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Grading the 2014 Academy Award Nominees

As far as Oscar nominations go, this morning’s announcements weren’t nearly as contentious as they have been in years past, but that doesn’t mean there still wasn’t a snub or two to complain about. With that in mind, I took a look at several of the major award categories and graded the Academy on their selections.

Best Picture

best film

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
“Philomena”
The Wolf of Wall Street

No real surprises here, expect perhaps for the absence of Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which had more than its share of champions. I’m also a little shocked to see “Philomena” make the final list (that one reeks of the Harvey Weinstein School of Schmoozing), especially over the likes of Palm d’Or winner “Blue is the Warmest Color,” which was ineligible for Best Foreign Language Film due to a silly technicality. Of course, this category is essentially down to the three biggest nominee getters: “Gravity” (my pick for the prize), “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave.”

GRADE: B+

Best Director

best director

Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”
David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

This one is Alfonso Cuarón’s to lose. The only thing standing in his way is that the Academy gave the award to Ang Lee last year for a similar reason, in which case, Steve McQueen could end up making history as the first African-American director to win the prize. The only real snub here is Paul Greengrass for “Captain Phillips,” though he was likely on the bubble.

GRADE: A

Best Actor

best-actor

Christian Bale, “American Hustle”
Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

This is one of the best crops of Best Actor nominees in ages, with the Oscar virtually up for grabs. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the frontrunner, but considering that some people thought Tom Hanks (“Captain Phillips”) and Robert Redford (“All Is Lost”) were also shoo-ins to receive nominations, it just goes to show how competitive this category is really is. It was essentially a seven- or eight-horse race, and only five were invited to the party. Still, I would have chosen Hanks over Bruce Dern for that final scene alone.

GRADE: A-

Best Actress

best-actress

Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
Judi Dench, “Philomena”
Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”

I’m a little shocked that Academy darling Meryl Streep got a nomination for her over-the-top performance in “August: Osage County,” especially when there were better choices available. Emma Thompson was one of the frontrunners going into awards season, but “Saving Mr. Banks” was almost completely shut out (save for its Best Score nod), while Adele Exarchopoulos delivered far and away one of the year’s best performances of any actor or actress.

GRADE: B+

Best Supporting Actor

supp-actor

Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”
Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”
Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

This is one of the easier categories when it comes to picking a sure thing, with Jared Leto walking away with almost every Best Supporting Actor award this season. Though it would have been nice to see Sam Rockwell recognized for his excellent work in “The Way, Way Back,” it’s hard to argue that it was better than the five listed above. Tom Hanks will likely be more excited that co-star Barkhad Abdi received a nomination than disappointed that he didn’t, while Jonah Hill’s turn in “The Wolf of Wall Street” is impossible to ignore, no matter how much you may hate the guy.

GRADE: A

Best Supporting Actress

supp-actress

Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”
Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
Luptia Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”

This one is essentially a two-horse race between newcomer Lupita Nyong’o and rising star Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence had the more memorable performance, but Nyong’o really struck a chord with a lot of moviegoers for her turn as an emotionally and physically tortured slave. Sally Hawkins and June Squibb were also the best parts of their respective films, so it’s great to see them recognized as well. It’s just a shame that the Academy didn’t have the balls to give Scarlett Johansson a nod for her remarkable voice work in “Her” (and made history in the process), because it was much better than the safe choice of Julia Roberts.

GRADE: A-

Best Animated Feature Film

best-animated

“The Croods”
Despicable Me 2
“Ernest & Celestine”
Frozen
“The Wind Rises”

2013 was a particularly bad year for animated film. “Despicable Me 2” was a huge disappointment, and while “Ernest & Celestine” looks great, I’ve yet to actually see it. “Frozen” and “The Wind Rises” have the best chance of winning, but while the Academy has favored Disney in the past, giving the Oscar to Hayao Miyazaki’s final movie as a sort of Career Achievement award seems entirely possible. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also the best of the bunch.

GRADE: B

Other Notes

other notes

- The absence of “Blackfish” in the Best Documentary Feature category is a little surprising, especially after becoming such a cultural phenomenon over the past few months. It was never going to win, but a nomination would have done wonders for the further promotion of its message.

- CBS Films has to be upset by the lack of nominations that “Inside Llewyn Davis” received. Though the movie has divided a lot of people, many thought it would at least be in contention for Best Picture and Best Original Song. The latter, in particular, seems like one of the biggest snubs, especially with “Alone Yet Not Alone” (a film most people had never even heard of before this morning) getting a nod in its place.

- Though it leads the Oscars with 10 nominations, most people thought that “American Hustle” would be a lock for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Rather comically, the Academy saw it fit to reward “The Lone Ranger” and “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” instead. Let the jokes commence.

  

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