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Oscars Nominations Favor Indie Underdogs Over Big-Budget ‘Interstellar,’ ‘Unbroken’

Fox Searchlight led the field with 20 nominations, while Sony Classics had its best year with 18 nominations

After months of awards campaigning, the Academy wound up ignoring big-budget epics like Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” and Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” on Thursday in favor of the little guys, from Sundance sensations “Boyhood” and “Whiplash” to “Two Days, One Night” star Marion Cotillard.

Indies clearly made a splash this year as did the specialty divisions that released them. Fox Searchlight led all distributors with 20 nominations thanks to “Birdman,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Wild,” while Sony Pictures Classics’ 18 nominations were the most in the company’s history. Focus Features, where the leadership is new, proved its heft with the noms for “Theory of Everything.”

Thanks to its 12-year investment in “Boyhood,” perennial awards underdog IFC Films is the frontrunner to win Best Picture, director (Richard Linklater) and supporting actress (Patricia Arquette), and the film was also nominated for supporting actor, original screenplay and editing.

Sony Classics had a banner year thanks to its nominations for “Whiplash,” “Foxcatcher,” “Mr. Turner” and two foreign language titles. The company released Annapurna’s “Foxcatcher,” which received nominations for actor (Steve Carell), supporting actor (Mark Ruffalo), original screenplay (E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman) and makeup (Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard). While the film itself failed to make the Best Picture cut, director Bennett Miller was nominated, which marked the first time since the field expanded to 10 movies that a filmmaker was nominated but their film was snubbed.

Miller was nominated over Jolie, Nolan and “Gone Girl’s” David Fincher, all of whom directed bigger-budget studio fare that received considerably larger marketing campaigns.

Sony Classics still finds itself in the Best Picture race thanks to low-budget drama “Whiplash,” a true underdog that managed to maintain momentum since its Sundance debut in early 2014 and is the frontrunner to win Best Supporting Actor thanks to J.K. Simmons’ ferocious portrayal of an abusive drum instructor. His “boy wonder” director Damien Chazelle wasn’t nominated for Best Director but he did secure a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay nomination — a less competitive field than Original Screenplay, where the WGA decided to place “Whiplash.”

The adapted screenplay category ignored popular fare like “Gone Girl” and “Unbroken” in favor of “Whiplash” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice,” the latter of which came as a surprise given the divisive critical reaction to the film.

“Whiplash” also drummed up an editing nod, which is the category that traditionally corresponds closest to the Best Picture lineup, meaning that if there were only five nominees as in past years, “Whiplash” likely would’ve made the cut.

Sony Classics also has two nominees in the foreign language category — “Leviathan” and “Wild Tales” — while “The Salt of the Earth” is up for Best Documentary Feature. The company also has the frontrunner in the Best Actress category with “Still Alice” star Julianne Moore.

Moore will compete with Cotillard, whose movie earned critical acclaim out of Cannes but was not widely seen by American audiences. That didn’t stop the acting branch from nominating her over fellow Weinstein Company leading lady Amy Adams, who was much more visible on the campaign trail.

While Cinelou made a noble effort on behalf of “Cake” star Jennifer Aniston, the Best Actress field proved too tough to crack in the end.

Even the cinematography branch favored underdogs this year, with “Mr. Turner’s” Dick Pope and the “Ida” team of Lukas Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski nominated over “Interstellar’s” DP Hoyte van Hoytema.

Meanwhile, the Animated Feature category lauded lesser-known titles, with “Song of the Sea” and “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” nominated over WB’s blockbuster “The LEGO Movie,” which might have enticed younger viewers to watch the Oscars.