January 27, 2009

Oscars 2008: And The Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 7:54 am
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Complete List of Nominees

Every time I think that the Academy is coming around to embrace bolder choices, they manage to find some shocking way to prove me wrong. Every time I think that the older, more conservative forces are dying off in favor of younger, more embracing members, they manage to show how out of touch they are. When they awarded an Oscar to Eminem in 2002 for his song from 8 Mile, I thought it was a great sign. When they chose another rap song in 2005 – “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from Hustle & Flow – I felt it again. Then they ended that night by choosing Crash for Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain, and the feeling faded.

But hey, what’s this? The next two years saw the Academy choose The Departed and No Country For Old Men as Best Picture winners, an embrace of the kind of dark and violent films that they had typically shunned. Once again, I thought maybe the tide had turned.

And then came Thursday morning. Yes, to the Academy’s credit they made some good selections that it was easy to imagine them overlooking, but these were scattered among  some pretty big “what the fuck?” omissions.

I’m massively disappointed that The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated for Picture, Director or Screenplay. More so than any other movie, that’s the one that defined 2008 (with Slumdog just trailing it). Huge box office, great reviews that held on at year’s end when critics did their awards and ten best lists, guild award nominations, an undeniable impact on pop culture…how do they not nominate that movie and expect to be taken even remotely seriously as an institution that celebrates the best in mainstream film? Unbelievable.

And for the record, I loved The Reader. And I like all the nominated films. But I would certainly sacrifice Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon for The Dark Knight.

Stephen Daldry took Christopher Nolan’s spot, making him a three for three nominee: The Reader is his third film and this is his third Best Director nomination. The other interesting thing about the category is that the five nominees match up with the Best Picture contenders; usually there’s a discrepancy or two.


Really happy that the great Richard Jenkins made it through the fire, all the way back from last Spring. I’ve been a fan of his for years, so to see him get a lead role in The Visitor and receive this nomination warms the heart. And I’m glad Clint Eastwood didn’t bump him out. I maintain that Eastwood’s performance in Gran Torino, while entertaining, was over-the-top and not worthy of a nomination. I’m glad they didn’t give it to him just because he’s Clint. Also, I could have done without Brad Pitt’s nomination – not that I didn’t like him in Benjamin Button, but it’s a passive role and not one I’d single out for recognition.

I thought the Academy’s history of Mike Leigh love would benefit Sally Hawkins, who won a bunch of critics awards for Happy-Go-Lucky. I’m okay with her not being here, but it did catch me off guard. And though I haven’t seen Frozen River yet, I’m really happy that Melissa Leo made it. From everything I’ve heard, she was excellent and it’s always an uphill battle for those small little movies to get this level of recognition. I’ve liked her going way back to Homicide: Life on the Streets, and there was some Supporting Actress buzz for her a few years back for 21 Grams. Nice to see her here.

The other surprise was Kate Winslet being nominated as a lead for The Reader, rather than Revolutionary Road. She should be considered a lead in the film, but the studio had campaigned her for Supporting Actress, probably to allow the opportunity for two nominations. Interesting that voters disregarded the campaign and voted this way. That doesn’t happen too often, but it’s clear that the Academy members responded to The Reader…much more so than Revolutionary Road.

Speaking of which, the surprise here is that Road‘s Michael Shannon got in. He was a longshot to begin with, and his nomination is all the more surprising given that the movie was shut out of all other top categories. The lack of lead acting, directing or screenwriting nominations shows that the movie wasn’t a favorite for people, so for an up-and-coming actor like Shannon to be named, and for a small role, is unexpected.

I thought Brolin and Downey would make it, but I’ll still say I’m glad to see them here. Brolin’s been on an amazing roll these past couple of years, and has done good work more intermittently all the way back to The Goonies (remember him paired with Richard Jenkins as romantically-involved ATF agents in Flirting with Disaster?) He didn’t earn any nominations for No Country for Old Men last year, but he earned a lot of respect and goodwill which probably helped propel him to a nomination for his terrific work in Milk. And Downey? What can I say? Last March the first still photos of Tropic Thunder were released, with more details about the plot than had been revealed previously, including an explanation of Downey’s character. And when I looked at that picture and read about his role, I called it: if the movie was well received and the joke worked, he would get an Oscar nomination. So I’m happy that it came to pass; he totally deserves the recognition. No matter how silly the movie might be, he committed to it full-on with a great performance. Now let’s hope that the clip they show for him is the one where he talks to Ben Stiller about not winning awards if you go “full retard.”

Good performances from everyone in this category, but the absence of Kate Winslet definitely changes the dynamic of the race. Great to see Viola Davis doing so well this awards season. Like Richard Jenkins, she’s a great character actor who is known and respected by filmmakers and has always done solid work. With a nomination for two powerful scenes in Doubt, her profile will hopefully rise.

This was a tough category to predict, with so many strong contenders (and some not-so-strong but still in-the-running) and a lack of clarity in the field. The only sure thing seemed to be Milk. Frozen River‘s inclusion is another triumph for this small, critically-admired indie. I don’t think too many people thought it had a shot.

I always get a little annoyed when Mike Leigh gets screenplay nominations, since his movies are largely improvised. I’d rather have seen The Wrestler or The Visitor in that slot. But I’m really happy to see that In Bruges made it. The movie came out in February and didn’t seem to make much of an impact, but it got a lot of unexpected attention from the critics in their year-end prizes, and when I finally rented it, I could see why. Really entertaining movie, and definitely a good script. The writer, Martin McDonagh, won the Live Action Short Film Oscar in 2005 for a film that also featured Brendan Gleeson and a blend of black comedy, violence and characters dealing with tragedy. McDonagh owes a nod to Tarantino and the Coens, but he does have his own style.

Wow, what is wrong with voters in this branch? For years, the Documentary branch has come under harsh criticism for consistently failing to nominate films that everybody else in the documentary-watching world seems to agree are the best. With some of the boneheaded decisions of the past few years, the Music branch now seems to be drinking the same water as the doc voters. They ignored the score for The Two Towers in 2002, as well as the haunting “Gollum’s Song” that closed the film. In 2004, they failed to nominate Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart for the song “Old Habits Die Hard” from Alfie, as well as any of the brilliantly funny and musically solid tunes from Team America: World Police. Last year, they disqualified Jonny Greenwood’s amazing score for There Will Be Blood, and then didn’t nominate a single one of Eddie Vedder’s songs from Into the Wild, while giving three nominations to the Disney musical Enchanted.

The head-scratching continued this year with the presumptive (and deserving) winner of Best Original Song, Bruce Springsteen’s sorrowful title ballad from The Wrestler, not receiving a nomination. For some reason, only three songs were selected this year, out of 49 that were eligible. The three that were chosen are deserving, but how could the voters ignore “The Wrestler,” such an obvious pick? Given how many crappy, sentimental songs they’ve nominated in the past, the absence of Springsteen’s track is inexcusable.

It’s beyond my comprehension; as absurd as The Dark Knight being ignored in the top races.

And speaking of The Dark Knight, where is the score nomination? Composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, it had initially been disqualified for some inane reason, but that ruling was later revoked and the score was deemed eligible. It should definitely have made it; not having it here is another slap in the face to The Dark Knight and another chunk torn from the music branch’s credibility, and the overall Academy’s by extension.

I was pleased to see I did reasonably well with my predictions, especially in the below-the-line categories that are harder to pin down. But when it comes to The Dark Knight and The Boss…I just don’t get it.

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