It’s the most wonderful time of year. The self-congratulatory industry awards known as the Oscars are here! Now comes the analysis, the kvetching and yes, in many corners of the Internet, including the always even-handed Film Twitter, the crying (though it’s just an awards ceremony, save your tears). And so let’s look at “snubs” and “surprises” with the understanding that these are relative and subjective terms.
We may not have been surprised by a particular nomination, and hell, might have even predicted it, but you have to consider the populace at large and other pundits who have their own unique point of view. The key though, like it is every year, is predicting with your mind and never your heart; that latter path almost always leads one astray (ourselves included). The idea is to divorce yourself emotionally from the process of what you want to win and what you think will win based on history and Academy taste (which is slowly changing for the better, but not as quickly or dramatically as some would have you believe).
As ever, no one predicted these awards 100% correctly, with the Academy pitching a few curveballs along with the expected easy hits. So below, we’ve run down the snubs (a word we hate, but few others serve the same purpose) and surprises from this year’s nominations — take a look, and let us know what you reckon of this year’s nominations in the comments.
Ryan Coogler’s triumphant Rocky reboot, “Creed” is an interesting case in subjectivity. Not many “experts” thought the boxing drama was going to get nominated for anything other than Sylvester Stallone — which is exactly what happened and what we predicted — however, as a populist picture that struck a chord in a lot of critics and pundits, there was a small, but vocal component of film writers who believed “Creed” could take noms for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. It’s a worthwhile film to be sure, Coogler is a hell of a director and his DP Maryse Alberti is really deserving too, but the writing was on the wall for “Creed” Academy-support-wise long ago. It was rarely mentioned in any of the guilds and got little love elsewhere outside of audiences and critics.
Todd Haynes and “Carol”
Speaking of critics, the mistake the mainstream media and some Oscar pundits consistently make is paying too much attention to the “momentum” given by critics bodies and guilds and not enough attention towards how the Academy specifically and its members will receive a film. Todd Haynes’ “Carol” is gorgeous and we’re not surprised it received many acting and craft nominations, but we’ve always suspected the film was slightly too cold and cerebral for the Academy to register in Best Picture (with six, it’s the film that’s picked up the most nominations without getting a Best Picture nod since the field in the latter was expanded to ten in 2009). Thus, despite winning many big awards in places like the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle (which again, are not the same people who the Academy are) and doing well with BAFTA, who respond to the more restrained emotion you get here, Haynes was “snubbed” from Best Picture and the Best Directors field — granted, it was an extremely tough year and even perennials like Steven Spielberg and David O. Russell got bounced. Also, look to “Brooklyn,” a film somewhat similar to “Carol” in its exquisite craft and loveliness, but emotionally warmer, and thus grabbed a Best Picture nomination.
Granted, not many thought “Black Mass” was going to be a big winner, but it can be seen as a slight example of taste impairing judgement (something we’re all guilty of). Someone like well connected, often-on-the-money Oscar blogger Kris Tapley was a big “Black Mass” advocate all fall and basically beat the drum with the notion that the Academy had not forgotten about Johnny Depp, Scott Cooper or the craft of cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi. But Tapley also loved the movie, a sentiment not really shared by too many top critics. “Black Mass” did have an outside shot in a bunch of categories, and if we could ever be witness to the math, we’re sure you’d see “Black Mass” as a 6th or 7th choice in a few categories, including Best Actor, but close only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades and never in real life or for the Oscars.
Now one of the key and genuine shocks and surprises of the 2016 nominations is the snubbing of Aaron Sorkin. Everyone presumed his taut and rapid-fire “Steve Jobs” script was a shoo-in for Best Adapted Screenplay and many had credited the success and worthiness of the picture directly to his work. And while Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet were properly accredited for their tremendous work, Sorkin was mysteriously absent during the nominations (for an award many were predicting him to win), but it could have been because of the “liberties” with the facts that the writer took with Jobs’ story and the book by Walter Issacson. To be fair, Sorkin’s explained his intentions and approach quite convincingly and as many have noted, including A.O. Scott in his brilliant Steve Jobs review, art is not transcription of facts. Still, apparently that turned the Academy off. What other explanation could their be?
