The Five Most Pleasant Surprises Among the 2015 Oscar Nominees

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Sony Pictures Classics

Okay, so there was a fair amount of disappointment around the 2015 Academy Award nominations. Everything was not awesome for ‘The Lego Movie,’ robbed of a Best Animated Movie nod, and David Oyelowo’s dreams of a Best Actor nomination vanished when Steve Carell and Bradley Cooper’s names were mentioned instead. ‘Force Majeure’ got snubbed for a Best Foreign Language Film nomination and ‘Selma’’s Ava DuVernay was robbed in the Best Director Category. I just keep looking at the list of nominations and playing “Sad Trombone” over and over again. It’s basically the official theme song of the 2015 Academy Awards.

But let’s look on the bright side. Amidst the soul-crushing despair, there were a few silver linings as well. In the interest of giving equal time to optimism, here’s the five coolest surprises that balance out all the snubs. (An honorary #6 goes to “Dick Poop.”)

Tons of Love For ‘Whiplash,’ Including a Best Picture Nomination

The Oscar game is supposed to be rigged in favor of the most prestigious movies with the most famous stars and the most lavish marketing budgets. In that world, movies like ‘Whiplash’—Sundance flicks from up-and-coming directors without marquee talent—aren’t supposed to be able to survive. But somehow ‘Whiplash’ walked away from today’s nominations with five nods. The one for J.K. Simmons’ work as a sadistic music teacher was a mortal lock from the start (and rightfully so) but the Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture citations were both unexpected and well-earned. “It’s just an honor to be nominated” is a dumb cliche, but in this case it’s kind of right. ‘Whiplash’ will be a huge long shot in most of its categories, but the fact that it got the recognition that it did—and that more people will likely seek it out as a result—is a pretty great honor.

Wes Anderson: Best Director Nominee

Wes Anderson’s been nominated for three previous Oscars; twice for Best Screenplay (for ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ and ‘Moonrise Kingdom’) and once for Best Animated Feature (for ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’). But until today a Best Director nomination had eluded him, which is, frankly, insane. The Academy at last corrected that oversight today, and it’s about time. This is no Lifetime Achievement Award though; ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel,’ with its nesting-doll story structure and madcap pacing, truly was one of the best directed movies of the year.

‘Nightcrawler’’s Best Screenplay Nomination

If I had a vote (and obviously I deserve one), Jake Gyllenhaal would definitely have been on my Best Actor ballot for his outstandingly creepy work in ‘Nightcrawler’ as an ambitious, amoral freelancer who starts to rise quickly in the world of morning news. Gyllenhaal got crowded out of an acting nod in a very competitive field, but it was heartening to see ‘Nightcrawler’ still pick up a Best Original Screenplay nomination for writer/director Dan Gilroy. It would have been even better, though, if it had picked up a couple more nominations (like Rene Russo for Best Supporting Actress).

‘Finding Vivian Maier’ Sneaks Into the Best Documentary Category

The snub of the Roger Ebert documentary ‘Life Itself’ stings, but I was still pleasantly surprised to see ‘Finding Vivian Maier’ amongst the list of nominees for Best Documentary alongside higher-profile films like ‘Citizenfour.’ If you’ve missed it to date, it’s a fascinating doc about a woman who took thousands of pictures over the course of her life, but never shared them with anyone. After her death, her archive was purchased at auction, where their buyer discovered that Maier’s pictures were gorgeous. The doc attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery—Who was this woman? Why did she take these pictures? And why didn’t she share them?—while wrestling with the morality of exposing someone’s secret to the world.

Laura Dern’s First Oscar Nomination in Over 20 Years

The last time Laura Dern was nominated for an Oscar? All the way back in 1991, for a film called ‘Rambling Rose.’ (Remember ‘Rambing Rose’? Me neither.) That was Dern’s one and only Oscar nomination despite a long and outstanding career. It’s wonderful to see her finally getting some richly deserved attention for her nuanced and sensitive performance in ‘Wild’ as the mother of Reese Witherspoon’s Cheryl Strayed, the woman who embarks on the borderline crazy journey that forms the film’s spine. A tragedy involving Dern’s character is what sets Cheryl off on her trek, and her warm, generous spirit looms over the entire movie. Dern will face steep competition from ‘Boyhood’’s Patricia Arquette (who probably does deserve to win), but at least she’s in the race.

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