January 27, 2012

Oscars 2011: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 5:22 pm
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Complete List of Nominees

I like to take at least a couple of days to weigh in on my reaction to the nominees, so that all the professionals who probably have to fill some quota of posts per day can get their knee-jerk reactions out of the way, and I can try to offer a more measured response that also allows me to call them on their rapidly delivered, unconsidered commentary. Everywhere you turn on nomination day, you see the word “snub.”  EW.com was just one site that was all about pointing out the snubs. Every single movie or performance that was considered to have a chance at a nomination but didn’t get there in the end was snubbed. Yet they never go on record to say which performance should have been left off in favor of the snubees. If Fassbender and DiCaprio had made it, then two other people wouldn’t have…and then these writers would be crying foul that those people had been snubbed. On Dictionary.com, the first definition for “snub” is “to treat with disdain or contempt, especially by ignoring.” A snub is personal; these oversights seldom are. I don’t think anybody was leveling Michael Fassbender or Tilda Swinton or Albert Brooks with contempt or disdain. The acting categories have five slots. There are always more than five possible nominees. Someone’s getting left out. Just because someone or something got a Golden Globe nomination or a guild nomination or even both doesn’t mean that getting overlooked by the Academy is “baffling,” as the above article says. Quite the opposite, actually: it’s basic math. This happens every year, folks. It’s how the game works. I’m not saying don’t be disappointed if your beloved contender misses out; we’ve all been there, and it wouldn’t be Oscar season without some griping about who got in and who didn’t. (I was particularly peeved by last year’s omissions of True Grit‘s Matt Damon and Inception director Christopher Nolan. But I also said they deserved to be in their respective categories more than specific people who’d made it. I mean really, Tom Hooper for Best Director?!?). If you’re not at least willing to take it that far, you can’t cry foul that every single possible contender wasn’t nominated.


When you make a game of predicting the Oscar nominations, there’s a tug-of-war between wanting to be right and wanting to see some surprises. Because I don’t feel too passionately about anything in the race this year, I was more pleased than perturbed by the unexpected developments. Let’s take a look at how things played out. In the previous piece, I refrained from offering my own thoughts on most of the nominees in contention; God knows I had enough to say as it was. But this time it’s personal! A little bit, at least…

I managed 100% accuracy in only three of the 19 categories I predicted (Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing), while in six more I missed by just one. In most others, I was off by two. Oscar prognostication is a tricky and unpredictable art, so I’m pretty happy with my results.

Considering we didn’t know how many nominees there would be, I didn’t do too badly. I predicted eight (which was in line with what most of the “professionals” were expecting too), and there turned out to be nine. I thought War Horse would miss while The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would score, but it turned out to be the opposite. Then a surprise ninth nominee was revealed: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which pretty much everyone had written off. It only picked up one other nomination, but you have to wonder how close it came in the Directing and Adapted Screenplay categories. (EW.com questioned how the movie secured a nomination when it was reviewed so unfavorably by critics, as if critical consensus has any more validity than an Oscar nomination. It’s all subjective in the end.)

Looking at how the field has shaped up since the first critics awards were announced at the end of November, the biggest shock to me has been the powerful presence of Hugo. Heading into awards season last fall and trying to guess which movies would become award magnets – before the November and December releases had even been seen – Hugo was mentioned consistently, but more as an on-the-edges possibility than a likely bet. Had it not been directed by Scorsese or someone of equal stature, I doubt it would have come up at all. And even when it finally came out, I don’t think anyone really expected it to grab hold the way it has. I enjoyed it for sure, but I’m mystified by all the hype. Still, at this point its Oscar presence was assured, and its 11 nominations give it the year’s highest tally. I’m sure a large part of the reason it’s been so rapturously embraced by critics and moviemakers is that it’s such an unabashed celebration of movies themselves, from a director who is steeped in film history and has long been a passionate advocate about the need for film preservation. The same affection for old Hollywood probably accounts in part for The Artist being such a dominant film in the race this year, and the likely winner for Best Picture at this point. It’s a charming and entertaining movie, but too slight to deserve the top award, in my estimation. It’s a gimmick, and there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but for Best Picture I’d like to see something with more meat on its bones.

The only other nomination that could be considered a surprise here is The Tree of Life. It was never a sure thing, but I’m glad to see it get this level of recognition. Even those who enjoyed the film have to admit that it’s a pretty unlikely nominee, so seeing that it had enough support is encouraging. One of the Academy’s bolder choices this year.

The 1970’s are well represented with nominations for Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Terrence Malick. Allen hasn’t been nominated in this category since 1994’s Bullets Over Broadway, and it’s the first time since 1984’s Broadway Danny Rose that he’s been nominated for Best Director without any of the film’s performances being nominated as well. Just a little pointless and random trivia for you.

As is typical on nominations day, many of the nominees release statements of gratitude through their publicists. I particularly liked what Scorsese said about the first-time challenges he dealt with this time around:  “I am deeply honored to have been nominated by the Academy for my work on Hugo. Every picture is a challenge, and this one – where I was working with 3D, HD and Sacha Baron Cohen for the first time – was no exception. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you’ve been recognized by the people in your industry. I congratulate my fellow nominees. It’s an impressive list, and I’m in excellent company.”

