That time of year has come again. On the morning of January 16, 2014, the nominations for the 2014 Academy Awards were announced. Actually, they really should call this the 2013 Academy Awards considering that the movies nominated all came out of the year 2013 and not 2014. But because the Oscar ceremony is going to be in March of 2014, people just have to say that these are the 2014 Academy Awards which in the end threatens to make the whole ceremony ridiculously confusing.
Anyway, there were no real surprises to be found this year as “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave” dominated the nominations just as expected. That morning, most people seemed to have a pretty good idea of who would get nominated in the major categories. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the strong showing of “Philomena” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” as “Philomena” ended up with a Best Picture nod and one for Best Actress for Judi Dench, and “The Wolf of Wall Street” ended up doing very well despite the controversy that has threatened to engulf it since its release.
If this past year proves anything, it’s that Oscar campaigning really does count for a lot and while certain movies do get Oscar Buzz, not all of them are able to maintain it. This is not to say that the movies and performances nominated this time around were not deserving of attention, but a lot of smaller movies in 2013 ended up getting overlooked due to lack of a big audience or studio support. Then again, not all of 2013’s presumed Oscar favorites made it to the final list either.
While the Hollywood studios gear up for another chance at Oscar gold, let’s take a look at films and performances that sadly didn't make the cut but which deserve more attention than we have given them so far.
Ryan Coogler’s look at the last hours in the life of Oscar Grant III before he was fatally shot by BART Police was completely overlooked. That was a real shame because it succeeded in forcing you to look at a man to where he could no longer be dismissed as a mere statistic we read about in the newspaper. Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Grant was one of the year’s best as he gave us a man who was not always able to control his anger, but who in the end was a loving father and someone desperately trying to survive in an unforgiving world. It was impossible to forget about Jordan after watching “Fruitvale Station,” but the movie somehow ended up sputtering at the box office, and the buzz behind it faded out way too soon. Even previous Oscar winner Octavia Spencer didn’t get any love from the Academy for her turn as Oscar’s mother, Wanda Johnson. What gives?
'The Spectacular Now'
This comedy-drama was one of the big critical sensations of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize and a Special Jury Award for Acting. Miles Teller, who started 2013 off with the horrible “21 & Over,” gave a terrific performance as Sutter Keely, a high school senior who is determined to live in the present moment because the past is too painful and the future is too scary for him to face. It is one of the best movies about teenagers in recent years as it takes what they go through very seriously, and yet there was no Oscar love for it. It also marks the second time the Academy has overlooked Shailene Woodley who was robbed for “The Descendants,” and she gave a beautifully heartfelt performance as Aimee Finecky, the shy girl who helps save Sutter from himself. Well, once “Divergent” comes out in 2014, people will not be quick to forget Woodley which will be nice.
Yes, it did receive a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, but being that this is the third in a celebrated trilogy of movies, you would figure that Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy would get more Oscar love than they ever had previously. For many, “Before Midnight” was the best of a trilogy that began in 1995, and few films in recent years have dealt as honestly with the challenges and struggles of a long term relationship. Delpy in particular was getting a lot of Oscar consideration for her performance as Céline and even earned a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Actress. But even after all the acclaim and love from film fans everywhere, “Before Midnight” ended up with only one nomination.
One of the most acclaimed documentaries of 2013, “Blackfish” focused on Tilikum, an orca whale being held by SeaWorld, and on the dangers of keeping whales in captivity. Since its release, it has had a powerful impact as bands and musicians like Barenaked Ladies, Heart, Trace Adkins, Willie Nelson, Pat Benatar, and the Beach Boys have cancelled performances at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens out of protest, and has given a strong voice to animal rights activists everywhere. But despite all that, “Blackfish” was surprisingly overlooked by the Academy possibly due to the backlash it has generated which continues to grow. SeaWorld Entertainment described the film as being “inaccurate and misleading” and that it paints a “distorted picture” about the work they do for animals overall. All the same, you will never look at captivity the same way again after watching it.
After a couple of rough years for one of America’s biggest movie stars that had him appearing in duds like “Larry Crowne,” Tom Hanks rebounded in 2013 with a pair of great performances in “Captain Phillips” and “Saving Mr. Banks.” As the merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips, Hanks gave one of his best performances ever (and that’s saying a lot) as a man who was trying to keep his crew out of harm’s way. Hanks never tries to paint Phillips as an extraordinary hero, but instead portrays him as an ordinary man who somehow gets caught up in a terrifying situation. He makes you feel the terror of what he is going through to where you feel like you wouldn’t act all that differently were you in the same situation.
