Skip To Content
  • Oscars badge

The 17 Biggest Surprises In This Year's Oscar Nominations

No Best Animated Feature nomination for The LEGO Movie?! And only two nominations for Selma?!

1. Only two nominations for Selma?!

Paramount Pictures

While it's true that Selma earned a Best Picture nomination, with only one other nod to its name — Best Original Song, for "Glory" — this film has the strange distinction of being regarded by the Academy as one of the best films of the year in sum, but not in any of its parts.

And this is fucking depressing. Yes, there has been a great deal of press about Selma's perceived slights against historical accuracy, specifically the legacy of President Lyndon B. Johnson (played in the film by Tom Wilkinson). Yes, Paramount Pictures has been criticized for not sending out DVD screeners of the film to all the members of the various Hollywood guilds, as has become the custom for most movies vying for major Oscar hardware. And yes, the film's limited Christmas theatrical release meant that the movie had precious little time to gain a toehold in an awards season where two of the biggest nominees this year (Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel) were released before September.

But come on. Historically based movies have been fudging with history for dramatic effect in ways small and large since movies have existed, and many have still gone on to win Best Picture, including 12 Years a Slave, Argo, The King's Speech, A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator, Titanic, Braveheart, Schindler's List… You get my point. Acting like this movie's perceived historical inaccuracies are somehow a disqualifying moral lapse is itself oddly ignorant of filmmaking history.

And while Paramount should have been more aggressive about putting this movie in front of busy members of the film industry, Selma had been playing in theaters in New York and L.A. for two weeks before nominations were due. This is one of the most acclaimed, relevant, and discussed movies of the year. Absent widespread studio screeners, the onus here should be at least as much on individual Academy members to see the damn film any way they can.

Certainly, one should allow for the fact that some Academy members may just have not cared for Selma enough to vote for it. But the absence of Ava DuVernay's incisive and visually stunning work from the Best Director category and David Oyelowo's commanding and soulful performance from the Best Actor category — not to mention the film's absence in categories like Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Costume Design — feels like more than a matter of individual taste and a botched awards season campaign. And they promise to cast a disquieting shadow over this year's Oscars.

2. No Best Animated Feature nomination for The LEGO Movie?!

Warner Bros.

Everything is not awesome. I don't even know what to say here. The LEGO Movie was one of the very best animated films of the year. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. Even its style of animation was unique and captivating. Maybe the film’s brief live-action coda was deemed by some voters to be disqualifying? If so, that is insane!

3. No Best Actress nomination for Jennifer Aniston in Cake?

Cinelou Releasing

My colleague — and friend! — Kate Aurthur and I are convinced that this movie doesn't exist and was concocted as an awards-season lure to make us all pod people. Others who claim to have seen it tell me the movie is real and its star Jennifer Aniston is quite good in it as a woman suffering from chronic pain, but they are probably pod people. Regardless, SAG, Golden Globes, and Critics Choice nominations were apparently not enough to propel Aniston to the Oscars, and instead Marion Cotillard was nominated for her acclaimed performance in Two Days, One Night as a factory worker fighting to keep her job. I am 99% certain Cotillard isn't a pod person.

4. No Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl, and 5. Practically nothing else for the film, either.

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Throughout the awards season, it was considered to be a fait accompli that Flynn's deft work adapting her own best-selling novel would earn her an Oscar nomination. But it seems that the Academy was frosty to this film in general — Rosamund Pike's performance as the possibly missing perfect wife Amy Dunne is this film's only nomination. Its score, cinematography, and director, David Fincher, were also shut out. There is a joke here about what might happen to the Academy once Amy learns of the film's treatment, but I'll just leave that one alone.

6. No Best Documentary Feature nomination for Life Itself, 7. The Overnighters, or 8. The Case Against 8?

Magnolia Pictures
Drafthouse Films
HBO Documentary Films

The feature documentary category can often be a little peculiar about its nominees, but it is still surprising that neither the powerfully emotional The Case Against 8 (about the legal battle against California's Proposition 8), the deeply fascinating The Overnighters (about how the North Dakota oil boom affected a small town and especially its pastor), nor the love letter to cinema Life Itself (about the life and final days of film critic Roger Ebert) earned a nomination this year. But don't let that stop you from seeking them out!

9. No Best Foreign Language Feature nomination for Force Majeure?

Magnolia Pictures

Another historically prickly category, and another film surprisingly left out of the mix. This Swedish film about what happens after a father abandons his family at a ski resort when it seems like an avalanche will engulf them (it doesn't) was considered by many to be among the best films of the entire year. And yet, no nomination. Seek this out too!

