I Am DB

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…

BEST PICTURE
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.)

BEST DIRECTOR
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.

BEST ACTOR
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.

BEST ACTRESS
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.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
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.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
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.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
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.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
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.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
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.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
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.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
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.

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
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.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
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.

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January 27, 2012

Oscars 2011: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 5:22 pm
Tags: , , , ,

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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.

Anyway…

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.

BEST PICTURE
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.

BEST DIRECTOR
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.”

BEST ACTOR
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.

BEST ACTRESS
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.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
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.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
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?

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
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.

BEST ANIMATED FILM
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.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
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.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
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.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
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.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
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.

BEST SOUND MIXING/SOUND EDITING
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.

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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….

February 5, 2011

Oscars 2010: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 3:20 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Complete List of Nominees

With the announcement of the Oscar nominations now nearly two weeks past, you’ve probably been aching with anticipation to hear my thoughts. My apologies for the delay, but I figured it would take this long to read my predictions piece anyway, so I had a little time to play with. Ready to get back into it?

BEST PICTURE
This list shaped up pretty much as expected, with 127 Hours muscling in to replace The Town, which I thought would make the cut. I’ve got no problem with that. The Town was a fine movie and another welcome component of the Ben Affleck Career Reboot, but I was surprised it got elevated to the Best Picture conversation in the first place.

Despite the presence of eight other movies, most still see the contest as boiling down to The King’s Speech and The Social Network. Based on recent events, I have to agree. What recent events, you ask? Well, as I said previously, things can change awfully fast. And so they have. The first half of the season clearly favored The Social Network,  but in the days since the nominations were revealed, the Screen Actor’s Guild honored The King’s Speech with their top prize – for best cast – and the Director’s Guild selected Speech‘s Tom Hooper as Best Director. (I’m having trouble making sense of that one, but I’ll say a bit more below.) Taken individually, neither of these awards necessarily shore up a Best Picture win for The King’s Speech. But taken together – along with a win from the Producer’s Guild – that scenario now looks likely.

I’m about to go off on a tangent here, but longtime readers know this is nothing new. I possess no filter. The day of the nominations, this article appeared on CNN.com and promptly pissed me off. The author, one Lewis Beale, calls The Social Network an “also-ran” behind The King’s Speech and True Grit because Speech led the way with 12 nominations, Grit followed with 10 and Social tied for third with eight. He says the numbers make Speech and Grit the frontrunners.

No, Lewis. No they don’t.

Speech may well be the frontrunner now, but not because it has the most nominations. And sorry, but Grit isn’t a frontrunner at all. The number of nominations a movie gets has nothing to do with whether it will win Best Picture or with whether the Academy thinks it’s the single best movie of the year. If The Social Network is now relegated to “also-ran” status, that’s not because it doesn’t have the highest nomination tally; it’s because three major awards, voted on by many of the same people who vote for the Oscars, all went to a different film, thereby suggesting a lack of the necessary support. And at the time Beale’s article was published, two of those awards hadn’t even been announced yet. The Social Network was still sittin’ pretty.

The movies that receive the most nominations every year are the ones that hit the sweet spot of having appeal in the top races (Picture, Acting, Directing, Writing) AND the below-the-line races (crafts and technical categories). Fantasy or fanciful films (Lord of the Rings, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and period pieces (Bugsy, Titanic and yes, The King’s Speech and True Grit) are the movies that score the big numbers. A movie like The Social Network is not gonna get nominated for things like Art Direction or Costume Design. That fact has nothing to do with how good the movie is or how much people like it. Contemporary movies almost never get those nominations, fair or not. Fantasy films, science-fiction films and period pieces get those nominations. Simple as that.

There is no reliable correlation between a movie getting the most nominations of the year and then winning Best Picture. Often it happens (Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Titanic) and often it doesn’t (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Bugsy, Benjamin Button). But guys like Beale try to draw direct lines like these all the time.

