Oscar 2012

Another year has gone by, and this morning another batch of nominees for the Academy Awards have been announced. This brings me full circle: I’ve been blogging for a year now, and my first post was on last year’s nominees. In that time I’ve increased my consumption of movie news by an exponential amount, and I paid closer attention to other awards and nominations than ever before. As such, many of this year’s picks didn’t surprise me. One surprise that was guaranteed (and one that kept me from trying to predict them) was the number of Best Picture nominees, as the Academy has famously adopted new rules for their selection.  From now on, apparently, anywhere from five to ten films will be nominated, depending on how many films top voters’ lists a sufficient number of times. It’s a little confusing; I’ll leave the details to the Academy. In the first year of this new method, nine films got chosen. Nine is a gorgeous number, but this leaves plenty of room for passionate debate about which film got snubbed for the tenth spot.

Below is the list of nominees and my thoughts on many of them. This marks the third straight year in which my favorite film managed to get nominated for Best Picture. That’s the kind of thing that keeps me interested, despite the abysmally dull and (last year, anyway) quite awkward ceremonies that the Oscars tend to be. This year, I hold out hopes for Billy Crystal putting on a good show yet again. But that’s still a month away. Here we go…

Best Picture

  • The Artist
  • The Descendants
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
  • The Help
  • Hugo
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Moneyball
  • The Tree of Life
  • War Horse

I’m no longer under the illusion that the Best Picture nominees are the best films of the year. That’s just propaganda. No, the selection is intended to represent Hollywood, so the films will present a wide variety of moods, themes and styles. But mostly, the films are intended to make Hollywood look good. Therefore, it’s safe to bet on movies about movies/Hollywood (The Artist, Hugo) and sentimentality (ELIC, The Help, War Horse, perhaps others). This year, like the previous two years (which were the first in sixty-six years to expand the nominations to ten, from five), the list shows a combination of movies adored by critics and audiences. The goal is for everyone to have at least one movie to pull for — and, let’s face it, that’s an impossible goal. We can applaud the effort, nevertheless.

The story of the year, beyond question, is The Artist. The front-runner in this race has been difficult to determine, but The Artist has a good chance of becoming the first silent film to win the Academy Award since, well, the first Academy Awards. You read that right, it’s a silent film. I haven’t seen the movie myself and can’t comment on the backlash directed against it for being “insubstantial” or “slight,” but I firmly believe that any attention that this lost art form can get is a great thing. Perhaps this pick is yet another calculated attempt to remind us all of Hollywood’s better years, but it’s the most interesting one yet.

Still, my pick has to be The Tree of Life. Honestly, it sticks out like a sore thumb in this group, at least as far as visual quality goes. I think it’s in another league altogether, but I’m glad it was chosen no matter how little chance it has of actually winning (the last time a Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival also won Best Picture was Marty in 1956). This is a pretty good batch, and even the bad picks can stir up quite a bit of discussion.  I’ve seen five of the nine, and three of them are in my personal top ten for the year (Tree of Life, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball). In the next month I’ll try to catch up with at least one or two more. I can’t really talk about “snubs” for this category, because I just remind myself that there could have been only five picks and I should be grateful for what I have. Way to silence me, Academy.

Best Actor

  • Demián Bichir, A Better Life
  • George Clooney, The Descendants
  • Jean Dujardin, The Artist
  • Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Brad Pitt, Moneyball

I’ve only seen Moneyball of these five. Oldman is easily my favorite actor of the group, and I have it on good authority that he’s excellent in the film. Also, apparently, he’s never been nominated before. If the Golden Globes are any guide, though, the favorites are Dujardin and Clooney. My hunch (and it could be way off, mind you) is that, of those two, the film that doesn’t get awarded with Best Picture will be chosen in this category.

Best Actress

  • Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
  • Viola Davis, The Help
  • Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  • Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
  • Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

Again, I’ve only seen one (The Help). Why am I even talking about these? Based on the Golden Globes, again, it’ll probably be Streep or Williams. There is legitimate drama about who it will be. Streep has been nominated seventeen times but only won twice. Williams has been nominated three times and has yet to win. Maybe they’ll split the vote and it will go to Davis. That would be all right.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
  • Jonah Hill, Moneyball
  • Nick Nolte, Warrior
  • Christopher Plummer, Beginners
  • Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

The biggest snubs of the year are for the gentlemen actors Michael Fassbender, Albert Brooks and Andy Serkis. It’s very disappointing not to see at least one of them in either category. One more year goes by without motion-capture performance getting more fully appreciated, and I’m not sure how many movies Fassbender will have to star in before the Academy notices him. (This year: Jane Eyre, X-Men: First Class, A Dangerous Method, Shame.) Oh well. Plummer is the favorite, and that’s not a bad thing at all. His performance is quite moving. (Side note: wow, these guys are old! Hill is a baby by comparison.)

