Oscar season is a lot like Christmas for me. Except instead of unwrapping a bunch of boxes full of mystery and surprise, you get pretty much exactly what you expected because you’ve all ready been through a season full of other award shows. I know the Oscars are stupid. I know they’re meaningless. They don’t reflect the public’s taste in film and they don’t reflect the actual best films that came out last year. I know they are, at best, two and a half hours of Hollywood patting itself on the back and, at worst, a swindle game full of bribery and deceit so shady producer types can buy themselves prestige. I don’t care. I love them anyway. Each year, more and more, I find myself as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. I can’t wait to see what’s in the big box.
Last year’s Oscar show was almost unbearably dull and, after a few years of daring and interesting decisions, saw the Academy fall back on boring old formula wins. This year, Oscar seems more determined then usual to celebrate mediocrity. “The Help,” another mediocre, racist, inspirational dramedy about how black people need a sassy white woman to help them out, has a disconcerting number of nominations and seems primed to walk away with at least a few. “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” despite being a syrupy nonsense story that ropes one of the worst tragedy in American history into its sob-fest, not to mention damn-near acidic reviews, snagged a few nominations of it’s own. Hell, even “Anonymous,” disaster-movie-maven Roland Emmerich’s bungled attempt to go straight, and “W.E.,” Madonna’s latest shit, managed to snag a nomination each. The Academy seems even more committed to distancing itself from actual critical opinion by sticking “The Tree of Life,” maybe the best reviewed film of the year, with a measly three nominations.
But maybe that’s the way it’s supposes to be? The Academy Members are, after all, a seemingly random selection of Hollywood talent, pulled from past winners and industry veterans. They’re sent hundred of screeners and surely their choices have nothing to do with hype. The Academy Awards is democracy in action, for better or worst. Usually for worst.
For the last two years, the Academy had ten Best Picture nominations for some reason. Seeing as how this didn’t make the show more appealing for young people or anything, this year they went with the strategy of, basically, “We’ll have as many nominations as we want!” They wound up with nine, as if to say, “We want to be different from last year, but not too different.”
There were no surprises in this category, at least no pleasant ones. “The Descendents,” “Hugo,” “Moneyball,” “War Horse,” and “Midnight in Paris” were all movies that found their ways into many a critic’s top ten list. “The Help” seems to be the populist vote this year, even if nobody liked it. Another movie nobody liked was “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Despite pissing off New Yorkers with its insensitive handling of a still raw issue, it too managed a nomination.
But none of that matters because “The Artist” is going to win. Very few seem to think it’s a great film, however, most agree that it’s a pretty good film. Moreover, it’s a loving homage to Hollywood’s golden age. And there’s nothing a self-congratulatory ceremony loves more then a movie congratulating the same things they’re congratulating. I suppose the fact that it’s a silent film could possibly damper its chances at success some. It is an election year, after all. I guess “Moneyball” or something could win. But I think this is “The Artist’s” game to loose.
Official Prediction: “The Artist.”
About a month ago, I would have told you that Gary Oldman’s acclaimed, low-key performance in “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy” was a sure-fire pick for Best Actor. But then the Golden Globes happens and America made it clear that the movie with the funny title was just too damn British for them. It’s a shame since it might be the veteran thespian’s only shot at getting a statue any time soon.
The Academy loves George Clooney and his sad-sack turn in “The Descendents’ seems right up their alley. Love for “The Artist” continues here and might mean a win for Jean Dujardin. Seems like Oscar loves to sneak in one or two nominations for some actor or film I’ve never heard of and this year’s surprise selection is Demian Bichir for “A Better Life,” whatever that’s about.
Despite all these fine choices and performances, I suspect America’s overwhelming love for Brad Pitt will probably lead him to gold here. Top-tier categories like this tend to favor crowd-pleasers and Pitt is nothing if not a crowd-pleaser, for reasons that have mostly evaded me. He was definitely going to get nominated and “Tree of Life” was too artsy. Baseball is something more people understand, it seems.
Official Prediction: Brad Pitt for “Moneyball.”
SNUBS: Mainstream critics loved “Drive.” Hell, I even liked it. But I guess even a critically acclaimed movie with a car chase and a head stomping was a car chase and head stomping too many for the Academy. Ryan Gosling was left out in the cold.
Likewise, Michael Fassbender for “Shame” and Michael Shannon for “Take Shelter” were also snubbed. I knew both were long shots but I had hoped Oscar would dislodge its head from its ass long enough to notice these two extraordinary actors. Gritty indies have no place at this ceremony unless the word “Weinstein” is somewhere in their credits.
In a year full of wonderful performances from wonderful actresses, the Academy stuck by their list of old faithfuls. Meryl Streep and Glenn Close both received their umpteenth nominations despite “The Iron Lady” and “Alfred Nobbs” getting lukewarm receptions.
