The glitzy ceremony doesn’t air until the evening of February 22nd—hosted by the incomparable Neil Patrick Harris—but on Thursday morning, a gaggle of celebrities and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs woke up at the ass-crack of dawn (5:30 a.m. PT) to announce all 24 nominations for the 87th Academy Awards.
Oscar winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron and J.J. “The Force Awakens” Abrams gave the first batch of nominations, while Star Trek actor Chris Pine and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African-American president of AMPAS, handled the final ones.
And wow, were there some surprises. Here are the biggest.
SNUB: The LEGO Movie
This makes no sense. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s wildly inventive animated adventure comedy, featuring the vocal stylings of breakout star Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, and more, was THE best animated film of the year and the highest grossing domestically with $257 million, yet somehow get snubbed for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. If children and stoners actually got riled up about the Oscars, well, they’d be pretty fired up about this glaring omission.
SURPRISE: Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
It’s a good surprise, people. The truth is, the French stunner Cotillard, who famously took home an Oscar for her riveting turn as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose (despite barely speaking a lick of English at the start of that year’s awards season) is one of the most gifted actresses around, and really deserved to be nominated for two performances this year: as the tortured-yet-indefatigable Polish prostitute of The Immigrant and for this, a desperate young wife and mother in a Belgian industrial town who, learning she’s about to be made redundant at her factory, begs each of her co-workers to turn down a valuable raise so she can keep her job and support her family. It’s yet another affecting, naturalistic film from the Dardenne brothers anchored by Cotillard, who remains one of the most expressive, quietly stirring actresses of her generation.
SNUB: Ava DuVernay, David Oyelowo, and Selma
Yes, DuVernay’s timely chronicle of the Martin Luther King Jr.-led voting rights marches from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama, garnered nods for Best Picture and Best Song, but as one of the most critically-acclaimed films of the year, it’s pretty damn surprising that the film was snubbed in a number of other categories, including Best Director, duties which DuVernay handled with grace and gifted efficiency, as well as Best Actor, for David Oyelowo’s layered portrayal of one of the most complex men in history, Dr. King. DuVernay would have made history as the first African-American woman nominated for Best Director, and it’s truly a shame that moment never came to fruition. Was it the ridiculous LBJ controversy, or the fact that distributor Paramount failed to send out awards screeners in time?
SNUB: Black People
DuVernay and Oyelowo’s snubs for Selma all but ensured that this would be one of the whitest Oscars in recent memory, and what do you know? All 20 acting nominees are white, as are 4 out of the 5 directing nominees (with the exception of Alejandro Inarritu for Birdman). Despite the strides made last year, with 12 Years A Slave and Steve McQueen bagging Best Picture and Lupita Nyong’o Best Supporting Actress, this year the Academy took a big step back by not recognizing any of the numerous noteworthy accomplishments by black actors and filmmakers this year.
Surprise: The Foxcatcher Boys
Though Channing Tatum’s muted turn as tortured Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz was, in this writer’s opinion, the best one in the slow-moving saga Foxcatcher, the film managed to sneak in a few surprising nods including Steve Carell as Best Actor for his turn as demented aristocratic Svengali John du Pont, Bennett Miller for Best Director, and a Best Original Screenplay nod—all this sans a nomination for Best Picture. As far as Miller goes, it’s the first time in the “preferred ballot” era that a film has received a Best Director nod without being recognized for Best Picture as well.
SNUB: Gone Girl
Just like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before it, David Fincher’s absorbing domestic drama (though sub-par Fincher, in this writer’s opinion) managed only a Best Actress nod for Rosamund Pike’s convincing turn as the film’s cunning lead. That left two pretty glaring snubs: Gillian Flynn for adapting her bestselling novel into a ferocious screenplay, and the music team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for their atmospheric score—which was truly one of the best of the year. Flynn’s omission coupled with DuVernay’s meant that NO women were nominated in the directing and screenwriting categories this year. Ugh.
SNUB: Life Itself
There are few people Oscar hates more—with the exception of, perhaps, Christopher Nolan—than Steve James. One would think that, after over 20 years of unconscionable snubs, from Hoop Dreams to The Interrupters, the Academy would’ve learned their lesson by now. Nope. Again, the powers that be screwed over James and his poignant, loving portrait to the late film critic Roger Ebert, Life Itself. I guess this proves once and for all that actors and filmmakers really don’t think too highly of film critics.
SURPRISE: American Sniper
Clint Eastwood’s confounding mix of jingoism and PTSD, based on the life of the late Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history, managed to win over both sides of the foreign policy fence and nab six nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Jason Hall). It’s a surprising development for a film that probably should have been one of the most divisive this awards season—especially considering the subsequent libel lawsuit against Kyle, the sniper’s penchant for tall tales, and the way the movie handled his troubling death (they don’t)—but it does come courtesy of the beloved Eastwood, and managed to capitalize on a late surge.
SNUB: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Gyllenhaal, who was snubbed of a Best Supporting Actor nod last year for Prisoners, is at his best playing demented young man-children who fall somewhere along the autism spectrum. And the thrill-seeking, headline-chasing, and ultimately murderous “news” videographer Leo Bloom of Dan Gilroy’s neo-noir Nightcrawler is arguably his most twisted creation yet. Perhaps with Carell, there was only room for one nutcase in the Best Actor category. Still, with Golden Globe and SAG nods, it stood to reason that Gyllenhaal would sneak in there as the 4th or 5th nominee. Not so.
SURPRISE: Jennifer Aniston, Cake
OK it’s technically a “snub” but also a “surprise,” because this is a solid development. Aniston is pretty convincing as a caustic, troubled woman who becomes infatuated by the suicide of another woman in her support group for sufferers of chronic pain, and yes, she did that oh-so-Oscar-y de-glamming by packing on a few pounds and stripping off the makeup, but Daniel Barnz’s movie just isn’t very good; an overly-dismal, unconvincing mess of a film. Aniston had managed to secure Golden Globe and SAG nods via the awards campaign onslaught of new distributor Cinelou Releasing, who seemingly threw a ton of dough behind her, resulting in odd advertorial-like pieces in the tabloids and trade publications like The Hollywood Reporter. But Oscar didn’t take the bait.