Even though the Oscars tend to side with art more than popular entertainment, the Academy Awards are still an exciting time of year. This morning, the nominations were announced for the 84th annual Academy Awards, which will be given out on February 26, 2012. Worthy films from the past year get the accolades and attention they deserve. Actors and actresses have their hard work and careers validated by now being labeled as an “Academy Award nominee.” Hopefully in the near future, they will be lucky enough to be regarded as an “Academy Award winner” from the voice artists in movie trailers. For all involved, these are nice feathers to have in your cap. As always, not everyone can be nominated and the voters are notoriously fickle and have their favorite. Here are the trends, snubs, and surprises that got my attention from this morning’s nominations.
(complete list of nominations)
1) Hugo lead all films with 11 nominatons– People are calling this a surprise, but it wasn’t to me. I said in my review of Martin Scorsese’s excellent November film that it was, without a doubt, the most well-made movie of the year from all technical standpoints. With a crew of multiple Oscar winners in many departments (music, editing, effects, production design, costumes, directing), coupled with their amazing 3D treatment of a beloved children’s novel, I can confirm to you that all eleven nominations were deserved. If The Artist juggernaut wasn’t around this year to steal most of these categories, Hugo would deserve to win just about all eleven too, but now will be lucky to turn half of those into wins.
2) The Artists juggernaut continues— Second to Hugo‘s eleven nominations are The Artist‘s ten nods. It shows the elite love affair Hollywood is falling for with this little French black-and-white and silent treat. It too deserves it (my full review). You can see this trend when a black-and-white film can earn nominations in very visual categories like Art Direction and Costumes. Who’s to know if everything was painted pink and purple?!
3) The continuing dumb trend of having more than five Best Picture nominees— A few years back, after the artistic obscurity of No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood dominated a bad year for Oscar ratings, the Academy decided to open the Best Picture race to as many as ten nominees. Instead of rewarding more worthy films, it’s become a lame excuse for putting one or two populist movies that sells tickets and commercials to watch the show. In a way, the category is becoming a joke, when, as the most important category, it shouldn’t. This year, the feast was trimmed to eight instead of ten, but that still means three movies don’t have any business being there, especially the polarizing Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (any my personal dumping of The Tree of Life). If the Oscars want to add variety and five more nominees, cave and make a Best Comedy category that has been missing for ages.
4) Finding the spots to reward independent film— Damien Bichir’s nomination for Best Actor for A Better Life is just one of many nominations that dropped here and there to show a little love to independent film. In doing that, the Academy still respects the art of cinema, even though they still strive for pretty faces. With the Independent Spirit Awards (website) commencing just the day before the Oscars and becoming a more and more popular red carpet affair, the Academy is noticing.
5) Legends in the house— The presence of old Hollywood favorites Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese are just two signs of respect to legendary artists. The bigger Oscar veterans are Meryl Streep earning her 17th nomination, extending her record as an actor, and musical legend John Williams earning his 46th and 47th nominations for scoring War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin. Williams is only second to Walt Disney himself in total nominations for any one person.
1) Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close beating out a bevvy of more revered and deserving possibilities for Best Picture nominations— This is kind of moot surprise because it follows my rant one section earlier on how more than five nominees shouldn’t even be there for Best Picture. But, of all the films that made the final eight. This one was the head-scratcher. Where’s Midnight in Paris? Where’s Drive? Heck, where’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and its 96% Rotten Tomatoes rating (second highest to The Artist‘s 97%) over the 48% for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. This is the kind of inclusion that soils the value of the what’s supposed to be the top category.
2) A Better Life‘s Damian Bichir’s Best Actor nomination— I hinted at this earlier when talking about independent film love and I’ll talk more about it later in the “Snubs” section, but this performance must have been the “little-engine-that-could.” Sure, he’s up for a SAG award, but to beat the other competitors was a big surprise.
3) Just about the entire Best Original Screenplay category— The Golden Globe-winning Midnight in Paris screenplay from Woody Allen is dueling with Michel Hazanavicius’s The Arist, as expected, but the other three nominees where major stunners. The biggest cheer goes to Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo for earning a nomination for Bridesmaids. That was out of left field for sure. In some ways, it’s a bouquet to all witty TV writers who crossover successfully into film, like Tina Fey’s highly regarded screenplay for Mean Girls a few years ago (which didn’t get nominated like this). Having the foreign film A Separation represented shows the worldly appreciation of the Academy and J.C. Chandor’s score in his first ever feature film, Margin Call, is another example of the attention to independent films.
4) Pixar is shut-out of the Best Animated Feature category for the first time in their history— The biggest dog in the animation yard just got shown up by the little guys this year. Two obscure foreign animated films, A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita, bumped two juggernauts, Pixar’s Cars 2 and Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s Golden Globe-winning animated feature The Adventures of Tintin. Most audiences and critics agree that Cars 2 wasn’t Pixar’s best effort, but to be beat by two unknowns and not big names like Spielberg or the snubbed Arthur Christmas is a big shocking.
