Oscar, Oscar, Give Me the News!

10 Jan

Whoah! Stop the presses. The Academy nominations have landed with a few big, make that huge, surprises.   I’ll start with two: directors Ben Affleck (Argo) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) have been, well, unaccountably snubbed even though their respective movies have been nominated for Best Picture. Of course, there is almost always a discrepancy between Best Picture and Best Director nominees, so this shouldn’t be such a big huge deal, but Affleck and Bigelow have, along with Lincoln‘s Steven Spielberg, been considered virtual certainties for much of the season; both were nominated for the Directors Guild award just a couple of days ago, even. Now, without corresponding nods for Best Director, neither film appears to have much of a chance for the top trophy. Ditto Tom Hooper and Les Misérables, another snubbed director of a popular Best Picture nominee–and to clarify, Hooper is also up for a DGA award this year as well. Furthermore, Hooper’s film features a considerable 8 nods, including two Oscar nominated performers, Hugh Jackman (Best Actor) and Anne Hathaway (Best Supporting Actress),  which certainly reflects well on Hooper, making his exclusion all the more baffling, but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

Okay, so here we go. Here are the nominees for Best Picture (in alphabetical order):

  1. Amour (5 Nominations)
  2. Argo (7 Nominations)
  3. Beasts of the Southern Wild (4 Nominations)
  4. Django Unchained (5 Nominations)
  5. Les Misérables (8 Nominations)
  6. Life of Pi (11 Nominations)
  7. Lincoln (12 nominations)
  8. Silver Linings Playbook (8 Nominations)
  9. Zero Dark Thirty (5 Nominations)
^ Meert Benh Zeitlin, the "other" Ben. Zeitlin is 30 years old, and today he was nominated for two Oscars:.

^ Meet Benh Zeitlin, the “other” Ben. Zeitlin is 30 years old. Beasts of the Southern Wild is his first feature film. Today, he was nominated for two Oscars: Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, a nod he shares with co-scriptor Lucy Alibar. Congratulations!

Hmmm…nine nominees for Best Picture with Lincoln leading the pack with a staggering 12 nods.  This is the movie that has been considered the heavyweight for much of the season though, of course, it was considered the heavyweight in what was widely perceived to be a three way race between it, Argo, and Zero Dark Thirty, which Michael and I plan to see today.  Now, it looks like Lincoln‘s strongest competitor might very well turn out to be NOT Life of Pi, coming in second with 11 nods, mostly technical, but Silver Linings Playbook which is the first movie since 1981’s Reds to score nominations in all four acting categories: Best Actor (Bradley Cooper),  Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro) and Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver).  Not only do these acting nods show strong support for the movie as a whole, it also helps to remember that Silver Linings Playbook is coming to us from, wait for it, the Weinsteins, which means the Brothers W will mercilessly hype their movie like nobody has hyped a movie since last year’s big winner, The Artist–also from the Weinsteins. Silver Linings is still playing on fewer than 1000 theatres, where it has performed solidly if not spectacularly. The nominations will definitely give it a boost when it goes truly wide, probably tomorrow or next week. On the other hand, all the hype, all the Oscar buzz etc. could not turn The Artist into a mainstream hit last year. Worse, the bins at my favorite video outlet are full of greatly reduced copies of The Artist on Blu-Ray and DVD. It seems like the only people who cared about The Artist were members of the Academy and the Weinsteins, of course. I hope the Academy doesn’t further damage its credibility this year by getting sucked into that mess again. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I liked Silver Linings Playbook well enough, but its greatest strength is indeed its performances. The film as a whole seems to lack the heft of a Best Picture winner–oh wait a second–as did The Artist.