Pray for Harvey Weinstein’s assistant and publicity team today. Not only did “Carol” fail to nab Best Picture, but “The Hateful Eight” got just three nominations, missing out on Best Picture, Best Director and, perhaps most shockingly, Best Original Screenplay, a category which Quentin Tarantino won last time at bat. After “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained” overperformed, it seemed like Tarantino was firmly in the Academy favorite’s club, but with reviews more mixed and the movie underwhelming at the box office, it seems like that’s not the case. How long do we give it before Tarantino starts dissing “Brooklyn” and “Room” as “women’s movies,” or calls “Spotlight” an HBO drama?
In fairness, it was a very tough category this year, but we were a little surprised not to see Steven Spielberg nominated for “Bridge Of Spies.” The movie, while not the hippest on the block, has been a long-player across awards season, and picked up six nods in total, from Best Picture to an acting nod to below-the-line categories. And usually, when Spielberg has an Oscar movie in the mix, he gets a nomination — see “Lincoln,” “Munich,” “Saving Private Ryan.” It seems, then, that “Bridge Of Spies” was more “War Horse” or “Catch Me If You Can,” with the directors’ branch going with mostly fresher faces, and following the DGA’s lead by omitting Spielberg.
“Ant-Man” and “Jurassic World” in visual effects
Since the visual effects category expanded to ten in 2010, we’ve had some kind of superhero (or toy) movie nominated every year. Last year, there were three, with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Guardians Of The Galaxy,” “X-Men: Days Of Future Past.” This year? None, with neither “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” or “Ant-Man” (or “Fantastic Four,” obviously) picking up nods. It’s an actual shame in case of the latter: the film’s mix of CGI and macro photography was genuinely innovative and looked consistently gorgeous, even if the film itself wasn’t so great. Also missing from the line-up was “Jurassic World,” the year’s second-biggest movie, even though the first two films in the franchise were nominated.
The “Furious 7” Song
Let’s just agree first that the Best Original Song category is a giant heaping pile of bullshit with the occasional diamond in it. Once we’ve all made our peace with that, it’s still a little surprising that the theme to “Furious 7” didn’t make the cut. “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth, is not exactly “Over The Rainbow” when it comes to songwriting craft, admittedly, but it scored one of the year’s most tear-jerking movie moments, in its virtually-fourth-wall-breaking farewell to Paul Walker, and would have provided the live broadcast a memorable moment, especially if they let Vin Diesel sing. Instead, we’ve ended up with a pretty boring line-up, including Sam Smith’s dreadful Bond tune.
Though there are always holes to pick, the Best Documentary category turned out better than we might have feared (namely, “The Look Of Silence” was nominated). But we’re legitimately surprised that the documentary branch passed over the terrific “Listen To Me Marlon,” which was one of the year’s best, and which paid tribute to a Hollywood legend. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised: the category tends to lean towards issue movies, and we don’t recall another Hollywood doc being nominated since 1995’s “The Battle Over Citizen Kane.” Also missing from the category was Michael Moore’s latest, “Where To Invade Next,” which picked up his best reviews for a while.
The Score for “Spotlight”
With six nominations, “Spotlight,” the closest thing we have to a frontrunner, did what it needed to stay in strong contention, with two supporting nods, a director nomination, and editing. We were a little surprised, however, that Howard Shore’s very fine score to the picture missed out. Johann Johannsson’s work on “Sicario” slipped in instead — also a terrific score, but one that had a little more bluster and bombast than Shore’s more subtle work.
Netflix spent a lot of money on “Beasts Of No Nation” to make sure they were taken seriously in the awards game, putting most of their chips on a supporting nomination for Idris Elba. And it looked like it might work: Elba was nominated by SAG (who also gave the film an ensemble nod), the Golden Globes and BAFTA. But it wasn’t to be: Elba was left out in the cold, ensuring that the acting nominations were again, and still disgracefully, an entirely white domain.
