January 13, 2013

Oscars 2012: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 9:45 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Complete List of Nominees

We established in the previous post that Oscar was breaking with tradition this year – announcing the nominations earlier in the month, and on a Thursday instead of the usual Tuesday, offering electronic voting, and having the host participate in announcing the nominees, without the usual involvement of the Academy president. And to go along with all of these shake-ups, the nominations themselves turned out to be some of the more surprising we’ve seen in recent years. If you’ve never seen the nominations announced – and unless you live on the east coast and see it on Today or Good Morning America, or are a freak like me and wake up at 5:30 PST to watch, you probably haven’t – here’s the clip to sate your curiosity. The presentation usually consists of the Academy president and a co-announcer – a past winner or nominee – standing at a podium and just going through the top categories. This time they had a little fun with it.

Overall, I fared decently in my predictions. Of the 19 categories I covered, I was 100% in four (Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score) and only missed by one in six others (Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Animated Film, Editing and Visual Effects). I thought there would be 10 Best Picture nominees, but there were only nine, and I missed on one of them (Amour).

And now, some comments by category, where I have something to say…

I failed to even mention Amour as a possibility even though I knew that it was in the running. I didn’t think it would break into the top category, but I should have brought it up nonetheless. It becomes the first foreign language film to be nominated since the category expanded past five movies, and the first at all since 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

If I have one disappointment here, its the omission of Moonrise Kingdom. It seemed like Wes Anderson was finally going to get his due from the Academy. Moonrise seemed to have this year’s Midnight in Paris slot all sewn up: the crowd-pleasing, auteur-driven indie that came out in early summer, became an unexpected box office hit and endured throughout the year to become a consistent presence on the awards circuit. But other than a Best Original Screenplay nomination, the movie was passed over. Still, can’t really complain about any of these nominees. They’re all really good films. (Well, jury’s still out for me on Amour; I haven’t seen it yet.)

Wow. No one saw this category coming. In my predictions, I declared Argo‘s Ben Affleck and Zero Dark Thirty‘s Kathryn Bigelow as the two locks…an assessment shared by everyone in the Oscar predicting world. But the Director’s branch really went its own way this year, passing over the two favorites – the two that most people were expecting to contend for the ultimate win in February – and went with not one, but two idiosyncratic choices. Amour director Michael Haneke was already favored by many to crack this list, but few saw 30 year-old Benh Zeitlin scoring a nod for Beasts of the Southern Wild, his debut feature. Les Misérables director Tom Hooper missed out as well, but he was considered vulnerable anyway, while David O. Russell was right on the edge for Silver Linings Playbook and made it in. I thought he’d just barely miss, but I’m thrilled he didn’t.

I know that Les Misérables has received mixed reactions and that its detractors have issues with Hooper’s direction, but honestly, many of the complaints about his style – things which drove me crazy in The King’s Speech and his HBO miniseries John Adams – didn’t bother me at all in Les Misérables. It’s not even that they didn’t bother me; it’s that I didn’t notice them. I was so caught up in the story, the music and the scale that his trademark flourishes were invisible to me. Who knows why Hooper missed out this time around; it may have nothing to do with those annoying-to-many stylistic choices. Perhaps he missed a nomination by only a handful of votes. But as I still can’t believe he won the Director’s Guild award and the Oscar for The King’s Speech (seriously, he SO should not have won those awards), it puzzles me that now, for a movie where I think he made some bold and interesting choices that served the material (the live singing chief among them), he’s been left out.

Still, his omission is not all that surprising. But the branch not recognizing Affleck or Bigelow is bewildering. Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are both movies marked by excellent direction, and the way they have dominated the awards circuit so far made them obvious choices. It’s particularly disheartening to see Bigelow overlooked so soon after making history as the first woman to win Best Director, and only the fourth to be nominated. It’s almost as if the Academy had to curb any appearance of becoming too progressive by denying what seemed to everyone like an obvious nomination. Some critics and pundits are attributing her non-nomination to negative press Zero Dark Thirty has attracted over its depiction of torture, but I’m not buying that argument at all. The movie was still nominated for five awards, including Best Picture, Actress and Screenplay. If anyone was going to be held to task for potential inaccuracies, it would be screenwriter Mark Boal, but he was nominated. True, his nomination comes just from fellow writers, while only directors nominate directors, but I think it highly unlikely that directors would allow their opinion to be swayed by any argument that an artist’s creative freedom should be stifled.

Whatever the reasons for Affleck and Bigelow being no-shows, their absence may also be a potential game changer for the Best Picture race. Argo and Zero Dark Thirty were widely seen as the two films to beat for the prize, but without nominations for their directors, both movies take a huge hit. Only three times in Oscar history has a movie won Best Picture without its director being nominated. The last time was Driving Miss Daisy, in 1989. Prior to that it hadn’t happened since Grand Hotel, in 1931-32.

