The politics behind Oscar snubs and surprise nominations
Academy sees the big picture – not just what’s on the big screen
Another year, another wave of Oscar snubs and surprise nominations, and after the awards are handed out on Feb. 24, no doubt we’ll be reconvening to dissect the big wins and lament who should have never left the night empty-handed. Since rating art is a purely subjective process, you can be sure there are plenty of personal and political motivations coming into play when the 6,000 members sit down and ponder their selections. Here are five factors, subconscious or not, which could have swayed voters’ decisions when nominating (and overlooking) candidates this year:
What’s in the past, isn’t always in the past
Academy voters have long memories, and sometimes nominations and big wins come after an accumulation of impressive work over the years, or as an apology for having overlooked a stellar performance in the past. Aussie actress Naomi Watt has been getting plenty of buzz for her role in The Impossible, but it’s her consistent body of work since her breakout role in Mulholland Drive in 2001 that likely helped secure this year’s nomination. Likewise, Denzel Washington’s surprise Oscar for Training Day in 2002 came after he was overlooked for wins with Malcolm X and The Hurricane.
Playing hard-to-get really works
“The Rules” don’t just apply to dating; apparently they work at the Oscars too, at least in the case of Joaquin Phoenix, who just scored a best actor nomination for The Master despite insisting in October he could care less about the sought-after statue. “I think it’s total, utter bull---, and I don’t want to be a part of it,” he told Interview magazine. “I don’t believe in it. It’s totally subjective. Pitting people against each other ... It’s the stupidest thing in the whole world.” When someone doesn’t want you, doesn’t it make you want them more?
Desperation can be a turn-off
You can’t want it too badly either, or Academy members may be turned off by the stench of desperation, which is what may have happened this year with Argo’s Ben Affleck, who most assumed would be in line for his first director nomination, having already scored a screenwriting Oscar for Good Will Hunting in 1998. In the months leading up to award season, the father-of-three paraded his kids from cake-making sessions to the farmer’s market and anywhere else with enough natural light to capture his good-natured grin, and the date nights with wife Jennifer Garner also seemed to spike during his feverish campaign. And after all that valiant effort, it appears the snub has certainly left Affleck with a bad taste in his mouth, if his acceptance speech at the Critics Choice Awards last night was any indication. “I would like to thank the Academy...” he quipped before adding: “This is the one that counts.”
Old Boys Club’ alive and well
When Barbra Streisand opened the envelope in 2010 and saw Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow’s name as the winner, she exclaimed to the audience: “The time has come!” The history making moment saw Bigelow become the first female director to take home Oscar gold, but just two years later, has the time already gone? Critics were shocked when Bigelow’s name was left off the nominations list for 2012’s critically acclaimed Zero Dark Thirty, nominated for five Academy Awards including best picture and best actress. It’s clear Tinseltown is still very much an Old Boys’ Club, and the Bigelow slight is proof it’s not going to change anytime soon, especially in the world of directing. “For guys the competition is fierce, but for women you are more likely to win the lottery,” Martha Coolidge, the former president of the Director’s Guild of America, once said.
The family card trumps
He’s been nominated for three Oscars (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Aviator and Blood Diamond), and despite attaching himself to Academy-worthy projects year-after-year, Leonardo DiCaprio has yet to be called up on stage, this year snubbed again for his role in Django Unchained. While you can’t deny the 38-year-old’s consistent work ethic and raw talent, what is it about the actor that seems to have turned off Academy voters? It could very well come down to the same reason actresses Michelle Williams and Natalie Portman played up their love of motherhood while gunning for Oscars in recent years. Just as Academy voters have a soft spot for acceptance speeches that tug at the familial heart strings, they likely have little time for those with harems of Victoria Secrets models waiting in the wings. Had DiCaprio married BFF Kate Winslet years ago, it’s highly likely they’d have matching Oscars on their mantel by now.