As my co-writer Dan Fields expressed in our Best And Worst Movies Of the Year article, “2011 was a year of disheartening mediocrity, but at least a few films managed to be significantly better (or worse) than average.” And it shows with this year’s Academy Awards. While there were snubs and surprises, I don’t think people feel particularly strongly about most of the movies or the performances. We might have our personal favorites, but I’m hard-pressed to think of that one film or role that everyone will unite behind (or against). Looking at all of the nominations, it’s difficult to pick out the film or films that inspire a genuine passion in people. It certainly makes for a more challenging Oscar pool (really, at this point it seems like anyone’s game), but it also shows that there wasn’t really one standout film this year.
I would like to begin by making a statement. I stand by my exceedingly negative review of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and its low Rotten Tomatoes score shows that I am not alone. While the film received nominations for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Max von Sydow), remember, Crash won the top award in 2006. The Academy Awards are not infallible.
Overall, if I had to pick the movie I wanted to “sweep,” it would be Hugo (nominated for Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound Mixing, Editing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, and Score). I thought it was one of the year’s few truly great films that looked visually outstanding, had a genuine emotional core, and showed a true love of art. Like I said in our end of the year piece, it was the first Scorsese movie in a long time that truly reminded me why he is one of the greats.
My biggest “happy” surprises were the Best Actress nomination given to Rooney Mara for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (who probably won’t win) and Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (who also probably won’t win). I was also impressed that The Tree of Life received a nomination for Best Picture. One of my favorite movies (and movie experiences) of the year, I thought it would be too “art house” to receive a Best Picture nod. Obviously it won’t win the big one, but I still think it should take home Best Cinematography.
My biggest disappointments has mostly to do with the lack of attention given to more deserving movies. Take Shelter got nothing, when screenplay, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Shannon all were worthy. Melancholia, my personal favorite movie of the year, was also completely snubbed. This film was not just beautiful in a variety of ways, but both Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg deserved nominations for their performances. Probably the most noticeable snub of the year was Drive, which only got Best Achievement in Sound Editing.
While I thought Moneyball was good, I didn’t think it was Best Picture worthy nor that Pitt deserved Best Actor for the role. I would have much rather seen him get recognized as Best Supporting Actor for The Tree of Life. For this category, I consider Michael Fassbender in Shame, Shannon in Shelter, and Ryan Gosling in Drive to have given richer and more complex performance than Pitt. Similarly, I would have rather seen Albert Brooks in Drive over Hill from Moneyball, or pretty much everyone else nominated. I also don’t think The Ides of March should have received recognition for Best Adapted Screenplay, mostly because of how strong I considered the Ryan Gosling/Paul Giamatti/Philip Seymour Hoffman plot when compared the detrimentally weaker sex scandal one.
One of my biggest pet peeves with the Academy Awards has always been Best Original Song. We know they like Disney and we know they like dirges, but they seem to have a problem “getting” non-serious songs. Most of the tunes from Get Him To The Greek, any of the Monty Python films, Club Dread, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and especially Team America: World Police are genuinely good and clever pieces of music with or without the connection to the film, but none of those movies got attention for Best Original Song. South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut was a rarity in getting a nomination for Blame Canada, but it lost to Phil Collins’ You’ll Be In My Heart, as did Aimee Mann’s Save Me from Magnolia… but at least they were nominated.
This year’s induction into is this category is Captain America: The First Avenger‘s Star Spangled Man. An excellent riff on old school patriotic songs, Man didn’t wink to the audience or try to be cutesy or ironic. It took itself seriously and clearly honored its heritage. Also left without a nomination was Nightcall from Drive, which set the tone for that movie shockingly well.
In 2012, we only have two potentials contending for Best Original Song. The more deserving Bret McKenzie’s Man or Muppet from The Muppet versus Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, and Siedah Garrett’s Real in Rio from Rio. Although Jermaine Clement did not sing on the latter song, he provided a voice in Rio, which means we have a battle of the Conchords.
