A Case for SELMA

When the nominations for this year’s Oscars came out there was one major, non-Lego related, scandal. The Ava DuVernay bio-drama Selma only got two nominations. While it snagged a nomination for Best Song (John Legend and Common’s “Glory”) and a coveted Best Picture many felt the film deserved more than that. Specifically in the field of Best Actor and Director as David Oyelowo & DuVernay separately didn’t get any recognition. Some have been calling this snub proof that the Oscar voters are racist. That is a whole can of worms that can be discussed for another day or in the very least have been covered in better avenues. It got me thinking as I watched this film on whether Oyelowo, DuVernay, or anyone else who could have been nominated should have been. So the purpose of this article is to analyze Selma nomination by nomination to realistically see what it could have earned. If you think I am off-base with my views or have different opinions in general then I urge anyone to comment below and see where, if any case, this movie went wrong for lack of nominations.

Best Editing

-Right off the bat I am a bit surprised Selma did not get love in this category. There is a lot of complicated narration and voice over involved that Spencer Averick had to keep track of. Especially when it comes to Dr. King’s speeches as he needs to pick the best possible angles to showcase his powerful voice and the scope of the crowd. Maybe it is because DuVernay holds for long periods of time with a shot that the academy decided to skip him. The competition with American Sniper, Whiplash, and The Grand Budapest Hotel have so much kinetic energy and the latter with Boyhood and The Imitation Game are extreme subtle on the opposite end. As a wannabe Editor myself it is always difficult to say what should be deserving and what shouldn’t be. Honestly it is a tough crowd in this category so in the end I don’t find much fault for the voters skipping on Selma.

Best Costume Design

-I feel bad doing this two times in a row but I also got to side with the Academy on this “snub”. The wardrobe everyone wears in Selma is very on point and you can easily tell you’re in a 60s setting by the first scene. But that is the ultimate problem. Thanks to programs like Mad Men and other projects set in the 1960s it gets a bit redundant to watch anything in this era. I mean this is usually reserved for outlandish productions (Into the Woods/The Grand Budapest Hotel) or period pieces that try to go outside the box with its setting (Inherent Vice) so you see where I’m getting at here. Again, not knocking on Ruth Carter’s hard work because she does a great job here. But is it Oscar worthy material? Gonna have to say no on that one.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

-If there is any case for expanding another category at the Oscars it would be this one. This has always been a three film limit and it is such a shame because there are way too many deserving pictures. This is a tough batch to begin with whether it is how the crew for Foxcatcher literally transformed everyone, to the Guardians of the Galaxy‘s various alien species, to (what should be) the front runner of Wes Anderson’s bizarre troop of characters in The Grand Budapest Hotel. If I had to pick though I would probably switch Foxcatcher for Selma only because people seem to just talk about Steve Carell’s nose more than anything else.

Best Cinematography

-Here is one of the first, unfair snubs by the Academy in my eyes. Bradford Young does such a great job keeping up with Ava DuVernay’s Direction that it is a bit surprising he, along with DuVernay, didn’t get a nomination. There is so much attention to putting each character on screen in close up to see the raw emotion with what they’re dealing with. Plus a lot of great tracking shots and use of slow motion to show the carnage on screen as protesters are literally getting whipped into submission. You could easily get rid of Roger Deakins from Unbroken and swap Young into his place.

Best Production Design

-Overall Selma is very good at keeping with the time frame it is set in. This looks very 1960s from the appliances in the houses to the cars people drive. Plus the oval office in this, for once, looks unique rather than a carbon copy of what we normally get. But, like the Costume Design, there just is not enough here to say it definitively deserves a nomination. Plus it would be up against the juggernaut that is The Grand Budapest Hotel and honestly it would have NO CHANCE against that anyways.

Best Sound Mixing/Best Sound Editing

-Ah, easily the most confusing batch of categories and also the one where we see the ‘weirdest’ people behind the scenes. This, like Editing in general, is always a tough call because action films usually get the love as nominees. While there are, again, great use of voice over in this and the riot scenes themselves have good touches in terms of the brutality. There just isn’t enough here for me to say it got ‘snubbed’. Heck, even a terrible film like American Sniper deserves to have a place in these categories because the battlezones shown are one of the few highlights.