On the other hand, kudos to the cast and crew of Beasts of the Southern Wild, a true independently made film that secured its place in the Oscar race without all that Weinstein bluster (which is not to say there wasn’t any campaigning).  Now that Life of Pi has scored its impressive 11 nods, I’ll try to squeeze it into my viewing schedule if at all possible. On the other hand, now that Django Unchained‘s Quentin Tarantino has been snubbed (as a director –not as a writer), I’ll probably skip the movie all together.  That’s my preogative.  Meanwhile, I do wish that Moonrise Kingdom, from Texas’s own Wes Anderson, had figured as a darkhorse candidate. I guess that distinction now goes to Beasts of the Southern Wild, possibly Amour. If you haven’t seen  Moonrise Kingdom, a post modern variation on Romeo and Juliet for the Mad Men setplease give it a shot.  The upside: at least Moonrise Kingdom was not shut-out entirely as it scored a Best Original Screenplay nod for Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola. It would not have been a stretch for the movie to figure in the art direction race either, but I digress.

The nominees for Best Actress are…

  1. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
  2. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
  3. Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
  4. Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  5. Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
^ This year's Best Actress lineup includes three previous nominees--in alphabetical order: Jessica Chastain (above), previously of 2011's The Help; Jennifer Lawrence, from 2010's Winter's Bone, and Naomi Watts, who was last in the running for 2003's 21 Grams.

^ This year’s Best Actress lineup includes three veteran nominees–in alphabetical order: Jessica Chastain (above), previously of 2011’s The Help; Jennifer Lawrence, from 2010’s Winter’s Bone, and Naomi Watts, who was last in the running for 2003’s 21 Grams.

Hmmmm….no real surprises here. Oh sure, there is the novelty of pitting the oldest ever nominee in the category (Riva, 85) against the youngest (Wallis, 9).  This could turn out to be the story that generates the most ink though that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Academy will follow suit; however,  I suppose that a win for either actress would make for “good” television. That noted, until now, this race has been perceived as a showdown between Chastain and Lawrence, but now that Chastain’s movie has had some of the wind let out of its sails, there is no telling how the Academy will respond to her specific performance. She could be swept under the carpet or she could be the best chance at a consolation prize.  Watts’s film has yet to go wide, and her performance is reportedly quite powerful, but she also represents The Impossible‘s only nod–in a field in which the other four nominees appear in Best Picture nominees, which almost never happens.  Again, even though none of these nods are really surprising, there are a few notable omissions, mainly Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone) and Helen Mirren (Hitchcock).  I have to say that I’m relieved that Cotillard wasn’t nominated for her role in the French-Belgian story of a whale trainer whose legs are amputated after an accident. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against Cotillard or French films in general, but this just seemed a bit much to handle in a year that also presents Watts as a tsunami survivor and Riva as the victim of a stroke.  Plus, Cotillard already has an Oscar for playing Edith Piaf, so she’s not hurting. Furthermore, to back track just a bit, even though I don’t have anything against French films, it would have been horrible to think that the Academy might have had to look to foreign language films for not one, but two, suitable Best Actress candidates, and my point is this: American filmmakers (producers, directors, writers, studio heads) should be doing a better job of creating exciting, award worthy roles for our own actresses. Of course, Watts is an  English actress (often identified as an Aussie) who stars in an internationally funded project, so there’s also that. That’s my point. That noted: I know that at least Del Shores wrote a wonderful, if disturbing, role for the magnificent Beth Grant in Blues for Willadean, but that tiny indie has yet to be given a strong national push. Oh, and in Mirren’s case, well, Hitchcock, despite Mirren’s grounded performance, was not a particularly strong or likable film even though Mirren has done well so far, garnering both Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nods. Still, like Cotillard, she already has a Best Actress Oscar (The Queen, 2006), and a recent star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, so that will have to keep her satisfied until her next truly great screen role.

The nominees for Best Actor are…

  1. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
  2. Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln)
  3. Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)
  4. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
  5. Denzel Washington (Flight)

^ Of course, that’s the real President Abraham Lincoln in the inset and Best Actor nominee Daniel Day Lewis in full makeup on the right. Incredibly, though Lincoln leads the Oscar race with nods in 12 categories, its stunning makeup is not included among the finalists.

