Oscar 2014 nominations reflect a sea change in academy’s attitude
Actress in a leading role: Sandra Bullock
WINNER: Director: Alfonso Cuarón
WINNER: Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki
WINNER: Film editing: Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger
WINNER: Original score: Steven Price
Production design: Production design: Andy Nicholson; set decoration: Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woollard
WINNER: Sound editing: Glenn Freemantle
WINNER: Sound mixing: Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro
WINNER: Visual effects: Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, Neil Corbould (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Actor in a leading role: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Actor in a supporting role: Michael Fassbender
WINNER: Actress in a supporting role: Lupita Nyong’o
Director: Steve McQueen
WINNER: Adapted screenplay: John Ridley
Costume design: Patricia Norris
Film editing: Joe Walker
Production design: Production design: Adam Stockhausen; set decoration: Alice Baker (Francois Duhamel / Fox Searchlight)
Actor in a leading role: Matthew McConaughey
WINNER: Actor in a supporting role: Jared Leto
Original screenplay: Melisa Wallick, Craig Borten
Sound editing: John Mac McMurphy, Martin Pensa
WINNER: Makeup and hairstyling: Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews (Anne Marie Fox / Focus Features)
Actress in a supporting role: Sally Hawkins
Original screenplay: Woody Allen (Merrick Morton / Sony Pictures Classics)
WINNER: Original screenplay: Spike Jonze
Original song: “The Moon Song” (Music: Karen O; lyrics: Karen O, Spike Jonze)
Original score: William Butler, Owen Pallett
Production design: Production design: K.K. Barrett; set decoration: Gene Serdena (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Actor in a leading role: Christian Bale
Actress in a leading role: Amy Adams
Actor in a supporting role: Bradley Cooper
Actress in a supporting role: Jennifer Lawrence
Director: David O. Russell
Original Screenplay: David O. Russell, Eric Singer
Costume design: Michael Wilkinson
Film editing: Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Alan Baumgarten
Production design: Production design: Judy Becker; set decoration: Heather Loeffler (Francois Duhamel / Sony - Columbia Pictures)
Actor in a supporting role: Barkhad Abdi
Adapted screenplay: Billy Ray
Film editing: Christopher Rouse
Sound editing: Oliver Tarney
Sound mixing: Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro (Jasin Boland / Columbia Pictures)
Actor in a leading role: Bruce Dern
Actress in a supporting role: June Squibb
Director: Alexander Payne
Original screenplay: Bob Nelson
Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael
(Cannes Film Festival)
Actor in a leading role: Leonardo DiCaprio
Actor in a supporting role: Jonah Hill
Director: Martin Scorsese
Adapted screenplay: Terence Winter (Mary Cybulski / Paramount Pictures)
Actress in a leading role: Judi Dench
Adapted screenplay: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Original score: Alexandre Desplat (Alex Bailey / The Weinstein Company)
Actress in a supporting role: Julia Roberts (Claire Folger / The Weinstein Company)
If, as has been said, the movie business is like a giant tanker ship that can’t change course on a dime, this year’s Oscar nominations show an organization in the midst of making that kind of adjustment in direction, moving slowly but steadily from the past to the future.
Imagine a world where movie stars of the pedigree of Robert Redford and Tom Hanks give two of the best performances of their careers but don’t get Oscar nominations. On the other hand, imagine a world where the stunning “Stories We Tell,” Sarah Polley’s ground-breaking documentary that mixes re-creations with reality, is snubbed. Or where Spike Jonze, director of the subversive “Her,” can’t get a nomination either.
You don’t have to imagine those worlds. We’re living in both of them.
The acting category is an example of that not-quite changing of the guard. Four of the five nominees — Christian Bale (“American Hustle”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“Wolf of Wall Street”), Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) — are a generation younger than Hanks (“Captain Phillips”) and Redford (“All Is Lost.)
But, as if to demonstrate that the past is not quite gone, the acting branch found room for another member of that older generation, nominating Bruce Dern for his outstanding work in “Nebraska.”
