The 2012 Oscars: Random Thoughts

When I counted them up today, I realized I have actually seen something like 28 movies that are nominated for Oscars this coming Sunday. Sure, this includes a crappy movie like Transformers: Dark of the Moon (nominated for a couple of technical awards), and I’ve also counted Rio, even though it’s only nominated in the Best Original Song category. But I’m kind of a completist, so of course I’m not satisfied. There are movies on the list, even ones with several nods that I don’t think I would have wanted to see even if I could (think Albert Nobbs, up for both Best Actress, Supporting Actress and Best Make-Up), but what annoys me are the ones in central categories that I’ve been unable to see simply because they aren’t yet available in Norway.

Most importantly, that means I can’t weigh in on the merits of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and by extension Max von Sydow’s performance (he has been mentioned as a possible, though unlikely, dark-horse for Best Supporting Actor). In general, my sense of that category is hampered by the fact that I haven’t seen Nick Nolte in Warrior, either. Granted, the movie doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest, but some trustworthy people have trumpeted Nolte’s performance. Below are some other observations in advance of Sunday’s event. I hope to have an official list of predictions and preferences up by Sunday afternoon.

1. What an incredibly weak Best Picture field this is!

Compared to the staggering quality of the 2011 Best Picture nominees (The Social Network, Toy Story 3, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, etc), this fields strikes me as almost laughably bad. Apart from The Tree of Life and Hugo, I simply cannot muster anything more than middling enthusiasm (at best) for any of the contenders. Sure, both The Descendants and Moneyball are decent movies, but if Midnight in Paris wasn’t a Woody Allen feature, or if anyone other than Steven Spielberg had lent their signature to War Horse, I can’t imagine either would have been recognized. I’ll reserve my some kind words for my two favorites, some bland words for The Artist, and some very harsh words for The Help for a predictions post.

Lifetime Achievement Award nominations abound

It might seem strange to say to this, but to me it feels like Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Michelle Williams and Jessica Chastain all fit this description. For Streep and Close it’s pretty obvious, as they both have been nominated many, many times previously, and neither of them will probably win this time either. This isn’t to say that their nominations weren’t warranted – although I think Streep has been a little overpraised for her heroic attempts to save the irredeemable Iron Lady, but in the case of Streep it’s starting to feel like she could get nominated for just about anything at this point (The Devil Wears Prada nod spoke more to the dearth of good female roles, and she plainly didn’t deserve to be nominated for Doubt). In the cases of Williams and Chastain it’s a less clear-cut matter, but hear me out: Williams has been nominated (deservedly) twice before, for Brokeback Mountain and Blue Valentine, but in addition those movies she has continued to make performances that accumulate to more than most actresses do over the course of a whole career; think Meek’s CutoffWendy & Lucy, and impressive supporting turns in Synecdoche, New YorkShutter Island, or Imaginary Heroes, for that matter. Although I don’t think she’ll win, and although I liked the movie quite a bit, it’s a little dismaying that her first Best Actress nomination was for the relatively inconsequential My Week with Marilyn. As for Chastain, I think she’s done more than enough in the last year – Take Shelter, The Tree of Life, The Help and others – to deserve a Lifetime Achievement Award already. The tendency is no less pronounced on the male side, with belated recognition in store for not only Plummer, but under-nominated von Sydow and Nolte as well.

– The Senna snub is scandalous

The documentary snub that has most people worked up is that The Interrupters didn’t even make it onto the shortlist, but I can’t comment on that. However, I think it’s an outrage that Senna wasn’t recognized. Maybe sports docs weren’t considered weighty enough for the Academy? Whatever the reason, they missed out on an opportunity to bestow honors on a universally loved future documentary classic. To me, this is like if they had passed over When We Were Kings (1996). The documentary category has been controversial for many years – Hoop Dreams and Roger & Me are just two of a long list of notable snubs – so I guess this was to be expected, but for those of us who care more about this ceremony that we often want to admit, it still stings.

No notable “curtain call” nods for Harry Potter

Granted, the Academy has never even been kind to the Potter series in the technical categories, so maybe it was hopelessly naive to hope for something like a Return of the King-like expression of belated recognition. Still, it’s grating that this series, which has become progressively better over the years, will go basically unrecognized in Oscar history. If there was room for a comedic performance in the Best Supporting Actress category (Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids), why not exchange the pointless Kenneth Branagh nomination (My Week with Marilyn) for another Brit, a Lifetime Achievement Award of sorts, to Alan Rickman, for being a consistently funny and terrifying Severus Snape throughout the Potter franchise? I agree that Deathly Hallows, pt. 2 isn’t the best in the series, but Return of the King was the weakest of the Lord of the Rings movies, and it swept everything.

The Oscars finally recognizes actors who tone it down

This is the first of my two positive notes: Having seeminly given last year’s awards out on the basis of who did the most acting (Natalie Portman over Anette Bening, Christian Bale over Geoffrey Rush, Melissa Leo over Amy Adams), this year’s field is a beacon of understated performances; from Viola Davis’ dignified turn in The Help to Gary Oldman’s minimalism in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and George Clooney’s relatively restrained turn in The Descendants. The awards could of course still go to the somewhat flashier (though generally good) performances of Streep or Jean Dujardin (The Artist), but it’s a welcome tendency nonetheless.

– Some love for The Three of Life and A Separation

I have to admit I was surprised to see The Tree of Life on the Best Picture list. It’s so ambitious and so deeply polarizing, I kind of expected it would fall through the cracks. I’m even more delighted that Terrence Malick got a Best Director nod. He won’t win, for reasons I’ll return to later this weekend, but at least it shows that the Academy is not immune to bold movies. Now if only they had nominated Brad Pitt in the Supporting Actor category and Jessica Chastain in Supporting Actress for The Tree of Life, instead of for Moneyball and The Help, respectively, I would have been bordering on ecstatic. I was also very pleased with the Best Original Screenplay nomination for Ashgar Farhadi’s magnificent A Separation. It was refreshing to see that this tightly-constructed script was recognized, instead of being sealed off in the Best Foreign Language Film ghetto, a category it should win with ease, but which has almost as many blemishes on its record as Best Documentary (they passed over The White Ribbon, A Prophet, Amelie, The Class and Waltz with Bashiralthough all of them were at least nominated).

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