As it always does, the Academy had a few things of its own to say this morning as the 86th annual Oscar nominations announcement was full of intrigue. Never too closely resembling the buzz we're all going on as ballots are turned in, the organization went its own way in a few key areas, putting smiles on some faces, slapping frowns on others.
The biggest note as you look through the list of nominees is that Disney's “Saving Mr. Banks” almost completely missed the boat. It landed a single, solitary nomination, for Best Original Score (which it largely owes to the amount of respect Thomas Newman has in that branch, this being his 12th nomination to date). It's a movie about Hollywood patting itself on the back with handsome production values and two of the most respected actors around in key roles. What happened?
Frankly, the campaign on this one seemed bungled from the start. Disney didn't put its best foot forward by dropping the film at the London Film Festival and failing to let press in the States help carry early buzz. Then decisions were made along the way that certainly didn't help it catch a stride, like dubiously positioning it as a drama for the Golden Globes when it would have been a sure-fire nominee in comedy (and actress Emma Thompson, snubbed today, might have given Amy Adams some real heat for the win). These things don't all fall on the shoulders of campaign. At the end of the day, the Academy likes the movie or it doesn't. But it's hard to win a marathon when you shoot yourself in the foot.
Speaking of Tom Hanks, we all knew someone was going to be the victim of a crowded Best Actor field and his name was always one of those bubbling to the top as a potential snub. In the end, the two latter-season players – Christian Bale in “American Hustle” and Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street” – were both strong enough to squeeze in (and by the way, this is the second year in a row David O. Russell has landed nominations in every acting category for his players after breaking a three-decade drought of such an occurrence with “Silver Linings Playbook” – expect even MORE stars to line-up to work for him).
But getting back to Hanks, “Captain Phillips” just didn't quite hit on all the cylinders we might have expected going into the announcement. Six nominations is nothing to sneeze at, but the directors branch, for instance, didn't find room for Paul Greengrass in their lineup. The cinematographers couldn't squeeze Barry Ackroyd in that category despite the fact that we know he was in the mix given the seven ASC nominations. (And by the way, Sean Bobbitt's snub in that category for “12 Years a Slave” really stings.)
And so I come to it: “12 Years a Slave.” The film landed nine nominations, a great haul, but not the field-leading spread we might have anticipated. That designation goes to the 10 nods landed by “American Hustle” and “Gravity.” So it showed a little weakness this morning, and leaves you wondering whether that Golden Globe stunner on Sunday night might remain the high mark of the season. I'm of the mind that this Best Picture race is between the nomination leaders, but one can't be too negative to see Steve McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o all chalked up for Oscar nominations. Fox Searchlight has run a classy campaign throughout, never pushing so hard as to come off greedy and gross. In the hands of other companies, this film might have been shoved down everyone's throats. So they can sleep at night, and indeed, they absolutely still have an angle on this race.
The editing category is interesting, and as ever, it's a good indicator of what is and isn't in the race given that no film has won Best Picture without being chalked up here since “Ordinary People” in 1980. Though the winner of the editing Oscar that year – Thelma Schoonmaker for “Raging Bull” – was snubbed today, unceremoniously, for her gargantuan task of whittling “The Wolf of Wall Street” into a film that, for many, zips by despite a three-hour running time. The players are “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips” (though, no director nod),” “Dallas Buyers Club” (the surprise) and “12 Years a Slave.”
All of that said, after last season, the stats fly out the window. “'Argo' can't win now that Ben Affleck wasn't nominated for Best Director” was the rhetoric at roughly this moment 365 days ago. We all know how that turned out, and it's for the better that such definitives be dashed. Now passionate campaigns can go to the suits and say, “Look, we have a shot despite the numbers.”