I’m not counting either film out just yet; they’re still showing plenty of life. The evening of the Oscar nominations, the Broadcast Film Critics Awards were held, where Affleck won Best Director and Argo was named Best Picture. (Affleck earned a standing ovation when he took the stage to accept. Similarly, Kathryn Bigelow received loud and hearty applause when Jessica Chastain paid tribute to her while accepting her Best Actress award.) Affleck and Bigelow are still in contention for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award, the Director’s Guild of America award and the Golden Globe (which, actually, has been handed out while I’ve been finishing this post. Perhaps one of them won? I’ll be settling down in front of the TV and DVR shortly). Depending on how they, and their films, continue to do over the next month and a half, their Best Picture chances are not necessarily dead (and as producers of their films, both still have a chance of personally taking home the gold as nominees in the Best Picture category).

When asked about the Oscar omission, Affleck was gracious and good-humored, focusing instead on the Best Picture nomination and the other seven categories in which the film was recognized. Zero producer Megan Ellison could take a cue from Affleck; she tweeted a less diplomatic reaction to Bigelow being overlooked. At the end of the day, however much we assume or perceive that certain spots in each category “belong” to certain people, and that in this case Benh Zeitlin and either Russell or Haneke took the spots that were expected to go to Affleck or Bigelow, these spots don’t belong to anybody except the five people that get the nomination. And this year, the director’s branch had some different ideas from the rest of us about who those people would be.

Another point of interest: the nominations marked an unusually wide divergence between the Academy’s nominees and the DGA’s nominees. There tends to be one, maybe two differences, but three is nearly unheard of. And here I thought this year the would have a rare 5-for-5 match.

I’m glad to see Daniel Day-Lewis here, but there was no question that he would be, so my excitement is directed more at the nominations for Joaquin Phoenix and Bradley Cooper. As discussed in the previous post, there was speculation that Phoenix’s chances may have faded, but I had faith that the actor’s branch of the Academy would be unable to ignore such a powerful, magnetic performance. As for Cooper, there’s no question that he deserves the nomination, but I was worried that voters might not feel he had yet earned an honor like this one, or that they might simply take for granted how good he is, because his performance appears so natural and effortless. I’m happy my doubts were all for naught. I do feel badly that John Hawkes missed out. Although he wasn’t among my personal picks, he comes off as a humble, cool guy and its always nice to see a character actor like him move into the spotlight the way he has in the past few years.

So Quvenzhané Wallis did it. Many thought she would, but I had my doubts. Now the little girl at the center of Beasts of the Southern Wild is the youngest Best Actress nominee ever (while Amour‘s 85 year-old Emmanuelle Riva becomes the oldest Best Actress nominee ever). Wallis is adorable, no doubt, and she is compelling in the movie, but I can’t get behind her nomination. She holds the screen with a natural charisma, but that’s the extent of what I got from her performance. I don’t mean that as a criticism; only that the movie doesn’t ask much more of her. It’s a story seen through the eyes of a little girl, and so her performance consists of appearing open, curious, observant….which are natural states for someone of her age. That doesn’t mean any kid could have done it, and there are still technical requirements of any performance that need to be achieved – lines to memorize, marks to hit, etc. But for me, the Best Actress nomination is out of proportion to her achievement. Child actors have been nominated before, but few quite as young as Wallis (only Kramer vs. Kramer‘s Justin Henry was younger, and technically 1931 nominee Jackie Cooper  as well, but only by a few days). Justin Henry, or Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine, or Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, or Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon, all give fuller performances that require more of them as actors than Beasts does of Wallis. She’s a pleasure to watch, but it’s a far leap to Oscar worthy.

It was no surprise that Alan Arkin was nominated for Argo; he’s been a favorite ever since the movie was released. But I’ll take this opportunity to say that I think it’s a wasted nomination. It’s not that Arkin isn’t good, but that the role is so small and asks little of him. He’s at the center of some of the movie’s funniest moments, but it’s not a performance that allows him to go particularly deep…which would be fine with me if his part were at least bigger. But his time in the movie is brief, and is all about surface pleasures – a combo that doesn’t merit awards recognition. There was another actor who, like Arkin, is an older gentleman and a former Oscar winner, who also provided much of his movie’s comic relief, but who was featured more prominently and had a bit more opportunity to dig into his character (or characters, as it were). That would be Jim Broadbent in Cloud Atlas. That’s a nomination I would rather have seen.

