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Oscars 2015: Snubs

Oscars

Oscar season: the time of the year when everyone denounces the Academy as a backwards, old-fashioned, and prude institution that only favors artsy-fartsy movies about war and alienated geniuses. Another year, another snub for this self-proclaimed authority on achievement in film. It is unfortunate that so much importance is placed on the opinions of this exclusive, far-from-representative group of people. These nominations reveal the complications that arise from attempting to judge a subjective art medium as well as the growing divide between mass audiences and an aging Academy.

Ava DuVernay, the director of “Selma,” was glaringly omitted from the Best Director category, where she could have been the first female African-American there. Her passionate and fiery direction injects the film with a sense of purpose and conviction, which carries through in David Oyelowo’s performance as Martin Luther King Jr. Also criminally snubbed for Best Actor, Oyelowo’s resounding voice and arresting presence coupled with a comforting, southern sensibility commands the audience’s attention. He imbues into King a humanity that elevates this biopic to one of the most important movies of the year: both a timely reaction to the events in Ferguson and a strongly-worded claim for justice for African Americans everywhere. There are moments in “Selma” that reenact the hateful violence inflicted upon the Selma protesters and evoke shock and even guilt. Its political pedagogy, similar to that found in that of “Lincoln,” is imbued with the furious outrage seen in “12 Years a Slave” and succeeds on both levels.  

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Aside from a Best Original Song nomination, everything is not so awesome for “The Lego Movie,” which is undoubtedly the best animated movie of the year. Helmed by Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the minds behind the Jump Street reboots, the film is smart in its commentary on uniformity, self-aware of its product placement design, and heartwarming in its story about creativity in a world of business. Energetic and restless, it exudes imagination for adults who want to feel like kids again. That it did not even receive a nomination for Best Animated Feature is a travesty and an indication of the generational gap between the film’s loving audience and the Academy. Labeled a children’s film, “The Lego Movie” actually provides more for adult viewers than anything about Lego would be expected to.

Other disappointments include the omission of Jake Gyllenhaal, who was stellar in “Nightcrawler”, where he gave a calculating, cold, and ruthless portrayal of an immoral yet somehow likeable man. His was a weirder, offbeat performance that impressed] audiences, but has had trouble winning awards. “Nightcrawler” only received one nomination for Best Original Screenplay, recognizing the sharp writing that granted Gyllenhaal the material to deliver one of his finest performances yet. In addition, Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor’s score for “Gone Girl” also deserved to be nominated for Best Original Score, as it contributed an oppressing, unsettling atmosphere to the criminal proceedings of the thriller. It is also disappointing not to see a Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for David Fincher and Gillian Flynn, respectively. Perhaps the film’s pulpy premise failed to resonate with the Academy in spite of its sophisticated commentary on marriage and gender dynamics.

“Wild” was another visually remarkable film that received the short end of nominations. While Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern received nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively, the excellent direction and adapted screenplay remain unrecognized in this female-driven story about finding one’s better self. Witherspoon’s performance as Cheryl Strayed gives a truly strong female heroine that transcends the damsel archetype. Rather, she is scarred and battered, enduring pain and prejudice as she makes her way across the wilderness. By comparison, all the Best Picture nominees feature only male leads. In an industry dominated by a male perspective, “Wild” is an important film that, while overlooked by the Academy, should not be forgotten.

Despite any frustrations one might have with the nominations, it is still important to celebrate film rather than be preoccupied with the particular details of what did or did not make the cut. These conversations are an exercise in appreciating the unsung films of 2014 (at least according to the Academy). This problem stems from the inevitable failure in attempting to satisfy an entire audience’s expectations. Having all the “right” nominations is analogous to making the perfect film: it just doesn’t happen.

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