The most interesting thing about today’s American Society of Cinematographers awards announcement wasn’t the five films that were nominated: The Artist, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and The Tree of Life. It was the movie that was left out: Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. If there was one guild prize where that gorgeous film seemed like a shoo-in, it was the ASC. After all, War Horse’s director of photography, Janusz Kaminski, is a four-time ASC nominee, and three of those nominations were for Spielberg films.
But today’s news is just the latest in a growing line of surprising awards omissions for the film. First Spielberg failed to earn a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director, even though the film was recognized in the Best Drama category. Then Lee Hall and Richard Curtis’ screenplay was overlooked by the Writers Guild awards. And earlier this week, Spielberg – a 10-time Directors Guild nominee, it should be noted – didn’t show up on this year’s DGA list. (The movie also was completely shut out by the SAG Awards, but that was hardly a shock.)
When I saw War Horse in November, it seemed to me a great bet for Oscar nominations in at least six categories, including picture, director, adapted screenplay, cinematography, art direction, and editing. Some of my respected Oscar-prognosticator colleagues even began predicting it would win Best Picture after its strong Christmas debut in limited release. But with Oscar-nomination ballots due this Friday, I’m wondering what happened. Without any real standout performances, is the film not connecting with actors? With its wartime setting and sweeping visuals, did it strike people in the industry as too blatant an awards contender? Interestingly, one could argue that its WGA and DGA slots were taken by that anti-Oscar bait, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. As each day goes by, I’m beginning to think that pitch-black (but quite impressive) film has a better shot at making the Academy’s cut on Jan. 24 than War Horse does.
Dave on Twitter: @davekarger