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Academy Awards 2012: The Insiders’ Oscars…

That was… underwhelming. I mean, I think I’m relatively happy with most of the nominees, and there’s very little I can vehemently object to as completely unworthy in yesterday’s Oscar nominations, but still… Yesterday’s Oscar nominations felt decidedly insular, as if the Academy had taken a complete U-turn on any of the amendments that had recently been made in an attempt to broaden the Academy’s horizons. The Oscars have always been a party thrown by the movie industry to celebrate themselves, but this year’s nominations feel increasingly isolated, with nominations and lists populated with the safest and most predictable choices. This is the first year in quite some time that there hasn’t been anything as pleasantly refreshing as the Best Picture nomination for District 9 or Toy Story 3.

The Best Picture race is perhaps an indication of this. I had that feeling at the bottom of my gut that the Academy would choose to nominate Stephen Daldry’s poorly-received Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, despite the complete lack of any traction elsewhere, or the lack of good reviews, or the general consensus that it was an extraordinarily cynical piece of cinema. In fact, with the recent requirement that Best Picture nominees would need 5% of first preferences to get a nomination, a lot of people were speculating that there would be as few as seven nominees instead of ten. The Academy managed to produce nine films, which I think took everybody of surprise on its own.

However, those extra spots were filled with surprisingly conventional Oscar fare. People hoping that something like Drive or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or even Ides of March or (and I knew this was impossible) Shame might slip in under the radar were disappointed, as Daldry’s emotionally exploitative story of a child coping with the death of his father on 9/11 coasted in, and Spielberg’s War Horse took up a spot as well. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like Spielberg’s film (more than most), but I can’t help feel that its sport might have been better allocated to something a bit different. However, it all felt a little bit insular, like the party was being thrown to celebrate friends and colleagues rather than any objective merit of the film.

I suspect that this was due to the voting change. After all, the use of single transferable vote for the Oscars would have helped quirkier films gain traction. It would have been possible for a well-liked second-preference film to rank ahead of those films which got more votes on the first count. I wouldn’t have been surprised if, under the old system, we might have seen The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo skirt in under the radar. In fairness, I called it, because qualified majority voting benefits the “outside” choices – the ones that nobody’s going to think should win, but a large majority deem deserving. I think it produces a more deserving field of nominees, one built of something approaching consensus rather than the idea of “camps” within the Academy.

This sort of “insider” Oscar season is perhaps most evident looking at the Best Picture nominees themselves. Keep in mind that I love most of these films, but I think it deserves commenting – a lot of the really successful films this year were based around the history of movie-making. Hugo got the most nominations, pushing it into a three-horse race for the main prize. The Artist is still probably the odds-on favourite, but it has two challengers approaching it. Even though it failed to secure a Best Picture nomination, My Week With Marilyn did well enough elsewhere.

And anybody looking at the acting nominations would agree that it feels like a pretty exclusive club. I was delighted to see Rooney Mara get a nod, but Meryl Streep is the frontrunner in a category where she might as well have set up tent. It seems like the same names keep coming up, and it’s tough to “break in”, so to speak. After all, Michelle Williams was only nominated last year, and gets another nomination. Voila Davis is perhaps Meryl’s only real challenger, and she was nominated as a supporting actress only a few years ago. That said, Tilda Swinton who beat Davis that year, was sadly overlooked – perhaps because she’d chosen to headline a more unconventional type of film.

Albert Brooks was nominated before, over twenty years ago, but he couldn’t get a look in for a performance that has perhaps been the most successful aspect of Refn’s Drive when it came to Awards season. Similarly, Ryan Gosling was overlooked again – despite offering a slew of viable roles for recognition. Like Brooks, he was nominated before, but that was a decade ago. Michael Fassbender was ignored completely, in my favourite leading performance of this year so far. And, as we all knew, Andy Serkis didn’t get a look-in. Instead, Christopher Plummer picked up another supporting actor nomination, following on from the one two years ago.

