Academy Anger: The Return of the Oscar Nomination Outrage Scale

By: Daniel Reynolds

We’ve had a little over 24 hours to digest the unveiling of the 87th annual Academy Awards nominations. That’s 365 days of movie making reduced to one early morning broadcast and then a flurry of breathless mid-morning blog posts. Here at the Same Page I like to take my time, ruminate awhile, and then decide how best to apply my fury.

Last year I introduced the Oscar Nomination Outrage Scale (ONOS). The ONOS elegantly breaks down each offending Oscar nomination on a 20-point scale in four categories. Each category is graded on a 1-to-5 basis, we add up the total and get our score out of 20. For it’s time, the scale worked. But upon reflection, I realized there was a way to improve it. In fact, there was one simple, forehead-slapping element that I was stunned to realize I had overlooked.

True Oscar outrage isn’t fuelled by who gets nominated, it’s powered by who isn’t.

Who's winning Best Picture? And who's angry?

Who’s winning Best Picture? And who’s angry?

The ONOS has its four categories: Merit, Novelty, Past History and Politics. But now we’ll sum them up a different way. This year we’re going to apply the re-worked scale to things that didn’t get nominated and then decide how angry we should be about the snub. Sound fun? I’m already fired up. Let’s get to the categories:

Merit: Ask yourself if  the performance truly does deserve a nomination. A low rank here means a modest performance in a reasonable film, a high rank means: outrageous oversight!

Novelty: Was the snub in question overlooked by another nominee of dubious claim? e.g. a dead person, a very young or very old nominee, somebody British, etc. The higher the number the more outrageous the novelty act.

Past History: The honourary Meryl Streep award. This grade is assigned based on the credentials of the offending nomination (i.e. more established, more familiar, more safe). A high number here basically means the spot was lost to the most Streep-like figure in the race.

Politics: The most insider-y of categories. This is outrage fuelled by a host of perceived slights that lie outside the purely artistic considerations of Hollywood. Getting a 5 here suggests much larger forces at work.

So we’ve got our context, we’ve got our categories, and now we have our nominations. Let’s fire this baby up and determine the appropriate levels of outrage to exhibit. It’s ONOOOOOOS time!

Technical Outrage!

Best Cinematography – Bradford Young

Merit: 4. Bradford Young was not nominated for Best Cinematography despite lensing two (TWO!) very well-reviewed films, Selma and A Most Violent Year. (I haven’t seen either of them because they are just now coming out in Toronto, kthxbye.) This feels dubious.

Novelty: 1. The only nominees that stands out as a surprise are the team of Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lynzewski for the Polish (no kidding) film Ida. Hard to fault that nomination though since Ida is a beautiful film (and I’ve seen it!).

History: 2. A murderers row of classic cinematographers stand in Bradford Young’s way. Emmanuel Lubezki is there, Roger Deakins is there, Dick “Poop” Pope is there. And apparently this is Wes Anderson’s year after a solid decade of being mostly ignored. I’m only mildly annoyed by this turn of events.

Politics: 4. Here we go. As many commentators have already noticed: Bradford Young is black. Of the two films he was involved with this year, Selma is drawing a ton of controversial attention (more on that later, I swear). Is the Academy latently racist? Wellllllllllllllllllllllll……….

Total: 11 – Tinge of anger

Best Editing – Birdman, Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione

Merit: 5. Birdman was shot to look like it was in one take! Michael Keaton runs through Times Square in his underwear. Day turns into night and then to day again. The camera never blinks! What???

Novelty: 2. I haven’t seen American Sniper yet. I thought it beneath my attention until it snapped up six nominations (huh?). I’m blaming Clint Eastwood for some of this.

History: 2. We’ve got two past winners here; Joel Cox, nominated along with Gary Roach for American Sniper, previously won for Unforgiven, and William Goldenberg, nominated for The Imitation Game, had won for Argo. In this case I only get a minor buzz from all this love for The Imitation Game. People, it’s a ho-hum film.

