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Monday, January 30, 2012

Oscar 2012 - The Nominations

I WUZ ROBBED! - albert brooks in "drive"

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar... oh my.

In some years, the Oscars are dominated by "critical choices", the movies and performances which would fare well under any serious critical scrutiny. And then there are the years in which Oscar reminds us that we never really leave junior high school, and the Oscar voters turn the voting for the most revered awards in film into something akin to a high school homecoming queen contest. The 2012 Oscar nominations came out a few days ago, and the Oscar voting for 2012 is most definitely in the category of the latter.

Almost all the top Oscar nominations for acting fell to those Hollywood stars that "we love, we really, really love". Meanwhile the top critics' choices for the year fell by the wayside with a mighty thud so loud that you could almost hear the Oscar voters out there saying, "Critics? We don't need no stinking critics."

In the Best Actor category, the critics split their votes between three men, George Clooney for "The Descendants", Michael Shannon for "Take Shelter" and Michael Fassbender for "Shame". We assumed those three men would get Oscar nods, as well as Brad Pitt for "The Tree of Life", and either Jean Dujardin for "The Artist" or Gary Oldman for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy".

But the Oscar voters have a mind of their own, and they chose audience favorites George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Jean Dujardin, Gary Oldman and Demian Bicher for "A Better Life".

Here's what happened:
Brad Pitt got his nomination, but not for "The Tree of Life", instead for the inferior, (movie and performance), "Moneyball". In "Moneyball", Pitt simply had to speak in monotone and show no emotion, while in "The Tree of Life", he actually had to create a character with some complexity; a man haunted by anger and resentment. There's no comparison between the two roles, but evidently Oscar needs to score some ratings for its t.v. broadcast, and which movie will put the butts in the seats, a popular mainstream movie about baseball, or a more obscure, very artistic movie which most Americans didn't see? We think you know the answer to that one.

demian bicher in "a better life"

We knew that George Clooney was not only going to get an Oscar nomination, but he's going to win the Oscar as well. He's the most beloved man in Hollywood, and he's actually a competent actor who brings a real ability to his roles. His win on Oscar night is a done deal: you can bank on it. And as we said before, it's no surprise that Dujardin or Oldman would get Oscar noms, they richly deserved them. But then it gets tricky.

How can Oscar voters just completely ignore the two men, Fassbender and Shannon, who obviously dazzled most of the country's movie critics? In Fassbender's case, it's probably because he plays a sex addict in the very graphic "Shame", which includes scenes of male frontal nudity featuring the well-endowed Fassbender. And as we know from the "Brokeback Mountain" Oscar scandal, there's nothing more frightening to traditional Oscar voters than the subject of male sexuality, especially when it veers outside the bounds of "normality", such as banging one's secretary or having a very hot and much younger mistress. In years past, when Oscar voters wanted to reward a deserving actor like Fassbender, but didn't like the movie in which he really shone, they would find another movie he was in and nominate him for that. And in Fassbender's case, they could have nominated him for the much tamer, "A Dangerous Method", in which Fassbender plays Sigmund Freud. And then they could have eased their discomfort over... oh, wait a minute, in "A Dangerous Method" Fassbender participates in S&M play with Keira Knightly and shares her with another man, Carl Jung, played by Viggo Mortenson. Okay, so scratch that. There was no way Fassbender was going to be recognized by Oscar voters, unless, of course, his film love life had followed a more conventional path, such as falling in love with a horse for Steven Spielberg.

There's no understanding, though, for Michael Shannon being ignored. Oscar voters normally love to find a slightly unknown actor and nominate him among the more popular choices, thus allowing the Oscar voters to prove their "street cred" by noticing a critical performance that no one else noticed. But for some odd reason, Shannon's token nomination slot was stolen by Demian Bicher, who the critics completely and thoroughly ignored. If we peek behind the curtain, we're betting that Bicher and his movie had a well-known producer or backer who knew how to campaign for Oscar recognition. Oh well, Michael Shannon, better luck next year. You'll just have to be content with the fact that six of the country's most respected film critics organizations named you as the Best Actor of the Year, and who knows, maybe that's just the kind of recognition that might help you win a small role in "Bridesmaids II".

In the Best Actress category, the critics split their votes between Michelle Williams for "My Week With Marilyn", Viola Davis for "The Help", Tilda Swinton for "We Need to Talk about Kevin", and Meryl Streep for "the Iron Lady". We assumed that those four women would get Oscar noms, plus we guessed that Rooney Mara would get the fifth nomination for "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo".

Here's what happened:
Michelle Williams, Meryl Steep and Viola Davis all got their nominations, plus our guess pick, Rooney Mara. But Tilda Swinton was passed over for Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs", a movie and performance which was completely ignored by the country's critics.

glenn close in "albert nobbs"

We haven't seen Swinton or Closes' movies yet, so it's hard for us to say which performance was actually better, but since when did the "actual best performance" ever have anything to do with winning an Oscar? We're guessing that someone campaigned really well for "Albert Nobbs", plus the fact that Swinton recently won an Oscar, while Hollywood perennial favorite, Close, has been nominated five times, but never won. There's nothing that Oscar voters hate more than to wake up one day and realize that they never rewarded one of the greatest actors of a particular generation. Trust us, they're still haunted by the fact that they never gave an Oscar to Peter O'Toole, Barbara Stanwyck or Richard Burton. So we're guessing that Close is benefiting from a little feeling of past regret on Oscar's part. Or maybe she's just really, really good, and not one single critic noticed. Right.

Who will win? It's a three-way race between Streep, Williams and Davis, and for now, we're giving the edge to Williams.

In the Supporting Actor category, and the critics recognized only two men all year long, Christopher Plummer for "Beginnings" and Albert Brooks for "Drive". Of all the critics awards given, over 30 in all, only one went to someone other than Plummer or Brooks, and that lucky recepient was Nick Nolte for "Warrior". We guessed that those three actors would get Oscar noms, with the final two slots going to either Patton Oswalt for "Young Adult", Viggo Mortenson for "A Dangerous Method", or Andy Serkis for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes".

Here's what happened:
Holy cow, Batman, were we ever wrong! Christopher Plummer got his nom, but Albert Brooks, who scored a stunning 21 out of 30 critics wins, was completely ignored. Wow. Hey Oscar, we're not saying you have to give Brooks the statue, but come on, how can you just completely ignore someone who garnered almost every critics award given in the country? Either Brooks and his people are really, really bad campaigners, or the Oscar voters just really, really don't like Brooks.

jonah hill in "moneyball"

Nick Nolte got his nom, as well as Kenneth Branagh for "My Week With Marilyn", Max von Sydow for "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close", and the biggest surprise of them all, Jonah Hill for "Moneyball". Branagh is an Oscar favorite, and von Sydow is another great actor who Oscar is trying to reward before it's "too late", but it looks like Jonah Hill is the one who stole away Brooks' nomination. We saw "Moneyball", and while Hill was adequate in the film, neither his role, nor his performance, was really "Oscar-worthy". But as we said at the beginning of this piece, this was a year in which Oscar obviously felt like feasting on an all-cotton candy diet, while the vegetables sit rotting the pantry. And "Moneyball" was pure cotton candy.

Who will win? It's a no-brainer. With Brooks out of the way, Plummer will win his "lifetime achievement" Oscar for a role which was far inferior to many of his outstanding performances of the past few years. Once again, Oscar will ease its guilt by finally rewarding an actor they previously ignored for forty years, but to do so, they have to give him a trophy for one of his weaker movies.

(Need a precedent for Oscar's quandry with Christopher Plummer? Refer to Al Pacino being ignored for the brilliant "Serpico", "Dog Day Afternoon" and "The Godfather", only to be rewarded much later for the dreck that was "Scent of a Woman".)

In the Best Supporting Actress category, the critics split their votes between Jessica Chastain for "The Tree of Life", Shailene Woodley for "The Descendants", Octavia Spencer for "The Help" and Melissa McCarthy for "Bridesmaids". We assumed that these four women would get Oscar noms, plus Berenice Bejo for "The Artist".

Here's what happened:
Chastain, McCarthy and Spencer got their expected nominations, as well as our guess pick of Berenice Bejo, but once again, a critics favorite was completely shut down. Newcomer Shailene Woodley, who won 5 of the country's critics awards, was passed over for another "Albert Nobbs" participant, Oscar veteran Janet McTeer. We don't doubt that McTeer was good, (although as with her co-star, Glenn Close, she was completely ignored by the critics), but we're guessing that McTeer's nomination had to happen to help justify Close's nomination. Very often, when Oscar voters make a risky choice, as they did with Close, they try to justify that choice by rewarding someone else in the same movie, almost in an attempt to prove to skeptics that a movie and its performances somehow must be good if two actors were nominated from it. To Oscar voters, there's always strength in numbers.

We knew that Jessica Chastain would get a nomination, she's currently Hollywood hottest "it" girl. But was with Brad Pitt, Oscar nominated her for the wrong movie. The critics voted for Chastain all year for "The Tree of Life", but instead, Oscar nominated her for the vastly inferior role in "The Help". Once again, massive popularity ruled out over real quality.

jessica chastain in "the help"

Who will win? If Chastain had been nominated for "The Tree of Life", we would have guessed that her name was already being written on the little, golden man. But now, we're guessing that Octavia Spencer has to be the favorite to take the gold. When comparing Spencer's performance to Chastain's in "The Help", there is no comparison. Chastain was good, no doubt, but her role was basically over-the-top, cliched fluff, while Spencer's role had real grit and real emotion.

Hooray for Hollywood, the Oscars and all the cotton candy you can eat. See you on Feb. 26!

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