The red carpet is being rolled out, the booze are being hidden, and the spanx are already holding everything firmly in place; if you couldn’t guess, this Sunday will mark the 86th annual Academy Awards. Award season is always a long one, and each ceremony, though prestigious in its own right, is really just a countdown until the big time. Yes, Oscar night is when Hollywood’s shiniest stars rub elbows with one another, and everyone at home chooses to skip the technical category award speeches in favor of a bathroom break. The waiting game is over, and soon enough everyone will know who ranks as the best of the best in film this year. There’s just one problem: how do we know which film and actors sit at the top of class if some worthy contenders have been left out? I’m talking about the lack of nominations for Saving Mr. Banks, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Spectacular Now.
Let’s start with the least likely of the three. Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of curmudgeonly Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) as she spends two weeks in Los Angeles, during which Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) tries to obtain the rights to her book in order to make a movie. The trailer painted a much different picture than the one that was presented on screen. Instead of a cut-and-dry story about a woman’s cold heart, warmed by the Wonderful World of Walt Disney, the film was actually a heartwarming and heartbreaking look into a lonely woman’s life. When the decidedly anti-Disney Mrs. Travers cuddles with the Mickey Mouse doll in her hotel room. When she plays in the grass with her ever-patient driver and unexpected friend Ralph (Paul Giamatti). Not to mention when Travers and her music team perform a tears-of-joy-inducing rendition of “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.” I could go on. With its abundance of heart, humor, and grief, I have some difficulty understanding why Saving Mr. Banks is not nominated for a single non-technical Oscar this year. The movie is up for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score, but I think it warrants a little something more. Maybe a Best Picture nomination is too much to ask, but at the very least Emma Thompson should have been nominated for Best Actress.
Triple the confusion and disappointment of the Saving Mr. Banks snub for that of Inside Llewyn Davis. The Coen Brothers’ latest masterpiece, about a down-and-out folk singer trying to find success in New York in the 60s, boasts a brilliantly haunting soundtrack, a rising star in lead actor Oscar Isaac, and solid performances from the film’s supporting actors. It’s not easy to pepper a movie with multiple full-length folk performances without them seeming dull or repetitive, and yet Inside Llewyn Davis pulls it off without a hitch, the music working to cement the audience in the rough, smoky world that was Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Oscar Isaac manages to take a thoroughly dislikable character in Llewyn and make him someone you want to win, regardless. Every little victory (finding the cat, getting the audition with Bud Grossman) feels like a big victory for the hapless singer, which further amplifies the pain of every failure. Like Saving Mr. Banks, Inside Llewyn Davis is nominated for some technical Oscars, Best Achievement in Cinematography and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, but the Coen Brothers are Oscar darlings; so why no Best Picture nod? Or how about some Best Actor love for Oscar Isaac? This latest Coen collaboration is no less impressive than any of their other work, but apparently the Academy disagrees.
Last, but by no means least, we come to one of Sundance’s most-hyped films: The Spectacular Now. I’ve spoken before about how fantastic breakout star Miles Teller’s performance as the charming, alcoholic popular-kid Sutter Keely is, but it bears repeating. The twenty-six year old packs a subtle, but emotional punch as a teen with a strong fear of the future, and there’s a reason we’ll be seeing him on the big screen more than once this year. Shailene Woodley also excels as Sutter’s impressionable girlfriend Aimee, in a film that easily could’ve been dominated by its lead. The Spectacular Now is incredible in its ability to portray teenagers as smart, capable, but troubled human beings, without coming off as pandering or patronizing. Unlike the previous two films mentioned, The Spectacular Now has not-a-one Oscar nomination, because it seems that everyone at Sundance knows something the Academy doesn’t.
Maybe a Best Picture nomination for Saving Mr. Banks is too much to ask, but almost every year there’s a film on the list that everyone knows isn’t going to win. I don’t think anyone thought Extremely Loud & Incredible Close stood a chance of winning in 2012 (and of course it didn’t), nor is anyone putting money on Nebraska taking home the statuette this year, but being nominated is almost a prize in itself, if you’ll ignore the award show cliché. Even if that’s true for Banks, I don’t believe that it’s a far cry for Inside Llewyn Davis or The Spectacular Now to be nominated. And in terms of Best Actor/Actress nominations, if a “Hoo-Ah!” shouting, overacting Al Pacino could win Best Actor for his turn in 1992’s Scent of a Woman, then I think the Academy could have thrown Emma Thompson, Oscar Isaac, or Miles Teller a nomination.
That said, this year’s nominees are all well deserved, and I wouldn’t oust a single one of them in favor of these. It’s a tricky situation, deciding who is worthy of what, but it would be great if there were only some way for these great works to be further appreciated. At the end of the day, the awards don’t mean anything and it’s the film itself that truly matters, and I’ll take quality over praise any day. Hey, nothing gold can stay, afterall.
Article by Nia Howe-Smith