As it takes me until late in the day to offer my reactions to this year’s slate of Academy Award nominees, expressing my own sense of disappointment-tilting-towards-outrage over the exclusion of Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo from their respective categories becomes the latest in a long line of echoes. Regardless of where the respective films will land on my own personal top ten list for the year, I think there are three 2014 movies that are true feats of directing: Birdman, Boyhood, and Selma (with The Grand Budapest Hotel very nearly deserving of that designation). That the one of those directed by a black woman is the one that’s excluded is a travesty. The fact that only four women have been deemed worthy of a Best Director nomination in eighty-seven years of the award is a pure embarrassment. DuVernay joins Penny Marshall, Barbara Streisand, and Debra Granik among women who’ve directed a Best Picture nominee without a corresponding accolade in their category. (To be fair and accurate, Granik and DuVernay did it at a time when the Best Picture nominees outnumber the Best Director nominees, making the omission all the more likely if not necessarily more forgivable.) As I noted to my old movie review colleague recently, I’m convinced Selma represents the emergence of one of our next great directors. I could be wrong. If I’m not, history will make the Academy’s negligence in this instance look as bad as when they nominated Taxi Driver as Best Picture without doing the same for Martin Scorsese in the Best Director category.
With the exasperated rant out of the way, I offer a few other observations:
–In the acting categories, the ability to forever affix “Academy Award-winner” before their names seems all but inevitable for Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons, and Patricia Arquette. It is an honor long overdue for Moore, who is on her fifth nomination without a win and arguably should have had a few more in there. Amazingly, it’s been twelve years since her last time as an Oscar nominee when she faced the indignity of losing twice in one night (for a nice enough performance in The Hours and an blazingly ingenious one in Far From Heaven). Arquette is extremely deserving for her smart, nuanced, heartfelt work in Boyhood. If you told me, say, three years ago that Jared Leto would be the reigning Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner and therefore charged with the task of presenting Patricia Arquette with the Best Supporting Actress trophy and that I would have felt each of them to be entirely deserving of their wins, I would have found that as unlikely as the phrase “three time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper.”
–Bradley Cooper is a three-time Oscar nominee. In fact, this is the third year in a row he’s been in the competition. That fella must have a helluva team behind him.
–It’s the seventh nomination for Robert Duvall and the first in sixteen years. It’s also been sixteen years since Edward Norton was last nominated and twenty-three years for Laura Dern. I include the latter fact to remind myself of how very, very old I am.
–Circling back to the differences between the Best Picture and Best Director categories, I thought sure the expanded slate in the top category meant that we’d never again see a Best Director nominee without a corresponding Best Picture nod. It’s incredible that Foxcatcher factors into Best Director, two acting categories, and the relevant screenplay category without also making it in among the eight Best Picture nominees. Except Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling, Foxcatcher doesn’t show up in any of the so-called tech categories. It must have shown up on practically none of the ballots from those branches of the Academy to keep it out of the running.
–The one acting category that still seems competitive is Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, with Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton the likely contenders. Historically, smart money would be on Redmayne. He’s definitely good in The Theory of Everything, but I’m hoping the Academy’s recent willingness to occasionally be a little more daring favors Keaton. Since the category split at the Golden Globes meant they didn’t compete against one another, the Screen Actors Guild Awards in a couple weeks will be very telling.
–And the Oscar for Best Reaction to a Academy Award Nomination Snub goes to…