Oscar Nods that Make You Go “Hmmm…” – The Search for the “WTF?” Nomination

What nominee will sneak in on Oscar nomination morning?

maxvonsydow_surpriseOSCARS 2015: The infamous search has begun.  Nearly every year, since SAG began handing out awards, we have received a nominee on Oscar morning that wasn’t nominated for SAG, Golden Globes, BFCA, or BAFTA.  They tend to come out of nowhere, though we can sometimes sniff them coming.  Last year, Jonah Hill edged out Daniel Bruhl from “Rush,” to claim his spot for “The Wolf of Wall Street.”  Something that surprised but wasn’t all that “shocking.” There are even some who feel like “out of nowhere” notices that really are not (I’m looking at you Christian Bale).  

It’s hard to judge the phenomenon in the 90’s since the Oscar predicting climate was changing, and BAFTA was held in some cases late April.  

Let’s look at some of those nominations since 1995.  I’ve also marked the ones that often feel like “out of nowhere” but actually weren’t.

2013Jonah Hill – “The Wolf of Wall Street” (Best Picture nominee)
           –(Christian Bale received nods at GG, BFCA, BAFTA for “American Hustle”)
2012Jacki Weaver – “Silver Linings Playbook” (Best Picture nominee)
2011Max Von Sydow – “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” (Best Picture Nominee)
           –(Gary Oldman received BAFTA nod for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”)
2010 – NONE
           –(Javier Bardem received BAFTA nod for “Biutiful”)
2009Maggie Gyllenhaal – “Crazy Heart” (campaign switch mid-season)
2008Michael Shannon – “Revolutionary Road”
           –(Kate Winslet was nominated in Supporting Actress by all the guilds except BAFTA in Lead for “The Reader”)
2007Tommy Lee Jones – “In the Valley of Elah” & Laura Linney – “The Savages”
2006 – NONE
2005William Hurt – “A History of Violence”
2004Clint Eastwood – “Million Dollar Baby” (Best Picture winner)
            –(Alan Alda received BAFTA nomination for “The Aviator”)
2003Djimon Hounsou – “In America”, Marcia Gay Harden – “Mystic River” (Best Picture nominee), & Shohreh Aghdashloo – “House of Sand and Fog”
           –(Samantha Morton received nomination from BFCA for “In America” & Keisha Castle-Hughes received a nomination from SAG, in Supporting Actress, for “Whale Rider”)

2002 – NONE
2001 – NONE
2000Ed Harris – “Pollock” & Marcia Gay Harden – “Pollock” (WON)
1999Toni Collette – “The Sixth Sense” (Best Picture nominee)

1998Edward Norton – “American History X”
1997Julie Christie – “Afterglow” & Robert Forster – “Jackie Brown”
1996 – NONE
1995 – NONE

1994Jennifer Tilly – “Bullets over Broadway” & Rosemary Harris – “Tom & Viv”
           –(Paul Scofield received BAFTA nomination for “Quiz Show”)

Looking at the list, there are some interesting tidbits to observe.  Marcia Gay Harden has achieved this twice, winning one of those awards.  Of the mentions, they all seem to be attached with any one of three narratives: A long overdue veteran aching for a long overdue nomination, Best Picture heat bringing another star in for the ride, or simply a pure, naturalistic performance that critics seem on board with.  You also have a case of benefiting from a mid-season campaign switch, which we haven’t had this year (not yet anyway).

If you have paid attention to my latest update to the Oscar Predictions. I’m foreseeing a case of overdue veteran actress Rene Russo sneaking her for her stunning work in Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler.”  But there are more possibilities out there.  As we go into these final weeks of Phase 1, Oscar ballots will be handed out on December 29 and due back on January 8.  In between that, we’ll have the following guild announcements:


January 5 – Producers Guild Nominations, Art Directors Guild Nominations
January 7 – Writers Guild Nominations, Costume Design Guild Nominations
January 8 – USC Scripter Nominations

After January 8, when ballots have already been turned in, BAFTA nominations (1/9), the Golden Globe Awards (1/11), and DGA Nominations (1/13) will be announced.  Oscar will be picking their favorites with little influence (which is perfectly fine by me).  We have to pay very close attention to what is building and peaking with buzz in this week before Christmas and leading into the new year.  It’s a hard temperature to track since so many publications, PR executives, and awards bodies are enjoying the holiday.  We don’t know what an AMPAS voter is doing at home, what he or she is enjoying.  Granted, many of them have already been attending the major guild screenings so we can already get a good gauge on what they like.  But we may be in for more surprises than usual this year.  Look at 2003, a year that virtually exploded with surprise nominations across the board.

