24 January 2012
  what's to say?

i think at this point there are a number of conclusions one can make after seeing this morning's oscar nominations announcement.

1. this three year experiment must be brought to an end, bringing the best picture category back to a five nominee slate. when the change was originally introduced, it was presented as a way to honor more of each year's most deserving work. what has clearly happened over and over again is that the same brilliant filmmaking that was ignored before the change is continuing to get ignored. instead, the best picture category has simply made more room for mediocre-but-oscar-baity material and the works championed by powerful hollywood producers. after three years of >5 nominees, we still have powerful works like drive and melancholia left out, but have a growing list of dubious and all but already forgotten best picture nominees like district 9, the kids are all right, and now—

2. extremely loud and incredibly close. seriously. i can't say so definitively, but this will have to go down as one of if not the all time worst reviewed best picture nominee in history. even the 44 percent of the film's reviews rotten tomatoes is claiming as positive are at best tepid. all this nomination shows is that producer scott rudin and directed stephen daldry are becoming matched only by the weinsteins in their power over the oscar voting community.

3. i am finally willing to openly accede to the argument that has been made over and over again over the past several years: the academy is simply out of touch. it was so easy for them to just hand over a best pic nomination to steven spielberg, as well as two nominations to his films' scorer john williams, despite the fact that they produced bland, unoriginal and self-derivative work, while completely ignoring edgier and far more deserving films like drive, shame and we need to talk about kevin. i guess one can hope that we might be finally reaching a point where it is actually cooler to be snubbed by oscar rather than recognized by it. i'm sure that's how tilda and michael feel at least.

4. the best original song category needs to be put out of its misery. this has been patently obvious for years now. the songs nominated in this category are almost invariably terrible, contributing little to the films they are featured in. it is difficult even to remember the winners in this category over the past decade. now this year we have a category with just two nominees, one of which nobody who has seen the film even remembers. We need to switch over to a new category that recognizes excellence in film music more generally. this will be a category to honor works like black swan, inglorious basterds, magnolia, drive and others that superbly use music to tell their story, but not necessarily in the form of a score.

5. and finally, the documentary category. there are no words. year after year the academy simply refuses to even nominate the year's best works in this genre, let alone give it the ultimate prize. i don't know who is orchestrating the debacle that is the year's best documentary feature, but let's just fire her and be done with it.
23 January 2012
  oscar nominations tomorrow

in a lot of ways, the oscar nominations announcement is really a lot more exciting than the actual ceremony. by the time we get to the end of february, most everything is pretty sewn up, and the chances of anything unexpected or even eventful happening at the actual awards ceremony is pretty slim. but when you're sitting there watching the nominations announcement, you feel for a moment that anything could happen. i mean, sure, after the fifteen minute broadcast is over, you're pretty much left with a slate of nominees that is exactly what you expected to see. but at least for the moment, there is the potential that something interesting could occur.

this year, (and i hate to give the academy credit for doing something right, but) things seem even more exciting, as the rules have changed, allowing for anywhere between five and ten nominees. if we had a guaranteed slate of ten films nominated for the top award, one could pretty much script out which films that would be, but the nebulous number of nominees leaves things sort of up in the air. this coupled with the fact that the nominees will not be presented in alphabetical order, promises to make things a little exciting tomorrow morning.

in addition, i anticipate that the manner in which the best pic field is chosen could result in some surprises at least in that category. that is, since the academy essentially chooses best picture nominees based on how many number one votes the films receive, the final slate could differ slightly from the top five and ten lists already compiled by guilds and critics groups that use a more straightforward method of vote tabulation. for the academy awards, what matters is how many voters think a particular film is the best. it doesn't matter if a thousand voters agree that a movie is one of the top five best of 2011, if none of them mark it down as the absolute best, it won't get a nomination.

this leads me to the one out-of-the-blue prediction i am making regarding the nominations announcement. the help. everyone seems to agree that this one is a shoe in for a nomination. i'm going to say nuh-uh. sure, a lot of people, including me, really enjoyed this film. but is it really going to get a lot of first place votes? on a guaranteed ten nominee slate, the help would definitely be on there, but i honestly don't think enough academy members will put this movie in the top position on their ballots to net it a mention.