Best Actor In A Leading Role
To begin with, Demián Bichir is a surprising nominee, given the lack of excitement over A Better Life. However, critical acclaim indicates that the movie is far better than deeper than its trailer suggested – i.e. No Country For Bicycle Thieves. George Clooney and Brad Pitt are the big hitters here, not just in general but specifically for The Descendants and Moneyball. Gary Oldman stands a fighting chance for his role as John le Carré’s middle-aged super spy Smiley, but if for some reason Clooney or Pitt fail to win, it seems dark horse Jean Dujardin is bound for glory following his grand antics and perfect pantomime in The Artist.
Best Actor In A Supporting Role
Jonah Hill has the bulk of the buzz, but Christopher Plummer has some too, in proportion with the more modest success of Beginners. Max von Sydow should always get awards, but he’s such a latecomer this year that word hasn’t had much time to get around. Kenneth Branagh, a self-styled Olivier for this generation, was no doubt marvelous as the genuine article opposite Marilyn, and Nick Nolte was a convincing drunken pappy in Warrior, but it seems to be Plummer and Hill in the final round. Who could have foreseen that competition? I mean, ever?
Best Actress In A Leading Role
All anyone has done is complain about The Iron Lady, but apparently none of the criticism is meant for Meryl Streep herself. She continues to delight, to win awards, to make gracious acceptance speeches, and to top the bill in the minds of all. Nonetheless, with all the positive buzz around Michelle Williams, Viola Davis, and Glenn Close, it could be anyone’s game. Except Rooney Mara’s, in all likelihood. While Fincher’s re-imagining of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo seemed like a guaranteed vehicle for a Best Actress winner, her admittedly strong performance has been curiously drowned out by the fuss over her competitors, not to mention the movie’s rather cool reception in theaters.
Best Actress In A Supporting Role
How the heck did Bérénice Bejo get relegated to a supporting role for The Artist? A more cynical person might accuse the Lead Actress nominees of a conspiracy to keep her out. They would all be in big trouble. Melissa McCarthy no doubt has the popular vote – she was the heart and soul of Bridesmaids — and Octavia Spencer may have the Golden Globe, but all should be wary of the snappy gal with the Charleston that charmed Hollywood.
Animated Feature Film
The quality of animated features last year was surprisingly high, but given the choices, it seems hard to imagine that anything but the uniquely bizarre and imaginative Rango will walk away with the honor.
It seems tempting to heap all the love on Harry Potter this year, according to the tradition of epic finales. But Hugo will challenge it on a comparable scale. The Artist and Midnight In Paris get big points for precision, but maybe not scale.
I just want Jane Eyre to win, partly because the costumes were excellent and partly because it was shamefully overlooked in the Art Direction category. Its prospects would have been grim up against Harry Potter, but even so…
The contest for Best Director is one of the hardest to call. With four well-established Hollywood directors and a much-lauded newcomer, it’s a powerhouse race. True, the sight of Martin Scorsese warmly accepting this award has become as familiar and comforting as a favorite sweater, but he’s by no means in the clear this year. Michel Hazanavicius is no mere foreign interloper with buzz on his side. He already has a following built around his OSS 117 spy comedies, and at the eleventh hour, everyone is rushing out to see The Artist much as they did The King’s Speech last year. Meanwhile, Woody Allen may stand the ceremony up, as he did with the Golden Globes, but he definitely has a healthy dog in this fight, though he’s more likely to win for his screenplay. Alexander Payne still has the biggest edge, simply because The Descendants is the favorite to take it all home.
With all due respect, not enough people know who Terence Malick is to give him a fair shot at this award. I barely know him from Adam, and I love boring movies!
Music (Original Score)
Howard Shore would probably feel nervous up against one John Williams score, let alone two. The master, despite being the master, has some insurance, with War Horse and Tintin to trump Hugo, itself no small contestant.. Meanwhile, I’d love for Tinker Tailor’s moody, elegant soundtrack to capture the prize, but that’s foolish optimism at best. The runaway favorite is Ludovic Bourse’s jaunty silent-era tribute composed for The Artist.
Music (Original Song)
I confess that I haven’t yet seen Rio or heard “Real In Rio,” but “Man Or Muppet” was my number one pick to win the Oscar well before its heartbreaking absence from the Golden Globes. Despite my shabby record as an award show prophet, I think I know a lock when I see it. How curious that none of the high-profile Golden Globe song contenders showed up on the Academy’s list this year. What a shame we won’t have more of Sir Elton and Madonna hissing at each other across the red carpet, or of Mary J. Blige sitting through speech after speech in silent, smoldering rage.