As for the other contenders, all are fully deserving. Prior to seeing Django Unchained, I had hopes that it would offer a role that might bring Leonardo DiCaprio some Academy recognition. It was something I focused on when naming the movie among my most anticipated of 2012. DiCaprio would be a deserving nominee, but I can’t argue in the slightest with Christoph Waltz, who once again proves himself a master scene stealer and a total treat to watch. I don’t know if anybody has ever delivered Tarantino’s superb dialogue as colorfully and joyously as Waltz has in both Django and Inglourious Basterds. He seems able to coil his tongue around it like a python savoring a victim. It’s also nice to see De Niro back in an Oscar race; as I wrote about previously, it’s just nice to see De Niro giving a really good performance again.

I feel foolish for not even mentioning Jacki Weaver as a possible nominee for her role as Bradley Cooper’s loving mother in Silver Linings Playbook. Not many people were expecting her to be nominated, but she was enough on the periphery that I should have included her as a possibility. And it was a nice surprise to hear her name called. Unlike her co-stars Cooper, De Niro and Jennifer Lawrence, she has no big moment or obvious “Oscar clip” scene where she gets to take center stage. But in essence, hers is a performance that defines the category. She provides pitch perfect support to the story, and even without the kind of showcase moment that’s usually required to get an actor nominated, Weaver adds indelibly to the fabric of the movie. Her performance goes a long way toward making the family dynamic believable and relatable.

Her longshot nomination is the most significant indicator of the movie’s popularity with the Academy, particularly the actor’s branch. Add to that the directing nomination for David O. Russell, and Silver Linings Playbook becomes a much more formidable contender for Best Picture than anyone would have thought, especially now that Argo and Zero Dark Thirty have suffered unexpected blows. With Weaver’s nomination, Silver Linings also becomes the 14th movie to earn recognition in all four acting categories, and the first since 1981’s Reds. (Others include Network, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Bonnie and Clyde, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf, Sunset Boulevard and A Streetcar Named Desire. That’s a hell of a list.)

Elsewhere in this category, Amy Adams managed a nomination for The Master, so I’m glad I didn’t underestimate her again…and I’m glad to see that the actor’s branch gave due recognition to all three of the film’s stars. They were the only branch that did, answering my question of how the movie would fare with Academy. Not too well, obviously. It’s too bad that Ann Dowd couldn’t break in for Compliance. It was never likely to happen, but it would have been a great victory if she had overcome the odds. She’s certainly the kind of performer who would most benefit from the high profile recognition of an Oscar nomination. But it wasn’t to be, nor was Nicole Kidman’s impressive, uncharacteristic turn in The Paperboy.

After all my talk about animators championing foreign and independent animated films from specialty distributors like GKIDS, they went with an entirely mainstream slate, opting for The Pirates! Band of Misfits where many of us expected something less well-known to stake a claim. In such a strong year for animated films out of Hollywood, this may end up a tough category to predict.

In reaction to the nominees put forth by the American Society of Cinematographers, I adjusted my initial picks, removing Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty. I was half right. Django did get the Academy’s nod, while The Master was my pick that they overlooked, in favor of Anna Karenina. This surprised me, since The Master‘s beautiful 70mm images were the subject of much acclaim. But as I said when making predictions for this category, these below-the-line races – particularly Cinematography, Production Design and Costume Design – each offered a cup that runneth over with amazing work, and no matter how it shook out, some deserving movies were going to miss.

That said, there were some pretty glaring and disappointing omissions. Again, I have to bring up Moonrise Kingdom. Film after film, Wes Anderson’s vision provides some of the most gorgeous, exquisite, intricate and original production design, cinematography and costume design in movies today, and never once have these achievements been recognized by the Academy. It seemed as if Moonrise was primed to change that at long last, but it didn’t happen. Meanwhile, something like Lincoln, which, okay, is wonderfully designed but has none of the imagination required by films without a history book at their disposal, scores a nomination because voters too often just go with the prestige period piece instead of daring to honor something slightly outside the box. And where is Cloud Atlas, whose designers had to create six films within one, with settings that range from a ship at sea in the 1800’s to a futuristic metropolis to a post-apocalyptic wilderness? I know I was just saying that there was too much good work for all of it to be honored, but it would have been nice to see some of the less obvious choices recognized. The camerawork, production design and costumes in Lincoln are all impressive, but none really deserved to be included among the five best examples of those disciplines from the year. Yet because Lincoln is such an Academy-friendly kind of movie, it gets swept into these categories that would have done better to honor work that was more varied, bold or unique. Happens all the time, but the quality and quantity of the alternatives make it especially frustrating this time around.

