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'Birdman,' 'Grand Budapest Hotel' Lead Oscar Nominations


The Oscar nominations were announced this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: For the first time in Academy history, we are announcing all 24 categories. So let's begin.

CORNISH: And the leaders of the pack were mostly as expected. The eight nominees for best picture included four films that have been winning virtually all the critics' prizes - "Birdman," about a washed up superhero trying to make a comeback.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You're Birdman.

CORNISH: "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which spoofed 1930s melodramas.


RALPH FIENNES: (As M. Gustave) Dear God, what have you done to your fingernails?

TILDA SWINTON: (As Madame D.) I beg your pardon.

FIENNES: (As M. Gustave) This diabolical varnish, the color is completely wrong.

CORNISH: "The Imitation Game," about the man who broke the German Enigma code in World War II.


BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: (As Alan Turing) I - I like solving problems, commander.

CORNISH: And "Boyhood," which watches a youngster grow up for 12 years, from age 6 to 18.


ELLAR COLTRANE: (As Mason Evans, Jr.) I remember. I was in third grade, and you were taking me over to Anthony Nadar's house for his birthday.

CORNISH: The rest of that category, though, was less expected. Our critic, Bob Mondello, joins us to talk about it. Welcome back, Bob.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It's good to be here.

CORNISH: Let's start with the big one - right? - best picture. Tell us about the nominees.

MONDELLO: Well, there are the ones you just heard. And the other four are Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper," about the most deadly sharpshooter in American military history. That got six nominations. "Whiplash," about a young drummer, got five. "The Theory Of Everything," about physicist Stephen Hawking, got four. And "Selma," about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Alabama protests, and that one got two nominations, which is a little less than everybody thought. Everybody expected Ava DuVernay to be nominated for best director, for instance, and for David Oyelowo, who plays Martin Luther King, to be nominated for best actor. And neither of those things happened.

CORNISH: You know, this comes a year after "12 Years A Slave" won best picture. People made a very big deal out of that - a black director there. And that movie was nominated for nine Oscars and won three. But people are looking at the nominees this year and saying, hey, I don't see a lot of diversity. What's going on?

MONDELLO: (Laughter). Boy, that's true. Our colleague, Linda Holmes, had a really terrific blog post today about the lack of diversity. She points out that all of the best picture nominees are about men; all but one are about white men, that all the nominated screenwriters are men. All the nominated directors are men. All the nominated actors and actresses are white. If what you're trying to do is get a more diverse group of performers and talent, this is not the way to go about it.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, snubs - everyone always wants to know about the people who didn't get nominated. Who's on that list?

MONDELLO: OK. Well, I mentioned David Oyelowo. Best actor was a really tough category. I - there are five slots. When I made up a list of likely candidates, I came up with 16. So there - a lot of people are going to be left out of that no matter what. Actress was less crowded, but Jennifer Aniston's overmedicated accident victim in "Cake" has to count as a snub. I think everybody thought going in that the - in the animated category, "The Lego Movie" would dominate. It wasn't even nominated. And "Wild" for best pic, which is the Reese Witherspoon picture - you know, it's a - it's a kind of a wonderful movie. It would have diversified that category.

CORNISH: You know, Bob, none of these films could be described as, like, a box office smash.


MONDELLO: That's understated.

CORNISH: And in the Academy - right? - like, they expanded the best picture nomination process so that you could possibly get in some box office winners and, I assume, eyeballs.

MONDELLO: Yeah, well, it's not going to happen this year. If you total up all of the grosses for all of the best picture nominees this year, you come up to about 200 million, which is roughly what a picture like "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" makes all by itself so that you're talking about very few eyeballs were on those pictures. And the idea here is that you're not going to watch the Oscar telecast unless you have a horse in the race. So what this says, if you've got such low grosses, is that they've got a real problem here. And I think what they're hoping is that the next six weeks up until the show, these movies will be seen by a lot more people. If they aren't - and they only have 38 days to do this - then you're going to have the lowest rated Oscars telecast in the history of the Oscars.

CORNISH: Well, that telecast is on Sunday, February 22. Bob Mondello will be watching, as will I.

MONDELLO: I certainly will.

CORNISH: Bob, thanks so much for coming in.

MONDELLO: It's always a joy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.