To address some of his other points:
  • If voters disliked Social‘s main character so much, they wouldn’t have nominated the actor who played him.
  • If voters didn’t appreciate Aaron Sorkin’s script, they wouldn’t have nominated it. And Sorkin is the favorite to win this award by a wide margin.
  • The film’s supporting actors got dissed because that category is super-competitive and some good work is inevitably left out (like Matt Damon in the more-nominated-than-Social-Network-so-it-must-be-a-frontrunner True Grit).
About the only thing Beale gets right is that The King’s Speech – as enjoyable, well-crafted and audience-friendly as it is – is a bigger-budget Masterpiece Theatre installment that constitutes safe, traditional filmmaking. Although I thought the movie was great, I’d like to see something more interesting singled out by the Academy. But like Ma Kelly in Johnny Dangerously, it goes both ways. Let’s use Benjmain Button again. In 2008, it led the field with 13 nominations, and it was the more traditional, classical movie in the year’s race. But the big winner – taking Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and five others – was Slumdog Millionaire, which displayed a bolder, more modern-style. (Benjamin Button – directed, ironically, by The Social Network‘s David Fincher – won three awards.) To the Academy’s credit, in recent years they’ve been more often swinging away from their traditional safe zone, giving Best Picture to darker, violent movies like The Departed and No Country for Old Men that they have traditionally not annointed. (The Departed, incidentally, was the fourth most nominated film of its year. I guess that was an also-ran too.) So the pendulum may well swing back this year, with The King’s Speech taking Best Picture. But if it beats The Social Network, it will have nothing to do with the latter having received fewer nominations.

Tangent over.

BEST DIRECTOR
I’m not sure what compelled me in the pre-nomination write-up to mention the potential of Christopher Nolan being overlooked, because I really didn’t think it was likely. But there it was. That was easily the biggest shock and disappointment for me. I don’t get it. What does this guy have to do to earn an Oscar nomination for directing? Three citations from the Director’s Guild of America over the past decade, and still not a single nod to match from the Academy. Eight nominations for Inception, so certainly an impressive showing for the film, but I don’t understand the lack of appreciation for Nolan’s undeniable vision and skill. The five nominees (six actually, with the Coen Brothers) all did impressive work, but c’mon – from a directorial standpoint, The King’s Speech is hardly the equal of Inception. Nolan continues to be one of the most exciting directors on the scene right now, and I look forward to the day when the Directing branch of the Academy will wake the fuck up and acknowledge it.

With that out of the way, at least there wasn’t a total rejection of bold, original filmmakers. Darren Aronofsky’s first nomination is cause for celebration, and it’s nice to see David O. Russell embraced by the establishment as well.

BEST ACTOR
Although I still haven’t seen Biutiful, something I’ll soon be able to rectify now that it’s playing at a theater near me, I was happy to see Javier Bardem make the list. Just based on what I’ve heard of the film, it seems like the right move. And it gave the announcement a nice jolt of surprise since his inclusion was by no means a sure thing. Unfortunately, the voters blew it with their omission of Blue Valentine‘s Ryan Gosling. I love Jeff Bridges and enjoyed him in True Grit, but there’s no way that performance belongs here over Gosling’s, whose portrayal of a husband trying to save his marriage is raw and electrifying. The guy literally acted without a net. His absence stings all the more given that his equally impressive co-star Michelle Williams did get nominated. This is a case of two actors truly doing a dance, relying on each other in every way, each one’s amazing work due in part to drawing amazing work from the other. To nominate only one is an act of blindness.

BEST ACTRESS
The fact that Michelle Williams was nominated while Gosling wasn’t speaks, perhaps indirectly, to the disproportionate number of strong roles for women to strong roles for men. There almost always seems to be stiffer competition for the five Best Actor nominations than for the Best Actress slots. I’d argue it’s at least partly the reason Kate Winslet was nominated for both Titanic and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind while her co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jim Carrey, respectively, were slighted. Williams absolutely deserves her nomination; I’m not trying to imply she only made it in because the field was weak. It’s more the point that Gosling didn’t make it because that field had more contenders, which comes back around to the dearth of great roles for women in film. But I digress. My final comment on the subject is that Williams’ nomination thrills me, but also disappoints me because I can’t help but see her recognition as one half of a whole.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Though it was no surprise to see Christian Bale nominated – indeed, his win is as close to a sure thing as we have – it still needs to be said that this recognition from the Academy is long overdue for such a committed and versatile actor. It’s hard to believe this is his first nomination. And while we’re at it, congratulations are also in order for Mark Ruffalo finally making it into the club, over a decade after You Can Count on Me put him on the map. And it’s really nice to see a great working actor like John Hawkes get this level of recognition. Anyone familiar with his work in films like The Perfect Storm and American Gangster and TV shows like Deadwood and Eastbound and Down will surely be happy for him, and will be impressed by his lived-in performance in Winter’s Bone.

