It’s Oscar season, and this year’s snubs may be the most egregious yet. The 85th Academy Awards, which will be held on Sunday, Feb. 24 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, represent another nosedive in the event’s downward spiral of late. While exemplary for the most part, this year’s nominations are incomplete to say the least. Since the Academy seems neither capable nor willing to give credit where credit is due, here goes: a finger to the Oscars and a salute to this year’s snubs.
Perhaps the most glaring omission from the best pictures category is P.T. Anderson’s “The Master.” While it doesn’t outdo “There Will Be Blood,” Anderson’s latest tour de force is a shocking exposé of scientology’s roots acted consummately by Oscar nominees Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. While they’re at it, the Academy screws over “Moonrise Kingdom,” hands down the year’s most heartwarming title. Directed by Wes Anderson, the film follows two children who fall in love while summering on an idyllic New England island. Charming, witty, and ever so poignant, “Moonrise Kingdom” evokes nostalgia for the childhood you never had. And while it may come as a surprise, “Skyfall” should have also taken its rightful place among the best picture nominations. Giving the kind of high-caliber performance audiences deserved after the disappointment that was “Quantum of Solace,” this is Daniel Craig as Bond at his authoritative best.
Speaking of “Skyfall,” why wasn’t Sam Mendes nominated best director? Embracing his bent for dialogue-driven drama, Mendes crafted what wasn’t just the highest-grossing 007 flick in the series — it was a damn good movie, period. What about Ben Affleck, who directed this year’s frontrunner for best picture, “Argo?” Let’s be real, Affleck already proved his chops as a confident, up-and-coming filmmaker with 2010’s “The Town.” But was he nominated for either? Of course not. And Kathryn Bigelow — just because she became the first woman to win best director for “The Hurt Locker,” she’s exceeded her lifetime quota of Oscar nominations? That’s it for women? These Academy people are so incredibly out of touch, they wouldn’t recognize a decent film if it slapped them in the face — which isn’t a bad idea either.
More injustices occur in the best actor category, robbing Denis Lavant of a nomination for his volatile, protean performance in Leos Carax’s metafilm, “Holy Motors.” Rather than featuring a continuous narrative, the movie dishes out a series of surreal vignettes that require the actor to adapt his person to a lineup of rapidly changing roles. That Lavant perseveres alone is a testament to his versatility and grace as an actor. The Academy likewise ignored John Hawkes’s spellbinding performance in “The Sessions” as Mark O’Brien, a polio-stricken poet who wants to lose his virginity. The sheer believability Hawkes brings is easily on par with his Oscar-nominated performance as a meth junkie in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone.” Even Jack Black, in a surprising departure from his usual swill, dazzled as the eponymous, soft-spoken undertaker in “Bernie.” Demonstrating a refreshing level of subtlety and finesse, Black is matched only by costar and powerhouse Matthew McConaughey who has also pumped out sterling performances this year in “The Lincoln Lawyer,” “Killer Joe,” and “Magic Mike.” Naturally, McConaughey received zero Oscar nominations this year.
The best supporting actor category is equally atrocious. Leonardo DiCaprio’s villainous turn as a sadistic plantation owner in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” should have swiped a nomination without hesitation. His performance is that charismatic, that fearsome, and that unhinged. Michael Fassbender gives a completely different performance in Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” but with no less virtuosity. As an android, Fassbender plays with fleeting expressions — a ghost of a smile, a flickering eyelid — to hint at the ulterior motives and disquieting mystery of the almost-human character. Then there’s Javier Bardem, who effectively concocts a Bond villain for “Skyfall” that draws from Buffalo Bill, Hannibal Lecter, and Bardem’s own Anton Chigurh. ’Nuff said.
A miscellany of less-hyped but no-less-snubbed nominees is also noticeably missing from the Oscar roster. Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin’s original score for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is among the most outrageous eliminations, given how perfectly the music’s rhapsodic textures bring to life the film’s magical setting. The Academy proceeds to twist the knife by excluding “Django Unchained” from best score as well. Juxtaposing the gentle crooning of John Legend and the spaghetti-western stylings of Ennio Morricone, with additional contributions from Rick Ross and Elisa, the soundtrack not only reflects Tarantino’s eclectic musical tastes but challenges what’s possible on the silver screen. In yet another blunder, makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji was all but brushed off for his work on “Looper.” The way in which he transforms Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s boyish looks to resemble Bruce Willis’ chiseled mug is nothing less than a work of prosthetic artistry. And though “Amour” will win best foreign language film, “Oslo, August 31” should have at least gotten a nod for its exquisite exploration of character, dialogue, and the nuances of emotional tension.
Still, considering what was ultimately nominated, the 2013 Oscars aren’t past redemption. The best picture category is particularly impressive, recognizing the achievements of both a foreign and indie film, genres that have traditionally been shunned outright. Nominees for best original score are all Oscar first-timers. This year even saw the shortest-running entry for best short film with “Fresh Guacamole” clocking in just under two minutes. Such nominations shed hope on the revolution of the Academy, which appears to be slowly opening up its criteria to the kind of fringe masterpieces that have been largely ignored for so many years.
But as usual, the selective hand of the Academy has snubbed several deserving nominees of their shot at the golden man. With media politics and subjective taste inevitable, having some films out of the running is to be expected. Nevertheless, some of these omissions are truly frustrating, suggesting a lapse in the Academy’s artistic judgment or perhaps a lingering unwillingness to accept that which is simply too far from the norm.
Gould is a member of the class of 2014.
Jeng is a member of the class of 2016.