Marion Cotillard has received a surprise Best Actress nomination for Two Days, One Night. Photo: Getty
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The 2015 Oscar nominations: no surprises, but a few oddities

There is little to surprise a seasoned awards-watcher in this year’s nominations – Ryan Gilbey gives his verdict.

Radiohead said it best: No surprises, please. This year’s Oscar nominations were announced earlier today. Boyhood attracted six, of which Best Picture and Best Director (Richard Linklater) should be in the bag; it will be a disappointment also if Patricia Arquette doesn’t win Best Supporting Actress. It’s no risk to say that Michael Keaton will win Best Actor for Birdman, which got nine nominations. He certainly has no competition from this year’s other most deserving performer, Ralph Fiennes, who was overlooked in the same category for his impeccable comic tour-de-force in The Grand Budapest Hotel despite that movie matching Birdman’s tally of nominations.

I would be rooting for Birdman also to take Best Cinematography (for Emmanuel Lubezki) if it wouldn’t be altogether sweeter to see Dick Pope snatch the prize instead for his work on Mr Turner. That might go some way toward ameliorating the short shrift given to Mike Leigh’s stunning film by both the Oscars and the Baftas. And to making up for the mispronunciation of the cinematographer’s surname as “Poop”. Let’s just hope that Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who made the slip-up, never has to introduce the leader of the Catholic Church.

Any deviations from the widely-circulated predictions have been minor and unlikely to have much impact on the final results. Still, it gave the seasoned awards-watcher a minor fillip to find Marion Cotillard elbowing her way into a category (Best Actress) on which few “experts” had anticipated she would make an impression. I wasn’t a fan of the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night, but what strengths it possesses are mostly attributable to Cotillard’s dogged but never defeated performance as a woman fighting for her job and her dignity. It seems unlikely she will take the Oscar; Julianne Moore, who is subtle and compelling in Still Alice as a professor with early-onset Alzeheimer’s, would do well to start clearing a space now on her mantelpiece for the statuette. But, as with Cotillard’s character in Two Days, One Night, winning is immaterial. It’s just good to see her in the fight.

Cotillard aside, here are my Top Five oddities and anomalies in this year’s Oscar voting:

Best Supporting Actor in a Film That No One Liked But Everyone Will at Some Point Watch on an In-Flight Entertainment System: Robert Duvall in The Judge.

The “We Can’t Quite Follow What’s Going On But, Hey, Hats Off For Trying” Award for Most Foolhardy Screenplay Adaptation: Paul Thomas Anderson for adapting Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice.

Best Adapted Screenplay That Makes a Mockery of the Term “Adapted”: Damian Chazelle for Whiplash, which was judged to be “adapted” because Chazelle made a short film including one scene from the movie in order to raise funding for the feature-length version. So even though the screenplay existed first, it was “adapted from” the short that came after. It’s time-travel conundrum worthy of Interstellar.

Best Picture Ignored in Other Categories and Therefore Standing Less Chance of Winning Than If It Hadn’t Been Nominated: the civil rights drama Selma. (Also nominated in the Liberal Guilt category.)

Best Supporting Actress named Meryl Streep: Meryl Streep for Into the Woods.

The Academy Awards ceremony takes place on 22 February.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
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Letter from Donetsk: ice cream, bustling bars and missiles in eastern Ukraine

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it.

Eighty-eight year-old Nadya Moroz stares through the taped-up window of her flat in Donetsk, blown in by persistent bombing. She wonders why she abandoned her peaceful village for a “better life” in Donetsk with her daughter, just months before war erupted in spring 2014.

Nadya is no stranger to upheaval. She was captured by the Nazis when she was 15 and sent to shovel coal in a mine in Alsace, in eastern France. When the region was liberated by the Americans, she narrowly missed a plane taking refugees to the US, and so returned empty-handed to Ukraine. She never thought that she would see fighting again.

