Awards Circuit Anniversary Celebration: Top 9 “Out of the Box” Oscar Nods

To celebrate Awards Circuit’s 9-year anniversary, the site will be dropping a new Top 9 piece every hour, on the hour! Each one will take on a different list – from movies, to television, to the Oscars and more. Thanks to all the readers for their continued engagement in our community over the years. We look forward to engaging for another 9! 

Thinking out of the box is a dangerous act in Hollywood. Often, it can be the death knell for a project. The same can apply with Oscar. Throughout their history, Academy members have usually voted for the safest and most obvious candidates. Just look at “The King’s Speech” beating “The Social Network.” Every once in a while, however, they do something different. That can result in a cool, different, unique, or just plain weird nomination. In honor of Awards Circuit turning nine, we’ll be running down some of those out of the box nominations.

Below you will see what some of the more interesting citations over the lifetime of the site has been. We’re not going back quite that far, limiting things to the last nine years. On an expanded list, there would have been room for plenty of other oddities. “Borat” in Best Original Screenplay for Sacha Baron Cohen and company would have been here, for example.

Here now are the top nine most unique or out of the box Oscar nominations of the past nine years:

9. Best Visual Effects for “Kubo and the Two Strings”

Members of the Academy threw a major curveball this past year when they made this nomination happen. “Kubo and the Two Strings” seemed poised to get into Best Animated Feature, but to be cited in Best Visual Effects was a whole new ballgame. A year after “Ex Machina” shocked many with its win, this nod showed that some out of the box thinking was going on among voters. Whether this is a longterm pattern or not remains to be seen, but it’s exciting to consider.

8. Best Picture for “District 9”

Science fiction struggles to get respect from Oscar voters. The fact that this odd, violent, and on the surface wholly non-Academy-friendly movie received four nominations is one of the cooler offshoots of the temporary expansion of Best Picture to a mandatory slate of 10 nominees. When you look back on the lineups that were featured due to that, this sci-fi flick from Neill Blomkamp stands very much out from the rest of the nominees. “District 9” may just be the oddest Best Picture nominee ever.

7. Best Actress for Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Child actors are rarely cited by the Academy. Moreover, they’re rarely cited in small-scale independent titles that exceed expectations all the way from the Sundance Film Festival to Oscar night. Young Quvenzhané Wallis bucked that trend when she rode raves for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” all the way to a Best Actress nomination. With three other citations besides Wallis, the film itself is a unique entrant into the Oscar world, but Wallis especially represented something cool and different.

6. Best Foreign Language Feature for “Dogtooth”

Such an out of the box pick that Oscar’s foreign language committee had to use their special powers to get this one in. If ever there was a film outside of where voters usually turn, it’s this one. Yorgos Lanthimos is a trendy name in indie film now, having scored a nomination in Best Original Screenplay last year for “The Lobster,” but this was a different story. “Dogtooth” is a messed up movie, in the best way possible. One could argue that Lanthimos’ film is among the weirdest nominations the Academy has ever made.

5. Best Supporting Actress for Jacki Weaver in “Silver Linings Playbook”

Many still scratch their heads about this one to this day. Sure, Jacki Weaver had gotten in Best Supporting Actress recently for “Animal Kingdom” and was doing strong work, but her part here was easily the least showy. And yet, voters went for her. Weaver is a part of Oscar history too, being among the rare quartets ever to wind up each getting nominated for a single film. She didn’t join two of her “Silver Linings Playbook” cohorts in pulling off the same feat again with “American Hustle,” but all the same, she’s here for this. Voters definitely saw something here that many pundits did not.

4. Best Original Screenplay for “Bridesmaids”

How many raunchy comedies score nominations from the Academy? Kristen Wiig, along with co-writer Annie Mumolo, managed this achievement, sending a Judd Apatow-backed production to the Academy Awards. The fact that “Bridesmaids” not only got in here, but got Melissa McCarthy into Best Supporting Actress just makes you want to high five the voters who made the push. They thought outside the box when filling out their ballots and gave us this gift in the process.

3. Best Production Design for “Her”

Clayton often retells the story that he and I turned to each other after seeing “Her” at the New York Film Festival and in the same breath beginning to rave about the movie, bemoaned how Oscar would never go for it. Personally, I’ve never been so happy to have been wrong while doing this job. Five nominations in total, including a Best Original Screenplay win for Spike Jonze, marked voters really going out on a limb for something they fell in love for. More so than any of the nominations, seeing this one cited in Best Production Design was a treat. Instead of blockbusters, period pieces and prestige flicks, the Academy gave a slot to something cool, different and overtly memorable. Kudos.

2. Best Documentary Feature for “O.J.: Made in America”

This nomination is so out of the box the Academy just changed its rules to prevent it from ever happening again. Now, the nom also translated into a win, the only time that’s happened on this list, so that changed the value equation somewhat. Still, whether you saw it as a film or television show (or something in between), the spot was well deserved for “O.J.: Made in America.” It simply isn’t something Oscar usually does. Now, we also know it’s something they’ll never do again.

1. Best Supporting Actor for Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder”

Nothing about this performance should have worked, let alone been nomination worthy. Still, Robert Downey Jr., as a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude, made it a no-brainer. RDJ stole the show in “Tropic Thunder” from the first moment he came on screen. A potentially career-ending choice instead turned into an instantly iconic one. You could even argue that if Heath Ledger hadn’t been in the lineup for “The Dark Knight” that year, Downey Jr. might have actually won the thing. Imagine that? Regardless, it remains possibly the coolest nomination ever.

What do you think? What are some of Oscar’s most out of the box nominations in the last nine years?
Let us know in the comments below and on the Awards Circuit message boards!