The season is winding down this week. The slow President’s Day holiday yesterday seemed to be more of a harbinger than a lull in the excitement. This time next week, we’ll probably be over the fallout of the circuit and on to debating the contenders we’re likely to see a year from now.
It’s a vicious, beautiful, sad, interesting circle.
But before the 81st Annual Academy Awards telecast puts a bow on the festivities Sunday night, it seems a decent enough time to reflect. And not to be too negative, but this became one of the most irritating seasons I’ve ever covered, both in the lack of excitement to the dichotomy that circumstance presented for me (given that my favorite film of the year has lead the field throughout).
With that in mind, I fully expect this piece to grate the nerves of more than a few readers. Then again, I’m sure plenty of these views are shared by a handful as well, but whatever the case, a list of pet peeves began to stack up early on in the season. I thought it reasonable to collect them here, so feast your eyes (or roll them), this is what got under my skin this year.
10. The Academy’s music branch
This is an annoyance that will likely never be soothed, but the Academy’s music branch once again proved how broken it is this year. First it decided Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s score for “The Dark Knight” was ineligible for a nomination before rescinding that decision at Zimmer’s pleading request (most of us knew very well that wouldn’t ultimately matter, though). Then the branch and its unnecessarily complicated song voting process, together with it’s clip-viewing process, shut Bruce Springsteen out of a category he deserved to win. I’m beginning to think there’s no hope.
9. Sweden choosing “Everlasting Moments” over “Let the Right One In”
(Apparently Academy rules kept the Swedes’ hands tied behind their backs, but I still bet they’d have gone with the safer choice.) “Everlasting Moments” is a delightful little film that many of us in the media thought might actually have a shot at winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Oscar. Maybe the Swedes were thinking along similar lines when then submitted the film on behalf of their country — but to ignore one of the most innovative and excitingly creative cinematic experiences of the year? “Let the Right One In” consistently popped up on list after list of the year’s best foreign films, so dare I say it, it may have squeaked through to a nod, despite the subject matter.
8. The closing track of “Gran Torino”
Thankfully, Clint Eastwood’s growling, painful ditty “Gran Torino” didn’t make it as a Best Original Song contender, but that didn’t do much to remove the red mark that still remains on my forehead from when I smacked it during the closing credits of his film. I say, again, what the hell was he thinking singing on this thing? Surely I wasn’t the only one who thought it was an embarrassing punctuation point on an already dubious cinematic venture? On it’s own, the song is fine. Jamie Callum would have been okay on his own. But that deathly howl at the beginning just ruins it till the end. I hope it’s out of his system.
7. “Rachel Getting Married”
I haven’t said much about Jonathan Demme’s “Reachel Getting Married,” beyond a brief review when the film was playing at Toronto. Mostly I just sat back and watched a critical fraternity cream itself over a film that was passable but hardly groundbreaking on any level, one containing a pair of performances (Hathaway and DeWitt) that deserved commendation but within a screenplay laughably unrealistic (despite claims to the contrary). Oh yeah, and Debra Winger was terrible. Stop fooling yourselves otherwise. Nice that I’m not alone on most of this, but really, how did this become such a critical darling?
6. “Button” sniping
I touched on this briefly earlier in the month, but while most of this list was in place by the time the Oscar nominations were announced, this little annoyance crept up on me during the second phase of the season. Everyone likes to gangs up on SOMETHING when it comes to this stuff. Bandwagon mentality is difficult to shake, whether in praise or disdain of a contender. So it wasn’t necessarily a shock that so many people took it out on “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The sad thing is most of the griping held little water beyond a few valid if shallow “Forrest Gump” comparisons and the reasoned views were few and far between.
5. No love for Cate Blanchett
It’s funny that there are two “Button” examples on this list, since I was hardly a hard core fan of the film, but this one was big for me. I thought Cate Blanchett’s performance was probably her best work to date, yet beyond a BFCA nomination, no one else seemed to feel the same way. We all have our little disappointments when it comes to the Oscar season, this contender or that consistently getting the shaft. I was just shocked that Blanchett was so universally snubbed since her performance is arguably the most accomplished of a film that landed 13 nominations across the Academy board. What gives?
4. The inevitable “Slumdog” backlash
This should really be called “the inevitable Fox Searchlight” backlash at this point, since both “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Juno” were met with similar belly-aching about a supposedly trite narrative. There MAY have been an argument for those two films (though I loved both), but “Slumdog Millionaire” is a remarkable piece of cinema that easily deflected most of the pot-shots. There was even a nasty smear mixed in there somewhere, dragging the child actors into the fray with irresponsible reckless abandon. But the film survived will likely (and rightly) win the honor of Best Picture of the year, whether you like it or not.
3. Any screenwriting accolades for “Doubt”
I say again — WHAT SCREENWRITING? This agitated me all year long, right up to the damned Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. My key point of criticism against “Doubt” has always been that it isn’t cinematic in the slightest. A few dutch angles from Roger Deakins doesn’t cut it. It is, quite simply, a play on film, and to reward that with adaptation honors is an affront to screenwriting and, indeed, screenwriters. (Can you tell I’ve had my hand at it?) There was a part of me that thought, you know, the writers aren’t going to go for this like the rest. But even the WGA and AMPAS writers branch fell prey.
2. Attack of the fanboys: “The Dark Knight” and “WALL-E”
This came dangerously close to my #1 spot for a bevy of reasons. Anytime the populist contingent has a contender in play, things get really nasty. Go back to the “Lord of the Rings” years for some truly troublesome examples. I don’t consider myself a “‘Dark Knight’ fanboy” because after all, I wrote an even-handed review of the film. But I guess that is the side I fell on this year, so being in the trenches, it was nasty. From BOTH sides. It’s sad, really, that it even had to be “this” side versus “that” side in the mind of so many, but in the end — with delicious irony — neither side made it across the finish line.
1. Bitching about “category fraud”
Man did this get out of hand this year. Maybe it’s simply because I disagreed with most of the arguments, but the constant whining about “category fraud” — Who coined that term? Rogers? I know I own “lone director” but I think this one stems from The Film Experience — was like a gnat buzzing around my ears all…year…long. Seriously, Kate Winslet in “The Reader” — it was a friggin’ supporting performance. Dev Patel in “Slumdog Millionaire” — supporting performance; even if the CHARACTER was the lead, three actors were responsible. But this happens every year and I’m sure certain parties are gearing up for next season.
Have your say. What bugged the hell out of you this year? Get it out, come on…