The Five Certainties of the Oscar Nominations

by Bill Gibron

23 January 2012

There are a few certainties that you can bet on when it comes to this second to last act in Hollywood's own slice of self-hype, givens that never go away, no matter the year or the crop of films or the growing critical consensus.

Tomorrow, 24 January, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce their nominations for the 2011 Oscars. As usual, a couple of known/unknown names (in this case, Winter’s Bone star Jennifer Lawrence and AMPAS President Tom Sherak) will get up at the butt crack of LA dawn and deliver the good/bad news to a bunch of bleary eyed artists, each one hoping their years of work and months of media gladhanding will lead to a legitimate chance at a shiny gold statue. Publicists will then begin the push as many will find their endless junket routine rewarded. Others on the outside looking in will have to wait for another year (or never).

There are, however, a few certainties that you can bet on when it comes to this second to last act in Hollywood’s own slice of self-hype, givens that never go away, no matter the year or the crop of films or the growing critical consensus. For some, it’s the fun of the Oscars, trying to outsmart the pundits and predict what will or will not get the nod. For most, it’s yet another indication of how out of touch the Academy is with the vast majority of the ticket buying public. So in order to prepare you for the inevitable letdown come 9:00am EST Tuesday, here are the five truisms - aside from The Artist - you can take to the aesthetic bank. While some of what you enjoyed will see success, a good percentage will have to wait for that great leveler - time - to find their proper perspective.
Oscar Will Never Nominate Your Favorite Film of the Year
Let me guess - you loved Insidious. Scared you to death. Or better yet, you couldn’t get enough of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol or Real Steel. Nothing but action, action, action…and buttkicking robots. Whatever the title, it doesn’t really matter. Oscar rarely, if ever, uses mainstream success and popularity as a gauge for what it will consider at year’s end. Of the Top Ten money earners for 2011, only Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 has a (rather long) shot at being part of the Best Picture participants. Everything else - from the latest (and lamest) Pirates of the Caribbean effort to kid vid favorites The Smurfs, Pixar’s Cars sequel, and Kung Fu Panda 2 won’t warrant a main mention. In fact, you have to go pretty far down the list (#20 - Bridesmaids) to find a potential contender…and even that’s a comedic pipe dream. No, the movie you loved, the film you can’t wait to own on DVD, Blu-ray, or stream via Netflix will more than likely be left out. Don’t worry, there’s always the People’s Choice Awards (and for you Twilight hounds, the MTV Movie/Nickelodeon Teen Choice Awards).

Even If It Does Nominate It, It Won’t Win
Okay - let’s say that, somehow, no matter what you were thinking or drinking at the time, your absolutely best cinematic experience of the year (for a laugh, let’s call it Transformers: Dark of the Moon) makes it into the Best Picture Top Ten. After the prerequisite dropping of jaws, gnashing of teeth, and the arguments against its inclusion, you’ve managed that one small victory that few filmgoers ever experience. Well, you better get used to it because that’s all the satisfaction you are bound to get. In 1957, if you loved Giant or The Ten Commandments, you felt happy when they got the nod - only to lose to the limp, lousy Around the World in 80 Days. Move forward four decades, and The English Patient trumped Fargo and Jerry Maguire. Huh? lRemember, for every Pulp Fiction there’s a Forrest Gump ready to run roughshod over your moment of joy.

Trending is More Important than Talent
Whenever you wonder why your favorite actor or actress does/does not have a Oscar to call their own, just remember this: “Best” is highly subjective and is usually the result of some weird November through January conspiracy. How else would you explain the statues for such questionable winners as Helen Hunt, Angelina Jolie, Robin Williams, or even Jeff Bridges (who was good in Crazy Heart, but much, much better elsewhere)? In fact, you can count on one hand the number of performances or directorial turns that found favor in the months prior to the Fall and still managed to walk away winners. It’s as if the entire voting Academy waits until the critics come to some kind of last minute agreement and then they simply piggyback on it. As said tidal wave rolls on toward a date with destiny, people like Marisa Tomei and Sandra Bullock get to be forever known as an ‘Oscar Winning Actress.’ Really?

There Will Always Be a Wild Card Nominee
Someone or something is always going to get the kind of mention that makes one’s head spin.  A great animated flick like The Adventures of Tintin will be overlooked so that Rio, or Happy Feet 2, or that crappy Cars repeat can get some love. While the Belgian boy reporter is more or less a shoe-in (we were only waxing hypothetical here), there are many name offerings that will probably get passed over for something surreal. It almost always happens with the Best Picture/Best Director categories. A movie no one thought would make it gets a nod, and yet the main person responsible for it doesn’t get mentioned. Or perhaps a breakthrough performance that people didn’t expect - Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene - will stumble out of Sundance to sweep. Just remember, there can be good in such a surprise. There can also be Roberto Benigni.

There Will Always Be an Unconscionable Snub
In looking over my list of Best Films for 2011, I am sure that I will not be seeing any of the following up for any award - The Last Circus, I Saw the Devil, or Attack the Block. Even more disturbing are the one time obvious choices - Hugo, War Horse - which could very well be “on the bubble.” If the first three don’t make it, that’s fine. If the other two don’t, there will be shock in yours truly’s tent. Brad Pitt didn’t win a Golden Globe for his work in Moneyball, which means his previous status as a member of the mighty five is probably well in jeopardy, while something with potential like Drive may be all but done (Supporting Actor nod for Albert Brooks aside). Just like your favorite film failing to make the grade, there will always be some questionable inclusion that leaves your legitimate contender out. It’s going to happen. Might as well get over it now.

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