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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“I see the world in rectangles”: Life as a Lego Master Builder

Nathan Sawaya stunned colleagues when he quit his job as a lawyer to play with Lego full-time. Now everyone from Lady Gaga to Barack Obama’s a fan.

Nathan Sawaya is describing his favourite Lego brick, shiny-eyed and grinning at the thought of it. But he’s not a child proudly displaying a beloved toy. He’s a 43-year-old former corporate lawyer, and well over six foot tall. The brick he is evangelising about is a small 1x2 socket plate with a stud in the centre of its top. He calls this a “Jumper”.

“You know your Lego lingo?” he asks, looking crestfallen when I shake my head. “It has only one stud instead of two, and it allows you to do even more detail because you can offset the brick a little bit. But in general, I focus on the rectangular pieces.”


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Sawaya is one of the world’s eight Lego Master Builders, having left his job at a New York law firm when he was 32 to dedicate his life to building Lego constructions full-time. His most striking works include a torso of a man ripping his chest open with bricks spilling out, called Yellow, a lifesize T-Rex skeleton, a two-metre long model of Brooklyn Bridge, and replicas of famous paintings, including the Mona Lisa, and Edvard Munch’s Scream.

I meet him in a dark exhibition space in a tent on London’s Southbank, where his works are lit up around us. His latest constructions consist of a series of DC Comics superheroes, so we are surrounded by expressionless Supermen flying around us, capes realistically rippling, and a full-size Batmobile with glistening batwings. His boyish eagerness aside, Sawaya himself looks like a comic book villain – a hulking figure dressed in black from top to toe, with a long black overcoat, piercing eyes and thick dark hair.


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Back in his early thirties when he was a lawyer, he would come home after a punishing day at work and do something creative – drawing, painting, sculpting with clay and wire. He soon began to experiment with Lego, constructing models out of sets he had lying around the house. His son, now 17, was never particularly interested in playing with it himself.

“Eventually I made the choice to leave the law firm behind and become a full-time artist who plays with toys,” he beams.

His family was supportive, his colleagues jealous, and his bosses confused – but it wasn’t long until Sawaya found success as a Lego artist. He has had exhibitions of his work on every continent but Antarctica, and gained some high-profile fans. When he was US President, Barack Obama posed with one of his installations – monochrome life-size men sitting on park benches in Washington – and Bill Clinton has a sculpture in his office, as does Lady Gaga in a music video.

“That is the magic of Lego,” he says of his popularity. “It has become a universal language in a way.”


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Sawaya’s Master Builder status means he can buy all his bricks directly from Lego in bulk – not possible for us Lego civilians. He used to buy sets in toy shops and on eBay when starting out; now he can email asking for 500,000 red 2x4 bricks, say, and Lego ships them to him on wooden pallets. He has six million bricks on hand at his studio in Los Angeles. “Millions of each colour and shape and size,” he says. “And they’re all organised by shape and colour.”

He works away for hours at a time in his studio, with his dogs obediently at his feet, in what he describes as a “trance”. He plans designs on special “brick paper” like graph paper, but sometimes he free-builds from his imagination. “I do often see the world in rectangles,” he says, and sometimes he even dreams in bricks.

Just like children do with Lego sets, he simply snaps the bricks together – though he does dab glue between each brick, which triples the time it takes. He describes it as “therapeutic”, but says making a mistake can be “heartbreaking” – he can lose days and weeks of work at a time. “There may be times where I start questioning my choices in life,” he smiles.


Photos: Copyright Jane Hobson

Sawaya faced snobbery from the art world when he first began approaching galleries as a Lego artist. “Oh, is that cars and trucks and little castles?” was the response. He feels it’s now a more acceptable medium. “It makes art accessible,” he says. “And in doing that, it democratises the art world a bit. It allows people to relate to the art. Everyone has snapped a brick together at one point, every child has played a little bit with Lego.

“As an artist, my role is to inspire. And what better way to do it than through a medium everyone is familiar with? If someone sees a marble statue, they can appreciate it, but very few people have marble at home they can chip away at.”

The first Lego creation Sawaya can remember making was a little house, when he was first given the toy at the age of five. He then made a city that grew to 36 square feet. When he was ten, he was desperate for a dog. His parents refused, so he tore all his creations down and built a lifesize one. “It was blocky and very multi-coloured, of course,” he says. “But it was that ‘Aha!’ moment – when I realised it doesn’t have to be on the front of the box. It can be whatever I want.”

The Art of the Brick: DC Super Heroes is on at Upper Ground, Southbank, London, until 3 September 2017.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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