Politics: 1. Nothing to report here. Birdman got a lot of love elsewhere. I just assume that everyone loves Clint Eastwood so much that his films get extra consideration. I’m not going to argue with Clint Eastwood.

Total: 10 – Mild disbelief

Soooo, about everything being awesome...

Soooo, about everything being awesome…

Artistic Outrage!

Best Score – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Merit: 3. Who would have thought that in 2015 I’d be raging over a lack of a nomination for Nine Inch Nails. At their best Reznor and Ross make soundscapes unlike most musicians (and definitely unlike most other Oscar hopefuls). Their Gone Girl score did everything possible to enhance the icy feel of the film.

Novelty: 2. Really, two nominations for Alexandre Desplat? Quick, what’s the musical moment you remember most from The Imitation Game? Or Johann Johannsson’s (how’s that for novelty) score for The Theory of Everything? Same, same, same.

History: 3. It looks like the Academy, after nominating Desplat eight times, is finally ready to give him an Oscar (unless Hans Zimmer sneaks in to steal it). Fine, I get it, but I don’t have to like it.

Politics: 4. One does get the feeling that Reznor and Ross got their win for The Social Network (in a year when the ultimate throwback movie, The King’s Speech won) so that the Academy could pat itself on the back for being modern. A second nomination? Don’t push your luck, Trent.

Total: 12 – Medium grumbling

Best Foreign Language Film – Force Majeure, The Lunchbox

Merit: 5. Some combination of Force Majeure or The Lunchbox should definitely have been considered here. Two very different films, two very different visions, but sadly the same result. No nomination.

Novelty: 0. I’ve seen three of the nominated films (Ida, Wild Tales, Timbuktu) and it’s hard to knock any of them. Can’t get too mad here.

History: 0. As with most foreign language films, they sort of emerge each year with very little historical momentum. It’s not like the days when Fellini or Kurosawa was just steam-rolling everyone.

Politics: 5. Hmmm, what’s this, India didn’t even SUBMIT The Lunchbox for Oscar consideration? Controversy! I’ll admit I can’t get too worked up about Force Majeure’s absence, but this… this is a travesty.

Total: 10 – Mild Disbelief

Best Documentary – Life Itself

Merit: 5. Life Itself is the touching, warts-and-all story of the most famous film critic of all time, Roger Ebert. And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s made by one of the most famous documentary filmmakers ever, Steve James.

Novelty: 0. No obvious clangers here. I just read about all of the candidates and dammit, they all sound interesting.

History: 5. This is Roger Ebert, the man who has praised and crushed films almost literally under his thumb. Perhaps it shouldn’t be too, too surprising that a lot of filmmakers aren’t racing to posthumously pump him up. But the maker of the film, on the other hand…

Politics: 5. The maker of Life Itself is Steve James. He’s the guy who made Hoop Dreams, one of the most epic Oscar-spurns of all time (a nod for Best Film Editing, but nothing for Best Doc, despite it being one of the best ever). James is still looking to be crowned in Oscar gold.

Total: 15 – Spastic movements, some loud talking

Best Animated Feature – The Lego Movie

Merit: 4. One of the biggest films of the year, one of the biggest surprises of the year. A film that turns absurd imagination (and, yes, product placement) into a glorious opportunity for in-jokes and nostalgia.

Novelty: 2. OK, so people loved How to Train Your Dragon. But, like, do we need to nominate the sequel just because?

History: 3. Ditto, man. No sequels should be nominated unless they have the words “Toy” and “Story” in them.

Politics: 5. Is it because the ending of The Lego Movie features some Will Ferrell-led live action? Is the fact that the whole movie is blatantly based around a toy (even one as awesome as Lego)? Is the movie just too glib? These questions need answers.

Total: 14 – Head shaking, loud grumbling

"You mean I gained this weight and wore this moustache for nothing?"

“You mean I gained this weight and wore this moustache for nothing?”

Big League Outrage!