Then there was his performance in “Saving Mr. Banks” as Walt Disney. What could have been a mere impersonation or a caricature of the father of Disneyland is instead a full-blooded performance as Hanks never appears concerned with whether or not he walks and talks like Walt, and in the end it doesn’t matter if he does. While many question the historical accuracy of this film, there’s no denying that Hanks brought Uncle Walt back to life for a couple of hours.
Considering how popular Hanks is with the Academy, he seemed like a shoo-in. But the reality was that there were many great performances given by actors this past year, and the talent pool was overflowing. As a result, some people were left out, and Hanks unfortunately was one of them.
Actually, a lot of people saw this snub coming as (see above) the acting field was getting overcrowded. Still, those who saw Redford in “All is Lost,” a movie in which he is the only cast member and has little to no dialogue, were mesmerized by his performance from start to finish. The fact that he can pull a role like this off at the tender age of 77 is a reminder of just how big a legend he remains in show business after so many years. But it seems that not enough Academy voters took the time to see this film which did not make waves at the box office. The only category that “All is Lost” did score a nomination in was Best Sound Editing. Even Alex Ebert, who recently won the Golden Globe for Best Original Score, was overlooked.
'Inside Llewyn Davis'
The Academy is usually in love with the films of Joel and Ethan Coen, but their latest ended up getting only two nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing. Not even Oscar Isaac’s brilliant performance as folk singer Llewyn Davis got recognized in the Best Actor category (once again, an overcrowded field), and Isaac made you empathize with a character that was not all that likable. Not many filmmakers can make movies like the Coen brothers do, but somehow this one slipped off the radar sooner than expected.
'Lee Daniels' The Butler'
This film looked like it had Oscar written all over it when it was released back in August of 2013. It had a cast that included Oscar winners like Forest Whitaker, Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Heck, Oprah Winfrey seemed like a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as Gloria Gaines, and it would have been her first nomination since “The Color Purple” which came out in 1985. Daniels himself previously received a Best Director nomination for “Precious,” and that one scored a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Mo'Nique. Alas, it seems like Academy voters remembered the legal fight that The Weinstein Company had with the MPAA over the movie’s title more than the movie itself, and it ended up not getting a single nomination.
You can usually count on seeing a Pixar movie getting nominated for Best Animated Feature each year, and the company has won in this category more often than it has not. But despite being a sequel to one of their most critically and commercially successful films (“Monsters, Inc.”), the Academy decided to go with other animation blockbusters like “Despicable Me 2,” “The Croods” and “Frozen.” In some ways, “Monsters University” was not as well received as its predecessor and had a plot that was largely predictable. But considering how the filmmakers handled the movie’s last half and the heart and soul put into the characters by Billy Crystal and John Goodman, this sequel was better than a lot of people gave it credit for.
'Blue is the Warmest Color'
Was there any other foreign film in 2013 that was discussed as much as this 3-hour long coming of age drama? Sure, the sex scenes, which somehow earned this film the dreaded NC-17 rating got a lot of attention, but there was no denying the raw emotional power that Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos brought to their roles of Emma and Adèle. French director Abdellatif Kechiche received a lot of praise for his work here, but he also drew a lot of criticism not only from his stars, but also from his film crew who loudly complained about the working conditions they were put under. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why “Blue is the Warmest Color” did not get nominated for Best Foreign Film, but will anyone remember the nominees in the category as much as they will remember this one?
Daniel Brühl for 'Rush'
This German actor has received a lot of award recognition over the years, and his role of Niki Lauda in Ron Howard’s Formula One racing movie is no exception. He had earned a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and that seemed to bode well for his chances at Oscar glory. But in the end, there was no beating the supporting actors of “12 Years a Slave,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “American Hustle” and “Dallas Buyers Club.”
'Stories We Tell'
Here’s another great documentary that didn’t make the final cut. With this being her third film as a director, Sarah Polley leaves no doubt that she is as talented behind the camera as she is in front of it. In looking at the relationship her parents had, Polley used different techniques to show how family members ended up looking at the same story in different ways. It was an endlessly fascinating movie that stayed with you long after it ended. But although the Academy has given Polley some Oscar nomination love in the past with “Away from Her,” she came up empty this time around which was a shame.
Idris Elba for 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom'
This actor had quite the year with scene stealing performances in Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” and “Thor: The Dark World,” and he kept us riveted as ever on the third season of the BBC crime drama “Luther.” But when it came to him playing the late Nelson Mandela in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” everyone saw him as a dead lock for a Best Actor Oscar nomination. It’s hard to think of any other actor playing Mandela after watching Elba in this role as he is truly a towering presence. Nevertheless, it’s still hard to beat the real Nelson Mandela for inspiration, and that’s still the case even after his death. The only nomination “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” ended up with was Best Original Song for U2’s “Ordinary Love.”
What other movies or actors do you think were snubbed for Oscar nominations? Feel free to add your selections in the comments section below.