The Academy Awards, better known as “the Oscars”, are without a doubt the most prestigious prize in mainstream cinema. Sure, the Palme d'Ors at Cannes may have the purist's vote and the Golden Bear in Berlin is not bad either, but no other ceremony conjures up quite the same amount of noise as the golden baldies.
The nominations for the 84th Academy Awards, released today, featured your average mix of large-scale art-house, well-intentioned mainstream cinema and, of course, the obligatory civil rights picture. Never to be second guessed, the Academy threw out a few curve balls too along the way, ensuring writers everywhere could still make subtle accusations of bribery and pretty apt assumptions that the ageing Academy members were pretty out of touch.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the coveted “Best Picture” category was invented purely for movie marketing purposes, but this year's nominations seemed pretty worthy. Except one. The Tree of Life, the divisively grandiose epic by super-serious director of grandiose epics Terrence Malick, received the requisite pretentious masterpiece inclusion, and Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris marked Allen's 21st Oscar nomination making it finally old enough for Woody to take out and get drunk. The Descendants' nomination saw Hollywood's preeminent purveyor of carefully observed societal malaise Alexander Payne helm George Clooney to yet another strong performance as the most depressed incredibly handsome man in Hawaii. Perhaps THE breakout hit of the year was the exceedingly ambitious and devilishly charming The Artist which captured the imagination of a million movie goers and the sweatied the brow of a million more film teachers, knowing only too well what a raft of imitations will soon follow. So far, so Oscars: adding to this is the Brad Pitt vehicle Moneyball, which both managed to make baseball sound interesting but also maintained chatterbox du jour Aaron Sorkin's omnipresence at the Awards. Marty Scorsese's splendid Hugo was rightly nominated despite a distinct lack of pen-stabbing-in-throat scenes, aforementioned civil rights picture The Help nommed for featuring both a stereotypically “worthy” subject and probably the best ensemble cast of the year. Also, War Horse was nominated, y'know, because it was nearly three hours long and was directed by Steven Spielberg (and sadly not his Mexican non-union equivalent). I'm pretty sure they just saw the stage show and thought “Ah sod it, the film is probably just as good” without watching the movie.
Meryl Streep, is a shoe-in for her titular turn in the big-budget snore-fest, The Iron Lady
Now the rotten apple: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. There is obviously a worthy story to be told from the September 11th attacks, but that has already been done with Paul Greengrass' incendiary United 93. Instead what audiences were treated to was a cloying and pretentious mess, full of ham-fisted sentiment which almost devolves into full on exploitation. The fact that the Academy chose such a critically derided movie (over say Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur or Nic Refn's Drive) for what appears to be purely political motives comes close to completely devaluing the awards, derailing what has been a underrated year in movie-making.
The Best Director category features the usual suspects (messrs Scorsese, Allen, Malick and Payne) but also the rightful debut inclusion of Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist, the overlooking of whom would have caused fire-and-brimstone rants in wine bars across the land (if anyone could pronounce his last name, that is). This being a category which regularly overlooks the nominated film in favour of rewarding the director's greater body of work, I'd plump for Terrence Malick to get his first nod.
Best Actor also features the standard line-up with Brad Pitt, George Clooney all – rightfully – being nominated as well as Gary Oldman being nominated for his first ever Oscar nomination for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. However, the real story is the nominations of Jean Dujardin and, especially, Demián Bichir. Dujardin, washed-up matinee idol George Valentin in The Artist, was nominated despite barely uttering a single word. The recognising of such subtle acting and raw charisma is a refreshing change of pace for a category so easily wooed by the show-stopping over-acting of the likes of Christian Bale. Demián Bichir, whose most recognisable out put previously had been a guest spot on Showtime sitcom Weeds and a turn as Fidel Castro in the well-meaning-but-meandering Soderbergh epic Che, was nominated for his powerful central performance in the criminally-underrated A Better Life which barely made a tenth of it's budget back at the box office. Nominations for actors in such, relatively small, movies can only be a good thing.
The Best Actress category features some brave performances (Rooney Mara rightfully nominated in David Fincher's inevitably-flawed remake The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Glenn Close's unrecognisable turn as a woman masquerading as a man in 1910s Irish high society in Albert Nobbs, but all of these nominations are moot for the Ra's al Ghul of modern cinema, Meryl Streep, is a shoe-in for her titular turn in the big-budget snore-fest The Iron Lady. As right as the awards often are, every right is matched by a very large, rubber-stamped WRONG and this award will probably be the Batman Annual #26 of cinematic award show wrongs (okay, enough Batman).
Drive has to be considered the biggest omission this year
Among the lesser awards (apologies people nominated for lesser awards, I'm sure they're extremely important to you), Jonah Hill was rightfully nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his terrific role in the generally terrific Moneyball along with Nick Nolte in the infinitely more-entertaining-than-The-Fighter film Warrior. The beautifully named-and-faced Bérénice Bejo was nominated for her heartbreakingly charming role as Valentin's foil Peppy in The Artist along with Groundlings alum Melissa McCarthy in a rare comedy nom for her both-barrels turn in Bridesmaids. For the screenwriting categories, Midnight in Paris will probably snatch Best Original Screenplay victory from the jaws of A Separation – probably because everyone thinks Woody Allen wrote the former and because “Arab is, like, such a harsh language to hear, y'know?” in the latter. Best Adapted Screenplay is probably the category with the most even competition at the Awards with Moneyball, The Decendents, The Ides of March, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Hugo all worthy of winning. My guess would be The Descendants will win a) because it's brilliant and b) it's co-written by Jim Rash aka Labrador-bothering “pansexual imp” Dean Pelton in the hilarious sitcom Community. Who will win Best Animated Film is anyone's guess – but I'd pick the far-funnier-than-it-has-any-right-to-be Kung Fu Panda 2, despite it's existence maintaining the myth that Jack Black's foghorn bumbling is always funny. It's not, KFP2 is an anomaly like the Schmalkalden sink hole or Downton Abbey's entertainment value. Rounding off the less-than side of the top-end nominations is the A-Separation-Will-Definitely-Win-It-Is-Really-No-Contest category also know as Best Foreign Picture, which A Separation will definitely win.
Drive has to be considered the biggest omission this year. The receiving of a grand total of one nomination (for Best Sound Editing – like that's even really a THING) was the subject of much consternation. Albert Brooks overlooked for the show-stopping turn as the main antagonist and all-round-bad-ass Bernie in the performance that no-one thought he was capable of. Nicolas Winding Refn, the go-to guy for Nouvelle Vague meets grind-house, overlooked for Best Director (despite reaching the pinnacle of success that is Quentin Tarantino's condescending “Nice Try” section of his best-of-2011 list). Perhaps the people who asked for refunds upon finding that Drive was nothing like The Fast and The Furious were Academy members.
A quick roundup of other glaring oversights include: no nom for Olivia Colman in Tyrannosaur, no directing nom for Richard Ayoade's debut Submarine, no noms for Ryan Gosling in anything, nothing for much maligned Matthew McConaughey in the surprisingly excellent The Lincoln Lawyer, nothing for Project Nim, no Andy Serkis nomination for being a scary monkey in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and still no retrospective nom for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze – no noms make Tokka and Rahzar cry. Be THAT on your conscience, Academy.
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