The Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and they were almost all expected: the major Best Picture contenders all got nods—except Inside Llewyn Davis, weird; is the Academy full of cat lovers?—while the actors and actresses we expected to get attention did. I guess Philomena‘s courtesy nomination for Best Picture wasn’t a given, and the fact that it got one and All is Lost didn’t is, like, the mildest controversy possible; if our only surprises are which second-rate Oscarbait movies were politely acknowledged and which weren’t, whether the despairing movie about folk music was snubbed, or whether Christian Bale or Robert Redford got nominated for an award neither is going to win, it’s a pretty mild year for Oscar nominations!
That said, there were a few surprises in the categories most Americans don’t care about. Like, Bad Grandpa got a makeup and hair nomination while stylist Kathrine Gordon did not, despite the 70s dos she gave the cast of American Hustle. But the greatest surprises came from the nominations for Best Documentary. Just the other day I told my coworkers Cutie and the Boxer would likely not make it from the shortlist to the list of nominees—not because I don’t like the film; I just didn’t expect the Academy to include it. But include it they did—at the expense of Blackfish and Stories We Tell!
Sarah Polley’s exploration of her father’s life was beloved by documentary-going audiences and critics; the New York Film Critics Circle named it the best documentary of the year. So as one of the year’s more popular and prestigious titles, it was surprising to see the sorta-populist and prestige-loving Academy ignore it. Ditto, especially, for Blackfish, which based on the Twitter buzz I would have assumed was a shoe-in to win, let alone get nominated. Ever since it became available on Netflix streaming, it’s the only documentary you hear discussed in the mainstream. (The best documentary of the year, Leviathan, also this magazine’s #1 movie of the year, didn’t even make the shortlist. Whatever. Happy to see the amazing Act of Killing get a nomination!)
Not that it makes me upset to see these movies ignored. After all, what is an Oscar? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is just a group of Hollywood insiders; the awards they bestow signify not that these movies are the best by any objective or artistic or intellectual measure, just that they’re the favorites of a bunch of old people who live in California. Or, the best movies they actually saw because well-funded studios spent a lot of money lobbying for the middlebrow pictures they were most proud of. Awards should be fun; but do not, by any means, ever take them seriously.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart