Thursday, January 26, 2012
Sins of Omission, Pleasant Surprises, and Other Fun Facts
The announcement of each year's Oscar nominations brings both delight and disappointment. Being that over 400 eligible releases compete for recognition in two dozen categories with room for two to nine nominations apiece means that some competitors will inevitably be left in the cold. This year comes as no exception. Here is an incomplete list of titles, performers, and other artists ignored by the 84th Academy Awards ballot.
The Debt - John Madden's remake of the 2007 Israeli film counts as the best thriller since The Parallax View. Madden's direction is taut, confident, and a reminder of his versatility. Time and again while watching the film, I had to keep reminding myself that it was directed by the man responsible for Shakespeare in Love. Thomas Newman's score pours suspense onto every scene, and the wisely cast ensemble gives a gallery of strong performances. Sam Worthington brings a driven yet vulnerable intensity to his young Mossad operative on a Nazi fugitive's trail, Helen Mirren gives a courageous turn as a retired intelligence agent on a quest to redress a costly oversight, and Jessica Chastain is her equal as Mirren's younger counterpart. The fact that the film fell short of making the Best Picture roster is understandable, given the buzz surrounding The Artist, Hugo, The Descendants, and other films with December release dates, but the fact that The Debt was shut out of Oscar consideration altogether is baffling. Given a later release date and a stronger advertising campaign, the film could have found itself among the final nine, if not a possible tenth nominee for Best Picture.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - On the subject of remakes, David Fincher continues his critical hot streak with a stylish adaptation of Stieg Larsson's novel. Recollaborating with alumni from The Social Network, including an unrecognizable Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, Fincher's Tattoo holds its own as a thriller every bit as good as -- if not better than -- the 2009 original. Jeff Cronenweth's chilly cinematography brings a dark ambience to the wintry Swedish locale, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross paint a sullen soundscape with their driving industrial score, and a capable cast brings their characters to life with Swedish accents that range from decent to spot-on. How a film like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close gets nominated for Best Picture while a film like Tattoo gets passed over is beyond this blogger's comprehension.
David Fincher - The man who came within an arm's reach of taking home his first gold statuette last year should have received a nomination for directing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo this year. Just like he did with Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Social Network, Fincher demonstrated a gift for bringing all elements of production into harmony with Tattoo. His recent snub notwithinstanding, Fincher appears to be in the midst of a creative surge. If he continues to grow as an artist, the highest of all film accolades will one day adorn his mantle.
Steven Spielberg - Perhaps the absence of the most successful director in history from this category should come as no surprise, especially since the man was summarily rejected by both the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Directors Guild of America for helming War Horse. The last time Steven Spielberg made two films in one year, he was nominated for one of them. (Lest you wonder, the year was 2005; the films in question are War of the Worlds and Munich, for which he was Oscar-nominated.) This time around, the Academy acknowledged his hard work by not only snubbing him from the Best Director roster, but omitting The Adventures of Tintin from the Best Animated Feature category. Though Horse features a few too many whopping coincidences to make the epic story hold water, one cannot doubt that the picture stands as a shining example of masterful filmmaking.
Tate Taylor - Let's play a little trivia game, shall we? What other film adaptation of a story set in the American South besides Driving Miss Daisy managed to garner three acting nominations and not one for its director? If you guessed a film based on a certain Kathryn Stockett novel, you win this round. Though The Help is, as Roger Ebert wisely noted, "a safe film about a volatile subject", Taylor captures a bygone American era with more resonance than The Tree of Life, whose foggy, meandering direction somehow managed to land Terrence Malick a nomination.
Sir Ben Kingsley - The gifted British Oscar-winner responsible for stunning performances in Gandhi, Bugsy, Sexy Beast, and House of Sand and Fog makes magic with his inspired portrayal of Georges Méliès in Hugo. The transitions he makes from shattered artist to reinvigorated creator reflect the fastidiousness of a classically trained actor. The fact that Kingsley had to portray a director before the scrutinizing eyes of Martin Scorsese makes the challenge all the more daunting, but the results are as effortless as the flap of a bird's wings.
Here is where I need to make a confession: I did not see J. Edgar or Shame. Nevertheless, I am tempted to include Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael Fassbender on this list. Though DiCaprio received mixed reviews for his portrayal of the titual FBI director, Fassbender has garnered unanimous critical acclaim for his performance as a man who descends into a dark world of sex addiction. If you have seen either of these films, feel free to post a comment as to why either actor's absence from the Best Actor category is either undeserved or justified.
Helen Mirren - See my comments on The Debt above.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Albert Brooks - With wins from the New York Film Critics Circle and National Society of Film Critics under his belt, one would naturally expect the man primarily known for comic turns in Taxi Driver, Broadcast News, and Defending Your Life to be a shoo-in for Drive, especially since the role of mobster Bernie Rose saw him playing against type. The actor appears to be taking the snub in stride, however, as evidenced by his recent Twitter update.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain - I know what you're thinking: "News flash, assclown. She WAS nominated." My response: "Yes, but for the wrong film." Though Chastain was charming as a housewife who befriends her maid in The Help, she was superb as a young Mossad agent who assists in the daring capture of a Nazi fugitive while juggling two romances. In the final analysis, Chastain's recognition in this category could be a momentum nomination for The Help, just as Geoffrey Rush's Best Supporting Actor nomination for Shakespeare in Love helped the film lead the 71st Annual pack with 13 nods, even though Rush gave a stronger performance in Elizabeth.
