….And the Nominees Are…

I’m not one to make a habit of writing about awards shows. Yes, I’m happy to comment on pieces other people have written about the Golden Globes or the Oscars, but as a rule I avoid committing blog posts to such subjects. They don’t interest me; this is entirely because they’re not produced for me but rather for the stars, so that the talents behind the movies I watch can spend an evening congratulating themselves and one another (but mostly themselves) and generally make a grotesque and self-satisfied mockery of the art that they create and champion.

That last bit’s totally melodramatic, but the pomposity of awards shows– combined with their incredibly boring nature– keep me from enthusiastically writing about them. There’s only so much I can take of atrociously stiff and unfailingly uninteresting programming that lasts several hours and rewards films and talents that might not necessarily represent the best of the best in that year’s release slate; I mean, Crash won Best Picture in 2005, for Pete’s sake, and while stacked up against far superior nominees in Capote, Brokeback Mountain, and Munich, which is not to mention the utter lack of movies such as The Constant Gardener or Everything Is Illuminated. It’s kind of hard to take that kind of competition seriously; nobody likes a popularity contest, for one, and more to the point nobody likes to watch films of dubious quality become the recipients of a lot of undeserved lip service.

So I’ve basically kept myself restricted to the fringe when it comes to the Oscars over the last ten years or so. Sure, there have been some nice moments in the between, but even the best have often been bittersweet– Return of the King sweeping “for the series” was kind of underscored by the film’s third-place position in terms of quality in the franchise, and The Departed read more as an apology to an Oscar-less Scorsese, an I.O.U. of sorts for enduring a career peppered with almost-victories.

But in those films, and in the films that followed Scorsese’s long overdue win, there are the beginnings of a trend that has become more and more apparent in the years since: a sudden focus on quality filmmaking, and an emphasis on films that really do deserve all of the praise and hype that get heaped upon them. It began with The Departed, sure, but then carried on with No Country For Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, and last year’s The Hurt Locker. In fact, the 2010 show expanded the Best Picture category to 10 for the first time– so while there’s still only one winner, there are nine other films getting attention just through the nomination.

This is important to me. The Academy Awards can be broken down into something that’s dismissive toward, and reductive of, the crop of truly worthy films released in a given year, but all signs suggest that this is beginning to change. It’s not just a matter of the quality of each year’s winners increasing, but of the heightened level of awareness that the Oscars has given to an expanded array of films. Even a nomination can mean positive things for a movie like 2009’s A Serious Man, or this year’s Winter’s Bone, both of which neither did poorly per se nor found themselves enjoying an immense sense of visibility with respects to the mainstream. So while many might have gripes over the 10-picture category, I think everyone can at least agree with the demonstrable value that the expansion has for the smaller films aimed more at the arthouse crowd than at multiplexes. In short, it’s a flat-out bonus.

And moreover, it’s enough to make me start respecting the heart of the Oscars again, even if it’s not necessarily going to get me to tune in to watch them. (Seriously, they’re as dull as watching paint dry.)  And to care about who may or may not win. If that’s not a comment on the level of consideration and insight behind these changes, then I don’t know what is. So who do I think will be walking away with gold this year?

Best Picture, they say, is usually one movie’s category in that there’s a designated “victor-to-be” that everyone knows is going to walk away with the prize no matter what. And they also say that this year, there’s actually a race for the trophy, though frankly I think this kind of glosses over last year’s contest between Avatar and The Hurt Locker. Be that as it may, it’s clearly down to two excellent films in The Social Network and The King’s Speech, two films that I really, really liked, and which are just about neck and neck with the former barely edging out the latter. Of course when you’re trying to decide over two quality films, you can’t really lose no matter which way you end up going, but personally I’m going to reverse any initial opinions I gave on The Social Network taking it home and stick with The King’s Speech. Sure, The Social Network is probably going to be the face of 2010 years from now, but that alone can’t overcome the allure of a prestige picture, not to mention a prestige picture that’s actually really goddamn good, which The King’s Speech is. With the SAGs and the Golden Globes behind us, Tom Hooper’s period drama looks well poised to dominate the Oscars in every category nominated, which makes further discussion of the matter a little bit forced.

