American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave just had a very good morning, but as usual with Oscar nominations, there were some surprises – unfortunate, and otherwise.
The cast of The Butler may be bummed (sorry, Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey), and the Coen brothers have every right to be as surly as their folk-singing creation, Llewyn Davis, but these are the choices that made my jaw hit the floor the hardest:
1. They shafted the Sundance Kid!
Robert Redford gave one of the boldest – yet subtlest – performances of his career as the nameless Our Man, adrift at sea in All Is Lost. So where is his nomination? In Leonardo DiCaprio's back pocket. DiCaprio's wilder take on a Wall Street bad boy was enough to sway Academy voters away from Redford's largely silent turn. While I certainly see the merit in DiCaprio's un-selfconscious ferocity in Wolf, I can't help but think we'll all regret not giving Redford a shot at the Best Actor award he's long deserved and more than earned. Maybe I'm being a tad sentimental, but when an actor of his caliber steps up to the plate and hits it long, you don't ignore it.
2. And Mary Poppins.
Make no mistake, I'm a Meryl Streep fan. But to see her nominated almost by default is getting tedious, particularly when it means Emma Thompson won't be recognized for her work in Saving Mr. Banks. In their zeal for BIG! SPLASHY! ARIAS!, the Academy missed more nuanced performances this year, including Thompson's as Poppins author P.L. Travers, in favor of Streep's grandiose theatricality in August: Osage County. Thompson's finely tuned Travers is spiky and shrewish, yes, but also deeply vulnerable. To make us like someone like that takes some doing. To make us ache for her takes a talent like Thompson.
3. But I understand the Hanks snub.
If I'd had a list of my top 11 movies of 2013, Captain Phillips would've run anchor. But I'm not mad at the Academy for taking a pass on this particular performance. It was terrific, mind you, but also a tad flat for much of the first hour. When Hanks turns it on as the captain stuck in a tiny lifeboat with his Somali captors, then we see the great actor at work. (And that final scene still leaves me agog.) But when you put that turn up against those of Christian Bale, Bruce Dern, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey, DiCaprio and the more egregiously snubbed Redford, it's clear why this wasn't quite Hanks's year.
4. The Wolf Feasts Today.
Controversy isn't always great for Oscar business, but it sure seems to have helped Scorsese's much-debated epic about greed and excess in America. Wolf picked up nods for the director, DiCaprio, costar Jonah Hill (who's now twice nominated, by the way) and for Best Picture. But here's one curious thing: It missed the cut for Film Editing, often a sign as to which films have the leading edge in the race (those went to American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Phillips, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave). All this is to say that Wolf voters will have to be exceptionally passionate to push the three-hour film across the Best Picture finish line on March 2. If that happens, then we can have a real conversation about Oscar shockers.
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