Oscars nominations 2015: What were the surprises?

Awards season frontrunners like 'Boyhood' and 'Birdman' received various nominations, but some contenders that were far from sure things made it onto the Oscars nominations list. Check out the less-expected nominees.

IFC Films/AP
'Boyhood' stars Ellar Coltrane.

One of the fun things about the Oscar race is that no matter how much it’s analyzed before nominations are announced, there are usually a few unexpected movies and actors that make it onto the list of contenders. 

This year is no exception, as some films rallied to make it to the Best Picture nominations list and some actors received nods despite earlier doubts. 

After recent rule changes, the Academy can now nominate between five and 10 movies for the Best Picture prize and this year it went with eight, one less than the two previous years. The movies “Boyhood” and “Birdman” have been frontrunners for some time and they received nods for Best Picture, as did “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which got a boost when it received the best comedy or musical prize at the Golden Globes. The biopics “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything,” which detail the lives of Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking, respectively, have been strong contenders for the nominations list and they also received nods. The last three had not been regarded as sure things but the Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic “Selma,” the war film “American Sniper,” and the movie about a sadistic music instructor, “Whiplash,” all received nominations. (Neither “Whiplash” nor “Sniper” was nominated for the Golden Globes best drama prize or for the best cast performance prize, the equivalent of Best Picture, at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.) 

Things become a little unusual when you get to the best director nominations list – directors who receive best director nominations often see their film nominated for Best Picture as well, but Bennett Miller’s film “Foxcatcher” did not make the Best Picture nominations, despite his receiving a nod for Best Director. Meanwhile, “Selma” was nominated for Best Picture but its director, Ava DuVernay, was not nominated, nor was Clint Eastwood of “Sniper,” James Marsh of “Theory,” or Damien Chazelle of “Whiplash,” though the fact that there can only be five directors nominated for the prize means some who directed Best Picture nominees will inevitably lose out.

A few actors who were not regarded as sure things made the list of nominations for the acting prizes. It was expected that Eddie Redmayne of “Theory,” Benedict Cumberbatch of “Imitation,” and Michael Keaton of “Birdman” would all make the Best Actor nominations list (Redmayne won the Best Actor in a Drama Golden Globe and Keaton won the Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Golden Globe, while Jake Gyllenhaal of "Nightcrawler" and "Foxcatcher" actor Carell both received SAG nods for Best Actor), but it was unclear whether Gyllenhaal, David Oyelowo of “Selma,” or Carell would make the list. Carell did, but Gyllenhaal and Oyelowo both lost out and “Sniper” actor Bradley Cooper received a nomination.

Meanwhile, four of the Best Actress nominees have been considered strong contenders for a nomination for some time – Julianne Moore of “Still Alice” (who received the Best Actress in a Drama Golden Globe), Rosamund Pike of “Gone Girl,” Felicity Jones of “The Theory of Everything,” and Reese Witherspoon of “Wild” all made the Golden Globe Best Actress in a Drama nominations list and the SAG Best Actress nominations list. However, Jennifer Aniston of “Cake” received a Best Actress in a Drama Golden Globe nomination and SAG nod but did not make the Oscar nominations list. Instead, Marion Cotillard of “Two Days, One Night” received a nod.

Meanwhile, for the Best Supporting Actor award, the list is the same as it was at the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards, with “Whiplash” actor J.K. Simmons, Mark Ruffalo of “Foxcatcher,” “Boyhood” actor Ethan Hawke, Edward Norton of “Birdman,” and “The Judge” actor Robert Duvall all receiving nominations.

And for Best Supporting Actress, “Wild” actress Laura Dern received a nod despite not showing up on the Golden Globes Best Supporting Actress list or the SAG list of nominees. As with the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards, “Boyhood” actress Patricia Arquette, Keira Knightley of “The Imitation Game,” “Into the Woods” actress Meryl Streep, and Emma Stone of “Birdman” all received nominations. At the Golden Globes, Jessica Chastain received a nod for “A Most Violent Year,” while the SAG Awards selected Naomi Watts of “St. Vincent,” but Dern took the fifth slot for the Oscars nominations list.

The Oscars ceremony will be held on Feb. 22.

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