It’s Breakfast at the Academy and instead of strawberries and cream we get a jolt of eyebrow-raising coffee and some pretty sour grapes. Yes, most of the season’s front-runners were well-represented on the nominations rolls: Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel both snagged nine nominations, and Meryl Streep collected her record 19th nomination as the Witch in Into the Woods.
The biggest surprise of the morning may be the lack of love for the topical historical drama Selma — no doubt hurt by the recent news reports questioning its depiction of LBJ as a reluctant, foot-dragging civil rights warrior. (I personally think those critics are reading too much into that aspect of the film, which is handled more deftly than some of the more outrageous fictionalizations in fact-based films like The Imitation Game.) While Selma did get a Best Picture nod, the Academy passed over both David Oyelowo as MLK and director Ava DuVernay.
The latter omission is particularly noteworthy since the old boys’ club of the Academy directing branch picked Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher — even though that film didn’t make the cut for Best Picture. There is a strain of chauvinism in that group that’s even more pronounced than in the broader DGA — which has nominated almost twice as many women for the DGA Awards.
The rest of the Best Picture nominees — eight this year, one less than we’ve had in the last three years — include most of the usual suspects. Front-runners Boyhood and Birdman made the list, as well as the Brit biopics The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. American Sniper and Whiplash may be the biggest surprises, but they each have a sizable fan base in the Academy. The big triumph here is Grand Budapest Hotel, which has shown remarkable staying power for a March release. (The last first-quarter film to earn this much Academy affection was The Silence of the Lambs.) It’s also the top-grossing Best Picture nominee, though its box office tally is just shy of $60 million. So much for the Academy’s hopes that expanding the Best Picture field would generate recognition for populist films to give average Americans a rooting interest in watching the telecast. At this point, only American Sniper (which has banked $3 million in very limited release but opens nationwide later this month) seems poised to gross $100 million domestically.
Popular hits with a more genre tilt like Interstellar and Gone Girl failed to crack the major categories. Rosamund Pike did earn a Best Actress nod for Gone Girl, but my former EW colleague Gillian Flynn was passed over for her script adaptation of her best-selling book. Yes, the writers’ branch of the Academy has a male-skewing bias almost as glaring as the directors’ — all 14 writing nominees this year are dudes. Even the subjects of the Best Picture nominees have a masculine bent: Only one has a lead female role, and that’s Felicity Jones in the, ahem, Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything.
Speaking of the acting categories, there were a handful of surprises here. Bradley Cooper earned his third straight nomination for American Sniper, bumping out David Oyelowo as well as Nightcrawler‘s Jake Gyllenhaal; the latter seemed to be gaining momentum, but I’m guessing that there might not be enough hip young actors in that branch of the Academy just yet to sneak in such an edgy indie role. Even so, the preferential voting system definitely worked for Marion Cotillard, who beat out Jennifer Aniston (Cake) and Golden Globe winner Amy Adams (Big Eyes) for the fifth Best Actress slot for her turn in the French-language film Two Days One Night. The cold shoulder for Selma also resulted in an unfortunate sweep in the acting categories: For only the second time in two decades, all 20 nominees are white.
The other big snub this year came in the Animated Feature race, where the film that many prognosticators assumed would win — The Lego Movie — lost out to less-seen films like Song of the Sea (from the Irish studio behind the 2010 nominee The Secret of the Kells) and The Tale of Princess Kaguya (from Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli). One small consolation: The Lego Movie‘s “Everything Is Awesome” picked up a Best Song nod. It will face off against the perfect-for-the-film “Lost Stars” from Begin Again, “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights, Golden Globe winner “Glory” from Selma, and what may emerge as the new sentimental favorite, an original Glen Cambpell tune from the dying country legend’s farewell-tour documentary I’ll Be Me. Playing on the Alzheimer’s theme underlying Julianne Moore’s likely Oscar victory for Still Alice, that could yield the tear-jerking moment at next month’s ceremony.
In the ever-controversial Documentary Feature category came another surprise: no mention of the Roger Ebert doc Life Itself. Even in death, it seems, it’s hard to embrace a critic.