The full title of the current Oscar nomination co-leader is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which could just be the most awkward and/or pretentious movie name ever.
I’m tempted to rework it to describe what the Academy did Thursday, as it unleashed the whitest, least diverse, most numerically puzzling and hardest to explain slate of gold seekers in recent memory.
Something like: Oscarman or (The Unexpected Non-virtue of Ignorance). Maybe that should be the title for the Feb. 22 telecast of the 87th Academy Awards, which will salute eight films, only one of which — the civil rights drama Selma — has a predominately black cast.
And there’s not a single white face among the 20 total nominations for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. How could Selma get its richly deserved nod for Best Picture, yet not also attract support for its two driving forces: director Ava DuVernay and lead actor David Oyelowo, who plays Martin Luther King Jr.?
The Academy couldn’t find a single spot for an actor of colour?
If not Oyelowo for Best Actor, then how about his Selma co-star Carmen Ejogo for Best Supporting Actress?
Or Tony Revolori, so good opposite Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, the other nomination co-leader along with Birdman? Or Rosario Dawson in Top Five, Chris Rock’s comic sparring partner?
Maybe even Zoe Saldana from Guardians of the Galaxy (with two Oscar noms!), the best and funniest of last summer’s blockbusters?
Is this 2015 or 1965? Oscar’s acting nominees were all white that year, too, honouring films released in 1964.
Is it ignorance or just inevitable that the 6,000-odd voting members of the Academy, most of them middle-aged, white and male, would choose to honour people who most resembled them?
The answers to these questions may seem obvious, or at least tiresomely familiar, but they still need to be asked. In light of the current Oscar nominations, last year’s Best Picture win for 12 Years a Slave seems more of an aberration on the part of the Academy rather than advancement.
It’s a sad situation, yet I’m reluctant to bash the Academy too hard for it. This is a systemic problem in Hollywood, not a conspiracy by 6,000 people hell-bent on advancing whites above all else. I’m sure many Academy members voted to nominate David Oyelowo for Best Actor, just not enough of them to beat any of the five men who did make it into the category.
And while we can point to the fact that Selma didn’t yield any acting nominations to go with its Best Picture nod, neither did the mostly white The Grand Budapest Hotel. Many fans of Ralph Fiennes, the concierge of the hotel and the charming heart of the picture, are sad that his pale face wasn’t included among the 20 anointed by Oscar.
Ditto for Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, Jessica Chastain in both A Most Violent Year and Interstellar and Emily Blunt in both Edge of Tomorrow and Into the Woods.
Imagine the baffled disappointment of Timothy Spall, who won Best Actor at Cannes for his masterful portrayal master painter J.M.W. Turner in Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, yet couldn’t manage even a nomination at the Oscars.
For sheer jaw-dropping weirdness, though, there’s the blanking of the Roger Ebert biopic Life Itself in the Best Documentary Feature category and The LEGO Movie for Best Animated Feature. These highly popular movies were both considered obvious choices for Oscar love — by everybody except members of the Academy, apparently.
The snub for The LEGO Movie actually makes some sense, if you consider that the Academy seemed to go out of its way the limit the gold rush for popular films. It offered potential consolation prizes instead.
The LEGO Movie didn’t get a Best Animated nom, but it did get one for Best Song, for “Everything Is Awesome.” Gone Girl didn’t get a Best Picture placement or screenplay nom, and David Fincher didn’t crack the Best Director race, but Rosamund Pike is in the running for Best Actress.
Box-office hits Interstellar and Unbroken are also outside the Best Picture circle, but they each have several nominations in technical categories.
The truth about the Academy is that absent any official attempt to massage Oscar nominations, as they do at the Grammys, there are always going to be strange results. There are far more candidates chasing limited slots among the 24 Oscar categories than there is available space.
Still, they could have added two more films to Best Picture, since it’s built to take 10. I know there’s complex math involved. But wouldn’t it have been smart to include Gone Girl in there, another box-office smash, if only to guarantee many more eyeballs for the fading Oscarcast?
Yeah, I know, rules are rules. And to really get them, you need to rework not the long title of Birdman but the most famous line from Chinatown, a long-ago Best Picture nominee: “Forget it, Jake, it’s Oscartown.