In another year, “The Butler” would have been a shoo-in for multiple Oscar nominations, but it was completely shut out by Academy on Thursday morning. Not only were Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker and its director Lee Daniels all snubbed, it didn’t even show up in categories like makeup (despite the impressive aging of its actors) or costume design.
The historical drama is the kind of film that the Academy usually celebrates, based on the little-known story of an African American man (Eugene Allen) who worked at the White House for 34 years. It was directed by Daniels, who became an Oscars darling with “Precious.” The cast included Academy-friendly actors like Jane Fonda, Robin Williams and Whitaker.
Not to mention that “The Butler” was one of the year’s big success stories, earning $116 million at the domestic box office. It was backed by Harvey Weinstein, who is as good as it gets when selling sentimental material to Academy voters.
But its August release window, which allowed “The Butler” to dominate a traditionally slow month at the movies, turned out to be a major hurdle for awards season.
As many pundits have already observed, this year’s Oscar race was extremely competitive. There were just too many well-reviewed movies, including “12 Years a Slave,” “Gravity,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Philomena” and “Nebraska.” The final month of the year also saw late surges by “American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Her,” all films that landed best picture nominations.
The Academy traditionally has a short-memory–that’s why movies released earlier in the year have a harder time getting awards attention. That changed somewhat in 2010 when the Academy decided to add up to 10 films in the best picture race (which resulted in the inclusion of titles like “The Help, “Up” and “District 9”).
This year, however, the Academy went back to its old ways. Of the nine best picture nominees, the one with the earliest release date is “Gravity,” which opened on Oct. 4. In other words, all of the movies they honored came from the last three months of the year.
“Fruitvale Station” and “Blue Jasmine,” two other criticially acclaimed summer releases, were also shut out of the best picture race.