane Sissako the third African-born filmmaker nominated in this category, and of those, he’s the first black one. (courtesy of Guy Lodge)

Citizenfour and VirungaBest Documentary Feature

  • Citizenfour
  • Finding Vivian Maier
  • Last Days in Vietnam
  • The Salt of the Earth
  • Virunga

Optimistic Notes: Finding Vivian Maier and The Salt of the Earth are both about under-appreciated artists. Citizenfour and Virunga are about urgent issues still happening in the world. None of the nominees are about feel-good musicians.

Joanna

Joanna

Best Documentary – Short Subject

  • Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
  • Joanna
  • Our Curse
  • The Reaper (La Parka)
  • White Earth

Optimistic Notes: Short categories, always giving a diversity of options when the Academy focuses too much on the same films.

The Phone Call

The Phone Call

Best Live Action Short Film

  • Aya
  • Boogaloo and Graham
  • Butter Lamp (La Lampe au beurre de yak)
  • Parvaneh
  • The Phone Call

Optimistic Notes: Same as above, plus Sally Hawkins? Okay!

The Dam KeeperBest Animated Short Film

  • The Bigger Picture
  • The Dam Keeper
  • Feast
  • Me and My Moulton
  • A Single Life

Optimistic Notes: Same as above, minus Feast, which most children who saw Big Hero 6 have already seen.

InterstellarBest Original Score

  • Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
  • Hans Zimmer, Interstellar
  • Gary Yershon, Mr. Turner
  • Johann Johannson, The Theory of Everything

Optimistic Notes: At least Desplat was also nominated for a score that was much better than the repetitious themes of The Imitation Game. Lamentably, I still haven’t seen Interstellar, but snippets I’ve heard of Zimmer’s score are stellar and the perfect thing to whet my anticipation whilst I await seeing (and projecting!) it on 70mm. Very happy to see Gary Yershon here, who lent such a haunting tone to Mr. Turner. Also, is Johann Johannson the first composer to have the same name nominated twice for one score?

Begin AgainBest Original Song

  • “Everything Is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie
  • “Glory” from Selma
  • “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
  • “Lost Stars” from Begin Again

Optimistic Notes: “Grateful” gives needed attention to Beyond the Lights, even if it’s not a particularly good song. “Everything Is Awesome” and “Lost Stars” both play multiple times, with multiple meanings, within their films. “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is a pretty good son. “Glory” plays over the end credits, and is Selma‘s only non-Picture nomination, so I’m still a bit ornery about that.

The Hobbit Battle of the Five ArmiesBest Sound Editing

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies
  • Interstellar
  • Unbroken

Optimistic Notes: Um… No more Hobbit movies! I’m crying, I’m so happy it’s over!

WhiplashBest Sound Mixing

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman
  • Interstellar
  • Unbroken
  • Whiplash

Fun Facts: This category is often friendly to musically themed films (Inside Llewyn Davis, Les Miserables) so Whiplash could win this. Or, it could feasibly go to the other heavy-on-the-drums movie, Birdman. Or, something with guns and explosions, but let’s wish not.

The Grand Budapest HotelBest Production Design

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Interstellar
  • Into the Woods
  • Mr. Turner

Optimistic Notes: The other four nominees in this category have filed a complaint against The Grand Budapest Hotel for eating all their production designs.

Mr. TurnerBest Cinematography

  • Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
  • Robert Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida
  • Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
  • Roger Deakins, Unbroken

Optimistic Notes: Dick Poop… *snicker*… that aside, Ida is a refreshingly out-of-the-box choice in a series of craft categories particularly too slim on them. Aside from Deakins, all of these nominations are fairly beautiful.

Makeup, Grand BudapestBest Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Foxcatcher
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Guardians of the Galaxy

Optimistic Notes: Put gray, red, purple, blue and green people in your movie. You’ll get an Oscar nomination, and you’ll look like a unicorn puked on your movie. Okay, none of these are particularly subtle, but there’s some dense, multifaceted work being done here, not unlike the work on The Lone Ranger last year.

Boy with AppleBest Costume Design

  • Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Mark Bridges, Inherent Vice
  • Colleen Atwood, Into the Woods
  • Anna B. Shepherd and Jane Clive, Maleficent
  • Jacqueline Durran, Mr. Turner

Optimistic Notes: Often a giddy craft category for me, I admit the predictable presence of Into the Woods and Maleficent constrict this category a bit too tightly to unimaginative fantasism. Thankfully, Grand Budapest Hotel and Inherent Vice are packing generous absurdity in their costume work, even going into exquisite detail for the painting’s apparel.

BoyhoodBest Film Editing

  • American Sniper
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Whiplash

Optimistic Notes: Some nominees in this category too often scream “EDITING!”, so it does me good to see Boyhood and its carefully constructed flow of time and experience here.

Under the SkinBest Visual Effects

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Interstellar
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past

Optimistic Notes: I’m glad Dawn of the Planet of the Apes uses its effects to scale things impressively down into intimacy, but I can’t spin an optimistic note to a category whose sole function is admiring obvious effects on a blockbuster scale, especially when the best effects work was done a budget less than a twentieth of any of the nominees here.

What Oscar nominations are you happiest/most upset about?

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  • None of this can make up for Life Itself, Force Majeure, Oyelowo/Gyllenhaal, DuVernay, Chazelle…

    Although Academy did nominate two of my biggest Oscar wishes… Ida for cinematography and Cotillard for actress so whatever.

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