10 things we learned from the 85th Academy Awards nominations

It’s been two days since the Academy Awards nominations were announced and Hollywood is still getting over the snubs and surprises. Like Nancy Kerrigan’s primal cry of “Why? Why? Why?” echoing through time, industry pundits, critics across the globe, a plethora of Sony Pictures employees and Academy members not in the directing branch are opening questioning how Kathryn Bigelow could have been overlooked in the best directing category.  And the outrage over Ben Affleck’s omission is only slightly quieter.  Clearly, it’s never to late to review the lessons the Academy’s collective membership have taught us so far this year.  With that in mind, here’s 10 things we’ve learned so far.

Somehow “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Argo” directed themselves
While fans of “Amour” are thrilled that Michael Haneke made the cut, it’s hard to see why David O. Russell did. That’s not a dig on the “Silver Lining” director, but any member of that branch who thinks Russell did superior work to Kathryn Bigelow or Ben Affleck this year has to have another agenda with their vote.  Of the two omissions  Bigelow’s is the most disheartening.  Not just because she won more best director honors from critics groups across the country, but because it’s too easy to see a vein of sexism reappearing in this notoriously male dominated branch. Yes, we know.  She won best director for “The Hurt Locker,” but two nominations?  Guess that’s just too much for the good ol’ boys.  And as for Affleck, it’s clear his peers insist the former screenwriter winner impress them with more than three fine films on his resume.

The Actor’s branch appreciated “The Master” more than the other branches
Once lauded as the best film of the year by critics, “The Master” lost a tremendous amount of awards season momentum following its September debut. Paul Thomas Anderson was shut out of the writing and directing categories as expected, but the actors didn’t forget and appropriately rewarded their peers.  That’s a good thing because you can easily argue Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix have never been better. Unfortunately, it looks like the nomination is the win for the trio this time around.

The 5% rule may be harming populist best picture nominees in the expanded era
Some diehards in the Academy may be happy with the new 5% rule which qualifies the best picture nominees and has now resulted in two years of nine out of a potential 10 nominees.  The problem, however, is that since this rule went into effect it is not helping the more “populist” films that many in the industry believe deserve inclusion (and we won’t even get into what audiences think should be nominated).  This year’s victim appears to be “Skyfall.”  One of the best reviewed films of the year and one of the biggest blockbusters with $1 billion worldwide, Sam Mendes’ take on 007 appeared to have a significant shot at landing a best picture nod.  It even made the cut for the PGA’s ten nominees and dominated the BAFTA nominations earlier this week.  And with Javier Bardem’s SAG nomination you could make the assumption the actor’s branch would support it as well.  That wasn’t the case. Bardem didn’t make the supporting actor cut (Christoph Waltz did instead) and “Skyfall” had to make due with five nominations: song, original score, sound editing, sound mixing, and cinematography. With all that support it’s a given it would have made the cut under the old rules. What film will be burned next year? Time to revisit this rule Academy.

The Academy has issues with Leonardo DiCaprio
“Django Unchained” came relatively late to the party, but not late enough for Christoph Waltz to land a best actor, cough, er, best supporting actor nomination.  The previous winner for “Inglorious Basterds” will no doubt be thrilled he’s found a significant fan base in the Academy, but his inclusion left out the better supporting turn by co-star Leonardo DiCaprio.  Granted, DiCaprio did not do a lot of press for “Django” nor did he do an inkling of campaigning (his decision obviously) but you could say the same for “The Master’s” Joaquin Phoenix (hardly a beloved actor at the moment), Philip Seymour Hoffman or “Amour’s” Emmanuelle Riva.  Ever since DiCaprio was nominated for “Blood Diamond” instead of “The Departed” five years ago he’s arguably had five great performances overlooked by the Academy for a nomination including “Django.” What’s changed? DiCaprio hasn’t done anything criminal or been caught screaming at a craft services cook. Pundits may say the Academy just doesn’t like Ben Affleck, but recently they’ve been proving they really don’t like DiCaprio.