It wasn’t just that people thought Ridley Scott was going to be nominated for his awards-friendly return-to-form with “The Martian” (again, he was nominated by the Globes, by the DGA and by BAFTA), a lot of people thought he might win, given that Scott never has. But the biggest shock in the director category was that he missed out, despite the film getting six other nominations, including Best Picture. Was the film seen as mostly a producer’s job? Was the helming not flashy enough? Were the auteur-friendly directors’ branch not ready to give a nod to someone who’s had a few dodgy movies in a row? We’ll never know at this point.
This was a nebulous category in a lot of ways this year, particularly given the controversy over Rooney Mara in “Carol” and Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl,” two performances that were provably leads, campaigned by their studios in supporting, where they’d have had a better shot. In the end, both made it, leaving Jane Fonda’s fiery cameo in “Youth,” the sole redeeming factor of the movie, and Helen Mirren in “Trumbo,” un-nominated. Perhaps worth it, though possibly a shot in their own foot for Focus and Vikander: it seems likely (given it happened with BAFTA) that she would have been nominated for Actress anyway if she’d campaigned there, and it likely scuppered the Swedish star from picking up a second nod for “Ex Machina.”
Not the biggest shock, we suppose — we weren’t predicting either Michael Caine or Ian McKellen to pick up nominations for “Youth” or “Mr. Holmes.” But it is an interesting sea change: a category that tends to reward veterans went mostly with younger actors with only a few nominations: Cranston had never been nominated, Damon hasn’t been in Best Actor since “Good Will Hunting,” and Fassbender and Redmayne are on their second nominations. Beauty before age, in this case, then.
David O. Russell has been a positive awards darling the last few years: “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” were nominated for 25 Oscars between them, a whopping eleven of which were for acting. But despite his latest, “Joy,” being very much in the same mold, the trick didn’t come off a fourth time: the film was nominated for only a single award, for Jennifer Lawrence, being shut out in every other category. As with Tarantino, reception to the movie was significantly cooler this time around: frankly, they may have been lucky to get the one. Maybe it’s a sign that Russell needs to mix it up a little more next time around?
The guilds are perhaps the best indicators of who the Academy will vote for, traditionally at least, and “Straight Outta Compton” did spectacularly well with them, winning an SAG nomination, a PGA nomination, and a WGA nomination. But we were always a little skeptical that Academy voters would come out in force for a hip-hop biopic, however much money it made, and were ultimately proven right: the only African-American-dominated movie in serious contention won only a single nod, for (almost inevitably) its white screenwriters.
“Inside Out” & “Sicario”
Also missing from the Best Picture line-up (in a year, let’s not forget, when there were only eight movies out of a possible ten nominated) were “Inside Out” and “Sicario.” The former would have been a huge shock a few months ago: the film was one of the best-reviewed films of the year, and looked set to follow the footsteps of “Up” and “Toy Story 3” in getting a Best Picture nod for Pixar. For whatever reason, it didn’t come to pass: perhaps in a competitive year, voters felt they were giving its due with a Screenplay and Animated Feature nod. “Sicario” hadn’t always been in competition, with an early release date and muted reviews from Cannes. But the film seemed to gather steam, with a surprise PGA nod last week, and when it surprised with sound and score nominations, we started to feel like it might be in the cards. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
Jacob Tremblay for “Room”
We were delighted (see below) that “Room” did better than expected in many respects, but we wish, in a category that ended up with a certain amount of padding, that young Jacob Tremblay had picked up a nomination for “Room.” The Academy can be hesitant to nominate children (and, oddly, particularly male children), but Tremblay is astonishing in the movie, and had beaten the odds and picked up an SAG nod last month. Though we know he probably won’t mind: his BFF Brie Larson was nominated, and he got to have a lightsaber fight with Poe Dameron.
