No Oscar pundit would, a few days ago, have flinched if he or she had been told that Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel would tie for the most nominations at the 87th Academy Awards. Rich in technical accomplishments, the experimental Broadway piece and the fanciful Mitteleuropean comedy have been picking up garlands throughout the lengthy awards season.
Sure enough, they topped the charts with nine mentions. None of this, however, diminishes Boyhood's status as the odds-on favourite for best picture. Richard Linklater's moving examination of a young life – which followed its actors for 12 years – has, to this point, won all the prizes that matter.
The nominations did, however, feature many, many surprises. There was always a decent chance that Tomm Moore's Song of the Sea, a mythological saga produced by Kilkenny's Cartoon Saloon, would secure a nomination for best animated feature.
The same team received a nod for The Secret of Kells in 2010. But almost nobody guessed that it would take the spot at the expense of runaway favourite The Lego Movie.
"I was really amazed. I had The Lego Movie down as a lock," Moore told The Irish Times. "I think they'll be out to kneecap us because we beat them [directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller] for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in 2010."
So where was Tomm when he heard the news?
“I went to Kilkenny Castle Park and had my lunch,” he laughed. “I tried to pretend I was calm and then my wife called me and let me know. I was just on to the distributors in the States. Now we have the nomination, they are really going to give it a push.”
As a recent member of the academy’s animation branch, Moore was, this time, dragged into the busy awards season malarkey.
“Last time we did nothing. There was no expectation whatsoever,” he said. “This time it was completely different. I spent seven weeks in the States going to the screenings as a member. There is a beaten track on the nomination trail that I hadn’t been on before.”
Most of the fancied actors turned up in their respective races. Julianne Moore, favourite for best actress as a professor with early-onset Alzheimer's in Still Alice, should see off challenges from Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl and Reese Witherspoon in Wild.
The much-touted nomination for Jennifer Aniston in Cake didn't come to pass. Instead, against the odds, France's Marion Cotillard secured a spot for the Dardennes brothers' Two Days, One Night.
JK Simmons is almost certain to win best supporting actor for his role as a demonic music teacher in
, who plays the hero’s mum in
, is safe as Fort Knox in the best supporting actress battle.
The only one of the major races to offer much competition is best actor. Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and Michael Keaton, transcendent in the dazzling Birdman, look to be the favourites, but Benedict Cumberbatch, star of The Imitation Game, is breathing down their necks.
Our hypothetical Oscar expert might also have named David Oyelowo, who plays Martin Luther King in Ava DuVernay's Selma, as a potential challenger. But the British actor failed to secure a nomination, and that civil rights saga ended up as the most conspicuously snubbed picture. True, Selma was nominated for best picture, but it received only one other mention, in the best original song category.
Selma’s missing director
DuVernay would have been the first ever African-American woman to receive a best director nomination, and the unexpectedly strong showing of Clint Eastwood’s gung-ho
, about a marksman in Iraq, is sure to stoke controversy concerning
Eastwood's film grabbed a surprising six nominations, including best picture and, for star Bradley Cooper, best actor. Following the supposed advances for black film-making heralded by 12 Years a Slave's best film win last year, this looks a little like a step backwards for the academy.
Oscar watchers were also puzzled by a baffling anomaly as regards the best picture and best director categories. In 2011, the rules were changed to allow between five and 10 nominations for best film.
Foxcatcher misses nod
This year saw eight films register (see panel, right), yet
, director of the impressively gloomy drama
, was somehow among the five best directors without his film securing a best picture shortlisting. Heads are being scratched raw.
There was further domestic success elsewhere. Michael Lennox's delightful Northern Irish short, Boogaloo & Graham, was mentioned in the best live-action short race. Also, Dubliner John Carney can now consider himself master of the best original song category.
Eight years ago, Falling Slowly from his micro-budgeted Once defied the odds and won the title. This year Lost Stars, sung by Keira Knightley in Carney's Begin Again, makes it into the final corral. It could very well win.
Much stranger things have already happened in the 2015 derby.