The categories did include first-time nominees, with Demian Bichir and Jean Dujardin picking up nominations, but these foreign film stars aren’t exactly the most recognisable of names, or the ones with the broadest appeal. The selection seems idiosyncratic enough to play the sense of a very exclusive and aloof organisation. The only instantly recognisable new member admitted to the club was Gary Oldman, who picked up his first Academy Award nomination after decades of being among the industry’s most reliable character actors. I am going to be honest. While I hoped he’d get, I wouldn’t have been surprised had his name been dropped from the list.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t stuff to be happy about. While I’m not among the movie’s staunchest supporters, I was delighted to see Tree of Life pick up a Best Picture nomination. I could have used some more of that sort of energy in the other choices. While it is a slightly “out there” choice, I think it was chosen for its pedigree rather than its merits – I don’t think the film would have even been considered had it not come from Terrence Malick. I’m delighted to see it nominated, as I am with Rooney Mara, but I suspect it’s an accidental overlap of my own opinion with that of the Academy’s, rather than one produced by the same reasoning.

Still, that’s not to complain too much. I’m not vitriolic. After all, these are just a ceremony where Hollywood celebrates itself – it’s a good night, and occasionally it gives well-earned recognition to deserving films. I don’t see the point in getting too frustrated about their choices, even if I do worry that the Academy is growing increasingly distant from the audience they rely on to finance them. The Oscars generate the advertising revenue to fund AMPAS’ other activities, so I think there’s a reason why they should re-evaluate their directions. Still, these are just the favourite films of a group of people, even if it is fun to pick them apart a bit.

Ah well, here’s the major nominees:

Best Picture

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

Best Actor

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

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)

Best Supporting Actor

  • Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
  • Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
  • Nick Nolte (Warrior)
  • Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
  • Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)

Best Supporting Actress

  • Berenice Bejo (The Artist)
  • Jessica Chastain (The Help)
  • Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
  • Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)
  • Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Best Director

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

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

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

Writing (Original Screenplay)

  • The Artist (Written by Michel Hazanavicius)
  • Bridesmaids (Written by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig)
  • Margin Call (Written by J.C. Chandor)
  • Midnight in Paris (Written by Woody Allen)
  • A Separation (Written by Asghar Farhadi)

Animated Feature Film

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

Documentary (Feature)

  • Hell and Back Again
  • If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
  • Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
  • Pina
  • Undefeated

Foreign Language Film

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

Cinematography

  • The Artist
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Hugo
  • The Tree of Life
  • War Horse

Film Editing

  • The Artist
  • The Descendants
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Hugo
  • Moneyball

Music (Original Score)

  • The Adventures of Tintin (John Williams)
  • The Artist (Ludovic Bource)
  • Hugo (Howard Shore)
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Alberto Iglesias)
  • War Horse (John Williams)

Music (Original Song)

  • “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets
  • “Real in Rio” from Rio

Sound Mixing

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Hugo
  • Moneyball
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  • War Horse

Sound Editing

  • Drive
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Hugo
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  • War Horse

Art Direction

  • The Artist
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  • Hugo
  • Midnight in Paris
  • War Horse

Visual Effects

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  • Hugo
  • Real Steel
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Costumes

  • Anonymous
  • The Artist
  • Hugo
  • Jane Eyre
  • W.E.

Makeup

  • Albert Nobbs
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  • The Iron Lady

Best Documentary Short Subject

  • The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
  • God Is the Bigger Elvis
  • Incident in New Baghdad
  • Saving Face
  • The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Best Short Film (Animated)

  • Dimanche/Sunday (dir. Patrick Doyon)
  • The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (dir. William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg)
  • La Luna (dir. Enrico Casarosa)
  • A Morning Stroll (dir. Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe)
  • Wild Life (dir. Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby)

Best Short Film (Live Action)

  • Pentecost (dir. Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane)
  • Raju (dir. Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren)
  • The Shore (dir. Terry George and Oorlagh George)
  • Time Freak (dir. Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey)
  • Tuba Atlantic (dir. Hallvar Witzo)
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5 Responses

  1. I’m happy to see the nominations for “Bridesmaids” simply because all too often comedies are not considered Oscar-worthy. On the other hand, I’m disappointed that the Golden Globe winning “The Adventures of Tintin” was not nominated, but “Kung Fu Panda 2” was. I got the impression that voters said, “I’ve heard of that one.”

  2. Brooks getting snubbed is unconscionable. Tintin should’ve got a nod but Kung Fu Panda 2 deserves its place,Puss in Boots may not be so deserving. After Tron Legacy getting snubbed for score and FX the Oscars were officially irrelevant to me.

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