Hollywood, you have no one but yourselves to blame for the odd collection of low-grossing indies that make up 2015's Oscar nomination list, announced Thursday morning. You've succeeded in persuading audiences that movies have to be huge, special-effects-stuffed, supercharged events. You've conditioned people to expect spoon-fed excitement, predictability and feel-goodness. So you shouldn't be surprised when, at the end of the year, you suddenly toss out a handful of Oscar-bait films that are small, personal, challenging and unpredictable, and no one knows what to make of them. (If it weren't for Oscar bait, these movies probably wouldn't exist at all.)
So we end up with this year's nomination list, dominated by some of the least-seen movies in Oscar history. Of the eight best-picture contenders, Wes Anderson's charming but twee The Grand Budapest Hotel is the highest domestic grosser, at $59-million (U.S.). (It also garnered the most nominations, nine – tied with Birdman, which has grossed $26-million.) Next is The Imitation Game, with $42-million in grosses and eight nominations. The grosses drop steeply down from there, and end with a trickle: $6-million for Whiplash, $3-million for American Sniper. (Though the latter just opened, and with six nominations, will likely be one of the few to see a true Oscar bump at the box office.)
Those are small numbers, and they will likely translate into low ratings for the Oscarcast on Feb. 22. Neither the host, Neil Patrick Harris (beloved on the Tonys, but not quite as glam as one expects for Hollywood's biggest night), nor the producers' plan to include full performances of the five best song nominees, seem enough of a draw to combat viewer indifference.
Within the biz, plenty of people went back to bed and pulled their covers over their heads yesterday morning, while others stared at their TVs in shock. Here are the winners and losers:
Women. Not only are no women nominated for directing or screenwriting, none of the eight best picture nominees tells a story centred on a woman's life. Wild didn't make the cut, nor Gone Girl. The Theory of Everything, which is about Stephen Hawking's marriage, and Boyhood, which hits some home truths about motherhood, come closest. This is bad. Half the stories in the world are women's stories. Are there really so few worth telling in films?
To find female-centric pictures, you have to look on the lists for best actress and supporting actress – and don't bother looking anywhere else.
Two Days, One Night, Still Alice, Wild, and even Gone Girl (which, with a gross of $167-million, is a bona fide hit) are nominated in no other categories, and I can't help but feel that voters had a hard time scraping together even 10 female performances that were meaty enough to be contenders. Jennifer Aniston must be disappointed – she campaigned hard for Cake, and she's good in it, playing a woman living in chronic pain. But few people have heard of it, much less seen it. Same with Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Beyond the Lights. And where's Jessica Chastain, who's usually an Academy favourite? Neither her work in Interstellar nor A Most Violent Year made the cut.
And though Selma, from director Ava DuVernay, is nominated for best picture, the directors' branch missed an opportunity to nominate a woman of colour. (Nor did the directors nominate Angelina Jolie for Unbroken.) This seems especially disappointing after the "I am Woman, hear me roar" vibe at Sunday nights' Golden Globes, which began in Amy Poehler and Tiny Fey's feisty opener, and continued through many speeches. Talking the talk is easy, however. Financing films is what counts, and that's just not happening for women's stories.
Anyone of colour. Birdman's director, Alejandro Inarritu, is Mexican; every other nominated director, and most of the screenwriters, are white guys. All 20 acting nominees are as pale as paste, making it the whitest acting list in two decades. What's worse, almost no film tells the story of a person of colour. Among the main contenders, only Selma qualifies. Digging deeper, in precisely one animated feature (The Tale of the Princess Kaguya), one documentary feature (Virunga) and one foreign language film (Timbuktu) are people of colour at the centre of the story. That is shameful.
Clint Eastwood. Even though the Hollywood perennial did not nab a directing nod for American Sniper, his film's six nominations, including best picture, are evidence of his stature. Best actor nominee Bradley Cooper must still be hooting with surprise; same with screenwriter Jason Hall. Because frankly, the film is not good; it was tossed a bone because it's one of the few films waving the flag for old-school, big-studio filmmaking (as were, arguably, Robert Duvall for The Judge and Meryl Streep for Into the Woods).
Actors. So testosterone-drenched are this year's films that many terrific male performances didn't make the cut. I'm saddened that David Oyelowo (Martin Luther King in Selma) is one of them – he played every note beautifully, from grand speeches to intimate moments. Also missing are Ralph Fiennes (so funny in The Grand Budapest Hotel), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), Miles Teller (Whiplash), Ben Affleck (Gone Girl), Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher), Brad Pitt (Fury) and Timothy Spall (amazing in Mr. Turner).
Director Bennett Miller. No, his Foxcatcher didn't make the best picture list, and it's grossed a mere $8-million. But Miller has many reasons to be chuffed. His movie got five nods in high-prestige categories (director, actor, supporting actor, original screenplay and makeup – a hotly contested category, given there are only three nominees, and countless creature-filled films competing for it). A number of lauded directors did not make this year's cut, including Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice), David Fincher (Gone Girl), James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) or Christopher Nolan (Interstellar). And though this is only Miller's third feature (the other two are Capote and Moneyball), those three have racked up an impressive 16 nods. All three sets of Miller's screenwriters have been nominated, as were all six of his lead actor/actresses (Philip Seymour Hoffman won for Capote). Miller embodies the Academy's sweet spot of classy material delivered well.
Big studio films. Opening up the best picture category to as many as 10 nominees (this year eight qualified) was supposed to make room for awards-worthy big-budget films, but that sure didn't happen for 2014. (In fact, it rarely has.) One of this year's shockers is the omission of The Lego Movie from the best animated feature list, though it earned $258-million and great reviews. Instead, the highest-grossing films of the year have to content themselves with tech nominations – Maleficent (costume), Guardians of the Galaxy (makeup), Interstellar (production design), The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (sound editing) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and X-Men: Days of Future Past (visual effects).
I suppose they can console themselves with their grosses. The seven films just above were all among 2014's top 15 earners. Number one, Guardians of the Galaxy, raked in $333-million; number 15, Interstellar, made $185-million; and the other five averaged around $240-million apiece. Studios may be reaping what they sow when it comes to not getting Oscar nominations, but they're crying all the way to the bank.