NYT offers some pointers to the Academy

Posted by · 6:03 am · January 3rd, 2011

The New York Times has an annual tradition of getting its three top critics — Manohla Dargis, A.O. Scott and Stephen Holden — to craft ideal Oscar ballots, and the results this year point to more scattered affections than the critics’ award trail would have you believe. Interestingly, only one title features on all three critics’ Best Picture lists, and it ain’t “The Social Network” — ironically, it’s Olivier Assayas’s “Carlos,” which, of course, isn’t eligible for Academy consideration.

Elsewhere, their overlaps are on more expected (and Oscar-favored) candidates: all three agree on Jesse Eisenberg, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and the Coens’ screenplay for “True Grit.” More interesting are their more idiosyncratic picks: I co-sign Holden’s Best Supporting Actress mention for Charlotte Rampling in “Life During Wartime,” and would never have predicted Scott’s screenplay citation for “Green Zone.”

Meanwhile, the NYT’s Karen Durbin felt inclined, as I have with my First-Half FYC series, to write some Post-It notes for more sidelined work: her list of the year’s most overlooked films may not be calendar-restricted Oscar-oriented, but it acts as a corrective to the late-year hype nonetheless.

Among her selections, “Never Let Me Go” is a good example of a quality title that never took hold critically or commercially. I can’t, however, buy “A Prophet” as “overlooked,” given its 2009 Oscar nomination, devoted critical following and well-stocked trophy cabinet — though in this season, it can’t hurt to remind the Academy how their arcane rules have screwed this film (and many others) over.

Durbin is presumably using to the awareness of audiences rather than critics as her yardstick, hence the inclusion of the lavishly praised but little-seen “Animal Kingdom” and “Fish Tank” — which you might remember has been a running fixture in my First-Half FYC ballot. Durbin blames the latter’s low US profile on its working-class setting, though that’s not really the issue: American audiences and awards voters alike are happy to watch cosy lower-crust stories like “Billy Elliot” and “The Full Monty,” as long as they look relatively tidy and don’t make their characters suffer too much. (It helps if they are about men, too.) As Durbin describes it, the note of redemption in “Fish Tank” is too compromised to qualify:

[Katie] Jarvis’s hot-tempered Mia is a riveting, worrisome mix of 15-year-old naïveté and hell on wheels… In this fractious female household, kindness is in short supply. [Andrea] Arnold underscores this not with more warfare but with a scene in which the three dreamily start dancing to a pop tune. It’s a moment of happiness so rare it could make you cry.

Here’s the scene in question (with handy Greek subtitles):




→ 15 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

15 responses so far

  • 1 1-03-2011 at 6:14 am

    Maxim said...

    “like “Billy Elliot” and “The Full Monty,” as long as they look relatively tidy and don’t make their characters suffer too much.”

    Have you actually seen “Billy Elliot”? There’s quite a bit of pain in that film, unlike the typically cheap and obvious (for Simon Beaufoy) variety on display in the “The Full Monty”. Man, I still can’t believe the Oscar nod that terrible film got.

    And if you don’t understand why something like “The Full Monty” makes more money in US than another realative sucess like “Calendar Girls” then you are really missing the point. Yes, it has to be about being about men (just as is does with being first) but the male factor is not the one you were implying earlier- it’s the side effect novelty factor that’s really in play here.

  • 2 1-03-2011 at 6:22 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Who said I don’t understand? It was a flip aside, not a question.

    And of course I’ve seen “Billy Elliot.” (I find it artificial to the max, but I won’t get into that now.)

  • 3 1-03-2011 at 6:36 am

    Andrej said...

    Why does Stephen Holden have Toy Story 3 for best original screenplay?

    It’s an honest mistake, or a personal stance on the script?

  • 4 1-03-2011 at 6:39 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    His personal stance, no doubt — and one I wholly agree with.

    (It’s not a “mistake” not to follow Academy classifications, after all)

  • 5 1-03-2011 at 7:19 am

    Ricky Blue said...

    Re: Green Zone

    Little known fact about AO Scott:

    He’s a high-functioning moron.

    I still have this episode of Talk of the Nation he did a year ago on my iPod because he illustrates so brilliantly everything that’s wrong with him.

    I agree with you about Billy Elliot, etc. but I think the most important distinction is that people will only watch films about working class people if they are sentimental and undemanding (or funny and undemanding). Both the examples you gave are sappy and uplifting and perfect for grandma.

  • 6 1-03-2011 at 7:20 am

    AdamL said...

    Liking the Michael Douglas – Solitary Man mention. Performance of the year for me and no Guy Lodge, I’m not saying that because I don’t want him to die.

  • 7 1-03-2011 at 8:34 am

    Will said...

    I don’t know what language is that, but it’s not Russian.

  • 8 1-03-2011 at 8:56 am

    Mike_M said...

    Fish Tank is so great… Can’t to rewatch on the Criterion Blu in Feb… It is top 3 for me for sure…

  • 9 1-03-2011 at 9:24 am

    Dylan said...

    That language is Greek

  • 10 1-03-2011 at 10:01 am

    Pope said...

    Very happy to see Animal Kingdom get some love. My #1 film of the year. Absolutely amazing. Fish Tank was my #2 film of last year…what an amazing experience that was. That film deserves every accolade it gets plus some. Brilliant.

  • 11 1-03-2011 at 10:06 am

    Pope said...

    “Visualizing the realism of life in actuality, f*** who’s the baddest a person’s status depends on salary, and my mentality is money orientated, i’m destined to live the dream for all my peeps that never made it.” …classic. Great soundtrack. This movie is seriously the ish.

  • 12 1-03-2011 at 10:39 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Sorry about the subtitle language error — I confess I only glanced at the clip.

  • 13 1-03-2011 at 1:41 pm

    CharlieG said...

    Is Stephen Holden high? Charlotte Rampling is in Life in Wartime for all of about 25, maybe 30 seconds. I love me some Rampling. But let’s face it – he just picked her to be “different” and “special” and to show everyone how very “aware” he is. Spare me, SH.

  • 14 1-04-2011 at 1:39 am

    Andrew said...

    Definitely the best are Manohla’s choices, specialy Best Actor – A Propher and Actress – White Material! ;-)

  • 15 1-04-2011 at 3:10 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    CharlieG: Watch the film again — Rampling’s performance is much more substantial than that. I listed her on my indieWIRE poll ballot, actually.