Okay, one actor’s gain here is another actor’s loss, and that’s quite a bittersweet thing for me. Joaquin Phoenix is “in” for The Master after having been written off as a possibility thanks to some of his p.r. blunders. His inclusion is actually a refreshing thing to me. On the other hand, his name on the ballot likely comes at the expense of John Hawkes (The Sessions) as polio stricken poet Mark O’Brien. Truthfully, even though I’m a huge fan of all these nominated performances, and would be content–as of now–for any of them to win, Hawkes’s portrayal is the one that has stuck with me the longest, and I can’t explain why. I don’t think it’s “sympathy” because he was/is playing someone with a severe disability. I think it has something to do with the way the role challenged him to act with only limited use of his body (as he spends a lot of time in an iron lung and is pretty well immobile anyway). On the other hand, Michael, my hubby, thinks that that is the very thing that hampered Hawkes’s chances since he was pretty well acting only from the neck up. I think that is a little over-simplified, but there just might be a kernel of truth in their somewhere.  Again, Hawkes’s loss is Phoenix’s gain, so this is not a travesty; it’s just a wee bit unfortunate. I’m happy for Cooper and Jackman, both of whom are good actors that have been in search of just the right roles to prove their mettle to the Academy members.  These two Oscar newcomers, by the way, are in a race with a pair of two-time winners: Daniel Day Lewis and Denzel Washington. DDL’s two Best Actor awards are for My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood; this is his 5th nomination. Washington won his first Oscar in the supporting category for Glory (also 1989); he won Best Actor for 2001’s Training Day; this is his 6th nomination.  It’s great to see him in this character driven piece after so many years of high concept action/suspense films. As for Phoenix, btw, this is third Oscar race. He was a Best Supporting Actor candidate for Gladiator (2000) and a Best Actor nominee for Walk the Line (2005). I think this is still the most interesting race in the bunch. They all give strong performances and bring interesting variables with them.

Meanwhile, better luck next time to not only Hawkes but also Jack Black (Bernie) and Richard Gere (Arbitrage). The latter two had excellent vehicles in which to showcase their talents, but they weren’t necessarily the right movies in such a weighty, competitive year.

For Best Supporting Actress, the nominees are…

  1. Amy Adams (The Master)
  2. Sally Field (Lincoln)
  3. Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
  4. Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
  5. Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

^ This is Helen Hunt’s second nomination. She won Best Actress for 1997’s As Good as It Gets. Hunt is one of only two previous victors in this category. Sally Field (Lincoln) earned Best Actress honors for both Norma Rae (1979) and Places in the Heart (1984). This is Field’s first Oscar race in 28 years. Every other nominee in this race has notched at least one prior nod.

