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.

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The stuff of life: how A S Byatt intertwined the lives of William Morris and Mariano Fortuny

In Peacock & Vine, Byatt has turned works of art and their shade, texture, patina and heft into words.

How to evoke a colour in words? It is a task of daunting simplicity which A S Byatt attempts in her essay on the artist-designers William Morris and Mariano Fortuny. A Fortuny dress in pleated silk embellished with gold pomegranates is, she writes, “a colour somewhere between dark pink and pale red . . . a shining rose crossed with rust”. She adds, “no one reading what I have written will imagine the colour very well, or at all”. An adjacent photograph of the dress shows that “rose crossed with rust” is a fine description of its luscious and evasive colour – though it is also true that the words will conjure a slightly different tone in the mind of every reader, and none of those imagined russets will be exactly that of the dress.

Still, if anyone can turn words into shade, texture, patina, heft, it is Byatt. Her fictions swarm with physical objects of intense emotional potency and with characters whose lives they touch in strange and unexpected ways. Byatt herself, she writes in her introduction, has “always admired those whose lives and arts are indistinguishable from each other. And as I grow older I become more and more interested in craftsmen – glass-blowers, potters, makers of textiles.” Her own ancestors, she remarks, were Staffordshire potters.

On a first visit to the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, Byatt found herself unexpectedly thinking about William Morris, whose work she knew well. “I was using Morris . . . to understand Fortuny. I was using Fortuny to reimagine Morris. Aquamarine, gold green. English meadows, Venetian canals.”

The two men were born four decades apart: Morris in 1834 in Walthamstow, Essex, to “a family with no aesthetic interests”, Fortuny in Granada in 1871, to an aristocratic family of artists and collectors. Each led a life of intense, multifarious ­creativity in surroundings where no distinction was made between domesticity and professional work. Morris designed houses, gardens, furniture, stained glass, tapestries, textiles, wallpaper, books and typefaces. Fortuny was a painter, photographer, theatre designer and inventor whose innovations included a system of electrical stage lighting that revolutionised the staging of Wagner’s operas.

Both he and Morris came late to textile design, but it is perhaps for this that each is now best known. In 1907, after reading a book by the archaeologist Arthur Evans, who excavated the Minoan palace at Knossos, Fortuny designed his first purely fashion creation, the Knossos scarf, incorporating Minoan imagery. In 1909 he patented his Delphos design for a pleated sheath dress in the Grecian style. The dresses were made of fine silk, dyed with vegetable dyes, hand-pleated using a technique that remains a mystery and held together with Murano glass beads. They turned the female body, of any size or shape, into a graceful column, and they were both elegant and extremely comfortable – though not, Byatt thinks, “sexy, either in 1910 or now”.

Fortuny saw his creations as works of art, and they were worn by women of highly evolved aesthetic sensibility: the dancer Isadora Duncan, the art collector Peggy Guggenheim. Byatt notes that Kay, the protagonist of Mary McCarthy’s novel The Group, was buried in a Fortuny dress. She was not the only fictional character to wear Fortuny: his designs are a potent presence in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. Of all the dresses owned by the narrator’s lover, Albertine, a Fortuny in blue and gold, lined in Tiepolo pink, is her favourite; when she leaves him, she takes with her only a dark blue Fortuny cloak.

In his lifetime, Morris was almost better known for his writing than for his designs. His literary output was as prodigious as his craft: a book about his journeys to Iceland; News from Nowhere, a pastoral utopian fantasy; translations of Icelandic epics and of a 16th-century Venetian book on the art of dyeing; an epic poem, “The Earthly Paradise” (vastly popular in his lifetime, but now almost unreadable, Byatt says: “The rhythms hack and bang”); as well as books and essays on art and design.

Pattern, Morris wrote in his 1881 lecture “Some Hints on Pattern Designing”, must possess “beauty, imagination and order”. It is here, in the tension between imagination and order, that Byatt finds the connections between her heroes that illuminate the work of each. In chapters on motifs that both men loved – pomegranates and birds – she explores the multitudinous ways in which they used them; the exhilarating collisions of naturalism and abstraction, the audacious juxtapositions of simplicity and complexity.

In considering this, she considers, too, the acts of making and looking. Both of her subjects, she says, were “obsessive workers, endlessly inventive, endlessly rigorous, endlessly beautiful”. They acknowledged no separation between art and labour, but made their lives and their work a seamless continuum; and, through the beauty they created, invited us to do the same.

“It is always surprising,” Byatt writes, “how people don’t really look at things.” But she does, and in this brilliant and tenderly observant little book, with its elegant Gill typeface and handsome colour illustrations, she celebrates the fruits of making and looking: “the endlessness of what is there to be imagined and shaped”. 

Peacock & Vine by A S Byatt is published by Chatto & Windus, 183pp, £14.99

Jane Shilling is a book critic for the Telegraph and the author of two books: The Fox in the Cupboard and The Stranger in the Mirror, a memoir of middle age, published in 2011. She writes on books for the New Statesman. 

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt