On paper, a movie in which Tom Hanks desperately fights for survival in a dark and terrifying world would easily earn him an Oscar nomination. It did in 1999, when he was nominated for Saving Private Ryan. In 2001, he earned a nomination for playing a man stranded on a desert island in Cast Away. And staring death in the face in Philadelphia won him an Oscar in 1994.
But it is now 2014, and this year things are a bit different. While his work was both nuanced and subtle, the Academy glaringly overlooked Hanks in his role as a ship’s captain kidnapped by Somali pirates in Captain Phillips. This decision is a bit of a head-scratcher, especially considering that the film nabbed six Oscar nominations Thursday morning (including three big ones – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay).
It is interesting, then, that instead of awarding a veteran, the Academy decided to nominate newcomer Barkhad Abdi. Captain Phillips was the Somalian-American’s first acting gig. The former limo driver got the role after answering an open casting call, and now he’s gone from a Golden Globe nominated actor to an Oscar nominee.
12 Years a Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o, who earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, is also new to the Hollywood scene.
Not to mention the extensive crop of veteran actors – Sally Hawkins, Michael Fassbender, Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto – who all earned their first nomination this year.
It is easy to dismiss the Hanks snub. After all, he’s been nominated five times and won twice in a row. But what about veteran actors like Robert Redford (for All Is Lost) and Emma Thompson (for Saving Mr. Banks)? They, too, were shut out this year, despite garnering excellent reviews and Golden Globe nominations. Redford has never won an Oscar for acting, and Thompson hasn’t won since 1993 for Howard’s End.
Clearly, then, this year the Academy was disinterested in star power alone (sorry, Oprah!).
But what can be learned from the nominations that made the short list? At 10 nominations, American Hustle – David O.
Russell’s bold drama about 1970s con artists who live for the art of scamming others – can’t be stopped. In addition to Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Directing nods, all four principal actors – Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams – landed nominations.
While highly unusual, an all-nominated main cast has happened before – specifically last year for another David O. Russell film staring Lawrence and Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook.
And while Academy tastes may be changing subtly, there are still some truisms that we can all get behind: Chiefly, if you lose weight and undergo a dramatic physical transformation, you will get a nomination (and perhaps a win). That certainly proved true for Charlize Theron in Monster, Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream, Russell Crowe in The Insider and Robert De Niro in Raging Bull.
This year’s most remarkable physical transformation easily goes to Matthew McConaughey. The actor who is usually known for showing off his six-pack abs shed a whopping 40 pounds for his portrayal of a homophobe who becomes an AIDS activist in Dallas Buyer’s Club. McConaughey is unrecognizable as a man clinging to life and is the current favorite to win Best Actor.
So while Academy tastes may be shifting, their preferences skewing toward the more unconventional, the group still proves that old habits die hard.