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
It is a shame not to see Drive on the list, but it has been a mighty strong year. Since Aaron Sorkin is the Meryl Streep of screenwriters, Moneyball seems to be a clear frontrunner. But any of the other nominees could pull a surprise coup.
Writing (Original Screenplay)
Since all the other major contenders are adapted screenplays, the odds go to Woody Allen for a landslide victory with Midnight In Paris
The Descendant is still the all-around favorite to win, but from The Help to Moneyball to War Horse and on through the year that distinction has changed hands at a furious pace. The Descendants remains the safe bet, but then again, people are flocking en masse to The Artist as well, just to make sure they’ve seen both before the big night.
No Oscar nomination announcement would be complete without the obligatory rundown of people who were snubbed by the Academy. Every year, Oscar fans and “experts” debate who should or shouldn’t have been nominated as a way to voice support for those whose work has gone overlooked. So here is a list of grievances regarding this year’s Oscar snubs.
This was among the biggest surprises of the morning. Michael Fassbender gave one of the bravest, most honest performances ever captured on film. As a sex addict struggling to keep his life together in Shame, Fassbender is brilliantly deviant, bordering on sociopathic. It’s great that relative unknown Demian Bichir was nominated for his well-received role in A Better Life, but Fassbender was definitely robbed. Apparently the Academy just isn’t ready to acknowledge NC-17 rated films yet.
Michael Shannon-Take Shelter
It’s difficult to say which other actor may not have given a performance worthy of an Academy Award nomination, but without a doubt Michael Shannon should have been included in the list of nominees. As a simple, Midwestern father and husband in Take Shelter, Shannon walks a fine line of either having a psychotic break or witnessing premonitions revealing the end of the world. Though he brings his typical intensity to the role, Shannon also shows a much more vulnerable side to himself as well. This is a performance that acting majors everywhere should take note of.
Elizabeth Olsen-Martha Marcy May Marlene
Even though the film was somewhat divisive among fans and critics, few would argue that Elizabeth Olsen’s performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene is anything less than inspired. Coming out of absolutely nowhere, this young actress became one of the most celebrated names of the year after her work as an emotionally damaged former cult member who is trying to readjust to normal life. How the Academy was able to ignore her astoundingly brave performance is hard to understand.
Tilda Swinton-We Need to Talk About Kevin
Even though not every critic or audience member entirely bought into this very dark look at motherhood, no one denied that Tilda Swinton gave the best performance of her career in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Granted, there were some extremely wonderful performances by female actors this year, but Swinton’s snub was one of the most surprising.
David Fincher-The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
After last year’s hoopla involving The Social Network and The King’s Speech, one would think the Academy would try to rectify its mistakes by acknowledging David Fincher’s brilliant work in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Taking on an adaptation of one of the most popular books of the last 25 years is pressure enough. Add to that an already successful Swedish film series with a universally adored lead actress and you’ve already set yourself in a very deep hole before a single frame has been filmed. But, in typical Fincher fashion, he managed to make his film completely unique and wholly independent from both the book and the previous adaptation. The Academy definitely overlooked an amazing work of filmmaking.
Nicolas Winding Refn-Drive
No other film this century has brimmed with as much tension and hidden violence as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. As a filmmaker, Winding Refn is known for outbursts of violence and morally ambiguous protagonists, but Drive takes that all to a new level. The film is essentially a master class in filmmaking and every scene is an example of perfect composition, editing and pacing. Watching Winding Refn’s confidence in himself, his actors and his material was just about the most satisfying movie experience of 2011.
From the first shot to the final credits, audiences watching Drive are glued to their seats not knowing when or how the inevitable violence will erupt. Ryan Gosling’s character, Driver, is a modern day Man With No Name who cruises the streets of Los Angeles assisting criminal behavior, but never taking part himself. From the beautiful score to Gosling’s frightening performance to the beautiful cinematography, Drive is everything a good movie is supposed to be.