The 2015 Oscar Nominations’ (Few) Good and (Many) Bad Surprises

Oh Oscar, you bastard, why do we let you get under our collective skin, every damn year? This morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their nominees (full list here) — and they were chock-full of surprises, both delightful and infuriating. (Your film editor tries in general, and will particularly try here, to avoid using the word “snub,” with its connotations that anyone is owed anything.) So let’s take a look at the major categories, and where those surprises landed.

Best Picture
American Sniper
The Imitation Game
The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Theory of Everything

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Foxcatcher landed nominations for Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay, but no Best Picture — which is weird, since they could’ve nominated up to ten films (and usually go for nine; the math behind the final number is weird and complicated). Also, The LEGO Movies fans assumed/hoped that its exclusion from the Best Animated Feature category was due to a Best Picture nomination, but nope; they apparently just didn’t like the damn LEGO Movie, “Everything Is Awesome” aside.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: Early on in the nomination announcements, it became clear that the Academy really, really liked Whiplash nominating not just odds-on Supporting Actor fave J.K. Simmons, but its screenplay, editing, and sound mixing. It was by no means a shoo-in in those categories. Oh, and considering its many shut-outs elsewhere (more on those here), the nomination for Selma was, by that point in the announcements, both a surprise and a relief.

Best Actress
Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Despite everyone agreeing that Cake was crap, Jennifer Aniston’s Golden Globe nomination was making her look like a real contender here; that got shut down. And Amy Adams, an Academy favorite (five Oscar nominations, no wins) seemed like a pretty safe bet for Big Eyes, which did get her a Golden Globe Sunday (after Oscar nominating ballots were due, alas).

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: YAAAAY MARION COTILLARD. The stunningly gifted French actress — and 2008 Oscar winner — gave two award-worthy performances this year, in both Two Days and The Immigrant. But with The Weinstein Company spite-blocking Immigrant and little campaign budget or muscle at the disposal of Two Days distributor Sundance Select, Cotillard seemed like a long-shot; her inclusion here is a reminder that Oscar voters occasionally see these things clearly — and we needed that reminder this morning.

Jake Gyllenhaal in "Nightcrawler"

Best Actor
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: David Oyelowo. And David Oyelowo. And have I mentioned David Oyelowo? His stunning turn as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that the legend was also a man, one of warmth and humor and complexity, while capturing the cadences and energy of the oratory without resorting to imitation. Oh, and not for nothing, but if he had been nominated, maybe we wouldn’t have 20 white people out of 20 acting nominees. Just a thought! Also, Jake Gyllenhaal (for Nightcrawler) and Ralph Fiennes (for Grand Budapest) had worked up a pretty good head of steam over the past few weeks, but they apparently couldn’t squeak into a fiercely competitive race.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: Because that field was so competitive, some wondered if early favorite Carell might get squeezed out (particularly considering that — personal opinion here, I know, but! — it’s a supporting role). Out of the rest of the bunch, Cooper seemed iffiest, but keep in mind that this is an actor clearly beloved by his nominating peers; Sniper marks his third nomination in as many years.

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Jessica Chastain and Rene Russo, magnificent in A Most Violent Year and Nightcrawler (respectively), seemed like pretty safe bets — particularly since they were both far better than some of these nominees. And yeah, I know Carmen Ejogo (for Selma) and Carrie Coon (for Gone Girl) weren’t really in the conversation, but still…

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: With all the attention Reese Witherspoon’s received for Wild, I hadn’t heard much chatter for Dern, who is very good as her mother. But she’s pretty much great in everything, and hasn’t been nominated since 1992, so good for her. On the other end of the spectrum, Jesus Christ, what would Meryl Streep have to do to not get nominated for Oscars anymore?

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: These were probably just wishful thinking, but boy it would’ve been great to see something here for Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice or (yes) Tyler Perry in Gone Girl.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: Let’s not pretend like Robert Duvall’s nomination for the widely derided The Judge is anything more than a bullshit sentimental favorite situation — or that it matters, since Simmons has this one all sewn up anyway.

Still image from "Selma"

Best Director
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Sigh. Ava DuVernay could’ve been the first African-American woman nominated for Best Director, and they missed it by that much. Which is not to say she should’ve been nominated solely for that reason; she should’ve been nominated because Selma’s direction is flawless, its Edmund Pettus Bridge sequence or the march to the county clerk’s office or the execution of Jimmie Lee Jackson directed with more skill, passion, and electricity than the entirety of something as bland as The Imitation Game. (Side note: no one seems all that surprised that Clint Eastwood wasn’t nominated; his DGA nom seemed, and continues to seem, like an anomaly rooted in idolatry).

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: Yes, Morten Tydlum’s inclusion is unfortunate, though not unexpected. More surprising is the nomination for Bennett Miller; though an earlier nominee for Capote (but not Moneyball), he was the only one here who wasn’t nominated by the Director’s Guild earlier this week, and (as previously mentioned) Foxcatcher didn’t make the Best Picture cut.