Nominations for the Feb. 22 Academy Awards were announced this morning. Here are some of the more interesting aspects of those nominations. (For a full list of nominees, click here).
A chance to make history, blown: “Selma” director Ava DuVernay, a publicist turned filmmaker who never had made a major motion picture before the sweeping “Selma,” was poised to become the first African American woman to be nominated as best director (and only the fifth woman ever, after Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow, the only winner, for “The Hurt Locker”). She already had nabbed a Golden Globe nomination for her authoritative work behind the camera on the story of the Martin Luther King Jr.-led march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
But “Selma” was shut out beyond best picture and best song nominations. This is a rare year in the past few decades in which there are no nominees of color in the acting categories. David Oyelowo, who was expected to be nominated for his performance as King, was snubbed.
That Oyelowo did not make the cut is easier to understand, since the lead actor field is bursting with great performances. But c’mon, Academy – Bennett Miller? “Foxcatcher” is a gripping (grappling?) true-life tale, but ultimately also a depressing slog with no larger point. I would take DuVernay, for making an involving film about a signal event in United States history, a thousand times over Miller.
The Academy, a psychological study: Oscar voters clearly like their creepiness, but only of the intense mentor-mentee variety, as the healthy showings for “Foxcatcher” and “Whiplash” demonstrate. Maybe these toxic on-screen relationships remind people of movies sets.
Truly chilling films often are ignored. The Academy shut out the Aussie horror film “The Babadook,” which is tense at every second and was directed by another talented woman, Jennifer Kent.
The Academy notoriously hates horror (except “Silence of the Lambs”), so you can see the point on that one. But what about “Nightcrawler,” an L.A.-set thriller about a boundary-crossing crime-and-carnage camera man (the excellent Jake Gyllenhaal)? It’s not a horror film per se, yet it still was ignored beyond a screenplay nomination. Perhaps its mentor-mentee relationship, between Gyllenhaal’s character and his barely paid intern – a wonderful Riz Ahmed – just isn’t quite fraught enough.
Gas in the tank: The Oscars never are short on older nominees, but Robert Duvall still seemed to be pulling something off today.
“The Judge” was released in October to mixed reviews, and did not figure in most critics’ best lists. But one element of the film apparently stuck: Duvall’s stubborn, sympathetic turn as a small-town judge at odds with his son (Robert Downey Jr.) and battling cancer in secret. Duvall has been one of the most welcome stories of the awards season, nominations-wise, with Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nods, and today, an Oscar nomination for supporting actor.
You know what would be great? If he actually won. With six nominations total and one win (for “Tender Mercies”), he is not quite in the Meryl Streep lopsided category (nominated 19 times, including this morning for “Into the Woods,” and she has won three Oscars), but he’s close.
And although Duvall’s fellow 84-year-old Clint Eastwood did not receive a directing nomination for “American Sniper,” (because the directors’ voting branch is … see above), he’s a “Sniper” producer and could pick up a best-picture Oscar. He also gets credit for directing Bradley Cooper to a best actor nomination – Cooper’s third nominated performance in three years – and the film’s four other nominations.
“Sniper” has been a bit of a sleeper this awards season. It received nary a nod from the Golden Globes or the Screen Actors Guild, but like “Million Dollar Baby” before it, experienced a late surge after people recognized how good it is and how disappointing other early awards favorites such as “Unbroken” were.
Marion Cotillard is one for the ages, and the Academy recognized it: All through the early awards season, the story in the (anemic) best actress field was Jennifer Aniston and a film almost nobody has seen, called “Cake.”
French actress Cotillard, who gave the best female performance of the year as an industrial worker trying to save her job in the Belgian film “Two Days, One Night,” was ignored by the Globes and SAG. But the Academy recognized her with a nod in the best actress field, and did something very important – it pointed movie audiences toward an actress shaping up to be one of the all-time greats. Right there with Streep and Bette Davis.
In “Two Days,” Cotillard lets us see her character come alive as she rises to the challenge of trying to convince her co-workers, who have been faced with the choice of keeping her on or getting their 1,000-euro bonuses, that she should stay. But she is good to great in everything she does, from her transformative work in 2007’s “La Vie En Rose,” for which she won an Oscar for playing singer Edith Piaf, to “Inception,” in which she stood out sharply in a sometimes fuzzy movie.
The nomination also will call attention to an excellent film. “Two Days,” which was made by Belgium’s masterful Dardenne brothers, was robbed of a foreign-language nomination. But a nod for Cotillard is the next best thing.
I don’t know when “Two Days” will open in Sacramento – I ask the distributor often – but likely in February.
Jessica Chastain is not a perennial Oscar nominee, after all: Former Sacramentan and two-time previous nominee Chastain’s lack of a supporting actress nomination dashed our hopes of a local connection to the Academy Awards. But Laura Dern’s lovely work in “Wild” – a performance seen mostly in flashes of memory as Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) walks the Pacific Crest Trail and remembers her late mom – sneaked in to the best supporting actress category and knocked out Chastain’s powerful performance as the steely wife of a heating-oil company owner (Oscar Isaac) in “A Most Violent Year.” (opening Jan. 30 in Sacramento).
But Chastain had too good of a year not to be acknowledged. So we hereby give the The Bee’s “Best All Around” award for her excellent performances not just in “Violent,” but in “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby – Them,” and in “Interstellar.”
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.