when you're making your best pic predictions, you have to think what are the movies that have a strong following. Even if the majority of the voters leave one film off the list altogether, if a strong core constituency thinks it is number one, it will still make the cut. so what films fall into that category? first, you have the artist, the girl with the dragon tattoo, hugo, and the descendants. those are all in. i suspect that midnight in paris, war horse, and moneyball will also get enough number one votes to make the cut. and, going somewhat out on a limb, i am going to say that the tree of life rounds out a slate of eight nominees, as, despite the fact that it has missed out on almost all the guilds, there are definitely those out there who will put it in their number one slot.

this leaves the also-rans: the help and tinker tailor soldier spy. they will get some votes, certainly, but i don't suspect either one to get enough number ones to secure a nomination this year.

In other categories, best supporting actor is one of the strangest acting categories i can remember in years. frankly, none of the expected front runners are all that great, and it is hard even to imagine who should be there instead. i'd like to see armie hammer there, as i thought he was great in j. edgar, but i think it is unlikely. same for philip seymour hoffman who was the bright spot for me in moneyball, and gave a nomination worthy performance in ides of march, but he won't make the cut. i didn't care at all for jonah hill in moneyball (far outshined by hoffman in a much smaller role), and i don't buy that the academy will go for him either. similarly, i can't imagine extremely loud and incredibly close's max von sydow or warrior's nick nolte (did anyone even see this movie?) making the list. i am going to bet on christopher plummer (beginners), albert brooks (drive), kenneth branagh (my week with marilyn), ben kingsley (hugo) and brad pitt (tree of life) making up the nominees. pitt is probably my out on a limb pick, but i have been thinking he might be a double nominee for a while now. it was nice to see guy lodge at in contention had the same thought, including him in his final nominations.

in the best actress race, the at best underwhelming rooney mara is a shoe in for dragon tattoo, despite many thinking of her as an underdog. many assume this will be at the expense of glenn close, but it is probably more likely to knock tilda swinton out of the nominees. how great would it be to see kirsten dunst shock everyone by getting nominated for melancholia though? hers will definitely go down as my single favorite performance of the year by any actor.

the supporting actress nominees are pretty wrapped up, and as mystified as i am that bridesmaids has been uttered at all in awards conversations, it looks like melissa mccarthy is in. check one for loud, stereotyped, scatological humor in awful, unfunny "comedies." if only the academy would change their rules barring an actor from being nominated twice in the same category (sorry jessica chastain).

best actor is another one where i really think there could be a surprise. remember a couple years ago when tommy lee jones got a surprise nomination for in the valley of elah after pulling off a string of awards worthy performances? i just don't think the academy will be able to deny nominated ryan gosling for something, after he turned in three top tier performances in two years. i think he is in for ides of march. it should be for drive, but i think march is more likely. so who's out? probably michael fassbender. his movie is not very academy friendly, and despite the fact that he too has given a number of great performances this year, he is still pretty new to the scene, and maybe doesn't seem to deserve it as much at this point as gosling does. dicaprio is in too, despite many who think he might miss the cut.

the director category is another weird one, as it is mostly going to be populated with filmmakers popular with the academy, rather than those who truly deserve to be there. the exceptions are michael hazanavicius and alexander payne. but i don't think that too many could say with a straight face that expected nominees woody allen, david fincher and martin scorsese made better movies this year than should-be nominees terrence malick, lars von trier and nicholas winding refn.

overall, i would love for there to be just one or two surprises. dunst showing up in the best actress category, or for that matter, melancholia showing up anywhere would be awesome. I'd love to see a stronger than expected showing for the tree of life, and would especially be excited for a well deserved director nod for malick. it would also be a welcome surprise to see ryan gosling nominated for drive. finally, one can hope that dragon tattoo sees a low showing and that there are no nominations for mara, mccarthy and hill.
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