Though I could go on with snubs in other categories (e.g., Wally Pfister not receiving a Best Cinematography nomination for Moneyball), it's time to move on to the pleasant surprise portion of today's blog entry. Here is an incomplete list of actors whose inclusion in this year's Oscar race caught fans by surprise.
Demián Bichir - This MSN article that ran a few days before the nominations announcement advised viewers to look sharp for a few surprises. Lo and behold, number six on Steve Pond's list came to fruition. Prediction: Bichir's nomination for A Better Life will have the exact effect on his career that Javier Bardem's Best Actor nomination for Before Night Falls and Billy Bob Thornton's Best Actor nomination for Sling Blade had on theirs.
Gary Oldman - The man behind such gripping characterizations as self-destructive punk rocker Sid Vicious in Sid & Nancy, celebrated playwright Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears, and the brilliant but tormented composer Ludwig van Beethoven in Immortal Beloved finally received his virgin Oscar nod for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Though the chances of Oldman winning are slim, he no longer has to worry about joining the ranks of Edward G. Robinson, Dana Andrews, Tyrone Power, and other actors who went to the grave without a single nomination to their names.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nick Nolte - Though his name was absent from the end-of-year awards lists voted on by the major critics organizations in New York, Los Angeles, and at the National Board of Review, Nolte's powerful performance in the acclaimed Warrior caught the Academy's attention. Playing an emotionally wounded father who trains his estranged son to fight in an MMA bout, Nolte hits nothing but honest notes every moment he appears on screen, especially in a scene that depicts a relapse in painfully depressing detail. One wonders if the actor drew upon his own struggles with alcoholism to portray the character so convincingly.
Max Von Sydow - Arguably the most surprising acting nomination on the ballot this year, screen veteran Max Von Sydow rounds out the Best Supporting Actor category with his performance in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. In the role of a mysterious mute, Von Sydow earns his first nomination in 23 years; his second altogether. Von Sydow joins the likes of Alan Arkin in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, John Mills in Ryan's Daughter, and Holly Hunter in The Piano in receiving a nomination for a non-speaking role.
To wind up this post, I leave you with a list of fun facts about this year's Academy Award nominations. Enjoy.
- Nine of the twenty individuals in the acting categories (45% total) are first-time nominees. They are: Demián Bichir for A Better Life, Jean Dujardin for The Artist, Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jonah Hill for Moneyball, Bérénice Bejo for The Artist, Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids, and Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer for The Help.
- The nationality breakdown of the performers nominated this year is as follows: twelve are Americans, three are British, two are French (and one of them is Argentine-French), one is a Canadian, one is a Mexican, and one is a Swede.
- The average age of the male performers nominated this year is 55.1.
- The average age of the female performers nominated this year is 42.6.
- The average age of all performers nominated this year is 48.9.
- For the record, here are the ages of all performers nominated this year:
Demián Bichir is 48.
George Clooney is 50.
Jean Dujardin is 39.
Gary Oldman is 53.
Brad Pitt is 48.
Glenn Close is 64.
Viola Davis is 46.
Rooney Mara is 26.
Meryl Streep is 62.
Michelle Williams is 31.
Kenneth Branagh is 51.
Jonah Hill is 28.
Nick Nolte is 70.
Christopher Plummer is 82.
Max Von Sydow is 82.
Bérénice Bejo is 35.
Jessica Chastain is 30.
Melissa McCarthy is 41.
Janet McTeer is 50.
Octavia Spencer is 41.
- One posthumous nomination, Bridget O'Connor's Best Adapted Screenplay nod for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, was given this year.
- Four performers are nominated for portraying real people. They are: Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Moneyball, Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, and Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe and Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier, both in My Week with Marilyn.
- With her Best Actress nod for The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep stretches her record for the most recognized performer of all time to 17 nominations.
- John Williams' Best Original Score nods for The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse bring his career tally to 47 nominations, maintaining his record as the most nominated living person. Should he live to earn 13 more nominations, John Williams will break Walt Disney's record for the most Academy Award nominations ever received by a single person.
- Hugo is the first film since Lord of the Rings: Return of the King to receive eleven nominations without being nominated in any of the acting categories.
- The Artist is the first silent film nominated for Best Picture in 82 years. The last silent film to receive this honor was 1928's The Patriot. If The Artist wins Best Picture, it will become the second silent film after Wings -- Best Picture winner at the 1st Academy Awards -- to do so.
- Michel Hazanavicius is the only first-time nominee in the Best Director category.
- The film with the most nominations for acting, The Help at three, did not receive a nomination for Best Director.
What your thoughts on this year's Oscar nominations? Do you have an omissions list that differs from mine? Which artists or films do you think have no business being nominated this year? Let your voice be heard with a comment below.