“Ex Machina” in Visual Effects
A24 must be on top of the moon: not only did “Room” surprise with four nomination, but “Ex Machina,” one of the earliest-released movies to get a nomination, got two, including for Visual Effects. We did predict this, but even we were pleasantly surprised that it came off. This is a category generally dominated, including this year, by giant $200 million blockbusters, while Alex Garland’s film is a relative minnow, an indie with a budget of just $15 million. By our count, it’s the cheapest movie nominated in this category since the original “Alien,” and even that would have been more when adjusted for inflation. It’s an enormous achievement for Garland and his team, and could give them a narrative to win the thing.
This was a pretty good year for the Foreign Language category. We’d thought that “Labyrinth Of Lies,” the kind of so-so movie that often does well in this category, was a sure thing, but it lost out in favor of worthier competition: not just “Son Of Saul” and “Mustang,” which people were expecting, but also “Embrace Of The Serpent” and “A War,” which people weren’t. Both films were favorites of our Jessica Kiang at Cannes and Venice, but hadn’t been on the radars of too many others before now, especially not Oscar-wise. That they made the line-up is a victory for quality, and in both cases, will go a huge way to helping them find an audience
Best Director’s become one of our favorite categories in recent years, with a push towards newer and younger members making it increasingly unpredictable and rewarding — think nods for Terrence Malick for ‘Tree Of Life,” Michael Haneke for “Amour,” Benh Zeitlin for “Beasts of The Southern Wild,” of Bennett Miller for “Foxcatcher.” This year, that honor went to Lenny Abrahamson, the relatively little-known Irish helmer of “Room.” The film’s Oscar hopes went up and down over the season (see below), but even then, Abrahamson wasn’t generally deemed to be in the conversation for this category, given the stiff competition. We’re delighted that he made it, though, and hope (utterly incorrectly) that the reasoning was in part to make it up for not nominating him for “Frank” last year…
We did predict that Charlotte Rampling would end up among the nominees, but we have to say that we weren’t entirely confident: “45 Years” didn’t seem to get much buzz with the Academy crowd and crucially, Rampling missed out with the home voters from BAFTA. Despite the stiff competition this year (she was likely the biggest benefactor from Vikander campaigning in Supporting), she did make the cut for the film ahead of the likes of Sarah Silverman, Maggie Smith, Blythe Danner and Lily Tomlin, and we couldn’t be more delighted.
“Straight Outta Compton” for Screenplay
As we said above, it’s a little sad that “Straight Outta Compton” didn’t make it into Best Picture, and yet it’s also surprising that the film got a screenplay nomination. With four credited writers in a category where a single writer is usually favored, it’s unusual, for one. It’s also not particularly great optics: as with Sylvester Stallone’s “Creed” nomination, it means that an African-American directed and predominately starring movie won nods only for white people. It’s not a conscious choice on voters’ behalf in this case, probably — writers’ names aren’t on the ballots, so they were voting for the movie for the most part. But it’s still somewhat troubling.
At one point, “Room” felt like it was going to be a real Best Picture force, winning the same TIFF People’s Choice Award taken by “12 Years A Slave,” “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” But the movie had stalled since then, it seemed: box office still stands at a slightly disappointing $5 million, and it missed some key precursors like the PGA and BAFTA, with some reports that Academy members were reluctant to watch the grueling-on-paper movie. Fortunately, the Academy’s preferential balloting clearly came through: even if not everyone had seen the film, those who did clearly loved it. Maybe it’ll encourage those Academy members who haven’t checked it out to take a look?
We definitely dropped the ball on this one: while Supporting Actor was one of the hardest categories to call this year, we weren’t really even considering Tom Hardy as a longshot for “The Revenant.” But the actor topped a great year with his first nomination, one that could likely be seen as a recognition of his work in “Fury Road” and “Legend” as much for his villainy in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s film. It also speaks to the depth of the love for the movie — could “The Revenant” be a real challenger to win? It certainly seems so.