Looking at Oscar nominations category by category, however, can be deceptive. Different branches have different memberships, which leads to situations like Wong Kar Wai’s stunning “The Grandmaster” being good enough to get nominations in both cinematography and costume design but not being good enough to get a best foreign language nomination. Go figure.
The best way to see the Academy’s tendencies, however, is to look across all categories and examine the three films that got the most nominations. Each of them succeeded, it could be argued, because they perfectly captured the current zeitgeist by being partially in the future and partially in the past.
David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” topped the list with 10 nominations. On the one hand, the film’s outrageous situations and characterizations (and brilliantly off-the-cuff dialogue) are definitely not business as usual, but the film manages to bring everything back home for a satisfying and happily conventional conclusion.
Close behind with nine nominations each are “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave,” each of which does that same balancing act its own way.
With “Gravity,” the split between future and past is most obvious. The film’s astonishing visuals are the most forward-looking element in any of this year’s films, but “Gravity’s” lost-in-space, desperate-for-home plot is, in broad outline, nothing if not recognizable.
Seeing this dynamic in “12 Years a Slave” is a bit more difficult, but it is there. On the one hand, given that “Roots” changed the face of television within the memory of those still living and “Django Unchained” won an Oscar last year, it is fair to say that slavery is a familiar topic. But the unblinking, unsentimental way director Steve McQueen has chosen to present it on screen is unprecedented as well as completely modern.
Though this kind of argument could be made about almost every film on the best picture list, the dynamic is more visible in some films than others. For example:
“Dallas Buyers Club.” The subject matter of AIDS kept this feature in development hell for what must have seemed like forever, but once it got made, “Dallas’s” tendency to hit its points harder than necessary put it squarely in the old Hollywood camp.
“Wolf of Wall Street.” Though he started in the independent world and lives in New York, no one is a more old-school traditional studio filmmaker these days than Martin Scorsese, something that he shrewdly camouflages by the increasingly sensationalistic nature of his work: Entertainment Weekly reported that this film “breaks the record for most F-bombs in a movie with 506.” My sympathies to the person who did the counting.
“Philomena.” Judi Dench’s wrenching performance as a woman desperate to reconnect with the son she gave up for adoption would have warmed the heart of Louis B. Mayer. But having that son be gay and casting the Catholic Church in a villanous light would have given the old mogul fits.
It’s interesting to note that same split between then and now is also visible, albeit in different ways, within the foreign language and documentary categories.
While two of the foreign language nominees — “The Great Beauty” from Italy and “The Missing Picture” from Cambodia — are indisputably, even brilliantly, modern, the remaining three — Belgium’s “Broken Circle Breakdown,” Denmark’s “The Hunt” and Palestine’s “Omar” — are all traditional stories done in an updated way.
As far as the documentary nominations go, this year’s picks underscore the tradition that films with political agendas have a leg up. Three of the five nominees — “The Act of Killing,” “Dirty Wars” and “The Square” — fit that bill.
Given how resistant this branch is to nonpolitical subject matter, perhaps the wonder is not that “Stories We Tell” and Alan Berliner’s exceptional “First Cousin Once Removed” didn’t make the cut but that “Cutie and the Boxer” and “Twenty Feet From Stardom” did.
It goes without saying that films that are too out there don’t get Oscar nominations, but this year’s nominations also showed that you can be too conventional as well. “Saving Mr. Banks” got only one nomination (for musical score), “The Butler” didn’t get any, and the exceptional but under-publicized “The Invisible Woman” had to settle for one for costume design.
Which was one less than the nominations (for makeup and hair style and visual effects) that one of the year’s biggest bombs, “The Lone Ranger,” managed to rack up. The Academy insists on going its own way, and you have to love it for that.
[For the record, 1:45 p.m. Jan. 16, 2014: An earlier version of this post referred to “Django Unchained” as “Django Rising.”]
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