Set the date on your calendars folks, the Oscars are just a few months away and the excitement has already started with the nominations being announced on the 16th of January. As is the case every year, there have been quite a few snubs, but the heavy favourites still scooped up slots in a year of intense competition. (For a full list, see their official website.)
The nomination process is quite unique and looking at how it is handled would explain the constant occurrence of surprises at the most prestigious ceremony of the awards season. The governing body is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which consists of 6,000 members across a multitude of voting bodies that are divided according to profession, such as acting, directing, visual effects, music, etc.
AMPAS uses a preferential voting system where members list their five preferred nominations for each category on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being their top choice. In order to get nominated, a contender needs to get 1/6 of each of the votes in a regular Academy category. If the first round of voting results in less than a full list of nominees based on first choices, the second choice of valid ballots are then considered.
It is how the ballots are handled once that minimum 1/6 is reached that makes upsets so likely. If a contender gets nominated, all the ballots that put it down as their first choice are automatically discarded in order to make way for “minority voices to get heard”. This means that in a highly competitive year such as this, once three or perhaps even two guaranteed nominees have been finalised, the remaining slots really are up for grabs. Hypothetically, once four slots have been filled (out of the potential five in most categories), there is a very high chance that the remaining ballots will have chosen a relatively obscure candidate as their primary choice.
This unusual voting procedure is a good explanation of how some very strong contenders this year got ignored as they were generally considered a guaranteed lock for the fourth or fifth slot in the nominations. The Best Picture category once again came up with only 9 nominees this year, a truly sad turn of events in a year that should have resulted in the maximum of 10. American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years a Slave all picked up nods for the biggest award of the night. It is arguably a three-way race between American Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave but that does not mean that the likes of Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue Jasmine or Saving Mr. Banks should have been ignored, especially as nominating any one of them would not have resulted in sacrificing one of the other 9 nominees.
American Hustle and Gravity picked up the most nominations with 10 apiece, the former dominating the acting categories and the latter dominating the technical ones. David O. Russell continues his remarkable actor-director rapport by picking up all four acting nominations, the first time in history that the same director has managed to steer two films to that same feat. Even more remarkable is the fact that all four actors in question have now received multiple nominations with O. Russell at the helm with Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence having won their only Oscars working with him.
12 Years a Slave picked up 9 nominations for an impressive showing of its own, although it was snubbed in the Best Original Score category. The remaining films picked up no more than 6 nominations each at the most, so it seems unlikely that anything other than this year’s “Big Three” will dominate the night. Then again, last year saw multiple films with double-digit nominations but the awards were still spread out quite evenly. Looking at the calibre of talent this year, it seems another equal distribution is on the cards.
Best Director nominations largely coincided with the Directors’ Guild of America nods, with O. Russell, Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) getting nominated at both awards. The one point of difference was AMPAS choosing Alexander Payne (Nebraska), meaning Paul Greengrass’ work for Captain Phillips suffered from being the fifth favourite.
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) were both guaranteed Best Actor slots for their respective roles but the remaining three slots were highly competitive. They eventually went to Leonardo Dicaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Bruce Dern (Nebraska) and Christian Bale (American Hustle). Bale’s nomination was the least assured of the group, with both Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) and Robert Redford (All is Lost) being better choices. Redford refused to campaign for his nomination – which really makes you respect the guy even more – but Hanks’ snub is still a big shocker.
The Best Actress nominations went to Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena) and Meryl Streep (August: Osage County). Once again, only two slots – heavy favourite Blanchett and hard-working Bullock – were really guaranteed. Dame Dench was the likeliest Brit to pick up a nod and it is wonderful to see her in the mix again. Streep is on an astonishing 18th nomination and while her work might not be the strongest contender, it is important to remember that, with the Oscars, a strong role for Meryl Streep means that there are really only four slots up for grabs in any given year. Adams is perhaps the surprise of the bunch, upending Emma Thompson’s work for Saving Mr. Banks, but it is unlikely that she will win, which is a shame as she is the only person in this category who has not won an Oscar yet.
The Best Supporting Actor category was filled with Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club). Leto is the heavy favourite here but that does not mean this category has gone without some upsets. Daniel Bruhl (Rush) and James Gandolfini (Enough Said) were considered for the fourth and fifth slots, especially after both got nominated at the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, but Hill and Cooper managed to get their second nominations.