Michael Fassbender was left out, which is a shame (no pun intended), but an actor as prolific, engaging and versatile as he is will surely find himself here one of these days. I also thought DiCaprio would manage a nomination for J. Edgar, but it was not to be. The movie didn’t do much for me, but DiCaprio was terrific. When you have an actor as recognizable as he is playing a character with such an affected accent, along with the aging makeup…it’s hard to pull that off without the audience sensing a disturbance in the movie star force. But he nailed it, right from the get-go. Oh well. He can bury his sorrow in Blake Lively’s cleavage, or in the cleavage of whatever incredibly hot woman he’s currently dating.

Besides, how can you not be happy for Demián Bichir and Gary Oldman? I’m impressed that enough voters found Bichir amidst all the better known actors and films. He has a long list of credits in Mexico, but has appeared in few high-profile American works (Steven Soderbergh’s Che and the Showtime series Weeds are the only items on his IMdb page that I recognized). A Better Life is a simple and straightforward movie that’s not without its contrivances, but Bichir gives a moving performance that is all the more effective because it too is so simple and straightforward. As for Gary Oldman, I mean…what can you say? How did it take this long? Much as I wanted to, I was unable to wrap my brain around Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and felt that Oldman’s role was just too subdued to merit Oscar attention (not that I’m against subtlety at all, but Oldman felt almost invisible in the part; maybe that was the point). Still, while he wouldn’t have made my list, I’m nothing short of thrilled to see him get this long overdue recognition. If nothing else, he shoulda been a contender in 2000…for The Contender. But he was involved in some behind-the-scenes battles on that movie that apparently spoiled his chances. Now, after years of doing mostly supporting parts (and doing them quite well, as any Batman and Harry Potter fan can attest), I hope this will bring more lead roles his way once again.

In their ongoing mission to explore every corner of what didn’t come to pass, EW.com asked why Ryan Gosling came up short, calling it “crazy” that the actor wasn’t nominated and that he didn’t win either of the two Golden Globes he was nominated for. I’m not sure what’s so crazy, since he wasn’t remotely considered a favorite in either category. The writer offers three explanations for why “the year of Ryan Gosling” petered out. I’d like to I suggest a fourth option: that none of Gosling’s performances were necessarily more rich or complex than the five that were cited instead, nor were the films heavily favored by Academy members (both Drive and The Ides of March eeked only one nod each). Just because someone shows up in a few good movies during the year doesn’t suddenly make them Oscar bait. Now Gosling was robbed last year for Blue Valentine, but this time around it just wasn’t in the cards. No great mystery.

I thought that if anyone could crack my predicted five in this race it would most likely be Rooney Mara, and so she did, taking the spot I had given to Tilda Swinton. I have yet to see Swinton’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, but I can’t say Mara doesn’t impress in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. (Somewhere on nomination day, Noomi Rapace – the star of 2009’s Swedish version – was bitterly muttering about xenophobic Americans and their bullshit remakes.) I do find it curious that Mara made the cut given that Dragon Tattoo wasn’t nominated for Picture, Director or Adapted Screenplay. All three corresponding guilds nominated it (while the Screen Actor’s Guild passed over Mara), and several other guilds honored the movie too. Still, actors vote for actors at this stage in the process, and the actors branch is the largest in the Academy (yet significantly smaller than the SAG membership). Clearly enough of them were impressed.

The big news here is the absence of Albert Brooks. Like most people playing this guessing game, I expected him to show up on the strength of his co-domination of the Supporting Actor landscape thus far. Still, from day one I’ve been perplexed by the strong buzz he generated and by how many honors he collected. Drive is one of my favorites this year, and Brooks is great in it…but Oscar great? I don’t see it. It seems like everybody just got overexcited about a guy best known for playing neurotic nebbishes going 180 as a smooth criminal. I love the against-the-grain casting, but c’mon – was he so amazing that 16 regional critics associations named him Supporting Actor of the year? (15 additional organizations nominated him or named him as the runner-up).

At least he took it with a sense of humor, as evidenced by his reaction on Twitter:

(Fellow non-nominee Patton Oswalt, of Young Adult, had a whole series of choice Twitter reactions going…)

Great to see Nick Nolte nominated, as well as Max von Sydow. Reactions to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close run the spectrum, as mentioned earlier, but von Sydow is undoubtedly a highlight…not even for the “Oscar-bait” element of the performance (he doesn’t speak at all in the part), but for his warm and engaging interactions with young lead Thomas Horn.

Almost went 5-for-5 in this category, but I swapped out McTeer for Woodley at the last minute. Oh well. I’m really happy that Melissa McCarthy made it for Bridesmaids. Even with all the momentum she had going in, you never know what the Academy is going to do with comedy this broad. Also great to see Jessica Chastain here, even if the picture that was displayed onscreen during the announcement was for the wrong movie. (She was nominated for The Help; the picture was from The Tree of Life.) I know she was in two dozen movies this year, but couldn’t they have used a picture from the right one?