The category’s big disappointments are the exclusions of True Grit‘s Matt Damon and The Social Network‘s Andrew Garfield. I made my case for Damon in the previous write-up, so I won’t repeat myself. Except I’m totally going to repeat myself. What the hell happened this awards season to Matt Damon?!? Barely a mention for his essential performance even as True Grit became one of the most acclaimed and honored films of the year. 10 nominations in total, two of those for the acting, and yet no recognition for Damon? These are the same people who nominated him last year for a competent but unremarkable turn in Invictus, yet here overlook the colorful, captivating work he does in what is practically the classic definition of a great supporting performance. The Invictus argument may be unfair, given that a film or performance must be judged against the competition it faces in the given year. Last year’s Supporting Actor field was unusually lacking, whereas this year’s was typically overcrowded. Still, Damon’s work stands among the year’s best.

As for Garfield, I had him pegged last fall as the most likely acting nominee from The Social Network‘s excellent ensemble, but in the end it was Jesse Eisenberg who dominated the awards circuit and gets to carry the flag for the film’s cast at the Oscars. I wish Garfield could be there with him. The role isn’t as showy as, say, Christian Bale’s, but he brings a compelling dynamic to it. I’d even say that much like Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling’s performances work in true sync, so do Garfield’s and Eisenberg’s.

I enjoyed Jeremy Renner’s live-wire work in The Town, but I would absolutely push him to the side in favor of Damon or Garfield. His recognition throughout the season has been a bit of a puzzle to me. But it is nice to see him doing so well of late, nominated (along with Jeff Bridges and Colin Firth) for the second consecutive year and landing a big gig like The Avengers, where apparently he’ll be filling Alan Alda’s shoes in the role of Hawkeye.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Three cheers for the two ladies of The Fighter, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, both of whom were also nominated in 2008 (Leo as Best Actress for Frozen River, Adams in this category for Doubt). Each did excellent work, all the more impressive considering how easily they could have been dominated by Christian Bale. And although she didn’t quite make my personal list, I was pleased to see Jacki Weaver get the nod for Animal Kingdom…not just because it proved a correct prediction (ten points to Gryffindor, thank you very much), but because it’s nice to see a small movie like this and an actress not well known in the U.S. get such high profile attention. Apparently she is well known in her native Australia, with a long career in films, television and theater (she was recently onstage in Sydney opposite Cate Blanchett in Uncle Vanya). I hope her nomination draws more viewers to the film, which I only saw recently but consider one of the year’s best.

Hailee Steinfeld’s nomination was another quasi-success in my personal Oscar game. I felt she belonged in the Best Actress category, but correctly figured that voters would keep her in the Supporting race, as she was campaigned. As long as she got nominated, that’s what matters. And there’s no doubt that, as a Supporting nominee, she has a much better shot at the prize than she would have had as a Best Actress nominee.

And then there’s Helena Bonham Carter, whose nomination for The King’s Speech was both completely expected and completely unnecessary. I loves me some Bonham Carter, and she does nice work in The King’s Speech (if nothing else, it’s refreshing to see her come out from under the make-up and crazy wigs that she seems to live in onscreen lately). But this is a total auto-pilot nomination (a trend that definitely benefitted The King’s Speech as we work our way down through the categories). She’s being recognized for appearing in a beloved film, and nothing more. Watch the movie and tell me that Bonham Carter really does anything worthy of being singled out for one of the five finest supporting performances of the year. Even the actress herself thinks the attention is misplaced, saying in this Variety article, “I thought it was a boys’ film. Sometimes you get nominated for the wrong things. I’m not knocking it, because I want the good roles, so if it helps me get another really good part, that’s great. For that moment, when you’re nominated, you get offered parts you wouldn’t otherwise be offered. After Wings of a Dove, I got Fight Club. When you are up for awards, they remember you’re still alive.”

Couldn’t voters have expanded their horizons just a little? Where’s Greta Gerwig, who gave a beautiful, should-be breakout performance in Greenberg? How about Marisa Tomei for the conflicted girlfriend and mother in Cyrus, or Imogen Poots as a sexually confident teen with a hidden agenda in Solitary Man? If those are too outside the box, there were choices in the safety zone too. Hello? Julianne Moore for The Kids Are All Right? (A lead role, but hey, it worked for Steinfeld.) Or Marion Cotillard for her balance of tragic and creepy in Inception? And if they were set on Bonham Carter, why not honor her for Alice in Wonderland? She was one of the few good things about that movie, evoking both laughs and sympathy as the cranially-challenged Red Queen. A nomination for that performance would have been a good reminder that even work which appears to be pure fun can earn accolades (after all, it’s been a couple of years since Robert Downey Jr.’s Tropic Thunder nomination).

