The bright side

Posted by · 7:36 am · February 2nd, 2010

Abbie Cornish in Bright StarWell, I’ll start the good news selfishly, by noting that I didn’t entirely embarrass myself with my predictions: not counting the short categories (which I was too cowardly and uninformed to predict) I nailed 78/106, just two points behind Kris’s round tally of 80.

But while I was pleased to see at least one of my out-on-a-limb guesses come good — seriously, why didn’t more people call that Art Direction nod for “The Young Victoria?” — I was better at predicting what wouldn’t get nominated.

So, my season-long hunches that Julianne Moore would be frozen out in the supporting race, that “(500) Days of Summer” would be blanked, that “Up in the Air” would miss that crucial Film Editing nod, and so on, were all on the money. And my increasing sense that nobody really liked “Invictus” enough to put it atop their ballot proved right too.

Now, if I only I’d known what would land in their place. You can’t have it all, I suppose.

Overall, however, no inclusion — or omission — in this morning’s announcement made me gasp with astonishment. “The Blind Side” was one of several titles I’d been juggling around for the final Best Picture slot, while only a few weeks ago, I thought that now semi-surprising writing nod for “The Messenger” was a sure thing. In the major categories, the name that I expected least was Penelope Cruz, given her vehicle’s rapid momentum slide and keen support in some quarters for her co-star. But she’s clearly cracked the Academy’s VIP club, where her name alone can trump such concerns.

Remarkably enough, I don’t really have that much to bitch about. Yes, that Best Supporting Actor category is a missed opportunity, with three performances from admirable actors that I nonetheless think fall shy of “good.” Meanwhile, there are some head-scratching omissions in the technical races, including two — “District 9” for makeup and “Inglourious Basterds” for art direction — that I thought were primed for the win.

But thanks to this very lengthy season, I made my peace with many of my least favorite nominees a long time ago. And though it’s aggravating to many, I still can’t sincerely comment on the Best Picture nod for “The Blind Side” until I’ve actually seen the film. I will say, however, that if the expansion of the slate means the occasional nod for a popular star vehicle in place of more dreary prestige fare, I can live with that. (On another note, given this evident support for the film, did Sandra Bullock just win Best Actress?)

With that, then, I’d like to take a positive stance and list my five favorite things about this morning’s nominations:

“Invictus” snubbed for Best Picture: Not just because I predicted it — though that tastes sweet, too. But because the Academy showed some spine by recognizing that, however noble its intentions and lofty its pedigree, Clint Eastwood’s dully earnest biopic simply wasn’t up to par. Meanwhile, Neill Blomkamp’s infinitely more inventive, genre-infused take on post-apartheid South Africa made the cut, while voters even found another socially conscious, true-life sports drama they liked more — proof positive that there’s no infallible formula for  a Best Picture nominee.

“The Hurt Locker” ties for pole position: As it turned out, Kathryn Bigelow’s film didn’t need an extra acting nod to rise to the top — the music branch did the job with a very intelligent (and thoroughly unexpected) nod for Marco Beltrami’s subtly integrated score. “Avatar,” meanwhile, received no such surprise bonuses — correctly snubbed for its clunky screenplay and ghastly theme song — which suggests to me that the smaller film is the one with the momentum going into the race. Regular readers will know I’m more than fine with that.

The foreign-language branch redeems itself: However much it appeared that they couldn’t miss, a small part of me feared that either “A Prophet” or “The White Ribbon” would be the victim of this branch’s frequently wilful taste. But they weren’t. And with additional mentions for the strong medicine of Israel’s “Ajami” and Peru’s oblique, studied feminist drama “The Milk of Sorrow” (a film I admit I admire more than I like), this is the most credible slate of nominees they’ve dreamed up in years. (No knock on “The Secret in Their Eyes”: I just haven’t seen it yet.)

The animators throw up a surprise: Perhaps the most commonly asked question as Tom Sherak and Anne Hathaway left the stage this morning was, “What the hell is ‘The Secret of Kells?'” I wasn’t asking that question, however: this lushly stylized Irish oddity has been on my radar since it won the Audience Award at the Edinburgh fest back in the summer. (Buzz was so loud I couldn’t even get into a screening.) I caught up with it recently to find the buzz well-earned: that the animation is branch is willing to eschew the name appeal and box-office muscle, to highlight a bold artistic statement that could use the attention makes my heart sing. (Who knows how close “Mary and Max” got?)

“Bright Star” and “Il Divo” can call themselves Oscar nominees: Okay, so they just got solitary mentions for Costume Design and Makeup, respectively. But at least two of year’s finest U.S. releases earned themselves a place at the table. Earlier in the season, Jane Campion’s rhapsodic Keats biopic might have hoped for more, but after a precursor freeze-out that even extended to the costumers’ Guild (shame on them), its beauty didn’t go entirely unnoticed. An electrifying Italian political thriller, meanwhile, gets more Oscar attention than anyone could have imagined a month ago. Good on you, Academy.

