Five reasons why 'The LEGO Movie' was among Oscar snubs
LOS ANGELES - It's the morning that the Academy announces its Oscar nominations, and "The LEGO Movie" is on the ballot. No surprise, right? Wrong. Thing is, "LEGO" landed just one mention -- in the song category for its infectious "Everything Is Awesome" anthem -- but not in the animated feature category, where many were predicting that the toon blockbuster might win.
That oversight comes as a total shock to Oscar pundits -- arguably the year's biggest snub, alongside the fact that "Selma" placed in only two categories (for which theories abound). From the point of view of the animationcommunity, however, there was always a risk, and here's why.
1. Animation professionals pick the nominations.
At this stage in the Oscar race, it's the die-hard animation pros who decide the noms. "The LEGO Movie" may have been the year's top animated movie in the public's eye, earning more than $257 million and placing second highest on Rotten Tomatoes' (adjusted) best-reviewed list of 2014 with a 96% fresh rating, but that doesn't mean it represents the kind of artistry that the industry wants to celebrate.
2. A record number of eligible toons means tougher competition.
Back in 2001, when the Academy first added the best animated feature category, they wrote in a rule that in a year when fewer than 8 toons opened in theaters, the prize wouldn't be awarded at all. In retrospect, that seems laughable, considering how the medium has boomed, resulting in an all-time high of 20 Oscar-qualifying submissions fighting for five slots in 2014.
3. Voters watch all 20 contenders, so the best rises.
Unlike normal audiences (or the Academy at large, who often pick a widely-seen film to win), the animation branch is obliged to screen all eligible contenders. Each film is scored on a 10-point scale, and the five that receive the highest score go on to be nominated. That means, each toon is considered on its own merits, and for this group, technique is perhaps the most important. In other categories, nominations go to the five films that received the most first-place votes, resulting in a diversity of choices, but in this category, it's literally the five movies the branch likes best.
4. The animation branch loves handmade movies.
This is the second time popular "LEGO" directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have been edged out of the Oscar race by a pair of tiny toons most moviegoers haven't heard of: The same thing happened in 2009, when "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" got shut out in favor of a toon few had heard of, "The Secret of Kells." While the "LEGO" team licks its wounds, the folks no doubt celebrating today are New York-based indie distributor GKids, who released two of the nominees: "Song of the Sea" (a dazzling, highly stylized 2D toon from "Kells" helmer Tomm Moore) and "The Tale of Princess Kaguya" (a career-crowning hand-drawn beauty from Japanese animation maestro Isao Takahata). Also celebrating today is Portland-based Laika Studios ("Coraline," "ParaNorman"), which earned its third nomination for its third feature, "The Boxtrolls." Industry pros love stop-motion. It's by far the most painstaking form ofanimation there is, whereas the computer-animated "LEGO" was cheekily designed to parody bad stop-motion.
5. Traditional forms and classical storytelling win out.
"Song of the Sea," "Princess Kaguya" and "Boxtrolls" were always going to be nominated. That left just two slots open for the remaining 17 movies. The very same reasons the general public loved "LEGO" -- its jokey tone, quick pace and irreverent sensibility -- probably worked against it with that group. After all, how often does that kind of movie get rewarded in other Oscar categories? By contrast, "Big Hero 6" and "How to Train Your Dragon 2" are both relatively traditional, well-told stories hailing from studios (Disney and DreamWorks, respectively) with a long tradition of Oscar support. "LEGO" fans shouldn't conclude that the Academy doesn't like that movie; it's just that they respected five films more.
Other snubs and surprises
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Birdman" led with nine Oscar nominations each on Thursday morning, followed by eight for "The Imitation Game," while "American Sniper" came on strong with six (tying "Boyhood").
This year's awards season has been more unpredictable than usual. Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken," once thought to be the frontrunner, fell off everybody's radar quickly, and the Oscars didn't give it any love in the main categories. The Academy also didn't nominate Jennifer Aniston, who had picked up pre-cursor nominations for "Cake;" Jake Gyllenhaal, who gave a career-best performance in "Nightcrawler:" Ava DuVernay, who was expected to make history as the first female African American director for "Selma;" and "Life Itself," the tearjerker documentary about the final days of film critic Roger Ebert.
Here are the 17 biggest snubs and surprises.
SNUB: Jennifer Aniston, "Cake." Nobody campaigned harder than Jennifer Aniston this awards season, crisscrossing between New York and Los Angeles at Q&As in support of her drama about a woman living with chronic pain. The problem is that "Cake," which received mixed reviews out of Toronto and had to be self-distributed by Cinelou Films, wasn't an Oscars movie (the Golden Globes nominated her because they love celebrities, and SAG is friendlier to TV actors who transition into film). Many Academy voters that I talked to weren't impressed by the script, and they felt that Aniston was much better in "The Good Girl."
SNUB: Ava DuVernay, "Selma." The Academy had a chance to make history by nominating DuVernay as the first African American female director for making "Selma," the powerful drama about the 1965 civil rights marches. But instead, they once again recognized five men, which prompted immediate outrage on Twitter.
