2014 Oscar nominations Best Picture

Oscar Nominations: Why Did ‘Foxcatcher’ Miss the Best Picture Cut?

Steve Carell in ‘Foxcatcher.’ Sony Pictures Classics

“Foxcatcher” was robbed. We have the math to back it up.

The film, based on the true story of the twisted relationship between John du Pont and Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz, was left out of this year’s best picture nominees. It did, however, score nominations for best director (Bennett Miller), best actor (Steve Carell), best supporting actor (Mark Ruffalo) and best original screenplay — which are usually strong indications for a best picture nomination. In fact, this is the first time since the Academy broadened the best picture field that a movie boasting a best director nomination was left out of the running for the biggest prize.

The Academy could have nominated 10 movies for best picture this year, but it only picked eight, the fewest since it expanded the field for the top award in 2009 to allow for 10 nominees. The group further refined its rules in 2011 to make sure there are at least five nominees and 10 at most. Only movies earning 5% of total votes cast can make it onto the best picture list.

By our calculations, “Foxcatcher” should have easily been in the running for the Academy’s top film of the year. Its exclusion from the best picture list befuddled Dan Futterman, who co-wrote the screenplay along with E. Max Frye. “I know — two actors, script and director — weird, ” Futterman told Speakeasy in a telephone interview Thursday. “I feel really bad for [producer Jon Kilik], who worked for years on this, and [producer Megan Ellison], who took a huge chance on the movie when nobody else wanted to do it. It’s too bad. That’s the one disappointment of the morning.”

“Foxcatcher” finally reached movie screens in 2014 after a long gestation period and some delays. Frye worked on the script for about a year before the writers’ strike happened in 2007, and eventually Miller handed it over to Futterman, who worked on it off and on for about four and a half years. “It was kind of an orphan movie for a while, ” Futterman said. “There was no financing. There were no actors, and we were just trying to get the script right.”

The film debuted to fairly widespread acclaim, particularly for its performances by Carell, Ruffalo and Channing Tatum. Wall Street Journal film critic Joe Morgenstern called it “an enthralling enigma of a movie, ” and it has an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Miller won the best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and it earned a Producers Guild nomination and a best picture nod from the Golden Globes.

So what could have kept Academy voters — who obviously thought highly of the acting, writing and directing — from giving “Foxcatcher” a best picture nomination? The film’s detractors called it chilly and its characters unlikable, or they complained that it took too many liberties with its true story. Recently, Mark Schultz, who is played by Tatum in the movie, aired his grievances with the movie over social media, claiming the truth behind the story could be found in his book.

“It’s a really brave and hard thing to give your life over to people you don’t know too well to make a movie out of it, ” Futterman said. “It is absolutely a fictionalized version of these events — collapsed a dozen years into two years — but I understand the upset at seeing a depiction of yourself that feels a little distant from yourself.”

Yet, Schultz eased off his complaints a little earlier this month, and fictionalized “true story” narratives are often nominated for best picture. In fact, historical dramas and biopics make up half of this year’s best picture slate, so the “Foxcatcher” snub is a mystery.

Another biographical film, “Mr. Turner, ” likewise would be a safe pick to join the other best picture players if the Academy still required 10 nominees. Both films scored more than “Selma, ” which was surprisingly left out of several key Oscar categories and other honors, such as those from the Producers Guild of America and the Directors Guild, as the nomination race hit its home stretch.

Turning things around, if the Oscars still included only five best picture nominees, our model shows that “Birdman” and “The Imitation Game” would lead the films scoring in the top five — although, as history shows, that wouldn’t necessarily guarantee a best picture nomination. (The films in bold were not nominated this year.)

Birdman — 33 points
Imitation Game — 32 points
Grand Budapest Hotel — 31 points
Boyhood — 28 points
The Theory of Everything — 22 points
Foxcatcher — 18 points
American Sniper — 18 points

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