Finally, a half-cheer for the fact that actors as fine as Vera Farmiga, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Christopher Plummer finally have the first Oscar nominations they’ve been owed for years. Their cited performances may pale in comparison to wrongfully overlooked work from earlier in their careers, but in the ladies’ case, this will hopefully open the Academy’s eyes to more adventurous work from them in the future.

And that’s all I’ve got. Overall, a day of tame, but not unpleasant, unsurprises. Now what will we talk about for the next five weeks?

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30 responses so far

  • 1 2-02-2010 at 9:48 am

    med said...

    Guy, you tell your readers–did Sandra Bullock just win Best Actress? I think it is still a neck and neck race with Streep but your thoughts?

  • 2 2-02-2010 at 9:50 am

    Jeff S. said...

    I have to agree, I did enjoy seeing Invictus being left out for Best Pic, although I was very surprised that The Blindside got the spot. Other good surprises: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Art Direction for Imaginarium, and Fantastic Mr. Fox for score. On the other end, 500 Days snub for screenplay was disappointing, as well as only one nomination for A Single Man (was hoping for cinematography or score but really was not expecting). Overall nothing too upsetting this morning, and ill happy to say i went 79/106 .

  • 3 2-02-2010 at 9:53 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Med: I think she did. Clearly the film has more support than many pundits realized. (And a lot more than “Julie & Julia.”)

    Given that it’s such a star-driven vehicle, it stands to reason that anybody who voted for the film as a Best Picture nominee is also voting for Bullock.

  • 4 2-02-2010 at 10:02 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Actually I believe I nailed 85.

  • 5 2-02-2010 at 10:02 am

    david said...

    Where The Wild Things Are got shut out. What a very sad day. Not seeing a single nomination for Public Enemies, or The Road was a bit disappointing also. Other films that failed to receive nominations: Mary and Max, Two Lovers, Moon, Anti Christ, Ponyo, The Informant, and 500 Days of Summer.

  • 6 2-02-2010 at 10:03 am

    aspect ratio said...

    I got 85 out of 106 correct, plus 8 I had as alternates. Did pretty well on the whole, I was especially proud I got 4/5 in both music categories since those can be tricky.

  • 7 2-02-2010 at 10:04 am

    david said...

    Yep…Kris did get 86 Guy…why you trying to cheat him to make yourself look better??


    Just kidding.

  • 8 2-02-2010 at 10:07 am

    david said...

    Curious to find out when we can start making our predictions in the Oscar pool deal. Will the categories be up by tomorrow maybe??

  • 9 2-02-2010 at 10:17 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Kris: Sorry, I didn’t include the short categories. Hence my scoring out of 106 rather than a larger maximum. I double-checked my counting, though ;)

  • 10 2-02-2010 at 10:20 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Oooohh, right. Yeah, so 80.

  • 11 2-02-2010 at 10:25 am

    med said...

    Well, Guy, I’m not ruling out a Streep win based on a record 16th nomination, sentiment, overdue status, and better performance than Bullock. Plus, frontrunners don’t always win, Hepburn was never a frontrunner and won 4 Oscars. It will be a sad day is Bullock does win.

  • 12 2-02-2010 at 10:28 am

    aspect ratio said...

    So that means I beat both Guy and Kris with my 85! Good times, haha. :D

  • 13 2-02-2010 at 10:31 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Kudos, Ratio. Beating me is no special achievement, but Kris…

  • 14 2-02-2010 at 10:33 am

    Craig said...

    Bullock is locked. It’s time people made peace with it and moved on.

  • 15 2-02-2010 at 10:55 am

    Baxter said...

    I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to get over the total blanking of Bright Star. Never has a film I’ve liked so much and has been so much up Oscar’s alley been so completely shut out. Thank God it got the costume nomination, but how it can’t even crack a top 10 list of the year is beyond me.

  • 16 2-02-2010 at 10:57 am

    Pablo (Col) said...

    All acting categories locked. Its official people.

    The interesting categories are the artistic and technical ones.

  • 17 2-02-2010 at 11:17 am

    red_wine said...

    78 and 80 are both very good scores. Well done. Any word on which pundit has done the best yest?

    First things first I haven’t yet Blind Side or Bullock’s performance, both of which are being crucified and burnt at the stake in many places across the internet, so can’t comment.

    The most welcome nomination was of course In the Loop, whose screenplay is something of a small masterpiece. Guy you haven’t aired your thoughts yet on that movie. What do you think of it?

    I much prefer Star Trek to District 9 which I found to be a really average movie that nigh collapses after the first 1/2 hour. So its a triumph for small film-makers but not at all deserved in my opinion.

    Its absolutely clear that the Brits got in An Education, the film didn’t seem to enjoy wide support at all. Daniels’ remains a horrible nomination even though it was no surprise. I actually thought the film was badly directed. So that’s one missed opportunity.
    And Matt Damon? Boo!! (Eastwood is now 1 of the most successful directors at getting his actors nominated.)

    Up In The Air is dead. Its only winning Adapted Screenplay. Basterds came up surprisingly short. Its shocking it missed Art Direction & Costume Design. Whereas Hurt Locker has shown surprisingly broad support. I think its our winner. And oh Bullock has sealed her win.

