The Oscar nominations are out, and they predictably favored awards-season front-runners Birdman and Boyhood — with a strong showing by The Grand Budapest Hotel, too — but beyond those stalwarts, this year's field still felt unsettled enough to allow for several shocks and surprises. So, which strong contenders fell by the wayside at the last minute, and who managed to slip in past heavy competition? Let's run through the most eyebrow-raising omissions and inclusions.
The Best Picture Slate Dropped to Eight
The Best Picture rule change a few years back was supposed to provide some unpredictability, since now any number of movies between five and ten could be nominated provided they marshaled up enough top votes. In practice, though, we've had consistent nine-nominee years … until this year, when only eight nominees came out of what was regarded by most as a weak field. What would have been that ninth, on-the-bubble nominee? You've got to think Foxcatcher just missed the cut, given that it still managed to score a coveted Best Director nomination.
Jennifer Aniston Fell to Marion Cotillard
As a late-breaking contestant in the Best Actress race, Jennifer Aniston did everything she was supposed to do: She showed up at countless screenings, hit the interview circuit hard, and served as the omnipresent, scarred face of her indie Cake. Meanwhile, Marion Cotillard wasn't around nearly as much to campaign for her film Two Days, One Night, and many pundits figured her votes would be split anyway, since she'd given a great performance in The Immigrant, too. Turns out, though, that Cotillard triumphed over Aniston in the end. Still, don't cry too much for Aniston, who's at least feinted at a career rebrand off of her Cake campaign. (And if it's any consolation, Angelina Jolie was snubbed, too.)
American Sniper Took Out Jake Gyllenhaal and David Oyelowo
Clint Eastwood's war movie perched itself on a ledge, waited for the right time, and blew away the competition today, showing across-the-board strength in most categories, especially Best Actor. Bradley Cooper's bulked-up, buttoned-down Sniper performance managed a stealth entry onto the short list, but it came at the expense of buzzy turns from Jake Gyllenhaal (in Nightcrawler) and David Oyelowo (in Selma). Gyllenhaal's movie had been showing precursor strength but maybe proved too out-there for the Academy (though it did manage a nod in Best Original Screenplay), while Selma had a rocky awards campaign, finally pulling out a Best Picture nomination but missing in Best Director, where Ava DuVernay's inclusion would have made history.
What Happened to The Lego Movie?
Once considered the front-runner to win Best Animated Feature, The Lego Movie didn't even earn a nomination! Were Academy members the only people on Earth who'd skipped this charming blockbuster, or could they simply not cotton to awarding a movie with a title that superficially silly? Well, at the very least, the movie did manage to snag one consolation nomination …
All the Best Song Nominations Are Actually Good
… and that would be in Best Original Song, where The Lego Movie's irresistible ditty "Everything Is Awesome" made the final five. (Let's hope they make good on that performance they promised us.) In fact, all of the nominees in Best Original Song were worthy, which is sort of a shocker after all sorts of what-the-fuckery in years past, including last year's notorious, quickly rescinded nod for "Alone But Not Alone." Yes, the Academy still turns a cold shoulder to Lana Del Rey, and Lorde didn't make the cut for her Hunger Games contribution, but that Beyond the Lights nomination was pretty gratifying, right?
Dern had always been a contender for her all-in-flashback turn as Reese Witherspoon's mom in Wild, but she wasn't having a strong run at the precursors, and the late-breaking Jessica Chastain (in A Most Violent Year) and the surging Rene Russo (in Nightcrawler) started to seem like better bets. Still, Dern made it into the Best Supporting Actress race after all, showing strength for Wild that we wished had been all-encompassing, since this sensitive, exquisitely made little movie deserved more than it got. (The sound design alone! Oh, well.)
Bye, Gone Girl
In the end, David Fincher's pitch-black blockbuster only managed to place Rosamund Pike in the Best Actress category, and couldn't crack any number of other fields where it was worthy, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Score. The real shocker, though, is that Gillian Flynn wasn't nominated in Best Adapted Screenplay for expertly transferring her own book. Are we really going to say that the took-a-lot-of-liberties American Sniper deserved that nod more than Gone Girl?
Life Itself Left Out
It would have been awfully fitting for this documentary about Roger Ebert to have contended on Oscar night, given Ebert's own strong ties to the kudocast. In the end, though, the Steve James–directed sentimental favorite was snubbed. A thumbs down, indeed.