Oh dear. What was wrong with the Academy this year? Sparking discussions about the presence of minorities and women not just in awards contention but across western cinema in general, it’s fair to say that this year’s Academy Awards nominations could be the most contentious in a long while. For the most part, it seems the most passionate discussion has been over what has not been nominated as opposed to the nominees themselves. Leading the charge is Selma, a stirring biopic about the turbulent era of the Civil Rights Movement in the southern United States. By all accounts, this is the kind of film that should have been a sure fire hit with the Academy. Biopic? Check. Set in a time that the elderly Academy members are familiar with? Check. Touching on themes of race? Check. And while the film has two nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Song, it is the lack of nominations for the stellar work by Ava DuVernay behind the camera, and the powerful, gutsy performance of David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. in front of it, that has been the major source of contention.
If the omission of the director and lead actor of Selma from this years Oscars is a depressing indication of the monochromy found in today’s film industry, then the omission of The Lego Movie from contention in the Best Animated Feature category is proof of the Academy being even further removed from reality than we could have imagined, as the only possible excuse for it not being nominated is that they thought it was live-action. Not that the other selections in this category are bad films; The Boxtrolls, How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6 are fine animated fare, but The Lego Movie was in our eyes by far and away the best animated film of 2014. Everything is not awesome.
If you think that the amount of Oscar nominations or wins a film has is a proper indication of the quality, then you are very much misguided.
Gone Girl was one of the biggest commercial and critical hits of 2014, and its lack of nominations, especially in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, was a genuine shock. Nightcrawler, too, was an exciting and innovative film which was both a hit with cinema goers and critics that has been grossly overlooked by an Academy who clearly have been out of step with what people have enjoyed this year.
We’ve also seen yet another Meryl Streep nomination over Jessica Chastain in “A Most Violent Year;” it’s happened so frequently it appears the Academy have signed some sort of deal with her. Obviously Meryl Streep is a fantastic actress and certainly deserves the three Oscars that she has already won, but with Streep’s nomination last year for the horribly stagey August: Osage County and another for Into The Woods this year, it seems that for the Academy it’s stopped being a case of ‘Meryl Streep is outperforming everyone yet again’ and has become more a case of ‘we have completely run out of ideas, and change is bad.’
Another headscratcher comes from the Best Foreign Language Film category. The absence of the outstanding, elegant, super-realistic Two Days, One Night is made doubly confusing considering Marion Cotillard’s nomination for her leading performance. While this has happened to Cotillard before with 2007’s La Vie En Rose, Two Days One Night really does deserve to at least be considered among the years best foreign language films, if not one of the best films altogether.
The Academy didn’t shower themselves with praise last year after choosing the enjoyable, yet unchallenging 20 Feet From Stardom in the Best Documentary category over the visceral, genuinely shocking The Act Of Killing, and the non-inclusion of Next Goal Wins among this years nominees is another shocker. To take a phrase from the big book of football cliches, it appears the Academy have lost their bottle.
It’s certainly been a particularly bad year for the Academy. There’s been a lot of dropped balls, missed opportunities and honestly baffling snubs that make you wonder what on earth they were thinking. But a bad year for the Academy does not mean a bad year for film. There have been a great number of really fantastic films not only among the nominees and the snubs, but also among the ones that the Academy didn’t even give a second look at: Dear White People, Edge of Tomorrow, The Babadook, Calvary, and many more. If you think that the amount of Oscar nominations or wins a film has is a proper indication of the quality, then you are very much misguided.
Image: Warner Bros