Let’s look at the most likely candidates to break through at the eleventh hour:

oscarisaac_mostviolentyearOscar Isaac – “A Most Violent Year” – BEST ACTOR

If we’re looking for a naturalistic, very complex performance that may hit the Academy in the sweet spot, this towering turn by National Board of Review winner Oscar Isaac could do the trick.  Pleasantly subtle when he needs to be, then exploding with ferocity at other times, is a testament to his work.  After being passed over by “Inside Llewyn Davis,” AMPAS could feel compelled to recognize this talented performer.

timothyspall_mrturnerTimothy Spall – “Mr. Turner” – BEST ACTOR

New York Film Critics Circle started him off on a high with their Best Actor award in early December.  After that, Spall’s roll quickly ended after missing out on Golden Globe and SAG nominations.  However, in a film so critically beloved, this Cannes winner is in a film that will be popping up quite a bit in the technical categories including Cinematography, Production Design, and Costumes.  If we’re looking for a veteran, and Ralph Fiennes isn’t really their cup of tea, I’d say watch out.

hilaryswank_homesmanHilary Swank – “The Homesman” – BEST ACTRESS

Two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank has been making her rounds for weeks now.  Roadside Attractions put together a very detailed and focused campaign, highlighting her work in Tommy Lee Jones’ directorial effort.  Probably a near miss for “Conviction” a few years back, there’s nothing like citing one of their former winners just as a point to say, “see, those Oscars were earned.”

tomwilkinson_selmaTom Wilkinson – “Selma” – BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

As much as “Selma” is a near lock in Best Picture and Director, we don’t have a firm hand on how much AMPAS voters REALLY like the film.  We’ve received the word from screenings but with SAG nominations (due to screeners not going out), we’re operating on the words of others.  Speaking to one voter recently, they expressed to me they hadn’t seen it yet but were “eagerly waiting” until the break to catch up with it.  Wilkinson’s work is an easy Alan Alda-like nomination that could start building a narrative to an eventual win in his career.  This would be his third nomination.

charliecox_theoryCharlie Cox – “The Theory of Everything” – BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

“The Theory of Everything” is coming on strong, possibly even being one of, if not THE most nominated film of Oscar morning.  With the SAG Ensemble nod under its belt, the actors may be checking this film off in several places including that of the great Charlie Cox.  There was a time no one really knew Djimon Hounsou’s name either.

miyavi_unbroken2Miyavi – “Unbroken” – BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

There has been a rumor that AMPAS have been very taken with Miyavi’s work, especially after learning that this was his first film.  If “Unbroken” isn’t as “broken” (no pun intended) as we think it is, Miyavi’s work as the treacherous commander of the concentration camp, could resonate with voters and offer up some much needed diversity in the race this year.

renerusso_nightcrawlerRene Russo – “Nightcrawler” – BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

I’ve gone on record with this one already but Rene Russo’s stock is quickly rising.  Never receiving any potential heat for any of her previous works including the brilliant “Ransom” from the 90’s, this may be her opportunity to finally score alongside other veteran actresses Patricia Arquette and Meryl Streep.  The film’s stock also helps if its making a play in Screenplay and Lead Actor.   

lauradern_wildLaura Dern – “Wild” – BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Speaking of veteran actresses, Dern has had a tremendous year with her work in “Wild” and “The Fault in Our Stars.”  If Reese Witherspoon is “locked” into a Best Actress category, Dern could get pulled in for the ride.  When attending NYFCO in early December, I was shocked to see how many votes Dern received for Supporting Actress.  Her work is loved out there.  May just be a matter of time.

carmenejogo_selmaCarmen Ejogo – “Selma” – BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

The wife of Dr. Martin Luther King on paper seems like a shoo-in and Ejogo’s work in Ava DuVernay’s film is spectacular.  Lacking the screen time to really get behind her is my theory for the omissions thus far, but if “Selma” is about to make a true play for Best Picture, this British actress could easily pop up at BAFTA, a snag a spot seemingly reserved for Jessica Chastain or worse yet, someone else.

ellarcoltrane_boyhoodEllar Coltrane – “Boyhood” – BEST ACTOR

Seems far-fetched on paper but if “Boyhood” is THE ONE, going into nomination morning, it’s hard to not see Coltrane as one of the main reasons for the film’s success.  His work, though understated, is riveting, especially in the latter half of the film.  If he did score the nomination, he’d be the third youngest nominee in Best Actor history behind Mickey Rooney (“Babes in Arms”) and Jackie Cooper (“Skippy”).  

OTHER HONORABLE MENTIONS: Matthew McConaughey (“Intesrstellar”), Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”), Carrie Coon (“Gone Girl”), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Belle”), Jessica Chastain (“Interstellar”), Chris Pine (“Into the Woods”), and Marion Bailey (“Mr. Turner”).  

NAMES THAT WOULD FEEL “OUT OF NOWHERE” BUT WOULDN’T COUNT: Tilda Swinton (“Snowpiercer” – BFCA nod), Ralph Fiennes (“The Grand Budapest Hotel” – BFCA nod), Amy Adams (“Big Eyes” – GG nod), Emily Blunt (“Into the Woods” – GG nod), and Naomi Watts (“St. Vincent” – SAG nod)

Include your thoughts on the race in the comment section below.  Who do you think can pop up?

What do you think?


Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.


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