(For the year's best movies as chosen by Academy members, film critics and moviegoers, head to the bottom of the page.)
"Everything is awesome," states the Oscar-nominated song of the same name from The LEGO Movie, but that clearly wasn't the case for many of the contenders when the nominations for the 87th Academy Awards were announced earlier today. And included in the fallout was The LEGO Movie itself, which, in perhaps the most surprising snub of the morning, was conspicuously missing from the Best Animated Feature category.
Overall, I was pleased with the Academy's selections this year (see breakdown below), but there were a couple of troubling points bubbling underneath the surface. Coming off a year in which racial matters exploded in tragic and retro ways — from the frequent shootings by cops of unarmed black men to the hateful campaign against a black child being cast as Annie — it's not surprising that all 20 acting nominees are white, with not a single black performer in the mix (including Selma's more-than-deserving David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo). And with the misogynistic Republican Party seizing power in November's elections, it makes sense that all eight Best Picture nominees are about men, with only one (The Theory of Everything) sporting a leading role for a woman. Similarly, the 10 Screenplay nominees honor 15 men and no women, again for movies about dudes. Gillian Flynn, largely expected to receive a nod for Gone Girl, was a no-show, and even Nick Hornby, a male, was excluded, since he dared to write a script centering on a female (Wild).
Here, then, are the highlights, low points and other notes of interest associated with this year's crop.
• A plethora of nominations for the year's best films. In my half-century of Oscar prognosticating — well, give or take a couple of decades — there has never been an instance in which the Academy and I have completely agreed on the best of the best. Yet this year, my top four — Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game — also led Oscar's field, earning a whopping total of 32 nominations. Even my number 5 flick, Selma, landed a nod for Best Picture.
• Marion Cotillard included in the Best Actress lineup. Despite what the pundits were predicting, I figured there was no way Jennifer Aniston was going to nab a Best Actress bid for the barely seen Cake, yet I expected that fifth slot to go to Amy Adams for Big Eyes. Instead, it was Cotillard who emerged victorious. She was equally excellent in both The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night, and she landed the nod for the latter.
• No Clint Eastwood for Best Director. I'm a huge Eastwood fan, but no way he deserved a directing bid for his work on American Sniper. Yet because he's an Academy favorite, many were expecting him to be rewarded. His film nevertheless made an impressive showing — six nominations, including Best Picture — but he missed out on the directorial side.
• X-Men: Days of Future Past for Best Visual Effects. Despite sporting some of the most imaginative technical achievements seen in superhero flicks, no X-Men film has ever earned a single Oscar nomination. That changed when this latest entry earned a well-deserved bid for its effects work.
• Inherent Vice for Best Costume Design. Groovy. I dig it.
• No Ava DuVernay for Best Director. Even with its Best Picture nom, Selma was the big disappointment of the day, earning only one other nomination in the category of Best Original Song. It also deserved mentions in the actor, supporting actress and original screenplay categories, but it most deserved to have snagged a nod for DuVernay, who did a masterful job.
• No Ralph Fiennes for Best Actor. Fiennes' performance in The Grand Budapest Hotel was perhaps my favorite turn in any acting category this year. But while the Academy showered the movie with love, it failed to honor its leading man, who was simply brilliant.
• Interstellar for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. It just seems odd that a film notorious for its awful sound design in theaters — so poor that it led to criticism from coast to coast — should earn nominations in both aural categories.
• Robert Duvall for Best Supporting Actor in The Judge. Once one of our finest actors, Duvall hasn't been interesting in years, delivering the same crusty-folksy performance in film after film after film. But he's a respected veteran who's always in the game, so there ya go.
• Meryl Streep for Best Supporting Actress in Into the Woods. Enough already! Streep is of course one of the all-time greats, but does she have to get nominated Every. Single. Time? Her witchy turn wasn't anything special, and it in the process knocked out far worthier work by Rene Russo in Nightcrawler, Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer, and Naomi Watts in either St. Vincent or Birdman.
• Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando, Bette Davis, Jack Nicholson — these are just some of the legendary thespians who managed to earn Oscar nominations in at least three consecutive years. Now add Bradley Cooper to that roster: He's up for Best Actor for American Sniper, having earned nominations the past two years for American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook.
• Meryl Streep extended her record among actors by earning her 19th nomination.
• Alexandre Desplat earned his seventh and eighth nominations this year in the Best Original Score category, for the films The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game. (The prolific composer also scored three other 2014 releases, Unbroken, Godzilla and The Monuments Men.) Meanwhile, Roger Deakins earned his 12th nomination in the Best Cinematography category, for Unbroken. Despite the abundance of nods, Desplat and Deakins have yet to actually win.
• From the Mind Is Blown Department: "Lost Stars," a Best Original Song nominee from Begin Again, was co-written by Danielle Briseboise. A successful songwriter, this is the same Danielle Briseboise who once played the Bunkers' precocious grandniece Stephanie Mills on All in the Family and Archie Bunker's Place.
OSCAR'S 8 BEST
These were the films nominated by the Academy for Best Picture.
1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (9 nominations)
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (9)
3. The Imitation Game (8)
4. American Sniper (6)
5. Boyhood (6)
6. The Theory of Everything (5)
7. Whiplash (5)
8. Selma (2)
CRITICS' 10 BEST
Based on a national sampling of 788 critics, these were the films that appeared the most frequently on 10 Best lists.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
5. Under the Skin
7. Gone Girl
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
BRUNSON'S 10 BEST
These were my picks for the year's best movies.
1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. The Imitation Game
7. A Most Violent Year
9. Only Lovers Left Alive
10. Edge of Tomorrow
MOVIEGOERS' 10 BEST
These were the year's biggest moneymaking releases.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
2. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
4. The LEGO Movie
5. Transformers: Age of Extinction
7. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
8. X-Men: Days of Future Past
9. Big Hero 6
10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
...AND THE WORST
OK, we now have a sense of which films reigned as the biggest and/or best of 2014. But what about the worst? Glad you asked. Based on cumulative scores at Rotten Tomatoes and elsewhere, these were the year's biggest turkeys:
1. Left Behind
2. The Legend of Hercules
3. I, Frankenstein
4. A Haunted House 2
5. Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas