Oscar nominations: the good, the good and the good

Posted by · 11:22 am · January 25th, 2011

Even when they aren’t being read out with gale-force enthusiasm by Mo’Nique, the Oscar nominations tend to attack you with breathless speed that you need at least half an hour to decide how you feel about them at all. As usual, this morning’s announcement found me bouncing from one split-second reaction to another: Yay! No! What? That? Why? Who’s missing? What did she say? That? No! Did I call that? Yay!

As Kate Winslet would say in such situations: “Gather.” And now that I’ve stepped back, gathered and taken into account that no Oscar nomination slate in history has been without its disappointments, I can honestly say that I’m more happy than not with the list in front of me.

Some of the day’s biggest surprises didn’t elicit much of an emotional reaction from me. My eyebrows rose as high as anyone’s over Christopher Nolan’s latest failure to secure a Best Director nomination — is he the first man in Oscar history to fall three times at this hurdle after being DGA-nominated? — though I always said he couldn’t be regarded as a sure thing.

A miss for “Inception” in Best Film Editing was even more stunning, but given my own reservations about the film’s storytelling, it’d be disingenuous for me to chide the Academy on either count. (I’d rather see Nolan’s film in either category than the drastically over-nominated “The King’s Speech,” mind, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.)

Prediction-wise, I scored better than I expected, calling 80 out of 107 nominees, and 39 out of 45 in the top categories. Most pleasingly of all, a number of my fifth-spot hunches in the acting categories paid off, as Javier Bardem, Michelle Williams and John Hawkes all found their way to against-the-odds nominations. (Shame my inkling about Hailee Steinfeld showing up in lead didn’t pay off — for the Academy’s sake as well as mine.)

When the smoke cleared, however, these were the seven chief reasons I was left smiling:

“The Illusionist” pulls it off: I never veered from my instinct that Sylvain Chomet’s hand-drawn jewel (and my own favourite film of 2010) would land the third spot in the Best Animated Feature category, even as a curious precursor surge for “Despicable Me” gave me cause for concern. Ultimately, however, the Academy’s animation branch proved that technique is their top priority.

“Dogtooth” bares its fangs: In retrospect, it was utterly insane to predict that a deranged, sexually explicit Greek fable featuring incest, cat butchery and assorted other forms of family fun would somehow lay claim to the title “Academy Award nominee” — but sometimes, if you want things badly enough, they happen. I do wish my long-predicted nomination for South Africa’s “Life, Above All” had come to pass, but by fearlessly picking “Dogtooth,” this branch has atoned for several years of milquetoast sins.

“Winter’s Bone” scores one (or four) for the indies: Another on-the-fringes contender that repaid my loyalty this morning, Debra Granik’s shoestring Ozark thriller scraped into the ten-strong Best Picture lineup, holding the flag aloft for authentic independent cinema with no big names to bolster its place in the race — and surprised a few pundits by carrying hardworking character actor John Hawkes to a deserved supporting nod too. With little guild support in its arsenal, it looks like critical veneration still counts for something in this racket.

Best Actress kills: By commendably standing up for Nicole Kidman and Michelle Williams’s little-seen vehicles, the acting branch unveiled a true rarity: an acting category with no coasters, no fat and no filler. Just five gifted women at different stages of their careers, but all on peak form:  Natalie Portman will still cruise to an easy win, but a category this strong deserves to be more competitive.

The writers have Leigh’s back: As with “Happy-Go-Lucky” two years ago, Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” nearly slipped through the cracks with Oscar — as category confusion cost the wonderful Lesley Manville what should have been an easy get of a Best Actress nomination. Thank God, then, for the indie-friendly writers’ branch, who once again boldly piped up for Leigh where no one else would (and at the expense of a Best Picture nominee, no less). This marks the still-Oscarless Leigh’s seventh career nomination; alas, that number is unlikely to prove lucky this year.   

BANKSY!: Okay, I’m stealing Kris’s war-cry here, and I doubt I can match his intensity in shouting it. (How neat that both our #1 films of the year found recognition in the ghetto categories.) Still, what a joy to see “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” the year’s most inventive, entertaining, shape-shifting documentary nominated — ahead of the much-favored but infinitely less engaging “Waiting for Superman” to boot. Proof (at last) that this branch has a sense of humor.

The costume designers are love: I anticipated a contemporary presence in the usually period-obsessed Best Costume Design category, but I never expected to it to come in the svelte shape of Italian arthouse darling “I Am Love,” whose simple but boldly hued and immaculately tailored couture beat far flashier Guild nominees “Burlesque” and “Black Swan” to the punch. Nice to have some evidence that voters are paying attention to at least a few movies off the beaten awards track — and that my own dream ballot wasn’t entirely in vain.

The bad? Frankly, I’m in too good a mood to dwell on my disappointments. Yes, as thrilled as I am for Williams, I don’t think her nomination sits right without an accompanying bid for Ryan Gosling. Yes, I wish there was a little less “The King’s Speech” (and a little more “Black Swan”) in the technical categories. Yes, I wish the acting branch had taken it upon themselves to correct Hailee Steinfeld’s plainly fraudulent categorization. Yes, I’m as baffled as anyone that more voters thrilled to the VFX work in “Iron Man 2” than “TRON: Legacy.” And yes, I do mourn the missed opportunity to have Cher belting it out on Oscar night in the name of “Burlesque” — not least when the music branch managed to cobble together the most indifferent slate of Best Song nominees in memory.

