With the Oscars taking place this Sunday, we thought we’d revisit the list of nominees, now that the initial cloud of critical dust has cleared. Are we still as outraged about some of their omissions as we were when the nominees were first announced? Turns out we absolutely are, so herewith, five instances in which the Academy has inexplicably failed us yet again, from least offensive to most galling.
1. Best Actress
Brie Larson in Short Term 12
Director: Destin Cretton
Currently Nominated For: Zilch
Why So Much: Well, the truth is, I might not have been the biggest fan of the movie as a whole, but Larson’s performance — daring, gritty and suitably disturbed — absolutely stuck with me months later. Far from a glamour role, it shows the serious chops of a young actress with a hell of a career ahead of her.
What Gets Dropped: Judi Dench in Philomena. This is categorically not calling out Ms. Dench, who is excellent as always, but in a crowded field of strong performances, hers is the one I feel could be moved. As indispensible as she is, and her chemistry with Steve Coogan is indeed brilliant, there is a certain rote quality to her character not found in these others. A thousand apologies, Dame Judi, but not this time.
2. Best Supporting Actor
James Gandolfini in Enough Said
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Currently Nominated For: Zip
Why So Much: True, it is the great Gandolfini’s final performance after his untimely death last year, but this is far from an honorary tribute. The truth is, Holofcener’s film allows him to show more of his full range as an actor. In The Sopranos, he got to use his size as an intimidation against all who would challenge him, including his family; here, playing the far more soft-spoken divorcee Albert, his size becomes a burden to his romantic life. When Albert meets Eva, played winningly by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, it is his vulnerability that stands out, not his menace.
What Gets Dropped: Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall St. Again, nothing against Mr. Hill, who turns in a fine performance, but it’s not in the same caliber as Gandolfini, and Hill’s character doesn’t begin to play against type the way Albert does.
3. Best Cinematography
Claudio Miranda for Oblivion
Director: Joseph Kosinksi
Currently Nominated For: Nada
Why So Much: This is by no means a ringing endorsement for the actual film — whose plot ends up getting entirely cribbed from a bunch of other sci-fi movies — but good lord is it gorgeous to watch. Eerily-lit anti-gravity swimming pools, clouds of celestial dust, shimmering futuristic domiciles, the visuals are quite stunning, nearly enough to make you forget you’re watching runnin’ Tom Cruise in yet another big-budget sci-fi feature.
What Gets Dropped: Nebraska. Perversely, it’s a much better movie in almost every way, but, frankly, as far as the cinematography goes, it’s getting too much credit for being in black and white. DP Phedon Papamichael makes ample use of the Midwestern space — one loses count of how many shots of distant cows on the hilly prairie he employs — but other than that, and the aforementioned lack of color, there’s little to separate this film from dozens of others. There’s nothing wrong with it — the film is shot very well — but the degree of difficulty edge has got to be a factor, and Miranda’s work is absolutely breathtaking.
4. Best Directing
Spike Jonze for Her
Director: Spike Jonze
Currently Nominated For: Best Picture, Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Original Screenplay
Why So Much: Okay, so it’s certainly not getting shafted by the Academy by any means, nominated as it is for four other awards, but there is no way on earth any director could have made a film this amazing other than Jonze. It is his vision (and his screenplay, for that matter) that absolutely carries the film over the potential minefield of sentimentality and hokey humanism that it so easily could have become. You want your director to offer vision, scope, and to wring tremendous performances from his cast; Jonze absolutely crushes it in all three categories.
What Gets Dropped: David O. Russell for American Hustle. Look, I appreciate what Russell has done his whole career, I think he’s an often brilliant director, even if Hustle seems even more scattershot than usual for him. But compared to the work Jonze did — from scripting, to art direction, to the performances he pulls out of his actors — Russell absolutely has to take a backseat.
5. Best Picture
Directors: Ethan and Joel Coen
Currently Nominated For: Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing
Why So Much: You mean, apart from it indisputably being one of the very best films of the year? The Coens have been alternating larger films with smaller ones the past few years (from No Country For Old Men to Burn After Reading; from True Grit to Inside Llewyn Davis), which seems a good way for them to earn widespread attention and then next to nothing. As an advocate for their smaller films, including the excellent A Serious Man, I think we have to recognize that we are enjoying one of this country’s finest filmmaking teams at the very top of their game.
What Gets Dropped: Nothing! That’s the real point of outrage. The Academy, in its infinite wisdom, has seen fit to only nominate NINE films this year. Meaning, they’d rather have nothing than Llewyn. They did the exact same thing last year with The Master, leaving it off the list in favor of only selecting nine films. I understand how the voting works — a film needs a measly five-percent of top spot votes to make the final list of nominees — but it’s still absolutely infuriating to see an empty spot instead of one of the best films of the year.
This post was revised on 2/27/2014