There are two happy surprise here: Jackie Weaver and, less so, Amy Adams. Weaver is a 60ish Aussie who was first nominated two years ago in this category for the crime family film, Animal Kingdom. She’s terrific in Silver Linings Playbook, giving a just about perfect example of what a thoughtful, well-rounded,  supporting performance should be, so congrats! Also, please keep in mind that when she was in the 2010 race, she lost to Melissa Leo in The Fighter, which was directed by David O. Russell, who also directs Weaver in her current nominated film. Perhaps Russell has the magic touch with performers. As far as Adams goes, this is her fourth nomination in this category– Junebug (2005), Doubt (2008), The Fighter (2010), and now The Master, in which she plays one of her most challenging roles: the seemingly eternally pregnant wife of a cult leader enacted by Philip Seymour Hoffman (who starred with her in Doubt) though there is some question as to who has all the power in the relationship–not to mention who’s the craziest of the two. Adams also has the thankless task of making a particular  scene–that no one ever wants to see again–work. Of course, it’s no surprise to see Field and Hathaway on board. Their nominations are well-expected and well-deserved. Hathaway was an early frontrunner, but she might have actively courted the media too eagerly–and too often–so that she has possibly already worn out her welcome. She was a 2008/09 Best Actress nominee for Rachel at the Wedding.  Meanwhile, I take exception to Hunt’s nomination. Oh yeah, sure, it’s great she’s willing to go all the way bare at her age–she turns 50 this year–and that she clearly has a real woman’s body rather than a plastic surgeon’s delight, but I protest her nomination on the grounds that her role as the sex therapist who helps Hawkes’s O’Brien work through his issue with physical intimacy is actually leading rather than supporting; after all, as Michael concurs, her character is as much affected by the relationship with O’Brien as he is by his relationship with her. It’s the story of two people, not one.  Even so, Hunt was positioned, so to speak, almost from the beginning as a supporting player, and I can’t figure out why. If she had been “promoted” to the leading category, her spot in the race could have easily been filled by the likes of Judi Dench (Skyfall), Ann Dowd (Compliance), or Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel); possibly Scarlett Johansson (spot on as Janet Leigh in Hitchcock) or Susan Sarandon, still capable of delivering the goods in Arbitrage.  The omission is probably especially crushing for Dowd who reportedly financed her own p.r. blitz in hopes of garnering a nod after scoring great reviews in a little seen indie film.  Oh yes, the lure of Oscar gold is powerful, and Dowd is not the first person to invest in a “For Your Consideration” campaign when, for whatever reason, s/he believes studio publicists are not doing their best to promote a given film/performance.  While Dowd missed out this year, perhaps the year-end recognition she has received for Compliance will help her secure bigger parts in more high profile films in the future, which is really what it’s all about anyway, meaning the goal is to work on worthwhile projects–hopefully that pay–rather than to simply win awards.  (Don’t tell the Weinsteins. They’ll be crushed. Work only has value for them if they can make a lot of noise and draw attention to themselves, their “good taste,” much like Charlie the Tuna.)

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor…

  1. Alan Arkin (Argo)
  2. Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
  3. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
  4. Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
  5. Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

^ In Argo, Best Supporting Actor nominee Alan Arkin portrays an exploitation type movie producer who lends his expertise to a CIA plot to rescue Americans out of Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis. Not only do all the nominees in Arkin’s category already have the distinction of being Oscar winners, they boast a whopping 21 nominations, including this year’s, among them: four each for Arkin, Hoffman, and Jones; seven–and two wins–for De Niro; alas, only two for Christoph Waltz who won three years ago for Inglorius Basterds.

Every actor in this race is a previous winner; indeed, De Niro is a a two-time champ. They are also all over 50, so it’s hard to imagine which of them will emerge the sentimental favorite since that’s the way this category often goes.  If I were to nitpick, I might argue that Hoffman’s role in The Master is really a co-lead, alongside Joaquin Phoenix, rather than a supporting one. I could also argue that despite a bunch of hoopla, much of generated by the Weinsteins, Waltz might not have much of a chance here only in that he has already achieved an Oscar for a performance in a Quentin Tarantino film.  He might have to , well, “go another way” in order to claim a second trophy. Of course, the simple truth is that there are almost always more eligible candidates for Best Supporting Actor than there are in any of the other acting categories, and that means more disappointments, more also-rans. In this case, that list includes John Goodman (Argo and Flight) and Matthew McConaughey (Bernie and Magic Mike). Of course, these two actors, both looking to earn their first nods, might have had the mixed fortune of being good in more than one film, which often ends up with split votes. It would have been nice if McConaughey had been invited along for the ride just to add some sex appeal. Plus, he was wonderful as a self-righteous D.A. in Bernie. I skipped Magic Mike, btw.  Not because I’m a prude, per se, but because I’m not that interested in its leading man, Channing Tatum. Of course, my pick for the year’s Best Supporting Actor would have to be the likewise neglected Dwight Henry, a non-professional, like Quvenzhané Wallis, who just, what, burned a hole through the screen as the conflicted father–to Wallis’s “Hushpuppy”–in Beasts of the Southern Wild.  I wish the publicists marketing the picture for awards consideration had spent more time focusing on Henry rather than directing so much attention to the nine year old actress, which, of course, is a marketable story, and Oscar voters love these little narratives. Of course they do. It will be interesting to see if either Wallis or Henry are courted by filmmakers after the excitement of the Oscars fades.  For now, I think Jones might be the man to beat.

Before I move on to Best Director, I want to point out a few more items of interest. Despite what appeared to be encouraging signs for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, in which British seniors reinvent themselves, or not, after visiting India, the so-called “Little Movie that Could” didn’t, meaning not only does it not appear as a “surprise” Best Picture candidate, it was locked-out of each and every category, including, as already noted, Maggie Smith for Best Supporting Actress, but also Tom Wilkinson (Best Supporting Actor), not to mention Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, etc. It would be tempting to say that the movie reads “too old” for Academy members who want to be thought of as young and hip, but that’s not really true given the presence of Amour, which details what happens to an elderly–hetero–couple after the wife has a stroke. No sign of ageism there though maybe the Academy felt like one “old-timers” movie was enough.

On the other hand, I’m happy to see that Anna Karenina has not been entirely shut-out. As a whole film, it has some noticeable shortcomings, mainly in the form of its leading lady, Keira Knightley, yet it is smashingly produced and has been recognized in the areas in which is excels: Cinematography, Costume Design, and Production Design and one more: Best Original Score. This is a lovely-to-look-at movie, and it can be fun if approached in the right frame of mind. Additionally, Skyfall, which may very well be the greatest of all Bond films, is up for 5 Oscars, and that might be a record of sorts. Of course, two of those are for cinematographer Roger Deakins and for “Best Song,” courtesy of the sensationally popular singer Adele (whose 2i was just named the year’s best selling album–for the second year in a row) and co-writer Paul Epworth.  I’m rooting for Deakins though I am surprised to see that cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., who did such a wonderful job shooting The Master in 70mm for director Paul Thomas Anderson, was shut-out. Have you seen The Master? The omission just does not make sense.

Oh, and if you’re looking to see Cloud Atlas among the nominees for Best Makeup, you can stop. Not only was it not nominated, it wasn’t even on the “final” list of eligible candidates that was released a few weeks ago. Don’t ask me why. If you’re unfamiliar, Cloud Atlas, from the team of Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run), starred a dozen or so top performers, including Oscar winners Halle Berry and Tom Hanks, in a series of not quite interconnecting stories that span all manners of time and space with actors playing multiple roles, always sporting a different “character” makeup effect.  Ever since the movie started generating pre-release buzz, the one thing that seemed certain about its Oscar chances was that it was a shoo-in for Best Makeup, but as early as two weeks ago, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. I’ve seen weird stuff like this happen before in this category. Of course, the Academy is not obligated to explain itself, but my guess is, after clicking on Cloud Atlas on the IMDb,  is that with a makeup team of over two dozen artisans, the members of the makeup branch of the Academy could not come to a resolution about how many names to include on the final ballot, especially if the work was not the unique vision of one acknowledged team leader–but that’s just a guess.  The actual nominees for Best Makeup, by the way, are Hitchcock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and Les Misérables, which also means that Lincoln is out of the picture–maybe the wig worn by Tommy Lee Jones’s character creeped out too many voters though I think that was the point. That noted, wasn’t the job on DDL amazing???