Best Score

-As mentioned earlier on this blog I am a sucker for a great score in a film. Honestly though the pop-culture references and Common & John Legend’s “Glory” were more memorable for me than what Jason Moran gives us. Heck, we got much better use of a Jazz melody in Birdman & Whiplash and those weren’t even in consideration!

Best Adapted Screenplay

American Sniper, hands down, did not deserve a nomination. Not just because the controversy behind the fact Chris Kyle’s memoirs might be fabricated as hell. But because Jason Hall does a poor job from minute one to deliver a film about a solider’s plight emotionally during war. Even if Ava DuVernay did a massive rewrite with Paul Webb’s original script he deserve some level of recognition than Hall. I mean DuVernary/Webb had to change MLK Jr’s real speeches for legal reasons and they still echo a sense of aura in the movie.

Best Supporting Actor/Actress

-This is a tough one to call because who deserves an award when most of the cast does an exemplary job? Tom Wilkinson is great as President Johnson who, despite the criticisms, is a man torn between doing the right thing but also sticking to his guns. Considering how Johnson was in real life as a politician I think Wilkinson and the writers do a good job making him not the stereotypical villain. You could also nominate anyone from King’s posse including Common and Wendell Pierce. The same can’t be said on the Actress side because, well I hate to say it, there really isn’t anyone here apart from Carmen Ejogo. I mean someone like Oprah is fine in her small role but it is hardly Oscar worthy. While this may have been a swan song performance in The Judge for Robert Duvall I honestly don’t see it as something where we need to give him a ‘pity’ award for.

Best Actress

-I seem to keep repeating myself but, again, this is too close to call for me. In general 2014 was a fantastic year of strong, female leads and the ladies already nominated are a tough bunch to just kick out. Carmen Ejogo as Correta Scott King should have been paid more attention though because she has to balance out so many things. She has to be tough, but fair, with her husband’s efforts but it is also a dangerous one at that. Somehow she also has to forgive a man who is, for some reason, sleeps around with other women and man is that scene dynamite for her. Could this be another case where the Academy should expand for certain years with this category? I’d say Ejogo is a good reason as any to do that.

Best Actor

-What will be the first of two “No DUH’s” for the Academy: David Oyelowo got robbed. Not only does he transform himself as Martin Luther King Jr. but I honestly thought he could be the real thing at times. I could go on about how powerful of a voice he has when speeches occur but I’d rather like to discuss how complicated of a role this is for him. He has to balance two personas essentially. One is where, in the public eye, he needs to stand strong and also deliver a message to the people. The other, in his private life, has to be paranoid and bitter at how difficult the world is around him. Again the scene where Correta learns of his affairs is a great scene to go to because of how uncomfortable he is. At one point he pauses for such a long period of time it becomes unnerving on how he is going to get out of it. Maybe Bradley Cooper transformed physically for his performance in American Sniper but that is all you get. Easily get rid of him and put Oyelowo as a strong contender.

Best Director

-The other “No DUH” for this film is the obvious snub of Ava DuVernay. Now I want to believe the Academy didn’t nominate her because she is a woman but let’s be honest here: What on Earth makes Bennett Miller of Foxcatcher or Morten Tyldum of The Imitation Game that much better than her? Her goal was for us to not only get personal with the African American community around the Civil Right era but to also humanize MLK Jr. and she delivers on both. Again a lot of emphasis on close ups on each character and we never leave them as they discuss their plights. And, like I also mention earlier, some of the more grim aspects of the story are handled with care under her direction. This is a performance-first kind of movie and it is one of the more, better directed affairs by a filmmaker.

So if you tally up what it has been nominated and what should have been you got nine nominations instead of two. That includes:

Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Make-up and Hairstyling, Best Adaptive Screenplay, and Best Song.

Now does that ultimately mean Selma would win all of these categories? Not necessarily. I mean despite all of this I still think Birdman, Boyhood, and The Grand Budapest Hotel have stronger chances in most of these fields. But there is no denying that Selma is one of the best bio-dramas to come out in a while. At the very least the Academy should have considered it for all of these categories because it deserves recognition. Then again the snubs did give it more press than it could have had. So in the end who is the real loser in all of this?

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