  • 18 2-02-2010 at 11:21 am

    coffeefortwo said...

    “On another note, given this evident support for the film, did Sandra Bullock just win Best Actress?”

    Absolutely. As much as many people don’t want it to be true, this is Bullock’s. The Best Picture nod is just one more indicator, following the Globe win and, more significantly, the SAG win. As “Avatar” piled up box office records, “Blind Side” was turning into a huge success in its shadow, and that success, along with the success of “The Proposal” earlier this year, is all hers. It also gives them one bona fide smash, and clear star, to honor among the acting awards. All four acting trophies are all but locked.

    I’d love to follow Guy’s lead and note very positive examples of things that made me happy in this morning’s announcement, but I must concede to a more mean-spirited favorite detail: that, just as they did with “Titanic,” the Writers Branch excluded James Cameron from the screenplay race. While I’m lukewarm at best about “Avatar”, I can concede its strength in many areas, but that script is bad.

  • 19 2-02-2010 at 11:31 am

    Matt said...

    Hey Guy – Another interesting tidbit: With Maggie G’s nomination, she joins her brother Jake with the “sibling” nomination for acting. Got me to thinking about the others: the Redgraves, the Barrymoores, the Fondas, Beatty/Maclaine, the Robertses, the Tillys, DeHavilland/Fontaine…Are there others?

  • 20 2-02-2010 at 11:36 am

    med said...

    So much joy for a perceived win by Bullock for the weakest performance of all the nominees. All I can say is you should all be praying for an upset.

  • 21 2-02-2010 at 11:41 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Trivia time! The two acting nods for Invictus means that Clint Eastwood has directed 13 nominated performances, tying him for 5th on the list of living directors with Francis Ford Coppola and passing the 12 of Norman Jewison.

  • 22 2-02-2010 at 11:48 am

    Chase K. said...

    “Bright Star” is just too minimal and too slight of a period film to catch the hearts of the Academy’s tastes. I like the film myself, but the subtle elegance, grace and immediacy of the film is geared more towards art house audiences and the foreign festival circuit.

    I’m not suprised that it was generally ignored, although Grieg Fraser’s cinematography should have been nominated, without question.

  • 23 2-02-2010 at 11:50 am

    Scott said...

    Thank you stating what I have thought all along, Precious is overrated and actually very badly directed.

  • 24 2-02-2010 at 11:58 am

    Matt said...

    Hey Chad – I can only come up with 12 for Eastwood as director: Eastwood (x2), Freeman (x2), Hackman, Jolie, Swank, Penn, Robbins, Harden, Streep and Damon. Who is the 13th?

  • 25 2-02-2010 at 12:29 pm

    Paul Outlaw said...

    The Precious editing nod is the surprise and highlight of this whole thing for me.

  • 26 2-02-2010 at 2:47 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Well then, he’s tied with Jewison for sixth!

  • 27 2-02-2010 at 3:28 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Okay, this is kind of an odd bit of trivia, but I found it very interesting:

    This is the first year since 2000 that no single film has been nominated in both Supporting Acting categories (Actress+Actor).

  • 28 2-02-2010 at 5:54 pm

    Me. said...

    The Bad:

    In a year with emotional, breathtaking cinematic experiences such as “Bright Star”, “The White Ribbon” and “Where the Wild Things Are”, it is inexcusable for the Academy to not be able to not nominate them in a 10-slot, best picture race. Those three films are far better than the lame “Up in the Air” or the unbelievably overrated “District 9” but what’s worse, I officialy have to go and see “The Blind Side”. I have a feeling that “The Blind Side” will win Best Picture because Oscar voters will manage to piss me off in a way. Just joking. Anyhow, I hope it’s not as bad as it looks.

    Also, no Mélanie Laurent or Diane Kruger? They should have been nominated instead of Kendrick who was just plain annoying with her overracting and Farminga who didn’t really do anything special in that film. Cruz should have been nominated for “Broken Embraces”, not “Nine”.

    No “(500) Days of Summer”. Unacceptable.

    The Good:

    I’m incredibly happy to see “A Serious Man” being nominated for Best Picture. It was such a gem of a comedy! The “Avatar” nominations were also awesome, even if they weren’t surprising at all. I loved that film. Right now, I’m very blocked because I think “Avatar” still has a chance to win Best Picture, even if “The Hurt Locker” has all the buzz right now.

  • 29 2-03-2010 at 5:22 am

    revoir said...

    I don’t think the nomination of “The Blind Side” for Best Picture can guarantee Sandra Bullock a Best Actress win.. Because in concluding that, then George Clooney should have been locked up for Best Actor…

    And for the past year, actors who played an iconic role won the Acting categories, Cate Blanchett, The Aviator, Nicole Kidman, The Hours, Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose, Sean Pean, Milk, and so on and so forth… I think If she wins the BAFTA then it will be a great boost for her even if Bullock is not eligible for nomination… I’m not sure if Sandra will be nominated next year.. It will depend on the performances of the Actresses this year…

  • 30 2-03-2010 at 7:32 am

    billybil said...

    Very nice article – thank you. I really like and appreciate the tone of it.