10. No Best Makeup and Hairstyling nod for Into the Woods?


This is the same category that nominated Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa last year. So I probably just have no idea what constitutes great makeup and hairstyling in a movie. But this is still surprising!

11. No Best Visual Effects nomination for Godzilla?

Warner Bros.

This is also likely a matter of very specific technical knowledge trumping what my own eyeballs were most impressed by in a movie's visual effects this year. But those eyeballs were especially wowed by the heft and power of a trio of gargantuan monsters rampaging through San Francisco and tearing one another apart. Maybe the omission here is due to director Gareth Edwards' unorthodox choice to cut away from monster vs. monster brawls in the run-up to the film's rock-'em, sock-'em final act? If that is the case, it is a silly reason!

12. Interstellar was nominated for its sound mixing?!

Warner Bros.

There were many elements about Interstellar's filmmaking that were profoundly impressive, but the deafening roar of the film's sound effects and score so often drowning out what was coming out of the actor's mouths was not one of them. And yet the film's sound mix has been nominated, so maybe the members of the Academy's sound branch were hearing something my poor, blasted eardrums could not.

13. Only one nomination for Nightcrawler.

Open Road Films

Nightcrawler's writer-director Dan Gilroy won a well-earned nomination for his electrifying original screenplay. But this film's Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild nominations left me with the false hope that this movie's scabrously dark and twisted take on American exceptionalism had genuinely won over enough of the film industry to earn it nominations for lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal and for the movie itself. Alas, 'twas not to be.

14. So many nominations for American Sniper (except for Clint Eastwood)!

Warner Bros.

I confess that I don't really get the love for this movie. Bradley Cooper's internalized and thoughtful performance is the best thing about it, and he certainly earned his Best Actor nomination — his third Oscar nod in as many years. But there is already a striking and disconcerting divide between anyone who points out that the film's approach to its controversial subject — Chris Kyle, credited as the deadliest sniper in American military history — is at best morally muddy and unsettling, and those who regard Kyle as nothing short of a faultless hero and excoriate anyone who says otherwise. The script — nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay — also trucks in a litany of war-movie dialogue clichés. I would chalk up the widespread support for the film to lasting affection for its director Clint Eastwood, but, uh, Eastwood wasn't nominated for his direction. Oh well!

15. Five nominations for Foxcatcher, except Best Picture.

Sony Pictures Classics

In the run-up to Thursday's Oscar nomination announcement, many thought Steve Carell's transformative performance as the prodigiously wealthy Olympic wrestling fanatic John du Pont would be left out of the Best Actor race. There was a sense — perhaps clutched from thin air — that voters had cooled on Foxcatcher in general. Instead, it earned five nominations, including a somewhat surprising nod for director Bennett Miller, who wasn't nominated for a Directors Guild award. And yet it did not earn a nomination for Best Picture. Perhaps the bizarre, abrupt tirade against the film and Miller by one of its real-life subjects (Mark Schultz, the wrestler played by Channing Tatum) right in the middle of the voting period quelled enough enthusiasm to make Foxcatcher the ninth Best Picture nominee.

16. A Best Supporting Actress nomination for Laura Dern for Wild!

Fox Searchlight

Anyone who has seen Dern's luminous performance as the mother of author Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) knows that she completely deserves to be in this category, but for weeks now, virtually all of the Oscar prognosticators had written her off in favor of Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year. That film, however, debuted on Dec. 31, giving Chastain precious little time to gain a foothold in voters' minds. Much the pity for Chastain, and a wonderful boon for Dern, who was last nominated for an Oscar 23 years ago for her leading role in Rambing Rose.

17. The Grand Budapest Hotel ties (with Birdman) for the most nominations of the year!

Fox Searchlight

All things being equal, this movie's nine nominations would make all of the sense — it's a superlative confection brimming with top-notch filmmaking craft. But firstly, this movie came out in March, and as Mark Harris pointed out Wednesday on Grantland, that is the earliest opening for a Best Picture nominee since 1991's Silence of the Lambs. And secondly, this movie was written and directed by Wes Anderson, a filmmaker who heretofore had been treated by the Academy like that eccentric cousin who wears a cravat to Thanksgiving dinner but can't quite make eye contact with anyone: His previous seven films — many of them considered to be among the best of their respective years — have earned just four nominations among them. And now Anderson has more that tripled that amount. Sadly, one of those nominations wasn't for Ralph Fiennes' deft comic performance.

"American Sniper" was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, and not Best Original Screenplay, as an earlier version of this post had noted.