There’s still competition between Geoffrey Rush and Christian Bale in the Best Supporting Actor category– Bale seems to have earned his nomination and then some, with a lot of very high (and nearly universal) praise behind his turn as Mickey Ward’s trainer and half-brother Dicky Ecklund. And the same can be said of the Best Supporting Actress category; Bonham-Carter, good as she may be as the future Queen Mum, doesn’t seem to have the same momentum as The Fighter‘s Leo and Adams. I can tell you that out of both categories, I’d love to see John Hawkes win for the former and Jackie Weaver for the latter, but I’m not deluded and I know that the award will go to someone who played a role in either The King’s Speech or The Fighter. For Hawkes and Weaver (perhaps to a lesser extent), simply being nominated means a lot; meaning, for example, that Hawkes has a long and likely excellent career ahead of him on the strength of the nomination alone. But I’m rambling, and must pick a horse, and since I must I have to go with Bonham-Carter– if only to encourage her to take roles in films that aren’t directed by Tim Burton– and Christian Bale. I have a hard time seeing Bale getting shafted even if The King’s Speech proves to be the dominant force of the evening.

The best of the best, though, is really a no contest on both gender playing fields. You’re deluding yourself if you think anyone other than Firth is walking off that stage with a statue in their hands, and let’s all be real and accept that the Best Actress Oscar is Portman’s already, and has been since December 3rd. Discussion over– seriously. Those are your two guaranteed winners, and though I am willing to eat my hat if I’m wrong (caveat: I am not, and I also don’t have a hat, so ha), it’s obvious who these categories are going to, so much so that both races are wholly uninteresting. Moving on.

Toy Story 3 wins in the only race that’s less enthralling than those for Best Actor and Best Actress. Next.

I’ve made my perspective on the Best Documentary category clear in a number of great associated blogs out there, but the entire circumstance is so strange that I naturally have to bring it up here. The short of it is that Banksy, one of the most secretive and enigmatic artists working today, has been nominated for an Oscar, which is such a bizarre turn of events that for him to not win could easily be the biggest missed opportunity of the Academy’s decade. But that’s not enough to secure the trophy for him, and while Exit Through the Gift Shop is easily the best of the docs nominated (that I’ve seen) the combination of its questionable veracity and its focus doom it to failure– how does a documentary about street art and Thierry Guetta’s rise to art world stardom measure up against films about the US financial crisis and the war in Afghanistan? Restrepo‘s and Inside Job‘s political leanings, as far as I’m concerned, curry a lot more favor with the Academy and make either of these the likely winner, with Inside Job standing out as the frontrunner. It’s a shame, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles– no use getting fussed over it, even if see Exit win would be amazing. Who would pick up the statue? Banksy? Guetta? No way and maybe– how about (if you’re into conspiracy theories) Spike Jonez? We’ll (probably) never know.

Lastly– since I’m running out of space and also topics that I feel like pontificating on– we come to the Best Director category, which can’t be discussed without talking about the Academy’s apparent snubbing of Christopher Nolan. For anyone assuming bad blood between the two, it’s possible of course, but there are a number of other reasons as to why Nolan didn’t get the nod over, say, O’Russell or Hooper. At the end of the day it’s always possible that the Academy genuinely believes his work on Inception to be ever so slightly inferior to that of his contemporaries, though I find this to be an unlikely scenario; more plausible is that Nolan’s present reputation as “the comic book/Batman guy” is holding him back from being recognized as an “Oscar caliber” director, which is in my view somewhat prejudicial. Or maybe the Academy just doesn’t “get” his films. At the end of the day, while the omission seems kind of criminal, the film still has received nominations in not-insignificant categories, so there’s no way to argue that Nolan’s been robbed. But since he’s not in the contest, who’s going to win? Again, if this is The King’s Speech‘s night, it’s Tom Hooper, but really the award should be going to David Fincher. The Social Network can’t be called anything other than masterfully directed and impeccably crafted, regardless of your personal feelings toward it– it’s easily one of Fincher’s finer moments, and without a doubt the stand-out of the rest of the Academy’s chosen crop.

As for everything else? I can’t be that fussed– I’ll be interested in who wins the Best Cinematography award, but I don’t feel invested enough in that race to choose a horse and in any event I’ll probably be happy with whoever wins. For those areas where I have weighed in, well, we’ll just have to see how the show unfolds on the 24th– who do you think the winners of the night will be?


5 thoughts on “….And the Nominees Are…

  1. Hi Andy! I love your blog, man, and while I am usually too intimidated (not to mention poorly informed) to comment, I agree with your stance, but I’m picking The Social Network, because it’s the only one I’ve seen and, as skeptical as I was about a film on relatively recent history, it blew me away. Yes, even Justin Timberlake playing a smug bastard (it’s the role he was born to play). I think 2011 has been a great year as far as movies go, but I haven’t been able to see a lot of them on the road.