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Here was one case where I was perfectly happy to get a prediction wrong. I thought Black Swan would make the list, but also made clear that I didn’t think it should. I’m glad the Writer’s branch agreed with me. In its place, they nominated Mike Leigh for Another Year, which I still have yet to see, but which I mentioned as a possible spoiler given the Academy’s fondness for Leigh’s work. I’m not the biggest Leigh fan in the world, and I’ve always found his screenwriting nominations to be frustrating given that his movies are largely improvised and do not follow the traditional screenwriting path. (This article from The Hollywood Reporter briefly describes his process.) But who’s to say there’s a right way to write? I chose Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine script as one of my personal picks to be nominated, and although he worked on that piece for roughly 12 years, he’s the first to admit that much of the end result was born out of improvisations he executed with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. So I guess I’ll just take my hypocrisy and get myself to Another Year.

Other than that, the category shook out as I expected. At least Christopher Nolan got nominated here.

BEST FILM EDITING
Nolan’s snub in the Best Director race was definitely the day’s biggest WTF omission, but equally inexplicable to me, if not as high profile, is Inception not getting nominated for Editing. Are you fucking kidding me?!? Lee Smith’s achievement should be the clear winner in this category. The rules of Nolan’s story may have confused some audiences, but thanks to the crisp editing, we always knew where we were even as the film was shuttling between multiple levels of dreams and reality. It was masterful visual storytelling, yet it’s nowhere to be found here while a straightforward film like The King’s Speech makes the list? Editor friends, if you’re reading this, please explain that to me.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
I commented previously that I had no opinion about the contenders in this race, as no song had stuck out for me all year. The Academy couldn’t even find five songs they liked enough to nominate, selecting only four. But I was a bit surprised that they ignored Burlesque (not that I’ve seen it) and “Shine”, from Waiting for Superman. I do like Dido a lot, so I’m pleased to see her get an Oscar nomination, even if her song from 127 Hours didn’t stick with me after my initial viewing of the film.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alexandre Desplat composed scores for four films released in 2010, and of course he earned his Oscar nomination for the least interesting one. Actually that’s not fair; I haven’t seen Tamara Drewe. But Desplat’s compositions for both The Ghost Writer and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I were far more deserving of nominations than his adequate work in The King’s Speech, which proved to once again be selected as if voters were just sleepwalking through their ballot. At least Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross made it in for The Social Network, along with Hans Zimmer’s indispensible contribution to Inception.

Okay, that’s all the commentary I have to offer until the big night looms closer and I weigh in with my predictions. You may have been expecting opinions about every category, but there’s not always much to say at this stage. You can use the hours it would take you to read more of my commentary to instead go catch one of the nominated films you have yet to see. In the meantime, here are two brief gimpses of your hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco getting primed.

February 11, 2010

Oscars 2009: And The Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 11:36 pm
Tags: , , , ,

 

Complete List of Nominees

It’s been over a week since the nominations were announced and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to shoot off my reactions. I’ve been too busy writing about Lost. And running my meth lab. So for those who might care, here are my thoughts – where I have some – on what made the cut.

BEST PICTURE/BEST DIRECTOR
So the highly anticipated “10 Best Picture nominees” cat is out of the bag, and all in all I’d say it’s a good list. Like a lot of people – most people, probably – the nomination for The Blind Side caught me way off guard. When the trailers for this movie ran last fall, I thought it looked sentimental and cheesy, and even if it was a true story I was still turned off by a movie about rich white people coming to the rescue of a poor black boy. Which is weird, ’cause I loved me some Diff’rent Strokes back in the 80s. Anyway, it didn’t surprise me that people turned out in droves. When Sandra Bullock started winning awards, I finally broke down and saw it. And I’ll admit that it was better than I thought it would be. I give credit to writer/director John Lee Hancock for showing restraint with a story that could so easily have gone down the road I was expecting based on those trailers. But that said, there is no way this film should be singled out as one of the year’s best. It is a nice, “heartwarming” movie, but completely ordinary. With movies like Where the Wild Things Are, The Road, A Single Man, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Messenger and In the Loop all in the mix, a nomination for The Blind Side is a joke.

