- Two Days, One Night
Pleasant Surprise: Like many, I feared Marion Cotillard would be left out of the Best Actress field. She hasn't got a shot of winning for the remarkable Two Days, One Night, but seeing her there—rather than Jennifer Aniston for the lousy Cake—showed someone was paying attention.
You Gotta Be Kidding: Where to begin? The Lego Movie not being on the Animated Feature list, or Life Itself among Documentary Feature nominees, are most obvious. I'll also go with Robert Duvall's unremarkable turn in The Judge resulting in Inherent Vice's Josh Brolin getting the shaft. Motto panukeiku!
Rooting For: Everyone seems to assume that Boyhood is a foregone conclusion as Best Picture winner, and certainly there have been less worthy nominees. But maybe, just maybe, the outcry against Selma's omission in so many other categories will result in a second look by Academy voters at a great film.
- The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Pleasant Surprise: This year, pleasant surprises were hard to come by, but there were two: Marion Cotillard for Best Actress in Two Days, One Night, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (better than The Lego Movie, enough so to render the latter's non-nomination moot) for Best Animated Feature.
You Gotta Be Kidding: Selma only getting two nominations, even if one of them was for Best Picture, is absurd, especially given the surfeit of nods for vastly inferior biopics like The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game. But who am I kidding: Those are about white people.
Rooting For: In the near complete absence of Selma, and since trying to reverse-jinx Boyhood by rooting for it would be mean, I'm going to quietly pull for The Grand Budapest Hotel in the design categories and Best Director. But mainly, I'm going to be drinking and looking at the dresses.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
Pleasant Surprise: All the love for the wonderfully bonkers The Grand Budapest Hotel (even if it is carrying over from other awards-givers this season). Make a great film, and the industry willremember it at year end even if you released it eons ago, way back in March.
You Gotta Be Kidding: It's hard to see the snubbing of Selma director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo as anything other than pure racism. I'll give the ranks of Oscar voters—94 percentwhite—the benefit of the doubt and presume it was unconscious racism, but still. Is there no room for a brilliant black man among the stories about genius dudes theAcademy (77 percent male) is choosing to honor so much this year?
Rooting For: J.K. Simmons as Best Supporting Actor in Whiplash—though he probably doesn't need my best wishes. He's almost certainly a shoo-in.
Pleasant Surprise: Best Cinematography, Ida. The boxy framing and resolute view-from-on-high camera work beautifully reinforces the internal struggle of the characters, making literal the gap between their deeds and intentions. And then it loosens up at precisely the right time.
You Gotta Be Kidding: Best Original Screenplay, Birdman. Alejandro G. Iñárritu's bustling cranked-to-11 contraption has the performers and the technique to make it possible to forgive much of the film's proclivity toward self-love. All that swirling virtuosity comes crashing to a halt, though, whenever the characters open their mouths and proclaim What It's All About. Show, don't tell.
Rooting For: Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night. Given a role that would have most actors doubling down on their blue-collar affectations, Cotillard somehow eschews both standard celebrity vanity and the more insidious award-hungry anti-flash. She just is, exquisitely.
Eric D. Snider
Pleasant Surprise: The general outpouring of love for Whiplash. A nod for J.K. Simmons was expected; the nods for adapted screenplay and Best Picture were not. I doubt it will win either category (and maybe doesn't even deserve to), but the nominations are satisfying to me as someone who loved the movie.
You Gotta Be Kidding: I have a hard time believingthat the voters in the animation category—who are animators themselves—truly feel thatThe Lego Movie was, at best, the sixth-best animated film of the year. They liked Big Hero 6 better?It's like I'm living in a cuckoo clock!
Rooting For: J.K. Simmons, a terrifically versatile character actor who does thrilling work in Whiplash,and whose career as a whole deserves some kind of recognition.