Usually there’s something mind-boggling and horrible to talk about when the Academy Awards nominations come out.
Not this time. Instead, the dawn greeted us with a fairly plausible list – a reasonable response to a good year in movies – and an improvement over most of the critics’ lists that have been coming out of the various cities.
There were small surprises, not all good. Tom Hanks (“Captain Phillips”) was excluded from best actor, and he shouldn’t have been, but that was a crowded category and someone was going to get squeezed out. In the best actress category, Meryl Streep was nominated for one of her worst performances, in “August: Osage County,” but after so much great work you can forgive the Academy a little Streep derangement syndrome.
Three films are in contention for best picture: “American Hustle” and “Gravity,” which both received 10 nominations, and “12 Years a Slave,” which received nine. If there’s a fourth to be included among the favorites, it’s Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a pleasant surprise in that so much of the publicity since its release has been unfairly negative – and the Academy has never been noted for its courage.
Those four are also nominated for best director, and so is Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska.”
The other best picture nominees are “Her,” “Philomena,” “Captain Phillips” and “Dallas Buyers Club.” But given the fact that best picture almost never goes to a film that wasn’t at least nominated for best director – though it happened last year (“Argo”) – the odds of any of those winning are extremely low.
At this point, it’s beginning to look like “Gravity” may have the edge. It constitutes what is really the first artistic use of 3-D, so it will have a special appeal to voters in the technical divisions, and it’s not merely a technical achievement (unlike, say, “Avatar”).
By the way, missing from the best picture list is “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a perfectly fine Coen Brothers movie that has been excessively praised in some critics circles.
Best actor will be interesting: Christian Bale (“American Hustle”), Bruce Dern (“Nebraska”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) and Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”).
I might have left off Dern and included Hanks, but these are all fine performances. This is probably a race between DiCaprio, Ejiofor and McConaughey, with McConaughey having the advantage.
Historically, the Academy has usually given its best actress award to a woman age 35 or under being nominated for the first time. But this year, the youngest nominee is 39 (Amy Adams) and all have been nominated before. In addition to Adams (“American Hustle”), they are Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”), Sandra Bullock (“Gravity”), Judi Dench (“Philomena”) and Streep. This is the only category about which there’s almost no suspense. The award is going to Blanchett, as well it should.
In the supporting actor category, the big surprise – a happy one – is the inclusion of Jonah Hill for “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Also nominated are Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips”), Bradley Cooper (“American Hustle”), and Michael Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave”). This is a strong category, and I’d like to see Fassbender take it, though Leto probably will win.
Supporting actress will have some robust competition, with Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine”), Jennifer Lawrence (“American Hustle”), Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) and June Squibb (“Nebraska”) going head to head.
Also in there, for some reason, is Julia Roberts (“August: Osage County”).
I’d give it to Squibb, but Lawrence was pretty remarkable, too, and I expect that she’ll win it.