Other than that, the list went pretty much as expected. Consensus is that Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious and Up in the Air would have been the five nominees if the category hadn’t been expanded, so it’s interesting that those films’ directors all earned nominations. Usually one or two of those people would have missed. But James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow, Quentin Tarantino, Lee Daniels and Jason Reitman is a great list to represent 2009 (he had no chance, but I wish Spike Jonze had been recognized for Where the Wild Things Are).

My only other comment here is that as I’ve followed the award season since it began in early December, one of the most pleasant surprises has been how well Inglourious Basterds has done. Christoph Waltz was a shoo-in nominee from the moment the film’s first scene was over, and the screenplay was also a safe bet early on. But I honestly didn’t expect Tarantino’s gonzo revisionist take on World War II to fare so well across the board – critics’s awards, guild awards, ten best lists, etc. I would never have predicted it, but I’m happy that it came to pass, earning QT his second nominations for directing and screenwriting.  Bravo.

BEST ACTOR
No surprises here. Nice to see a young up-and-comer like Jeremy Renner hang in there with the big boys. He impressed me in North Country and The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, so I’m happy for him and the opportunities that are sure to come his way as a result of this film.

I also have to take a moment and ask of the people who saw Invictus: do you think Freeman deserved to be nominated? I suppose there are some minor spoilers ahead, so continue at your own risk…

I was so excited about him in this role. Freeman is one of my favorites, and the thought of him playing Nelson Mandela was full of such promise. It’s too bad he blew it on this movie. It’s not that Invictus is bad or that Freeman isn’t good in it. It’s just…this is basically a sports underdog movie. It’s Hoosiers. Remember the Titans. Hell, it’s Major League. It’s the familiar story of a sports team rising above low expectations to win big, and maybe learning some important life lessons along the way. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but here you have one of the great actors of our time playing one of the great lives of our time, and this is the story he chooses to tell? Freeman does well, but the script doesn’t allow him to dig into the character at all. There are a few moments that hint at what he could have done and where he could have gone had he chosen to do a film that was really about Mandela. But this one – he’s hardly even in the second half/last third of the movie. There’s so little depth for him to play that the film wound up being a pretty big disappointment for me. Freeman delivers as best he can with what’s there, but when you think about how much more he could have done? It makes me sad to say so, but I don’t think he should have been nominated. Viggo Mortensen (The Road), Matt Damon (The Informant!), Ben Foster (The Messenger), Joaquin Phoenix (Two Lovers) and Sam Rockwell (Moon) all had the chance to do much more in their films than Freeman got to do in Invictus, and I wish that Academy members had recognized one of them instead of doing the obvious thing and nominating Freeman for a performance that, through no fault of his own, failed to meet expectations.


BEST ACTRESS
Sandra Bullock’s nomination was no surprise by this point in the season, but it shocks me that she has moved up to take frontrunner status alongside Meryl Streep. She just doesn’t belong here. I’ve always liked Sandra Bullock; she has great comedic timing and her small role in Crash was, for me, one of the film’s highlights. But she has chosen bad movies almost exclusively throughout her career; it’s almost like a gift she has. The Blind Side is better than most of the films on her resume, but there is nothing about this performance that calls for award talk. Bullock can do sassy, she can do tough, she can do sweet – these are not stretches for her, nor does this particular character leap off the screen. I enjoyed her, but at the end of the day it was Erin Brockovich Lite. So what is this nomination for? Is it for finally picking a decent movie? For having a good year? Okay, I get that between the huge box office success of this film and last summer’s The Proposal, Bullock is having a Moment (though everyone apparently chose to ignore that her third film – All About Steve – was widely considered one of the year’s worst). But does making two adequate movies that become commercial hits merit an Oscar nomination? No, especially not when Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones), Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria), Abbie Cornish (Bright Star) and even Maya Rudolph (Away We Go) are sitting the race out. Does it merit a Golden Globe win over Precious‘ Gabourey Sidibe? No way. A SAG award over Sidibe and Meryl Streep? Seriously, no way. This performance isn’t in the same league as her competition. Sorry Sandra. I can only hope the voters come to their senses by the time they mark their ballots.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Matt Damon has proven to be a great and versatile actor, and it’s surprising that this nomination is his first since Good Will Hunting. But it’s like Academy members filled out their ballots on auto-pilot. “Hmm, Clint Eastwood movie, Morgan as Mandela, important subject matter, scene where he gives an inspirational speech…I think by some Academy bylaw we’re required to nominate this.” Snore. Like Freeman, Damon is good in the film, don’t get me wrong. But also like Freeman, the role doesn’t ask much of him. And like Bullock, Damon finds himself in this race without really doing anything that special. Matt Damon did give a nomination-worthy performance this year; it just wasn’t in this movie. I really don’t get it. There had to be a significant number of people who listed Damon as their first choice – their favorite Supporting Actor of the year – in order for him to score a nomination. I can’t fathom that, even in such an unusually weak year for this category.