SNUB: Jake Gyllenhaal, "Nightcrawler" Gyllenhaal, who lost 30 pounds to play L.A. crime paparazzo Lou Bloom inDan Gilroy's directorial debut, deserved an Oscar nomination for best actor, and his omission in the category is a shame. The performance has its diehard fans. But this year, the best race was more crowded than ever, and my guess is that Gyllenhaal--who picked up all the pre-cursor nominations--narrowly missed out.
SNUB: "The Lego Movie" The fourth most successful animated movie of 2014--with a domestic box office gross of $258 million--was thought to be a strong contender to win best animated film. But somehow Oscar voters managed to snub the comedy directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, instead nominating lesser-known titles "Song of the Sea" and "The Tale of Princess Kaguya."
SNUB: "Unbroken" Two months ago, Angelina Jolie's drama about World War II hero Louis Zamperini was thought to be an Oscars frontrunner. But after it was snubbed by both the Golden Globes and SAGs, it lost most of its momentum, despite an impressive box office gross that's already crossed $100 million domestically. Of the eight movies nominated for best picture, six of them are indies, and the two studio releases--"Selma" and "American Sniper"--are only now expanding wider into theaters.
SNUB: David Oyelowo, "Selma" His role as Martin Luther King, Jr. also didn't make the cut in the best actor race, despite glowing reviews. After receiving a Golden Globe nomination, many thought that Oyelowo had a strong shot at an Oscars run, but there were seven actors (along with Gyllenhaal) competing for the five slots.
SNUB: "Interstellar" The reason that the Academy now nominates up to 10 movies for best picture is so that Oscar voters can find room for blockbusters like this space epic directed by Christopher Nolan. But they still managed to snub Nolan even with the extra slots, which begs the question: Why is there even an expanded best picture race? Nolan also missed out in the best director category, where he's never been nominated.
SNUB: "Gone Girl" Another high-profile hit, Fincher's "Gone Girl" wasn't able to earn nominations in best picture or best director. At least breakout star Rosamund Pike landed her first best actress nomination for playing Amazing Amy.
SNUB: "Foxcatcher" Its director Bennett Miller managed to eke out a nomination, but the film--about real-life Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) who befriends a disturbed millionaire (Steve Carell)--didn't appear in the best picture category.
SNUB: Jessica Chastain, "A Most Violent Year" Chastain had a strong year with "Interstellar," "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" and "A Most Violent Year," and she was expected to receive her third Oscar nomination for the latter drama, directed by J.C. Chandor, about a 1980s oil merchant's wife. But the film may have not been seen by enough Academy voters.
SNUB: "Life Itself" After snubbing 1994's "Hoop Dreams" for best documentary (which outraged Roger Ebert), the Oscars short-listed Steve James' documentary about the film critic's final days. The Sundance tearjerker, which recently aired on CNN, was thought to be a lock in the category, and given the love of Ebert within the Academy, it could have won if it had made the cut.
SNUB: Amy Adams, "Big Eyes" Adams was supposed to be the actress to take home the Oscar this year, until viewers say the Tim Burton biopic about painter Margaret Keane. But even with the mixed reviews, this year's weak actress category meant she had a shot at her sixth nomination. Perhaps many felt that it wouldn't be worth nominating her again if she wasn't going to take the prize.
SNUB: Clint Eastwood, "American Sniper" Despite a best picture nomination for his drama about Navy Seal Chris Kyle--and a nod this week from the Director's Guild of America--Eastwood wasn't able to lock up a best director nomination for his best film in years.
SURPRISE: Bradley Cooper, "American Sniper" Cooper packed on 40 pound of muscle, learned how to fire military rifles and completely disappeared onscreen to star in "American Sniper." He earned the best reviews of his career, but the lack of a SAG or Golden Globe nomination makes his last-minute entrance in the best actor race a surprise. Then again, the Academy loves Cooper--it's his third consecutive nomination, following "Silver Linings Playbook" and "American Hustle."
SURPRISE: Marion Cotillard, "Two Days, One Night" Most film critics were cheering this morning when Cotillard's name was announced in the best actress race. She gives one of the most nuanced performances in the year in the Dardenne brothers drama about a depressed factory worker who's just been laid off. But Oscar pundits were worried that the Cannes drama hadn't been widely screened, and that Cotillard could cancel herself out with her other strong lead performance in James Gray's "The Immigrant." But the weighted ballot for the Oscars, which reward passion, worked in Cotillard's favor, as there were enough fans of "Two Days, One Night."
SURPRISE: Laura Dern, "Wild" After missing out on a Golden Globe and SAG nomination, Dern picks up her first Oscar nod since 1992's "Rambling Rose" for playing Cheryl Strayed's mother.
SURPRISE: Bennett Miller, "Foxcatcher" Miller picks up his second career Oscar nomination for directing (after 2006's "Capote"), even though "Foxcatcher" didn't land a best picture nomination. He got in over Ava DuVernay("Selma"), Damien Chazelle ("Whiplash") and Clint Eastwood ("American Sniper").
SURPRISE: "Inherent Vice," Adapted Screenplay Paul Thomas Anderson's trippy adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel left many viewers confused, but the Academy managed to still find a way to recognize the director of "Boogie Nights" and "There Will Be Blood." He took a spot that could have gone to Gillian Flynn, the formerEntertainment Weekly critic who adapted her own novel into the script for David Fincher's "Gone Girl."