The Academy Awards are not always the best place to look for fresh faces, and this year is no different. The list is full of perennial nominees, to the point of occasional absurdity. The Best Supporting Actor race is the most obvious example, all five actors having won before. Yet it doesn’t stop there. Guys like John Williams and Steven Spielberg, with five and three Oscars respectively, seem like obligatory nominations. There are others who still haven’t won, but find themselves nominated over and over again anyway, like Thomas Newman and Roger Deakins. Some categories are easier to break into than others, but on the whole, the Academy loves recognizing their favorites.
This makes it all the more exciting when the elusive first nomination does happen. Whatever you think about the provenance of her performance, it’s going to be neat to see Quvenzhané Wallis on the red carpet. However, I think it’s even more thrilling when long-neglected talent is recognized at last. Gary Oldman’s nod for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy last year was by far my favorite, if only because I thought it would never happen. After someone has gone so long without getting the attention, it seems almost impossible.
In that spirit, here are my five favorite first-time nominations of the 85th Academy Awards, with a look back at some of the work that somehow got overlooked in the past.
Mychael Danna – Best Original Score and Best Original Song, Life of Pi
In hindsight, it seems terribly strange that this is Mychael Danna’s first Oscar appearance. His resume is full of films that garnered plenty of awards attention, including Best Picture nominees Moneyball, Little Miss Sunshine, and Capote. He’s worked with Terry Gilliam, Atom Egoyan and of course Ang Lee.
North of the border in Canada, he’s like a local John Williams when it comes to this sort of thing. He’s won five Genie Awards, from thirteen total nominations. Yet somehow he’s only just clicked with the Academy, and it’s about time. His style is often minimalist, like in Capote, but can also be lush and internationally blended, like his work in Life of Pi, Tideland, or Deepa Mehta’s Water. Here’s one of my favorite of his quieter tracks, the deceptively complex “Epigraph” from the Capote soundtrack.
Emmanuelle Riva – Best Actress, Amour
This grande dame will turn 86 on Oscar night, making her the oldest Best Actress nominee in history. If she wins, which frankly she should, she would be the oldest winner ever in any acting category. Her long career goes back to the very beginnings of the French New Wave, when she starred opposite Eiji Okada in Alain Resnais’s seminal Hiroshima mon amour.
That alone would be enough to cement her forever in cinema history, but she went on to work with Jean-Pierre Melville, Georges Franju and Krzysztof Kieslwoski. Now, her collaboration with Michael Haneke and Jean-Louis Trintignant will complete an already rich and varied legacy.
The Nation of Chile – Best Foreign Language Film, No
Alright, I’m not about to pedantically assert that yes, in fact they do make good movies in Chile. Anyone who has seen anything by Pablo Larraín, Raúl Ruiz, Patricio Guzmán, Sebastián Silva or any number of other important Chilean directors knows that they do. However, the fact that the Academy so rarely recognizes work from Latin America and has never called on this nation in particular is about as ridiculous as the category as a whole.
They should toss out the submission process entirely, but that’s another column. For now, it’s exciting to see Chile and Larraín’s excellent No in this usually Europe-dominated category.
Paco Delgado – Best Costume Design, Les Misérables
I have some major issues with the design of Les Misérables. Its nomination for production design baffles me, for example. The costumes, on the other hand, are quite good. They just happen to pale in comparison to the work Paco Delgado has done for directors with a better sense of style than Tom Hooper. His collaborations with Pedro Almodóvar are extraordinary, among the best in the Spanish auteur’s colorful filmography. Outfitting Gael García Bernal as the dizzying trio of Juan, Ángel and Zahara in Bad Education was a triumph, alongside Elena Anaya’s bold and haunting cat-suits in The Skin I Live In. Let’s just pretend this nomination was for those films.
PES – Best Animated Short Film, Fresh Guacamole
Fresh Guacamole is my single favorite nomination of the year. It’s probably the shortest Oscar nominee in history, clocking in at just about 90 seconds. Yet, somehow, it’s cleverer and more impeccably made than some of the feature films selected in other categories. PES has been making and uploading creative stop-motion shorts to YouTube for a few years now, and Fresh Guacamole is only the most recent highlight. Western Spaghetti is a similar project, using small, colorful objects to recreate the culinary arts. My favorite, though, might be Roof Sex. It’s rough and ridiculous, but the idea of moving these two chairs all around the top of a city building just to make a whimsical film is pretty inspirational.
Note: audio is NSFW. The images are only NSFW if you work at IKEA.