Best Supporting Actor – Anybody but Robert Duvall

Merit: 5. How about Riz Ahmed in Nightcrawler? Josh Brolin’s batshit cop in Inherent Vice? Tyler Perry (yes, Tyler Perry) and his “these crazy white people” look in Gone Girl? Any of these would be better than Duvall playing a crotchety old man.

Novelty: 5. He’s the oldest man to ever get nominated for an Oscar. Whoop-di-doo.

History: 5. The Academy loves Robert Duvall, there’s just no two ways about it. His other six nominations, while tremendously deserved, definitely create an unfortunate momentum for more.

Politics: 3. I’m gonna step down the rage here because Duvall is definitely not out campaigning for awards. Something about The Judge just rubs me the wrong way. It tried so, so hard to be a big awards movie and it feels icky to reward it as such.

Total: 18 – Dangerously unhinged anger

Best Actor – David Oyelowo

Merit: 3. Haven’t seen the performance yet so I’m going to hedge here. Still, in a Hollywood where playing a famous real-life person well almost guarantees an actor an award for something it feels extremely weird to not see Oyelowo’s name here.

Novelty: 3. Case in point: four of the five nominees are playing real-life people. And the one who’ll win (Michael Keaton) is basically playing a bizarro world version of himself.

History: 3. Nothing was going to stop Keaton’s run to the top, but isn’t it wild that Bradley Cooper is now a three-peat nominee (Russell Crowe is the only other guy to do it)? The guy who played Sack? Maybe this should be added to the Novelty section.

Politics: 5. Here comes the real humdinger: as many have loudly proclaimed, the general snub of Selma is indicative of an Academy that is too old, too white, too male and all-around too out of touch. The Best Actor category is usually a tough race, but there is a point to be made here.

Total: 14 – Head shaking, loud grumbling

Best Director – Ava DuVernay

Merit: 5. I became a fan of Ava DuVernay back in 2012 when I first saw Middle of Nowhere (#5 on my Best of 2012 list). On that basis alone, I’m ready to go to bat for DuVernay’s inclusion in the Best Director race.

Novelty: 3. Man, The Imitation Game again. What did it do especially well to get so much respect? It’s a movie about secrets and codes that spends all its time spelling everything out twice (or thrice) over. That Morten Tyldum shepherded that along shouldn’t be some great achievement.

History: 3. The most divisive nominee here appears to be Bennett Miller. He’s made three films now and they’ve all been nominated, but Foxcatcher really appears to have snuck him into the race (perhaps undeservedly so).

Politics: 5. The real story of Selma’s overall Oscar snub seems to actually come from the fact that it came out too late in the year, didn’t market itself well (or respond well to reports of historical inaccuracies), and didn’t get screeners into enough important people’s hands. The fact that it now finds itself on the outside looking in feels like a deep bit of cruel irony. Selma did get nominated for Best Picture, but the unfortunate narrative now is that you can vilify slave owners and win (a la 12 Years a Slave) but leave the sainted LBJ alone.

Total: 16 – Random yelling

That awkward moment when you realize you didn't get the Best Picture nomination.

That awkward moment when you realize you didn’t get the Best Picture nomination.

And the Academy Award For Best Picture Goes To…!

Best Picture – Foxcatcher, Nightcrawler

Psyche! I’ve made peace with neither of those films getting nominated. For one, Foxcatcher is a strange film that is both hard to recommend and extremely puzzling in its narrative gaps. I love the sense of suffocating unease it creates and the performances, but I’m not surprised it got left off the ballot.

As for Nightcrawler, I’m amazed we’re talking about this film at all in the context of the Best Picture discussion. And this is coming from a guy who had it as his fourth best film of the year. To be honest, Nightcrawler benefits from not receiving any major nominations (it did get one for Best Original Screenplay, though); all the better to grease the wheels for its eventual roll into cult classic status.

Now let’s Lou Bloom this column and rove the streets in a barely suppressed fog of Oscar Nomination outrage. Yeehaw.

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