It seems with each and every year it becomes easier and easier to predict who will be nominated for an Academy Award. There is so much lead-up that telegraphs what’s coming that the nomination announcement barely carries any punch at all.
It usually begins around the time of the Toronto International Film Festival, then we begin to see the prestige films that premiered there hit theatres around November and December, and with all the year end lists it’s always the same films that rise to the top. Then of course there’s the multiple other award ceremonies leading up to the Oscars, culminating with the Golden Globes the week before nominations are announced. It seems all laid out for the Academy to just come along and take all the glory for picking the best of what’s already been deemed the best. One need only look at The Hollywood Reporter’s various roundtables conducted during these months to see that most nominees were considered as such long before this morning’s announcement.
At first glance, this morning’s nominations look pretty much as expected, and for the most part they were. When you look down the list and see multiple nominations for movies like The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Spotlight, it appears everything is panning out as expected. But when you look a little closer and think about who didn’t get nominations in certain categories, there were certainly a couple unexpected snubs.
1. Adam McKay – Best Director The Big Short
Ever since the Academy began nominating more than five films for Best Picture, it’s always interesting to see which Directors get left behind. This year Adam McKay, previously known primarily as Will Ferrel’s collaborator, directing films such as Anchorman, Step Brothers and The Other Guys, surprised everyone with his humourous yet intelligent take on the housing crisis in The Big Short. It’s certainly been a frontrunner this season and garnered five nominations this morning (Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Christian Bale for Supporting Actor, and McKay for Directing). While McKay did a fine job as director, what really makes the film work is the snappy dialogue delivered by top performers and slickly cut together by an extremely competent editor. One could argue that it’s the job of the director to bring all these things together, and they wouldn’t be wrong, but it’s still a surprising nod considering the other directors in the Best Picture category he beat out, particularly Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies) and Ridley Scott (The Martian).
2. Best Original Screenplay nomination for Straight Outta Compton
Screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; Story by S. Leigh
I’ll freely admit that despite its many flaws, I found Straight Outta Compton extremely entertaining. This real life rags-to-riches story energized the events with drama and showmanship, leading to a surprise box office hit that found a much larger audience than anyone expected. With Dr. Dre and Ice Cube producing, it’s also one of the best examples of history being written by the winners. People had a lot of issues with details that were left out and an inordinate amount of time spent on contract disputes. It’s better than your average biopic, but story-wise, it’s not really breaking any new ground. Needless to say, Quentin Tarantino is probably feeling pretty snubbed right about now.
3. No Design Nominations for Star Wars: The Force Awakens
While Star Wars: The Force Awakens did receive the expected nods in the technical categories of Visual Effects, Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, I think it deserved to also be recognized for Hair and Makeup, Costume Design, and above all, Production Design. Really everything about this film looked great and did a perfect job of putting new spins on old designs. With the exception of Mad Max: Fury Road, the other production design nominees (Bridge of Spies, The Danish Girl, The Martian and The Revenant) recreated real settings, whereas just about every frame of The Force Awakens contains something that was sprung from someone’s imagination. Even Rey’s hairstyle is something we haven’t seen before, not to mention the dozens of creatures created for Maz Kanata’s castle alone. Surely this takes more time, effort and ingenuity than giving Mad Max‘s Nux a tumour or bloodying up Leo for The Revenant.
4. No Adapted Screenplay Nomination For Aaron Sorkin
As with The Hateful Eight, Steve Jobs showcased a seasoned, competent writer doing what he does best. Sorkin’s distinct voice comes through in the rapid fire dialogue of Steve Jobs with an apparent ease that many writers try to imitate but can rarely pull off. Sorkin already won for his Social Network script and was again nominated in 2013 for Moneyball, and Steve Jobs is easily on par, if not better than both those scripts. Another thing his script has in common with the overlooked Hateful Eight is that both take their cues from theatre. These are essentially chamber dramas that depend on dialogue and performances to keep your attention for two (or three) hours, which is impossible without a solid script that cleverly hides character and story development behind witty repartee.
5. No Best Picture Nomination for Carol
Until today, I thought I was in the minority in that I didn’t absolutely love Todd Hayne’s Carol, but apparently I’m not the only one. The leads of Carol (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara) received well-deserved nominations, as did the film’s Screenplay, Costumes and Cinematography. Given the film’s subject matter, reception, and overall prestige, everything seemed aligned for a Best Picture nod and possibly a Best Director nomination for Haynes as well, but when it came to these top categories, Carol was noticeably absent. While The Danish Girl was met with middling reviews, Carol seemed poised to represent LGBT interests in the Best Picture category, the fact that there is very little diversity in the top category will certainly be a topic of conversation between today’s announcement and the ceremony on February 28th.