Even the below the line categories continues to discriminate
The more things change, the more things stay the same. Even with the below the line categories. Let’s see here, so the production design for “Les Miserables” or “Lincoln” was more impressive than “Prometheus” or “The Dark Knight Rises”? Sound mixing for “Argo” and “Lincoln” was superior than “The Avengers,” “Cloud Atlas” or “Looper”? The score for “Skyfall” was more impactful and memorable than that of “Cloud Atlas”?  The costumes for “Lincoln” and “Les Miserables” were a stronger achievement than  the work in “Cloud Atlas” or “The Dark Knight Rises”? So on, and so on.

History was on John Hawkes side but the Academy wasn’t
Let’s see, which traditional Oscar nomination rules did John Hawkes follow for his role? Play a person with disabilities? Check. Seemingly transform yourself for set role? Check. Win critical accolades? Check. Nomination?  Nope. Of course, as Tapley notes, Hawkes probably doesn’t care much that he didn’t make the cut. But, as with Marion Cotillard’s stellar work in “Rust and Bone,” the Academy didn’t really recognize characters with disabilities this year.

“Amour” reminded that the guilds can be worthless indicators of nominations
The buzz was there. Academy members spoke openly of their adoration for Michael Haneke’s Palm d’Or winning drama for months. Unfortunately, many of the traditional guild indicators left the picture out in the cold. None of the actors were nominated for SAG Awards honors and Haneke didn’t make the DGA (it’s unclear if it was PGA eligible or not, but it didn’t make that list either).  So, the film’s LAFCA win for best film aside, from an outsiders perspective “Amour” didn’t seem like a true contender. The same could be said of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Ben Zeitlin’s Sundance drama was ineligible for SAG or WGA honors and didn’t place in the DGA or PGA awards nominations. And yet, both films landed a slew of nominations including best picture and best director reminding everyone that tying guild love to the Academy’s expected favorites can be a very dangerous game.

The Academy does a Sally Field with “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Speaking of “Beasts,” boy did the Academy surprise on this one. Searchlight’s art house success (a modest $11.2 million) landed a surprising four nominations for picture, best director (Zeitlin), best actress (Quvenzhané Wallis) and best adapted screenplay (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin).  The screenplay honor had been expected, picture was borderline and Wallis for actress seemed like a longshot.  And director?  That was the biggest surprise of all.  So, even if “Beasts” goes away empty-handed on Oscar Sunday the nominees and Zeitlin can take solace that the Academy liked the movie. They really, really liked the movie.

Despite controversy documentary final field is strong
It’s clear that no matter what the rules are an acclaimed documentary or two is going to be left out of this category every year. Some omissions will be more noteworthy than others, but the fact the Academy has tried to fix their qualification and nominating process is a good thing.  Should “Central Park Five” made the cut? Sure, but I would argue so should have “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present.” Can anyone honesty argue “”5 Broken Cameras,” “The Gatekeepers,” “How to Survive A Plague,” “The House I Live In,” “The Invisible War” and “Searching For Sugar Man” aren’t worthy nominees? The answer is “no” and therefore, the system must be working, right? Right?

Everyone keeps forgetting that the Academy membership is still old, like, really old
Over the past decade AMPAS has done a wonderful job communicating to the press about all the younger and diverse members its invited to join the organization.  However, that hasn’t changed the fact that the average member is male, white and in his mid-60’s.  And sure, the overall Academy membership is politically liberal and has more discerning taste than most moviegoers and it’s one reason the year’s best pictures can be somewhat easy to pick. Every few years, however, they membership surprises. “Precious,” “Juno,” “District 9,” and “The Kids Are All Right” will get a best picture nomination.  “Bridesmaids” will get an original screenplay nod. Robert Downey, Jr. will get a best supporting actor nod for “Tropic Thunder.” Michelle Williams will get a best actress nomination for “Blue Valentine.” But if you wonder why “Skyfall” didn’t make the best picture cut or no one from “Looper,” “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” or “End of Watch” or was taken seriously, well, just look at the membership. That’s all you need to know.

Any lessons learned you’d like to share?