by Julian Spivey
I have a few thoughts on the Academy Award nominations that were announced on Thursday, Jan. 15, but before I start I feel the need to admit that I’ve only seen a small handful of the movies nominated this year (though I do hope to catch a few more before the ceremony on February 22). If you want a more reasoned and adequate opinion on which films and actors were truly snubbed you should check out Philip Price’s thoughts, because he’s seen every one of these films and many more.
My favorite nominations this year involve the incredibly brilliant, but little seen indie drama “Whiplash,” written and directed by Damien Chazelle, a youngster who’s just about to turn 30. “Whiplash” tells the story of 19-year old jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller) and the abusive music teacher Terence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons) in charge of molding him. The performances by both Teller and Simmons are among the most tense you’ll ever see on film, and this is essentially a teacher/student film which makes that all the more incredible. But, it’s because it’s a film about how far one will go or let himself be pushed in order to reach greatness that the intensity works so beautifully. “Whiplash” was nominated for best picture, best supporting actor (Simmons), best adapted screenplay (Chazelle), best film editing and best sound mixing. I wish space could’ve been found for Chazelle in the packed best director field and Teller in the incredibly packed best actor category. Still I’m thrilled that a little indie film that cost just around $3 million to make can receive such an esteemed honor as best picture nomination, even if there’s no chance in Hell of it winning. It means a lot for the state of indie films in this country, where many of America’s best films are coming from. Sure, you could say that best picture front-runner “Boyhood” and leading nominee “The Grand Budapest Hotel” are also indies, but not $3 million indies that are basically do-it-yourself like “Whiplash” was. There’s no doubt in my mind that “Whiplash” did more with less than any film of 2014.
The biggest controversy following the announcement of the Oscar nominations on Thursday was the utter lack of nominations for “Selma.” Just about everybody who’s seen it has heralded it as one of the best movies of the last year, but it could only muster a best picture and best original song nomination? Some are blaming the fact that Paramount didn’t send out screeners to voters, which does seem like a dumbass thing to do, but that’s simply not a good enough reason to almost shut this movie out (I will say I haven’t seen it yet, but the majority of critics can’t be that wrong). The most puzzling snub is that of director Ava DuVernay not receiving a nomination for best director when her film is nominated for best picture, yet “Foxcatcher” is not nominated for best picture but its director Bennett Miller receives a best director nomination. David Oyelowo who plays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the film is also considered a pretty big snub in the best actor category, but that is an extremely packed category this year. Maybe the Academy is simply over the African-American history film this year and has turned its focus to films about scientists, as both Eddie Redmayne (Stephen Hawking) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Alan Turing) received nominations for playing scientists.
Meryl Streep received her record-extending 19th Oscar nomination on Thursday for her role as the witch in Disney’s disappointingly disjointed cynical fairytale “Into The Woods.” She is the only one of the nominees in this category whose role I’ve seen this year, but I still highly doubt she’s worthy of this nomination. She certainly was good in the role of the witch, but this has all the looks of another “Meryl Streep being nominated because she’s Meryl Streep” nomination, which we’ve seemingly seen a few times over the last few years. I hate to come off as bashing Streep because she’s obviously one of the most talented actresses in the history of cinema, but I do have to roll my eyes a bit when people continue to put her on this higher than the sky pedestal – Streep might be great, but stop acting like she’s the greatest ever. Have you seen Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman and others act?
Robert Duvall’s nomination for best supporting actor in “The Judge” frankly surprised me (I haven’t seen the movie yet as poor reviews scared me off of a theatre viewing), even though it doesn’t seem it should have as he was nominated for both a Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award. Still some might think of this as a lifetime achievement nomination for the great Duvall (much like the nomination for Streep). Being a huge Duvall fan though it wouldn’t surprise me if he truly is deserving, even if the movie disappointed many overall. At 84 years old Duvall surpasses Hal Halbrook as the oldest male nominee in Oscar history (only Emmanuelle Riva who was 85 when nominated for best actress for “Amour” in 2013 is an older nominee). The truly fascinating thing about Duvall is that he keeps turning out terrific, award nominated performances long after many of his contemporaries have hung up their acting shoes. Gene Hackman and Jack Nicholson have long since retired and Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino haven’t done anything substantial in years, but Duvall is still going strong. It’s a testament to not only the Oscar winner’s talent, but his work ethic.
Bradley Cooper’s best actor nomination for “American Sniper” could be considered in place of a more deserving performance (David Oyelowo for “Selma” or Jake Gyllenhaal for “Nightcrawler”), but I honestly wouldn’t know because I haven’t seen any of those films yet, but I do know the Academy seems to have a new infatuation with the 40-year old actor. This is the third consecutive year that Cooper has been nominated for an Oscar having been nominated last year for best supporting actor in “American Hustle” and the year before for best actor in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Cooper is only the 15th actor to ever receive three consecutive Oscar nominations, which puts him in fantastic company that includes Marlon Brando, Spencer Tracy and Jack Nicholson. Russell Crowe 2000-2002 was the last actor to accomplish the feat. If Cooper is nominated for something next year he would tie Brando’s record for four consecutive nominations; Brando won on his fourth consecutive try for “On the Waterfront” (1954).
The Oscars seem to be getting more boring and boring with each passing year because we usually know with pretty good certainty which actors or films are going to take home the most coveted hardware in all of Hollywood because there are so many award shows prior to the Oscars. This has made Oscar pools pretty damn easy for anybody who’s paying attention to the rest of award season. I’m almost 100 percent sure that three of the four acting categories this year are stone cold locks. Julianne Moore is going to win best actress for “Still Alice,” Patricia Arquette is going to win best supporting actress for “Boyhood” and J.K. Simmons (thankfully) is going to win best supporting actor for “Whiplash.” This means only best actor is up for grabs and it’s pretty much down to Michael Keaton for “Birdman” and Eddie Redmayne for “The Theory of Everything,” the two actors who won Golden Globe awards last weekend. And, with each passing day Keaton seems to be distancing himself from Redmayne.
Much has been made since the Oscar nominations were revealed that the Academy has whitewashed the awards. One article headline even stated that this is the whitest Oscars since 1998. All 20 nominations in the four acting categories are taken up by white actors and actresses. Is it a problem for all 20 slots to be taken up by white performers? Yes and no. I believe that Oscar nominations should go to the best acting performances regardless of race and other factors. If the five best performances of the year in each acting category were done by white actors than that’s the way the nominations should go. Any other way is asking for a token nomination and I don’t believe anybody would truly want that. But … the reason why the “whitewashed” tag is being thrown around and the reason why 20 white actors for 20 nominations seems so wrong this year is that there’s a reportedly terrific movie out there featuring a predominantly black cast in “Selma” (again I haven’t seen it yet, but hope to very soon) and the fact that movies and performances that many critics believed to be inferior to “Selma” are receiving nominations over it make things seem a little out of place.