Oscars: 'Birdman' and 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' Make a Stylish Statement

Birdman Grand Budapest Hotel - H 2014

Birdman Grand Budapest Hotel - H 2014

'The Imitation Game,' 'American Sniper' and 'Boyhood' all figure prominently.

With nine nominations each, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel led the pack as nominations were announced Thursday morning for the 87th Academy Awards. Both movies make stylish statements: Alejandro G. Inarritu's Birdman, about a fading movie star looking to re-establish himself on Broadway, is filmed as if it was shot in one single, continuous take, while Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, about a concierge and a bellhop in a European resort between the two world wars, is designed as if it were a big box of confections.

In a year where indie movies dominated, the two films, both from Fox Searchlight, will compete for the best picture Oscar with six other movies: American Sniper, Boyhood, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash. Of the eight films, only two movies — Sniper, from Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow, and Selma, from Paramount — were released by major studios. In fact, Searchlight, which also is distributing Wild, which captured two acting nominations, dominated with 20 noms. Sony Pictures Classics — which collected multiple noms for Foxcatcher, Whiplash and Mr. Turner — was close behind with 18. The biggest studio haul was claimed by Warner Bros., which picked up 11 noms.

Birdman and Budapest also saw their respective directors, Inarritu and Anderson, pick up best directing noms. That category also includes Richard Linklater for Boyhood and Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game. Bennett Miller was nominated for Foxcatcher, although his movie did not make the best picture list. The Academy list also differed from the Directors Guild of America list of nominees, released Tuesday, which, in addition to Anderson, Inarritu, Linklater and Tyldum, included American Sniper's Clint Eastwood, who this year failed to make the Academy cut.

Birdman registered the best showing in the acting categories, picking up nominations for Michael Keaton as best actor, Edward Norton as best supporting actor for playing a pretentious Broadway thespian and Emma Stone for best supporting actress for playing the alienated daughter of Keaton's character. But despite Budapest's strong showing, Ralph Fiennes, who stars in that movie as the idiosyncratic concierge, didn't make it into the best actor circle.

While Keaton plays a fictional character in Birdman, all the other best actor nominees portray real people: Steve Carell plays the odd millionaire John du Pont in Foxcatcher; Bradley Cooper stars as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in Sniper; Benedict Cumberbatch plays World War II code-breaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game; and his fellow Brit Eddie Redmayne plays physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

The roster of best actress nominees includes two former winners: Marion Cotillard, who won the Oscar for 2007's La Vie en Rose, was nominated for playing a worker trying to save her job in the Belgian film Two Days, One Night; while Reese Witherspoon, who won for 2005's Walk the Line, was nominated for playing a woman trying to reclaim her life by going on a 1,000-mile wilderness hike in Wild. They will compete with four-time Oscar nominee Julianne Moore, who plays a woman coping with early-onset Alzheimer's in Still Alice; Felicity Jones, who portrays Hawking's first wife, Jane, in The Theory of Everything; and Rosamund Pike, who plays a duplicitous wife in Gone Girl.

Along with Birdman, Boyhood also scored two noms in the acting contests, with both Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, who play the parents of the titular boy, figuring in supporting actor and actress respectively. In addition to Hawke and Norton, the best supporting actor nominees include veteran actor Robert Duvall — a best actor winner for 1983's Tender Mercies — who has the title role in The Judge; Mark Ruffalo, who plays wrestler David Schultz in Foxcatcher; and J.K. Simmons, who portrays a tyrannical music teacher in Whiplash.

The supporting actress circle includes Arquette and Stone along with Laura Dern, who plays Witherspoon's mother in Wild; Keira Knightley, who plays the only woman on the team of code-breakers in The Imitation Game; and Meryl Streep, scooping up her 19th Oscar nomination for appearing as the witch in Into the Woods.

In a number of categories, the Academy members confounded the accepted wisdom promulgated by the army of handicappers who had busily predicted the nominations.

In the documentary feature category, for example, Laura Poitras' Citizenfour, her fly-on-the-wall portrait of NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, appeared as many had predicted. And it will compete with a strong lineup that includes Finding Vivian Maier, Last Days in Vietnam, The Salt of the Earth and Virunga. But two uplifting documentaries — Steve James' portrait of Roger Ebert, Life Itself, and Alan Hicks' tribute to jazz master Clark Terry, Keep On Keepin' On — which many expected to see since, in some respects, they were in the mold of recent winners like 20 Feet From Stardom and Searching for Sugarman, were omitted. 

The best feature animation category also contained surprises: While The Lego Movie's earworm of a tune "Everything Is Awesome" was nominated for best song, The Lego Movie itself didn't get a nomination although it was embraced by critics as a clever meta-movie. Instead, the category includes Disney's Big Hero 6, Laika/Focus' The Boxtrolls and DreamWorks Animation/Fox's How to Train Your Dragon 2 as well as two smaller, hand-drawn animated movies released by GKIDS Films — Song of the Sea and The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

In the very competitive foreign-language film category — a record 83 countries submitted films this year — the nominations went to Poland's Ida, Russia's Leviathan, Estonia's Tangerines, Mauritania's Timbuktu and Argentina's Wild Tales. The austere Ida, about a young novitiate on the eve of becoming a nun who discovers family secrets, also popped up in the list of nominations for best cinematography, where Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewksi were nominated for that work. It becomes the 11th predominantly black-and-white film to be nominated for cinematography since 1967, when a separate category for black-and-white cinematography was eliminated. But the duo face competition from, among others, Roger Deakins, for Unbroken. It's his 12th nomination, and although he has never won, Deakins has the most nominations for cinematography of any living person.

There were also a few surprises in the screenplay categories. While Gillian Flynn's adaptation of her best-selling novel Gone Girl received plenty of attention when the hit movie was released, it failed to get a thumbs-up from the writers branch. But Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, which left some of the handicappers scratching their heads, did merit inclusion. The category also includes Jason Hall for American Sniper, Anthony McCarten for The Theory of Everything and Damien Chazelle for Whiplash, which the Academy classified as an adaptation, while the Writers Guild of America nominated it in the original category.

In the original screenplay category, best director nominees Linklater (for Boyhood), Inarritu (for Birdman) and Anderson (for Budapest) were all nominated, with Inarritu sharing his nomination with the tongue-twisting team of Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo and Anderson sharing the story-by credit on his film with Hugo Guinness. The others in the category are E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman for Foxcatcher and Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler.

The members of the Academy's sound branch offered a response of sorts to all those online commentators who complained they couldn't hear key lines of dialogue in Interstellar. Director Christopher Nolan argued that the movie's unconventional sound design was quite deliberate, and the Academy appeared to agree, giving the sci-fi movie nominations for sound editing and sound mixing, in addition to noms for Hans Zimmer's score and the movie's production design and visual effects.