All one can say is - whoa. Whoa! WHOA! In a year where almost anything goes, where a silent film seems destined to use its glorified gimmick status to earn unwarranted (sorry, The Artist is NOT the Best Film of 2011) Oscar gold, there were several solid surprises coming out of this year’s Academy Award nominations - and almost none of them were for what was included. Sure, we can celebrate the one or two oddities offered (Demian Bichir for… A Better Life? Really?) but the biggest news coming from the 24 January announcement are those who were not included, including many heavy hitters. Indeed, this looks to be the cinematic season of the unconscionable snub.
Granted, the annual Hollywood hype machine has often left out films and filmmakers who deserved mention, created myths and legends (Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock) along the way. But when individuals win major awards, when they are acknowledged by critic’s groups and considered bodies of their peers, it’s odd to see the Academy complete ignore them. Case in point - The Adventures of Tintin. Yes, yes…we know it’s motion capture, something that seems to drive the voting members of AMPAS bugnuts, but the truth remains that no other animated film this year had the sense of wild-eyed wonder and adventure that this Steven Spielberg helmed effort did. It even won the Golden Globe. But apparently, Oscar has other ideas (A Cat in Paris? Chico and Rita? KUNG…FU…PANDA…FRIGGIN’...2?!?!?!) as to what makes a great animated feature.
Or how about the horrible exclusion of Tilda Swinton from the Best Actress category. Granted, the five women acknowledged—Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) and Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)—all did great work, but no one tackled a topic and a role as creepy, crazy, claustrophobic, and controversial as Swinton. Maybe the voters thought that her past acknowledgement and award for Michael Clayton was good enough. Perhaps she was number six on the list. Of course, the question becomes “Who would you knock-off?” (the answer, by the way, is quite easy - sorry Ms. Close), but that’s beside the point. Swinton was nothing short of amazing in We Need to Talk About Kevin, and her exclusion, like the personality of the title character, is criminal.
And what, exactly, did David Fincher ever do to the AMPAS membership? Without a doubt, one of the best American filmmakers working today, the man behind Se7en, The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and the fabulous Fight Club was once again left out of the Best Director category. This is noteworthy because his fine adaptation of the Swedish hit The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was pegged by both the Producers Guild and the DGA, his own organization. Replacing him with Terrence Malick may seem sensible (after all, The Tree of Life was pretty great), but to go so far outside said recognition is ridiculous. Naturally, when you see that Girl was also left out of other shoe-in categories—Best Picture, Best Score, Best Adapted Screenplay - the snub makes more sense.
Whatever the reason Fincher fell out with the Academy, it’s nothing compared to the unexplainable exclusion of Albert Brooks from the Best Supporting Actor list. True, he’s best known as a comedian and like most of Drive (which deserved a LOT better in the eyes of many both inside and outside the industry) he was considered a bit of a long shot, but he did have support. Strike that, he seemed to be the kind-of frontrunner going into today’s announcements. Sure, some can see either Max Von Sydow or Christopher Plummer walking away with the little gold man ala Alan Arkin a few years back (career overview win and all), but at least make it a race. By removing Brooks from the mix, it almost guarantees one of the weepy, waited-all-these-years moments the Oscars seem to adore.
Looking around elsewhere and beyond the snubs, it’s shocking to see both The Ides of March (Adapted) and Margin Call (Original) in the Screenplay categories. Both films were mediocre at best, and much of their problems stemmed from their rote, unimaginative scripts. Similarly, we film critics love to pride ourselves on seeing as many of the movies as the studios and their various offshoots have to offer. But the fact that A Separation is the only recognizable effort in an otherwise question mark collection of Foreign Film nominees is telling. Finally, what right does Real Steel have playing in the same F/X league as any of the other four films (well, maybe Transformers is its endemic equal) mentioned? That’s a laugh.
If one is looking for places to celebrate, they can focus on filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky finally getting recognized for their amazing work on the Paradise Lost documentary series. Heck, they managed to get three arguably innocent men out of prison. Similarly, it’s nice to see Wim Wenders nominated for his amazing 3D look at the life of choreographer Pina Bausch. Still, the snubs dominate the discussion. A few of the complaints will be more or less meaningless (sorry, geek contingent, but Andy Serkis was NEVER going to get an acting nod for his work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes) but for those who were riding a wave of perceived publicity, said crest heading directly to a seat near the stage come 26 February, the lack of acknowledgement is disheartening.
Still, Oscar does this all the time. Even worse, when the awards are finally handed out, someone or something undeserving will probably walk away with the victory better earned by another (we’re looking at you, Midnight in Paris). While it would be nice to see everything that deserves it walk away from the end of each film year with the triumphs they deserve, it wouldn’t be the Academy Awards. Instead, it would be something that makes sense without the aesthetic guidelines of a hundred differing opinions. When all the dust finally settles, perspective will come in and set things right. Until then, it’s water cooler of wailing for the foreseeable future.