Finally, here is the Best Director lineup:

  1. Michael Haneke (Amour)
  2. Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
  3. David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
  4. Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
  5. Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

^ Hi, my name is Kathryn Bigelow. I won Oscars for directing and co-producing 2009’s The Hurt Locker. In doing so, I broke through the gender boundary by becoming the first woman to ever achieve an Oscar for directing a full-length feature film. To clarify, I was only the fourth female ever so nominated. Today, I was glossed over as a Best Director hopeful for my stunning new film Zero Dark Thirty, an excruciatingly intense re-enactment of the confusing and seemingly futile though ultimately successful, effort to track down and kill the world’s most notorious terrorist, Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on America. Did I mention that my movie is once again in the running for Best Picture, and that I may have very well earned more awards, at this point in the season, than any other Best Director hopeful, including Steven Spielberg who’s in the race for Lincoln? Did I also mention that I am a current candidate for the prestigious Directors Guild of America award? Did I mention the logistics of bringing this story to the big screen in something like only a year and half, give or take, while Spielberg reportedly labored over his movie for a decade? Are you as concerned as I am that it seems as though many of this morning’s “entertainment news” commentators were more agog that a 9 year old girl was nominated for Best Actress than they were about the possibilities of sexism or the cold reality that American studios seem to have forgotten how to create complex award worthy roles for grown women, notwithstanding, of course, the great Jessica Chastain who stars as fiercely committed, fiercely patriotic, CIA operative in Zero Dark Thirty? Thanks for your consideration.

Well, it’s really hard to know what to make of this. I wouldn’t call it a mess, exactly, but it does show how schizoid the Academy is these days.  On the one hand, the Academy has been on a tear lately to attract a younger, hipper, edgier, crowd–and that pretty much means teenagers, gamers and/or fanboys, yet the five nominated directors in this category don’t really help that mission. Amour, which I have not seen though I plan to asap, is well, more than just a little on the geriatric side. Plus, it’s in French…not a fanboy turn-on, that. Okay, Beasts of the Southern Wild features a young girl as its leading character, but it’s hardly a popcorn friendly Saturday matinee kids’ pick either. Do I think young people will watch this year’s Oscars to see these films compete–even with an “edgy” host such as Seth McFarlane on board?  My guess is not so much. Are Academy members wrong to vote their conscience? Nope. Please don’t think I’m judging. It is what is is: the Academy governors and the suits at ABC, long the official network of the program, want younger viewers and rack their silly brains every year (for at least the past decade) in order to make that happen, but the choice of nominated films does not reflect that. I predict more tinkering.

Keep in mind, that the five Best Picture nominees with correlating Best Director nods have, historically, a greater chance of winning in at least one category–and usually both, which means it now appears that Argo, with the allure of a movie star-turned-director Ben Affleck, and Les Misérables, a  legendarily popular stage musical with a built-in audience (not to mention a literary classic, of course), are now merely along for the ride. Their chances of winning have been drastically reduced. And what about Zero Dark Thirty‘s Kathryn Bigelow? Is her omission the result of mere sexism, or is she being punished for making a movie that courts more controversy than Academy members can stomach? Maybe Oscar voters believe Bigelow is too soon dipping back into the pool (the war against terrorism) that helped her break through the gender barrier just a few years ago with The Hurt Locker. (Maybe not, since she still earned a nod as one of the film’s producers.)  Perhaps Oscar voters believe both she and Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) have each won too soon to come back for more at this time, as Hooper took top honors two years ago for The King’s Speech (a year after Bigelow’s triumph).

Here is what I do know at last. A few days ago, I wrote about the Directors Guild nominees, which included Affleck, Bigelow, and Hooper. Typically though not always, the Academy follows where the DGA leads. This Oscar final ballot of Best Director candidates scarcely resembles the DGA lineup save for Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), and I can’t recall–yet–another year in which the two rosters had so little in common.  Now, all bets are off.  Well, except one: someone somewhere in a position of power is bound to complain the morning after the Oscars–and I’ll be here to write about it.

Thanks for your consideration…

Read the complete list of nominees at the Academy’s official website: http://oscar.go.com/nominees


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