The rest of it looks good. It’s nice to see Christopher Plummer earn his first nomination after so many years of excellent work, and Stanley Tucci too. He doesn’t have Plummer’s years under his belt, but he’s been playing the game well for a long time. And it’s great to see Harrelson back in the field. He’s done some terrific work these last several years.

Too bad they’re all gonna lose to Christoph Waltz.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Last year’s winner Penelope Cruz scored her second consecutive nomination, and while I would have singled out Marion Cotillard from Nine‘s ensemble, Cruz was good and probably caught voters’ attention with one of the film’s more comedic performances, as well as general hotness. I think Maggie Gyllenhaal benefitted from an all-around appreciation for Crazy Heart. There were stronger performances to choose from – I’d have gone with The Messenger‘s Samantha Morton – and Gyllenhaal’s been overlooked for performances more interesting than this one, but I can’t begrudge her finally getting some recognition. And seeing Up in the Air‘s ladies is no surprise; each is deserving.

Too bad they’re all gonna lose to Mo’Nique.

BEST ORIGINAL/ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
I was off by one in my predictions for both of these categories, but I was happy that in both cases the movie I failed to predict correctly was on my list of personal choices. I thought The Messenger‘s chances were slim given that the Writer’s Guild failed to nominate it even when other sure-thing contenders like Up and Basterds were ruled ineligible, so kudos to the Academy’s writer’s branch for acknowledging this small gem. And major kudos for including In the Loop in the adapted race. Without a doubt one of the best scripts of the year – smart, tight, topical and hilarious. I thought the movie might get overshadowed by something higher profile, but it totally deserves the nomination. Rent this movie NOW.


BEST ANIMATED FILM
What the hell is The Secret of Kells? Whatever it is, I was just glad that for the first time since 2002 there were enough eligible films to have five nominees instead of three. It’s a testament to how much great animation there is these days that any one of these would totally deserve the prize….this Kells thing notwithstanding, since I haven’t seen it.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Once again, I scored with one of my personal picks even though I didn’t predict it would make the cut. The nomination for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince took a lot of the pundits by surprise, but they must have forgotten how beautifully photographed the film is and how frequently the cinematography was mentioned in reviews. Great to see it recognized.

BEST MAKEUP
Another snub for The Road. Dirt, grime and muck may never have been so artfully applied as they were in this movie. I have no idea what Il Divo is, so no comment on that one, but The Young Victoria?! Over The Road?!? Are you kidding me?? For what? I can’t wait for this category to come up on the show so I can see exactly what sketches, behind the scenes footage and finished clip will highlight how this could possibly have taken a spot. Ed Helms’ missing tooth in The Hangover would have been more nomination-worthy than anything I can think of in The Young Victoria. And Star Trek was nominated? Maybe I’m forgetting something, but that seems to be a nomination for pointy ears and some tattoos on Eric Bana’s head. Big deal. I suppose someone else would look at The Road and say, “It’s just dirt. Big deal.” But of course, they would be wrong. How about something for Zombieland or District 9 in lieu of Trek and Victoria?

As there were no other huge surprises or snubs like last year’s Dark Knight/Bruce Springsteen omissions, that’s all I really have to say about the nominees until it’s time to predict the winners in a few weeks. Prepare to be schooled….in boredom and obsessive movie awards analysis.

January 27, 2009

Oscars 2008: And The Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 7:54 am
Tags: , , , ,

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.

BEST PICTURE
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.

DIRECTOR
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.

BEST ACTOR

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.

BEST ACTRESS
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.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
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.”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
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.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
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.

MUSIC
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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