Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Nominations Are Out!

The 2011 Academy Award nominees are over here. Let's get down to business.

The Best Picture nominations were pretty much what everyone expected, though it was probably close with "The Tree of Life," but there was one nominee that had a lot of people in arms today: "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." Largely scorned by critics and shut out of almost all the earlier awards races, most awards prognosticators had written this one off. I was hoping "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" might squeak through, but I knew it was a lost cause. From the negative buzz, however, I would have thought that the chances of "Extremely Loud" were much worse. Still, there were those reports from the member screenings back in December, that the film hit home for enough of the people who mattered most – the Academy voters.

No surprises in the Best Director race, but there were in some of the acting categories. Gary Oldman landing his first nomination for Best Actor was far from certain, and I was happy to see his name this morning. Demian Birchir from "A Better Life" was a long shot, but he showed up in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nominations, and that's usually one of the major early indicators of support from the acting community. It was a good, underseen performance and I'm happy for him, but this left Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Fassbender, and Michael Shannon on the sidelines, along with their films – "J.Edgar," "Shame," and "Take Shelter" were all shut out. There were some grumbles about the omission of Tilda Swinton from the Best Actress category and Albert Brooks from the Best Supporting Actor race, but this wasn't unexpected considering their track records this season.

Usually the Screenplay nominations closely mirror the Best Picture nominations, and any deviations are a good indication of who the runner-ups for the big prize probably were. So it's here that we predictably find "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," "Bridesmaids," and "The Ides of March." However, the unexpected appearances of "Margin Call" and Best Foreign Film nominee "A Separation" suggest that these two had more support than most people realized, despite not being very high profile. But when you look at the big categories and who consistently got nominated for what, the front runners are pretty clear: "The Artist," "Midnight in Paris," "Hugo," "The Descendants," and "Moneyball."

In the smaller categories, we find more former Best Picture hopefuls "Drive," "W./E.," and "Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2," which are up for Best Sound Editing, Best Costume, and Best Art Direction/Best Makeup/Best Visual Effects respectively. "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" failed to secure the most important nominations for Picture and Director, but it grabbed Best Cinematography and Best Editing nods, good enough to boost its total haul to five nominations, more than "The Help" or "Midnight in Paris."

But there were two races in particular with nominees that have left people scratching their heads: Best Original Song and Best Animated Feature. I don't understand why there are only two Best Original Song nominees despite 39 eligible tunes, but the convoluted voting rules and the notoriously capricious voting members of the Academy's Music Branch probably have something to do with it.

Even more surprising, but in a much better way, are the nominees for Best Animated Feature. "Cars 2," "The Adventures of Tintin," and "Winnie the Pooh" were all snubbed in favor of two traditionally animated foreign language films, "A Cat in Paris" from France and "Chico & Rita" from Spain. The latter will almost certainly be the first R-rated nominee in the category. It's a shame the new Pooh isn't up here, but this is an incredibly bold move by the Academy, and may get the category taken more seriously in the future.

Finally, a few personal observations – Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling were the movies' MVPs this year, no question, and I'm not happy that neither one of them managed to secure an acting nomination. And while I'm glad that "The Tree of Life" made the cut, it deserved far more than its three nominations. It had some of the best sound design and visual effects of last year, for starters. And I'd rather see Brad Pitt up for his performance in "Tree of Life" than the middling "Moneyball."

All in all, it has been a very strange year. I'm still boggled that "Hugo" and "The Artist" are the frontrunners. While I liked and appreciated both films, I have a hard time thinking of them as Best Picture winners. Frankly, I wouldn't bet against there being more surprises in store on Oscar night.

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