Turns out I was right to doubt 50/50‘s likelihood of getting nominated, but I still only went 3-for-5 in this category, opting for Beginners and Win Win as the less-celebrated movies that would make their mark here. Instead the Academy went for Margin Call – which was a totally pleasant surprise – and A Separation, which I doubted had been seen by enough voters. I really do wish the writers had found room for Win Win. Tom McCarthy has written and directed three movies, and each has been unique and wonderful. He’ll land here eventually; I hoped third time would be the charm.

As a sidenote, here’s an interesting article about the screenplay for The Artist, explaining how it was put together given that the movie has no traditional dialogue.

So the animators rejected The Adventures of Tintin after all. Poor motion capture technology. It’s like the bastard child nobody wants. Actors don’t think it’s real acting, animators don’t think it’s real animation…at least the visual effects branch can be counted on to give it a home (though Tintin didn’t even make it to the visual effects branch’s initial list of 15 qualifiers, suggesting they only accept mocap as a component of a film rather than a style for the film as a whole).

I thought the high quality of Cars 2‘s animation might be enough to land it in the category, but I was wrong. Pixar still has a chance to take something home thanks to La Luna earning a nomination for Best Animated Short, but it will be sitting out the bigger race this year. Ironic for a movie about a big race.

Another category where I came close to a 5-for-5 call until a last minute switch. I happened to see a clip from The Help online, and decided to plug that into my predictions in the spot where I’d had Jane Eyre. When will I learn? Always go with your first instinct! Still, Anonymous and W.E. were a bit off the beaten path, so I’m pleased I got those right.

Seriously, what is the fucking problem with the Academy’s music branch these days? I was only half-joking in my previous post when I said they had expended all of their creative ambition on wins for Eminem and Three 6 Mafia, but this is ridiculous. Only two nominations out of 39 eligible songs? All three shortlisted contenders from The Muppets were perfectly worthy of recognition. “The Living Proof” – which plays over the end of The Help – is an uplifting song that speaks directly to the plight of one of the movie’s main characters, and is propelled by the always impressive vocals of Mary J. Blige. Having not seen Albert Nobbs yet, I don’t know how the song “Lay Your Head Down” (sung by Sinead O’Connor) is utilized, but on its own merits it’s certainly a pretty enough lullaby. I’m not saying either of them are classics, but considering some of the sentimental dreck the Academy has nominated before, these are certainly strong enough to be up for the award. The music branch governors need to go back to the drawing board in this category, because the latest round of rule changes instituted a few years ago are clearly not working.

I suspected that John Williams would make it for War Horse, and should have known he’d make it for The Adventures of Tintin too…but as a lover of film scores and a huge Williams fan, I gotta call bullshit on these. Both scores are entirely generic and unremarkable. They’re hardly worthy of the amazing work Williams has done over the years, and there’s nothing in them that is memorable or evokes the mood or spirit of the movie in any special way. There were a lot of choices available to voters for this category. These are just lazy nominations.

After all my theorizing about paying tribute to an industry pioneer and honoring a film that eschewed CGI for a more old fashioned approach, the visual effects branch opted to skip The Tree of Life in favor of giant boxing robots in the Hugh Jackman sleeper hit Real Steel. Didn’t see the movie, so I can’t talk smack about the quality of the effects. From the trailer, which played at every single friggin’ movie I went to between July and October, the effects looked good enough, but how many fighting robot movies does the category need per year? I think Transformers probably featured enough to last for at least the next decade.

I was not alone in thinking that Super 8 would get its due in the sound categories, but it didn’t happen. I also should have known better than to omit The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as Fincher’s movies often do well here and I was already banking on widespread support for the movie. But I can never feel too bad when I blow it on the sound awards.


So the game is afoot. Over the next month, the nominees will run the rat race of interviews and events, working the campaign trail like the Republican presidential candidates (only far, far more appealing). Meanwhile, those of us who follow it all will start seeing “vs.” show up a lot. A mere day after the nominations were announced, the cover for the new issue of Entertainment Weekly was revealed, proclaiming “George vs. Brad” and “Meryl vs. Viola,” as if pairs of actors (and in both of these cases, good friends) are going to enter the Thunderdome and battle it out bloodsport-style until only one is left standing to grasp that golden idol with crimson-stained hands. Yes, I’ve probably been guilty of the Oscar season rhetoric over my years of writing about this subject that I love despite its absurdity. I’m sure if I comb through past Oscar posts, I’ll see that I too have thrown around “snubbed” and “vs.” But I’m trying not to do that anymore. I still get fired up about the way things go, but I try to address my issues with the appropriate vocabulary.

Alright, let’s see…I think Albert Nobbs just opened locally today….

1 Comment »

  1. YOU DIDN’T SEE REAL STEAL??? And you consider yourself a film aficionado… Harumph.

    (Otherwise, excellent analysis, Mr. B.)

    Comment by Kevin D. (@Kluv32) — January 30, 2012 @ 7:00 am | Reply

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