Kudos to the costume designers for not forgetting about the early year release Mirror Mirror, which featured an extraordinarily imaginative collection of outfits courtesy of Eiko Ishioka, a previous winner for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. She died of cancer shortly before Mirror Mirror‘s release, making this nomination a bittersweet final testament to her vision. The competing Snow White film, Snow White and the Huntsman, also made it into the category, most likely on the strength of the elaborate gowns worn by Charlize Theron’s evil queen. But here again, the branch opts for Lincoln instead of the more creative, stylish and original threads on display in Moonrise Kingdom, Django Unchained, Cloud Atlas, Dark Shadows, The Hunger Games or The Hobbit. I don’t mean to pick on Lincoln; I love the movie and have nothing but appreciation for its sets, costumes, etc. But other than a couple of elaborate dresses for Sally Field, we’re talking about a lot of black suits. The work is surely well-researched and impeccably made, but does it deserve to be feted over any of the movies I mentioned? The Academy thinks so. I’m sure many others do too. I don’t.

Unlike in the Best Director category, the two contenders here that I said were safe bets actually made the list: “Suddenly” from Les Misérables, and the title track from Skyfall. The other three nominees make for a so-so slate. “Before My Time” is from the documentary Chasing Ice, about melting polar ice caps. It’s a stark, pretty piece, but not all that memorable or distinctive. The most interesting thing about it is that, randomly, it’s performed by Scarlett Johansson. Oscar host Seth MacFarlane earned a nomination for co-writing the jazzy tune “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from his movie Ted, which is performed by Norah Jones. “Pi’s Lullaby” is the final nominee, a gentle tune that accompanies Life of Pi‘s opening credits. It’s nice, but…really? Best Song? Out of the 75 possibilities? It really surprises me that the majority of the music branch’s members named these three songs among their five favorites of the year. I would toss any of them aside in favor of the songs I predicted and/or named as my personal picks in the previous post, not to mention others like “Cosmonaut” from Lawless; “Strange Love” from Frankenweenie; or if they wanted to be daring, “100 Black Coffins” from Django Unchained.

Oh well. These are our nominees. Now the question is whether or not they’ll be performed during the show. Best Song nominees always were, until a few years ago when producers decided to eliminate that tradition. However, with a huge star like Adele among the possible singers, and the Academy’s unconcealed desire to increase ratings, will they be able to resist the chance to lure additional viewers to the show? The producers already announced – before the nominations were unveiled – that Oscar night would include a tribute to 50 years of James Bond. Whatever they have in mind, perhaps they would work Adele into the program. And if that happens, surely they would need to include performances of the other nominees as well. With Norah Jones, Scarlett Johannson, and Hugh Jackman among the singers, it could be a reasonably starry (translation: ratings-friendly) affair.

I was right about The Hobbit, but missed on the other two. The makeup in Hitchcock successfully gave Anthony Hopkins the same physical build as the famed titular director, but failed to make Hopkins look much like him. I guess that wasn’t a consideration. As for Les Misérables, I thought it would miss out in favor of Lincoln, which employed similar work (wigs, facial hair, etc.), but if I recall accurately, featured more variety – and more in quantity – than Les Misérables. C’est la vie.

I’ve only seen one of these shorts – Disney’s Paperman – but I just wanted to acknowledge that Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare” is on the list. After unforgivably failing to nominate The Simpsons Movie for Best Animated Feature in 2007, the Academy has done right to recognize America’s greatest family ever. Now if the Oscar producers can get Krusty the Klown and Rainer Wolfcastle to present the award, that will be a real coup.

So that’s all I’ve got to say for now, much to your deep, deep relief, I’m sure. But fear not! I’ll have my equally interminable, exhaustively considered predictions shortly before Oscar night, Sunday, February 24. That leaves you plenty of time to see some of the nominees, or unsubscribe from this blog and flee far, far way, off the grid, where you never have to be subjected to anything like this ever again.


  1. Nice writeup, Burnce. I’m well on my way to seeing all the nominees again this year. Should be much easier than years past. I can’t believe Cloud Atlas isn’t on the list for makeup. Given the sheer amount of work (2/3 of which is excellent) it seems a criminal omission.

    Comment by maestro122 — January 14, 2013 @ 12:44 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Maestro. Yeah, I mentioned the absence of Cloud Atlas in my previous piece, since it wasn’t even included in the Makeup branch’s longlist. Kind of a smack in the face. I’m really disappointed that the movie didn’t get any nominations; there were several it deserved. It absolutely should have been in Best Original Score and Best Film Editing, and recognition for Costume Design and Production Design would have been nice too.

      Comment by DB — January 14, 2013 @ 2:55 pm | Reply

  2. Affleck should have been nominated for best Director. Keep up the good work David. I enjoy your posts.

    Comment by Richard Gentner — January 15, 2013 @ 12:45 pm | Reply

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