It seemed uncertain that “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” would receive any nominations, since the material is dark, edgy, and directed by David Fincher. However, this is a movie based on a million-unit selling book series and Lisbeth Salander has quickly become a beloved character. Either way, Rooney Mara is a surprising and welcomed noticed.
Similarly, Michele Williams is an actress I like and is hugely talented. She’s received her thrice nomination for “My Week with Marilyn.” By all accounts, Williams gives a great performance. If she’s ever going to win an Oscar, is going to be for playing the most iconic actress in the world.
But this is the year of celebrating mediocrity. I’m sure Viola Davis has given many fine performances over the years and will continue to but does she really deserve to win over any of the above for a routine piece of shit like “The Help?” The standard set by Sandra Bullock’s ugly, cartoonish, stereotype-ish, Oscar-winning turn in “The Blind Side” says, “Probably.” (I’m never going to forgive you for that, Oscar.)
Official Prediction: Viola Davis in “The Help,” because this show loves to disappoint and infuriate me. Having said that, I’m rooting for Michele Williams in “My Week with Marilyn.”
SNUBS: Elisabeth Olsen in “Martha Marcey May Marlene” is probably the most glaring omission for me, since that was one of my favorite performances of last year. As mentioned above, Oscar has locked out all the indies. Kirsten Dunst in “Melancholia,” Carey Mulligan in “Shame,” Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin," and Adepero Oduye in “Pariah” were all ignored.
Alan Rickman, Donald Sutherland, Steve Martin: 0. Jonah Hill: 1. I don’t care how good “Moneyball” is, that’s just shameful.
Max von Sydow, Kenneth Branagh, and Nick Nolte are all respected actors that have been in the business for a long time. They deserve Oscar nominations. That they’re nominated for forgettable stuff like “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “Warrior” is a bit of a shame. Academy might throw an old-timer like Sydow a bone, but all of these are legacy nominations, as far as I’m concerned. Branagh doubly so since he’s nominated for playing Lawrence Oliver.
“Beginners” is a movie I hadn’t heard much about until Christopher Plummer started picking up awards for it a few months back. Apparently he plays an old man who has a difficult relationship with his son, dies of cancer, and also comes out as gay. Shit, man, this thing couldn’t be Oscar-bait-ier if it was set during the Holocaust.
Like Sydow, Plummer is a seasoned character actor that has done a lot of work over the years. (Also like Sydow, he’s appeared in his fair share of schlock.) Unlike Sydow, I can’t really name a previous, single, stand-out performance. It’ll be Plummer’s night.
Official Prediction: Christopher Plummer for “Beginners.”
SNUBS: Patton Oswalt is having a Snub-Party and you’re invited, Albert Brooks.
I don’t have much to say about this category since it’s populated with movies I don’t give a shit about. They couldn’t have nominated Jessica Chastain for literally anything else she was in this year? Must “The Help” be a double-nominee? And if “Albert Nobbs” was going to get another nomination, I’m surprise it wasn’t for Mia Wasikowska, who continues to do stand-out work in material far beneath her. I’m a big “Gilmore Girls” fan, so it’s cool that Melissa McCarthy got mentioned, though still not cool enough to get me to watch “Bridemaids.”
Basically, since all the other nominations seem to have been chosen solely because those movies were nominated in other, more important categories, Berenice Bojo seems to be the stand-out choice. I’m indifferent.
Official Prediction: Berenice Bojo for “The Artist.”
This is one of the few exciting categories. It’s full of respected, award-hoarding directors that have actually made a couple of good movies in the past. I think it’s fair to say that Woody Allen’s and Scorsese’s prime days are behind them and Alexander Payne has yet to reach them.
So it really comes down to two picks: Terence Malick for “The Tree of Life” and Michel Hazanavicius for “The Artist.” Now it’s obvious that Malick is the correct choice. Even if his films are frequently meandering and ponderous, the guy is clearly a visionary. The Oscars should be about celebrating that kind of scope and aspiration. However, the notoriously elusive Malick probably won’t show up anyway and the Best Picture winner usually takes home Best Director too, even if it doesn’t deserve it. (Which it frequently doesn’t.) It wouldn’t be the first time a legendary filmmaker was passed up for some Johnny-come-lately. Having said that, I’d still say the odds are 60/40 in Malick’s favor.
Official Prediction: Terence Malick for “The Tree of Life.” Probably.
The writing nominations are usually a mixture of smaller pictures and lingering nods from the bigger movies destined to win other awards that night. “Artist”-fever could attack this category as well and if Woody Allen’s winning anything, it’ll be for his screenplay. Usually though, the winning space is reserved for a smaller picture. Comedies do better here and many people wet themselves over “Bridesmaids.” Likewise, a complex, foreign drama like “A Separation” has a better shot here then it does elsewhere.