But weighed against the “hell yes” moments listed above — not to mention other high points like Jacki Weaver’s underdog-made-good nomination and an unusually stellar Best Supporting Actor lineup — I’m willing to chalk such qualms up to the nature of the season. There’s plenty of drama to come on the Oscar trail. Now’s not the day to start it.

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58 responses so far

  • 1 1-26-2011 at 7:11 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I doubt the editors got lost watching Inception. Don’t look too hard for reasons — sometimes a film just doesn’t have the depth of support one might think.

  • 2 1-26-2011 at 7:32 am

    karol said...

    hmm, i assume there is always a reason for snub. remember when Marie Antoinette wasn’t nommed for Art Direction, Cold Mountain for Costumes or Springsteen’s song was out in Song category, and people were screaming about the outrageous snub. but they forgot that the sets in MA were real Versaille, costumes in CM were ‘too clean & beautiful’ , and that the song played during end credits and didn’t add anything to the story. those reasons are understandable for me…
    if The Dark Knight or Matrix could’ve been nominated, why not Inception? i think those movies are comparable…
    if Children of Men or Cinderella Man or City of God or Memento could’ve been nominated, why not Inception? Inception had definetely more buzz & passion as guilds indicated…

  • 3 1-26-2011 at 7:41 am

    bluemoon02 said...

    I agree about your statement on the Best Actress category. It is the strongest line-up since…..maybe 2007?(excluding Cate Blanchett)or 2004? Or maybe as far back as 1995. Just curious, which past nominees do u regard as “coasters,fat or fillers”?????

    And the Best Supporting Actor category is 100x stronger than last yr’s pathetic bunch(Only Harrelson and Christophz made an impact).

  • 4 1-26-2011 at 8:18 am

    Maxim said...

    PaulH, you are a hysterical moron. Quite yourself down and get your brains in order.

    “mean Stephen f*cking Daldry has 3 Oscar Best Director nominations to Nolan’s zilch. Stephen Daldry!!!! ”

    Why are you saying this as if the guy is some worthless hack? I may agree the Reader all kinds objectionable but they guy has some serious dramatic chops. I have always believed that.

    Also, last I checked Nolan also has three nominations, including picture and writing. That’s not zilch.

    “!!!! Inception not only directed itself, but also EDITED ITSELF AS WELL, apparently”

    Guess what dumbass, they don’t think that. They just happened to not think it was Academy Award wothy, for whatever reason. They have nominated the film 8 other times and I think there’s plenty to like.

    Lastly, your Coen bashing exposes you for the hypersensative goon that you are.
    First of all, theirs was a legitimately top 3 directing job in the year. Second, they didn’t cost Nolan anything, as there’s no knowing how far down Nolan even was. Boyle, Cholodenko, etc may have been ahead of him just as Coens were likely closer to the top.

    And this is only the third time, they have been nominated for Directing (second for Ethan).. That, to me is a travesty because they are From Blood Simple, Through Men Who Wasn’t There, on very some of the most versatily and superb filmmakers the world had ever seen.

    It is also worth noting, not that they an idiot like youself would understand – Coens waited over a decade to even get their first nominations. Longer than Nolan. They stuck at it and are finally enjoying the recognition. If your Nolan is as good as you think he is (and I don’t doubt that he is), he will no trouble doing the same.

  • 5 1-26-2011 at 8:34 am

    Maxim said...

    Now, a calmer response:

    True Grit is a very well liked film in AMPAS and deservingly so. It’s #2 in terms of overall nominations and would have clearly made the 5 or even 4 or 3 in directing.

    I think this is my favorite horse in this year’s race. Not only is it unique because it’s western, it’s unique and valuable because it’s unique and unuausal for a western, the directing and presentation being the primary reasons why. It deserves to be here over most other contenders, in my opinion.

  • 6 1-26-2011 at 10:06 am

    Collin said...

    James D., let’s be realistic. Hollywood and these awards shows are popularity contests. People’s personas are entirely up for mass consumption and what makes people want to see a Mel Gibson film a lot of the time is the stardom of Mel Gibson. It’s naive to pretend otherwise. People are entitled to their opinions and quite often those opinions about a person’s art are swayed by what they know. Am I comfortable going to a Victor Salva film, knowing he’s a convicted pedophile who raped and filmed a 12-year-old boy, particularly when his films often feature long, lingering close-ups of naked male torsos? It’s just not for me. So if someone has issues with Roman Polanski or Woody Allen or David O. Russell, I don’t have to like it, but it’s their right.

  • 7 1-26-2011 at 6:39 pm

    PaulH said...

    Don’t shoot the messenger, Maxim:

    Reuters Canada: http://tinyurl.com/4pnjuxb
    ABC News: http://tinyurl.com/637f3b3
    MSNBC: http://tinyurl.com/4rr2785

    All 3 suggest the Coens were nominated at Nolan’s expense. The Globes – and the DGA – got it right with the brothers. No rubber-stamp for you.

  • 8 1-27-2011 at 12:50 am

    karol said...


    as a point in my theory of snubs, here is the hidden reason why Black Swan wasn’t shortlisted for Makeup by the Academy…