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Dueling Critics: The 2014 Oscar Nominations

16:00 February 18, 2015
By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker

Fritz: Eight movies were nominated for Best Picture this year. Three of them (Boyhood, Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel) made my best list and the other five I would at least categorize as "pretty good," even if I didn't think they were best-list material. So I can't complain too much about the category this year. But I know you actively disliked at least one of the films. So how did you feel about the Best Picture nominees?

David: It is a good group of nominees. Three of them also ended up on my ten best of the year (American Sniper, Boyhood and Whiplash). There were no real surprise nomination, though. And yes, I dislike Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). I think it is a total "Oscar bait" movie that is nowhere near as deep and meaningful as it thinks it is. Unfortunately, however, it appears it is headed to win Best Picture.

Fritz: You think so? I could see Keaton winning, but I'd be fairly surprised if it won Best Picture. I think Boyhood or The Imitation Game are more likely winners. Speaking of Keaton, I think we had a truly exceptional group of lead actors this year. While it's always true that men have more plum roles to choose from than women, I think this year's crop (including non-nominated performances) is as good as we've seen in a while. Keaton, Carell, Redmayne, Cumberbatch, and Cooper - not an undeserving one in that group in my opinion, yet I would've loved to have seen Ralph Fiennes (for Grand Budapest), Tom Hardy (for Locke), Philip Seymour Hoffman (for A Most Wanted Man), or Brendan Gleeson (for Calvary) receive nominations. And I've left out a number of other excellent lead performances from this year.

David: A few weeks ago I felt that Boyhood was the front runner for Best Picture (and it deserves to win), but since then Birdman has won the Producers Guild Award, the Directors Guild Award and the Screen Actors Guild Ensemble Cast prize. So, it has gained much steam and appears hard to beat. I am hoping for an upset.

Yes, the Best Actor's category has exceptional nominees. Keaton will most likely get it but I'm hoping for an upset with Redmayne winning.
The Best Actress category is pretty strong this year as well. I haven't seen Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night, but Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild) and Julianne Moore (Still Alice) are all fantastic. 2014 saw other strong female roles like Amy Adams in Big Eyes, Anne Hathaway in Interstellar and Kristen Wiig in the independent film Hateship Loveship.

Fritz: I finally saw Hateship Loveship a few days ago, so I'll take a moment to also throw some love to Kristen Wiig. She plays someone who could've easily been rendered a one-note "loser" with a depth and humanity that you often don't see in those roles. I haven't seen Cotillard or Moore, but look forward to catching up with both. But yes, of the nominees I've seen, Pike, Witherspoon, and Jones would each be a worthy winner.

The strange thing this year is that the Best Supporting Actor category, which is typically one of the most ultra-competitive, seems like a foregone conclusion. J.K. Simmons is genuinely amazing in Whiplash and it's also the kind of big, showy role the Academy favors, so it's hard for me to see anyone beating him.  

For Best Supporting Actress, I'm rooting for Laura Dern from Wild. She (working from a terrific script by Nick Hornby) makes you realize why her mother character was so important to Reese Witherspoon. It could've just been a saintly victim role, but it ends up being much more than that.

David: I'm glad you're mentioning Kristen Wiig and Hateship Loveship because she is great in it and it's a small film not many have heard about. People should check it out.

And yes, Simmons' explosive performance in Whiplash is the forerunner in the Supporting Actor category. I want him to win and I don't foresee an upset. If there was to be one, I would hope it would be Ethan Hawke for Boyhood.
You are right, Dern is just terrific. However, I think Patricia Arquette in Boyhood is equally good. Both actresses play single moms doing the best they can to raise their kids, and both performances feel honest and real. I wouldn't mind if there was a Supporting Actress tie.

Fritz: Before we wrap up, any other snubs that you found odd or annoying?  My biggest headscratcher is Damien Chazelle not getting nominated for Best Director for Whiplash. The film has a hefty nomination haul, but Chazelle absolutely deserved a nomination. His visual style in Whiplash is electric and he makes the musical performance numbers seems as tense and thrilling as one of Steven Spielberg's best chase scenes.

David: Chazelle completely deserved a nomination. His direction is so confident that certain scenes, like when Teller's character is racing to make it to a performance, could have come off as silly and unbelievable in lesser hands.
Another annoying snub for me was in the Best Documentary category. There was no nomination for Life Itself, the moving documentary about the life of film critic Roger Ebert. It's sad, funny and even life affirming and told me things about Ebert that I didn't know. It's simply just a great documentary.

Fritz: My last snub I forgot about is J.C Chandor for Best Original Screenplay for A Most Violent Year. On paper the struggles of a heating oil magnate shouldn't make for gripping drama, but Chandor's script makes it so, assisted by Oscar Isaac in yet another one of this year's outstanding lead actor performances. I'd easily give Year a nomination over Nightcrawler (Jake Gyllenhaal is great, but the script is the film's weakest link). 

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