The Based on Previous Material category is a little trickier. The Academy loves Aaron Sorkin but he did just win last year for “The Social Network.” Even Oscar isn’t obtuse enough to give the same guy the same award twice in a row. (Usually.) “Hugo” and “The Descendents” also have their best shot here, since they’ll be obscured by bigger films in other categories. Honestly, I’m still betting on “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” though. Maybe I’m just full of it, but it sure seems like it should win something, doesn’t it?
Official Predictions: “A Separation” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”
SNUBS: I guess the Diablo Cody backlash stretched much farther and deeper then I anticipated. Not a single nomination for “Young Adult,” not even in the writing category where it seemed a sure-fire choice. Which is a bit of a shame since, from the sounds of it, it’s a much better film then her previous two scripts.
John Williams sure is popular around these parts, ain’t he? He’s got two nominations for the two Spielberg movies he scored this year, “War Horse” and “The Adventures of Tintin,” which was otherwise ignored. The second score is jazzier while the first is pretty much what you’d expect.
I feel like a broken record here, but “The Artist” is the favorite. The movie relies heavily on music and it’s a spirited, old-fashion score. I bet the Academy loves it. Alberto Iglesias’ “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” score is too subtle. Howard Shore’s work on “Hugo” doesn’t really stand out for me.
In an odd move, the Academy only deemed two songs worthy of a Best Original Song nomination. But, ur doin it wrong, Oscar. If any song from “The Muppets” deserved a nomination, it was “Life’s a Happy Song.” Even in a movie about felt puppets, they went with the ballad. “Real in Rio,” from that mostly forgotten cartoon bird movie, is a really shitty song, you shouldn’t listen to it, and it shouldn’t win.
SNUBS: Almost too many to mention. First off, Alan Silvestri’s brilliant score for “Captain America” as well as the show tune “The Star-Spangled Man” easily deserved nods. Considering its leading the nominations, ignoring “Coeur Volant” from “Hugo” doesn’t make much sense, especially since it’s also quite good. It might not be for everybody, but Zooey Deschanel’s original songs for “Winnie the Pooh” fit the material perfectly.
While they dug his work on last year’s “The Social Network,” I guess Trent Reznor winning an Oscar is something they just aren’t going to let happen twice, even if his “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” score was solid. It never had a chance but The Chemical Bros.’ score for “Hanna” was a stand-out for me last year.
Other Film Categories:
The animated film category is a weird mix this year. Neither Pixar’s “Cars 2” (rightfully) nor Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh” (regretfully) placed. Instead, two Dreamworks sequel carry the bulk of the weight with “Puss in Boots” and “Kung-Fu Panda 2.” Quirky, smart, theatrical “Rango” seems the likeliest winner, but Oscar might confuse and surprises us by picking one of the two obscure films nominated, “Cats in Paris” and “Chico and Rita,” neither of which I’ve heard anything about.
Foreign film is also a category I need some brushing up on. I can’t tell you anything about the nominations, other then “A Separation” sure was loved a lot. I guess that’s my default pick?
Real life events seems to favor “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” as the winner in Best Documentary, but “Hell and Back Again” was also well received. I know it was mostly a trifle, but I would have liked to have seen a nomination for Errol Morris’ “Tabloid.” “Project Nim” and “Bill Cunningham, New Yorker” were also snubbed despite near universal acclaim.
Naturally, I haven’t seen any of the shorts. (Hopefully, the Alamo Drafthouse will come through this year and screen the Oscar-nominated shorts again.) I won’t say anything else other then I really had hoped “The Ballad of Nessie” would score a nomination. Disney is doing some sterling work in traditional animation even if few people are paying attention.
David Fincher has the best team of editors in the world, so “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” will probably win best Editing, even if “Hugo” is the friendlier option. Scorsese’s latest probably will win in Art Direction, unless “The Artist” continues to sweep. The final “Harry Potter” film has a better shot in the Make-Up department then it does there.
Just like “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” making millions and millions of dollars world-wide is inescapable, so is it winning some technical award, probably Sound Mixing. “Drive” has its sole nomination in Sound Editing so that’s its one chance. Even Oscar can’t ignore the fawning over that movie forever. Visual Effects is a much tighter competition. “Harry Potter” and “Transformers” are going to be hard to beat, but people won’t stop talking about the motion capture in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” It’s my choice.
That none of the superhero movies from this previous summer got a single nomination is a major omission. The special effects in “Thor,” just for one, were incredible.
“The Tree of Life” is the obvious choice for Cinematography. I can’t imagine even cantankerous old Oscar disagreeing on that one. No, I don’t have an opinion on Costume Design. Ask someone else.
And that’s that. Unlike most years, I’m going to make an effort to watch some of the nominated pictures I haven’t seen yet and post reviews. Like most years, I am live-blogging the show. So on February 26th, watch and gripe along with me! You know you want too! Come on, I can’t face Billy Crystal alone!