5) Jessica Chastain is nominated for the wrong film again— It’s happened on most of the big award shows this year. In most critics’ eyes, her incredible performances in The Tree of Life and Take Shelter were far better than her ditzy turn in The Help and has won more minor awards. She should be here for The Tree of Life. All this does is create a split of The Help votes between her and Octavia Spencer. Pleasantly, that split could lead to a Melissa McCarthy upset.
1) Albert Brooks for Drive— Snubs count as surprises too. Albert Brooks, playing the villain in Drive, has won just as many lead-up minor awards for Best Supporting Actor as Golden Globe winner Christopher Plummer has for Beginners. For him to be completely left off in favor of a lame Jonah Hill in Moneyball and a silent Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was agregious.
2) Shailene Woodley for The Descendants— Much like Brooks, she too has won a large share of minor awards for Best Supporting Actress. She was likely bumped by Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs. In a category notoriously favoring youth, her omission was a big surprise, especially in such a beloved film as The Descendants.
3) Michael Fassbender for Shame, Ryan Gosling for The Ides of March, Michael Shannon for Take Shelter, and Leonardo DiCaprio for J. Edgar— We’re back to this topic. On paper, the Best Actor race this year has been one of the most competitive in all of cinema history. Fassbender and Shannon, in their smaller independent films, have won many more lead-up awards than selected nominees Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Damian Bichir (A Better Life). Gosling has been the “It” guy of 2011 and was outstanding in three films (Drive, The Ides of March, and Crazy, Stupid, Love.) and DiCaprio is a town favorite. The hard part is who gets replaced. Clooney, Dujardin, Pitt, and Oldman all deserve to be there. You can’t have everyone. If I had a vote, it would have been Fassbender in there. (full review of Shame)
4) Will Reiser’s 50/50 screenplay— It was my #2 movie of the year on my “10 Best” list (full review). The great comedy/drama script has won Best Original Screenplay awards and was up for the Golden Globe in a category combining all screenplays. It was erroneously bumped by the surprises I mentioned before of A Separation, Bridesmaids, and Margin Call. This snub led to 50/50 to be completely shut out for Oscar nominations.
5) Nicolas Winding Refn for directing Drive— Here’s another multiple minor award winner left off of the big show. Somewhere, either Drive lost touch with voters or was forgotten between this skip and Albert Brooks’ snub.
6) The Adventures of Tintin for Best Animated Feature— Sure, skipping the so-so Cars 2 is understandable, but leaving off the international success and Golden Globe winning movie for this category is careless. You’re telling me two obscure foreign animated films are better than the international blockbuster performance capture collaboration of Oscar winners Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson? Come on. I don’t buy it.
7) Tilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About Kevin— Here’s another ditto to the conversations on multiple minor award winners left off. Though, in this case, few people (myself included) have seen, let alone heard of, this little film. The Academy favored Glenn Close and Rooney Mara instead. Nevertheless, it’s a three-horse race between Streep, Davis, and Williams. Tilda’s inclusion would just be extra.
8) Andy Serkis for Rise of the Planet of the Apes— I’ll join the nerd bandwagon of respecting the incredibly different, yet relevant acting work of Andy Serkis. In front of the camera but translated on screen via performance capture, it’s his outstanding physical and body language performance of emotion that makes CGI characters, like his outstanding Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, come to convincing life. In a year of homage to silent films, voters need to respect this new form of acting. (full review for Serkis)
9) Any third, fourth, or fifth nominee for Best Original Song— What’s happening to songs in movies when the Academy only rewards two songs with nominations. After being completely shut-out from being even nominated at the Golden Globes, it’s nice to see The Muppets honored, but the Golden Globe winner by Madonna from W.E. was mysteriously forgotten. That win alone should have gotten it on the list, let alone Mary J. Blige’s work on The Help or any number of songs from 2011 movies. It’s kind of pathetic to just have two. For that matter, go ahead and call out any category that can’t muster five full nominees (Visual Effects, Makeup, Costumes, etc.).
10) The previous winners bumped by odd-balls for Best Documentary— I’ve been attempting to better myself in keeping track of this category, which is growing in popularity, thanks to the likes of Michael Moore, Al Gore, and Waiting for “Superman.” My Awards Tracker and the availability of great documentaries on Netflix have been a big help. The only nominee in the category to win a minor award is Paradise Lost: Purgatory 3, and it’s just won one little award from the National Board of Review. Five other documentaries have more than one Best Documentary award, including nine wins for Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams and seven for Project Nim. All were left off.
When the big show gets closer, I will break down the categories with predictions of who will win, who should win, who was lucky to be there, and who was missed. These surprises and snubs will be revisited then. Stay tuned to the Awards Tracker and see you in a month for Hollywood’s biggest night!