By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com January 16, 2014 at 11:07AM
“Philomena” & “Her”
Surprises might not be the right word here—we did predict these, after all. But there were plenty of skeptics out there that didn’t buy that Stephen Frears’ little British charmer and Spike Jonze’s techno-romance would make the Best Picture cut. But once Harvey Weinstein finally got his weight behind the former (having ummed and aahed a bit), Academy voters started to swoon for it, while fears that the older Oscar demographic wouldn’t fall for a film that dealt with newfangled technology ultimately proved unfounded (although Jonze did miss out in Best Director).
Again, we will stop blowing our own trumpet in a minute, but this was another one that we did predict, whereas very few prognosticators did. In fact, we called that a David O. Russell film, for a second year in a row, would manage to get a nod in every acting category (the last film to do so before “Silver Linings Playbook” was Warren Beatty’s “Reds” in 1981). But even we were a little bit shocked to see this come to pass: Bale had had so little buzz that most ranked DiCaprio, Redford and even Forest Whitaker above him as possibilities. Instead, having won the Oscar for his supporting role in “The Fighter” three years ago, the “Dark Knight” star got his first Best Actor nod.
If, when you first saw Jonah Hill—most likely with a brief, oddball cameo in “The 40 Year Old Virgin”—someone had told that a decade later, that same performer would be a two-time Oscar nominee, you’d likely have tried to have them committed. But here we are, and after a nod for “Moneyball” two years back, Hill’s got his second. He received a lot of buzz when the film first screened, which died down a bit after he was skipped over by most precursors, but the comedy actor came through at the last. And for all the muttering, both nominations are thoroughly deserved, in our opinion.
A month or two back, the chance of Sally Hawkins getting a nomination for “Blue Jasmine” seemed so remote that we included her on our list of For Your Consideration nominees, who we’d like to see happen, but were unlikely. Fortunately, Hawkins then got a second wind with BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations, and that followed through with a nomination today, which we’re thoroughly delighted with. We like to think it’s the Academy’s mea culpa for not nominating the British actress for “Happy-Go-Lucky” last year.
“The Grandmaster,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Her” in the technical categories
There’s always a film with some surprising strengths in the below-the-line awards, and this year saw three of them that were particularly notable. Remarkably, no Wong Kar-Wai film had ever been nominated for an Oscar before this year, but while it didn’t make the foreign language cut, it received surprise nominations in Cinematography and Costume Design—proof of the power of the union of Harvey Weinstein and Megan Ellison. Meanwhile, Spike Jonze’s “Her” picked up a production design nomination for its subtle and brilliantly achieved art direction, a rare case of a near-contemporary film cracking the category (“Inception” was the last, though had more expansive fantasy sequences, before that it was “The Birdcage” and “Romeo + Juliet” in 1996). Finally, “Dallas Buyers Club,” which many weren’t even counting as a Best Picture nominee until a few weeks ago, picked up six nominations (tied for fourth place with “Captain Phillips” and “Nebraska”), including surprise nods for Best Editing and Best Make-Up and Hairstyling. That suggests a wide range of support that could make the film a dark horse for a Best Picture upset.
Arcade Fire & Alexandre Desplat
It wasn’t the strongest year for Best Song, but at least the Academy used the opportunity to make a bolder choice; while Hans Zimmer was absent, William Butler of Arcade Fire and strings supremo Owen Pallett (also known as Final Fantasy) were nominated for their lovely score for Spike Jonze’s “Her,” a forward thinking move that makes up for Alex Ebert missing out. Less trendy, but perhaps more surprising was a nomination for Alexandre Desplat’s music for “Philomena.” Desplat is wonderful, and it’s shocking that he’s never won an Oscar, but “Philomena” was far from his best work.
“Alone Yet Not Alone”
Certainly the nomination this year that not a single person would have predicted, and the one that caused whiplash-inducing double-takes on its announcement, is this faith-based movie about a German immigrant family during the French and Indian war. Almost no one had heard of the film, and no one imagined that its title song, performed by quadriplegic evangelical Christian author Joni Eareckson Tada would be an Oscar nominee, and yet here it is, destined to be a question in movie trivia quizzes for ever more. Watch/listen below.