Now she and her daughter Irina shuffle around their dilapidated flat in the front-line district of Tekstilshchik. Both physically impaired, they seldom venture out.

The highlight of the women’s day is the television series Posledniy Yanychar (“The Last Janissary”), about an Ottoman slave soldier and his dangerous love for a free Cossack girl.

They leave the dog-walking to Irina’s daughter, Galya, who comes back just in time. We turn on the TV a few minutes before two o’clock to watch a news report on Channel One, the Russian state broadcaster. It shows a montage of unnerving images: Nato tanks racing in formation across a plain, goose-stepping troops of Pravy Sektor (a right-wing Ukrainian militia) and several implicit warnings that a Western invasion is nigh. I wonder how my hosts can remain so impassive in the face of such blatant propaganda.

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian-backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it. If the TV doesn’t get you, the print media, radio and street hoardings will. Take a walk in the empty central district of the city and you have the creeping sense of being transported back to what it must have been like in the 1940s. Posters of Stalin, with his martial gaze and pomaded moustache, were taboo for decades even under the Soviets but now they grace the near-empty boulevards. Images of veterans of the 1941-45 war are ubiquitous, breast pockets ablaze with medals. Even the checkpoints bear the graffiti: “To Berlin!” It’s all inching closer to a theme-park re-enactment of the Soviet glory years, a weird meeting of propaganda and nostalgia.

So completely is the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in thrall to Russia that even its parliament has passed over its new flag for the tricolour of the Russian Federation, which flutters atop the building. “At least now that the municipal departments have become ministries, everyone has been promoted,” says Galya, wryly. “We’ve got to have something to be pleased about.”

The war in the Donbas – the eastern region of Ukraine that includes Donetsk and Luhansk – can be traced to the street demonstrations of 2013-14. The former president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, had refused to sign an agreement that would have heralded closer integration with the EU. In late 2013, protests against his corrupt rule began in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kyiv, as well as other cities. In early 2014 Yanukovych’s security forces fired on the crowds in the capital, causing dozens of fatalities, before he fled.

Putin acted swiftly, annexing Crimea and engineering a series of “anti-Maidans” across the east and south of Ukraine, bussing in “volunteers” and thugs to help shore up resistance to the new authority in Kyiv. The Russian-backed rebels consolidated their power base in Donetsk and Luhansk, where they established two “independent” republics, the DPR and its co-statelet, the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Kyiv moved to recover the lost territories, sparking a full-scale war that raged in late 2014 and early 2015.

Despite the so-called “peace” that arrived in autumn 2015 and the beguiling feeling that a certain normality has returned – the prams, the ice creams in the park, the bustling bars – missiles still fly and small-arms fire frequently breaks out. You can’t forget the conflict for long.

One reminder is the large number of dogs roaming the streets, set free when their owners left. Even those with homes have suffered. A Yorkshire terrier in the flat next door to mine started collecting food from its bowl when the war began and storing it in hiding places around the flat. Now, whenever the shelling starts, he goes to his caches and binge-eats in a sort of atavistic canine survival ritual.

Pet shops are another indicator of the state of a society. Master Zoo in the city centre has an overabundance of tropical fish tanks (too clunky to evacuate) and no dogs. In their absence, the kennels have been filled with life-size plastic hounds under a sign strictly forbidding photography, for reasons unknown. I had to share my rented room with a pet chinchilla called Shunya. These furry Andean rodents, fragile to transport but conveniently low-maintenance, had become increasingly fashionable before the war. The city must still be full of them.

The bombing generally began “after the weekends, before holidays, Ukraine’s national days and before major agreements”, Galya had said. A new round of peace talks was about to start, and I should have my emergency bag at the ready. I shuddered back up to the ninth floor of my pitch-dark Tekstilshchik tower block. Shunya was sitting quiet and unruffled in his cage, never betraying any signs of stress. Free from Russian television, we girded ourselves for the night ahead.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war