    Which brings me to my next point: I am really passionate about good films, but not sure entirely where to look except perhaps Rotten Tomatoes, to pick out which ones woud be worth it. (Also, I occasionally enjoy a terrible movie.) I realize that a lot of it is taste, but I generally like movies where everything, performances, direction, cinematography, scoring, and so on, are applied like paint in the hand of a grand master: with much thought and in service to the unity of the picture. I don’t really want to sit through a rom-com that’s not going to offer me something other than a way to waste two hours, but that on the other hand, could surprise me. To build my movie muscles, would you say it’s better to watch as many movies as possible or to not to waste time and look at reviews from reputable critics and go from there? Thanks.

    I gotta go, my team is playing in the Super Bowl right now (and s*** just got real), but I hope all is well with you and Mom. 😉 Peace, yo.

    • Hey Kami! Well, it’s been a long time, so I need a full update stat, but it’s great to hear from you– drop in more often. You don’t need to be a film nerd to participate, and the comments section is frequented by some great people, so there’s no need to be intimidated. Suffice to say I hope life’s been treating you well.

      As to the race, I think in a situation like that you can only really go with the film you’ve seen in any good faith. And it’s not like The Social Network has zero chance of winning, it just looks like The King’s Speech‘s campaigning has done it more favors and won it some key victories at “lesser” awards shows. (Agreed on Timberlake’s excellence, too– who knew that one of the most likable celebrities on the planet could play such a sunuvabitch so perfectly?) In general, just go with your gut, though.

      So you want to know how to build your movie muscles, eh? My suggestion: do both. Neither one is more important than the other; both of them give you opportunities to think critically about movies, in different ways of course. The more movies you watch, the more material you have to critically think on; the more criticism you read, the better you become at critiquing film, both because you see how those in the biz do it and because reading criticism affords you the chance to defend your own opinions of the films you’re reading about. Of course all the reading in the world means nothing if you don’t watch any movies, so maybe I could be persuaded to say that actually watching movies is more important, but doing both is great.

      Take care and drop on in anytime! Maybe I’ll catch you on Facebook one of these days and we can catch up. (“Mom” says “hi” by the by.)

  2. I do think that Nolan’s snub is one of prejudice. I also think that (perhaps) there’s a niggling sense of bitterness over what I’ve read referred to as “the Dark Knight rule”. The Academy are a notoriously prickly bunch (taking nearly half a century to forgive Chaplin for disresepecting his Oscar statuette and locking Albert Finney out of an Oscar race because he refused to politic), and I can see a certain resentment at the fact that making a decision that a film wasn’t worthy of their consideration led to a radical overhaul of the Best Picture race to make the awards more crowd-pleasing.

    I can see more than a few voters blaming Nolan for the perceived “dumbing down” of the Oscars, which is just nuts (his films are bold and challenging, but accessible), but I can see there remaining a strong sense of dislike there.

    Anyway, with Nolan directing The Dark Knight Rises, he won’t get a nomination in 2013 – no matter how good the film is, it’ll still be too lowbrow for the Academy. So he’ll likely have to wait to 2015/2016 before he gets another shot.

    • I don’t know that you’re necessarily wrong here. I think there’s at least some form of prejudice at play, though whether it has to do with Nolan himself or with Nolan’s oeuvre is another story. The Academy can be called finicky at best, though, so I leave others to make their own conclusions as to whether they just plain don’t like Nolan or they can’t warm to the idea of nominating a comic book movie, or a non-comic book movie by “Comic Book Director”.

      Agreed to the rest. Inception works as a piece of popcorn action fare and also as a piece of cerebral science fiction cinema at its very best; to argue that Nolan somehow has dumbed down the ceremony is kind of ludicrous, least of all because there’s absolutely nothing intellectually challenging about the Oscars in the first place.

      I wonder if maybe by the time 2013 rolls around, the Academy will have warmed to the idea of rewarding Nolan for being one of the best directors out there today and will have gotten over their fear of nominating comic book films. Maybe The Dark Knight Rises will go out sweeping a’la Return of the King, even! Probably not but it’s nice to think so.

  3. Pingback: Golden Statues and Outrage: The Oscar Nominations « A Constant Visual Feast

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