The one acting category that went according to form is the Best Supporting Actress category. Although deviating from the SAG on one choice, the general consensus is that AMPAS got it right this time by nominating Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) and June Squibb (Nebraska). Hawkins’ nomination over sentimental favourite Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels’ the Butler) is an excellent choice, but it comes down to Nyong’o and Lawrence for the final win.
Best Original Screenplay went to American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Her and Nebraska, with Inside Llewyn Davis losing out once again. Before Midnight picked up a Best Adapted Screenplay nod due to the strange AMPAS rule that sequels build on existing material and are therefore somehow unoriginal. The other four slots went to Captain Phillips, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street.
A lot of people were shocked that Blue is the Warmest Colour got snubbed by the Academy but that decision is down to a technicality. The acclaimed film missed the nomination date window which specifies that films need to come out before September of the relevant year (in this case, 2013), instead of December for all other categories. This meant that France could not submit what has been the frontrunner at all other shows for the Oscars, meaning that The Great Beauty is all but assured a victory. However, it could still get a nomination next year so it has not been completely discounted from Oscar glory.
The same cannot be said for Blackfish, the controversial documentary about SeaWorld. Although it would probably have lost out to The Act of Killing on the night, it was still the second favourite and its loss cannot be chalked down to the voting procedure that saw upset nominations in other categories. There is a possibility that AMPAS did not want to get on the wrong side of such a large corporation, although it has not failed to do so in the past with An Inconvenient Truth and Bowling for Columbine. Also snubbed in this category was Stories We Tell.
In the Animated Feature category, Pixar’s dominance hit a brick wall with the powerhouse failing to pick up a nomination despite the category going to a full five this time. This marks only the second time that the studio has failed to pick up a nomination in this category, which first started in 2002. Disney’s Frozen remains the film to beat, also picking up a Best Original Song nod for “Let It Go”, although it was nice to see an international flavour to the group with nominations for Japan (The Wind Rises) and France (Ernest & Celestine).
Other interesting nominees this year include two for Lone Ranger in Best Visual Effects and for Makeup and Hairstyling. It must be heart-breaking for the Coens to see their Cannes darling get the same number of nominations as a Razzie favourite. Also picking up two nods were The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug, Lone Survivor and The Great Gatsby, also in the technical categories. Marvel continued to thump DC, with Iron Man 3 also getting a nod for effects while Man of Steel got ignored. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa can now proudly call itself the Oscar-nominated entry of the franchise after picking up a Best Makeup and Hairtstyling slot.
There were some interesting records set with the nominations this year as well. Unsurprisingly, Meryl Streep’s 18th nomination is the most visible one, but three other acting nominations have made history. At 23, Jennifer Lawrence became the youngest person ever to get three acting nominations (following a nomination for Winter’s Bone and a win for Silver Linings Playbook). Bruce Dern’s nomination comes after a gap of 35 years from his previous one, one of the longest gaps between successive nominations ever. Meanwhile, 84-year-old June Squibb could become the oldest ever winner of an acting Oscar if she somehow upends the pecking order.
John Williams also made history by becoming the only living person to notch up a staggering 49 Oscar nominations, for Best Original Score (The Book Thief), making him second to only Walt Disney himself for most Oscar nominations by an individual. Fellow composer Bobby Lopez could become the 12th person to win the prestigious EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) if he wins for “Let It Go”. Producer Megan Ellison is now one of just three people, and the only woman, to earn two Best Picture nominations in the same year, for Her and American Hustle. Also, for anyone keeping track, The Wolf of Wall Street is officially the most profanity-laced Best Picture nomination ever, with over 500 instances of the f-word beating the previous record holder, Scorsese’s Goodfellas.
Having looked at how the nominations have shaped up this year, it seems likely that the upsets have already happened. Despite some notable shocks, the big favourites are all still in the running and it is unlikely they will be stopped come the 2nd of March. Still, anything is possible. The only thing for certain is that Ben Affleck will not be winning a Best Director Oscar any time soon. Not that he was eligible this year, but hey, a snub is still a snub.