Best Supporting Actress

  • Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
  • Jessica Chastain, The Help
  • Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
  • Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
  • Octavia Spencer, The Help

But at least Chastain got picked for something. (She was also in The Tree of Life, The Debt, Take Shelter, Texas Killing Fields, and Coriolanus.) Clearly, this category represents the best chance The Help has of taking home an award. I think it will go to Spencer. She doesn’t give the best performance in the movie, but she can take the prize on behalf of a fine ensemble.

Best Director

  • Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
  • Alexander Payne, The Descendants
  • Martin Scorsese, Hugo
  • Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
  • Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Hooray for The Tree of Life again! I’ve said it before: with more than five nominees for Best Picture, it’s still safe to narrow down the list of likely winners to the five that share this nomination. That confirms the status of The Artist and The Descendants as the most likely winners. Those two might just split the Picture and Directing awards. I don’t know much, but the race does seem pretty muddled at this point, so I’m looking forward to getting surprised in a month.

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Bullhead–Belgium
  • Footnote–Israel
  • In Darkness–Poland
  • Monsieur Lazhar–Canada
  • A Separation–Iran

I know pretty much nothing about four of these movies. That’s not just because I’m an ignorant American. I’ve legitimately tried to follow the critics on the best foreign films of the year, so I think there will be some controversy about what got left out. A Separation is definitely the favorite here, being critically acclaimed and having just won a Golden Globe in the same category. Melancholia and Drive are two of the most-loved movies of the year, and both were directed by Danes, but they’re both in English, so there you go.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Descendants, Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
  • Hugo, John Logan
  • The Ides of March, George Clooney, Grant Heslov & Beau Willimon
  • Moneyball, Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin & Stan Chervin
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

Winner: probably The Descendants. Moneyball is another great example of Sorkin dialogue, and like The Social Network, it makes a potentially boring subject very interesting. It might win, but I’d still bet on The Descendants.

Best Original Screenplay

  • The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
  • Bridesmaids, Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
  • Margin Call, J.C. Chandor
  • Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
  • A Separation, Asghar Farhadi

I’m starting to repeat myself, and my picks aren’t brave at all, but I’ll go with The Artist here. Allen’s script for Midnight is good, if far from his best. Bridesmaids managed two nominations, but I’d be surprised if it won anything. Not an unpleasant surprise, of course. A Separation, which I need to see, is supposed to have a brilliant script, but its position here probably only seals the Foreign Language win.

Best Animated Feature Film

  • A Cat in Paris
  • Chico & Rita
  • Kung Fu Panda 2
  • Puss in Boots
  • Rango

We all knew this was the first bad year Pixar has ever had, but I think it really starts to sink in here. Two movies I had never heard of got picked instead of Cars 2. Without Pixar in the race, the winner is actually tough to determine. I’m definitely pulling for Rango, and it has a shot, although Puss in Boots is much more of a crowd-pleaser. I’d be happy with either one. (Haven’t seen Kung Fu Panda 2.)

Miscellaneous Other Awards (see the full list here)

Drive, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes didn’t get completely snubbed, getting picked for Sound Editing, Art Direction/Makeup/Visual Effects, and Visual Effects, respectively. Martha Marcy May MarleneMeek’s Cutoff, Melancholia, Shame, Super 8, Take Shelter, etc. on the other hand, did get completely snubbed. I’d love to see The Tree of Life win for Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography if it doesn’t win anything else. John Williams is nominated twice for Best Score, for each of Spielberg’s films this year. As always, I’m woefully ignorant of the Documentary picks and can’t comment on them. And, yes, Transformers: Dark of the Moon has as many nominations (three, for Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects) as The Tree of Life. Only the Academy could entertain us in just this way. Overall, Hugo has the lead with eleven nominations, followed by The Artist with ten. David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake has the most nominations (five, for Best Actress, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Film Editing) for a movie that didn’t get picked for Best Picture. With more nominations than Extremely Loud & Incredibly CloseThe Help, Midnight in Paris or The Tree of Life, there’s a good case to be made that Dragon Tattoo got snubbed for the top prize. This and other debates may now begin in force.

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