by D.W. Lundberg

Saturday, February 25, 2012


UPDATE: One word for the show last night: "Yawn." Anyone disagree? Despite an admirable effort from Mr. Crystal, watching The Artist win for Best Picture was like the surprise everyone saw coming. I admit I DVR'd the entire show just so I could fast-forward through all the stodgiest parts (Best Documentary Short Subject, anyone? "In Memorium"?), but other than Angelina Jolie's right leg, there was nothing particularly memorable about the entire night. Better luck next year, Oscars!

It's Oscar time again, dear readers! And to kick off our third annual All-Things-Oscar post here at FTWW, I thought I'd pose a question to you: How many of this year's Best Picture contenders have you actually seen? The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight In Paris, Moneyball, The Tree Of Life, War Horse – all fine films in their own right, though hardly the types you'd find crowding up your local multiplex on weekends.

Would it surprise you, for instance, to learn that the clear front runner this Sunday is The Artist, a low-key little ditty (shot in black-and-white! by a mostly French film crew!) set during Hollywood's silent cinema days? Come to think of it, had you even heard of The Artist before this? If not, don't fret: of the titles I mentioned, few managed to invade the public consciousness in the way that, say, Harry Potter or Transformers did this year. So you're forgiven if they'd failed to register on your radar.

This isn't to say that box office should determine what does or does not warrant an Oscar nomination (can you imagine Transformers: Dark Of The Moon for Best Picture?). But The Artist's $28 million U.S. tally - and another $44 million elsewhere - only emphasizes the Academy's knack for singling out critical darlings over popular entertainment. The one exception this year is The Help, which happened to please critics and mainstream audiences alike, to the tune of $169 million in the U.S. alone. (Then again, there's always an exception: even the 69th Annual Academy Awards - dubbed "The Year of the Independents" due to the sheer number of independently-produced titles in contention - managed to squeak in a little Oscar love for Jerry Maguire.)

This year's 84th Academy Awards telecast, in fact, could be retitled "The Year Of Nostalgia." The top nine films are practically steeped in it - a fond remembrance of times past. The Artist, of course, shows mad love for the Golden Age of Cinema. Martin Scorsese's Hugo does too, featuring as it does the great silent film director Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) as one of its characters. Tragedy forces the protagonist of The Descendants to re-examine his previously idyllic life, which is also, coincidentally, the focus of the 9/11-themed Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Owen Wilson encounters such legendary artists as Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein during his time-warped nightly wanderings in Midnight In Paris. The Help tackles the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Moneyball? Baseball - an inherently nostalgic American past time if there ever was one. Directed by Terrence Malick, The Tree Of Life "chronicles the origins and meaning of life by way of a middle-aged man's childhood memories of his family living in 1950s Texas, interspersed with imagery of the origins of the universe and the inception of life on Earth," while Steven Spielberg's War Horse recalls not only The Great War but also the work of the great John Ford. Could this strong sense of nostalgia be what finally unites us come Oscar night? More importantly, will you remember which title took home the statuette come this time next year?

Some other grumblings to consider for tomorrow's telecast:

Why only nine films for Best Picture this year? Ever since the Academy widened this category to ten films in 2010, you'd think they'd want to give as many titles a shot at Oscar gold as possible. Isn't that why they made the switch in the first place? What, didn't Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows - Part 2 fit their nostalgia bill? Did David Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo not make us long for the Swedish original?

For that matter, why only two nominees for Best Song? You're honestly telling me The Muppets and Rio were all that 2011 had to offer? Are they trying to phase out this category?

As usual, the Old Reliables get their due. This is true whether they did exemplary work or not. See Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) for Supporting Actor, and Woody Allen (Best Director, Midnight In Paris). Even Meryl Streep gets a nod for playing Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, a movie hardly anyone liked. They should just create an honorary award for subsequent years: Best Meryl Streep Performance For Which She Masters A Silly Accent.

For that matter, it's nice to see one of my all- time favorite actors finally get his due. It may be hard to believe, but this is the first time the chameleon-like Gary Oldman has been nominated for an Oscar. He's played Sid Vicious (Sid & Nancy), Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK), a legendary vampire (Bram Stoker's Dracula), and even Ludwig von Beethoven (Immortal Beloved), but his mannered, poker-faced performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy finally nabbed a nod for Best Actor. He's certainly got my vote, though George Clooney and Jean Dujardin have been getting the most pre-Oscar buzz.

Who is this Jessica Chastain person anyway? She's appeared on television and motion pictures before, of course, but this was Ms. Chastain's breakout year, starring in no less than seven films during all of 2011 (The Tree Of Life, The Help, The Debt, Wilde Salome, Take Shelter, Texas Killing Fields and Coriolanus). She's talented and beautiful and - apparently - a master multi-tasker to boot, so let's hope Academy voters take notice.

It's nice to see John Williams back in the mix again, though to be honest, his two nominations in the same category (Best Original Score, for War Horse and The Adventures Of Tintin) will probably end up cancelling each other out. Also, composer Ludovic Bource (The Artist) took a lot of flack for sampling selections from Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo, so really, it's anybody's game.

Wait, no Cars 2 for Best Animated Feature? Say it isn't so. Then again, it seemed like no one could resist jumping on the "Here's My Chance To Finally Rag On Pixar" bandwagon last summer, so it's only natural that Oscar would follow suit. Puss In Boots, though? Seriously? And how did Spielberg's CG performance capture Adventures Of Tintin fail to make the cut?

Don't be surprised to see Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes win for Best Visual Effects. And while I admire the effort, I didn't buy for a single second that I was watching actual gorillas trying to take over the planet. Always nice to see Andy Serkis pulling the strings, though.

And finally... all hail the return of Billy Crystal! I'll admit I was actively looking forward to seeing Eddie Murphy as Oscar host, but even then we'd still have compared him to Mr. Crystal, whose hosting duties from 1990–1993 (and again in 1997, 1998, 2000, and 2004) left an indelible impression on everyone after and in between. Heaven help me, I might actually end up watching the show this year. Just like old times.

And the nominees are: (winners marked with an asterisk [*])

Best Picture
*The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight In Paris
The Tree Of Life
War Horse

*Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris
Terrence Malick, The Tree Of Life
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Demián Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
*Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
*Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
*Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Supporting Actress
Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
*Octavia Spencer, The Help

Original Screenplay
Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
*Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
Asghar Farhadi, A Separation
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Adapted Screenplay
*Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, The
John Logan, Hugo
George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon,
     The Ides Of March
Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball
Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan, Tinker Tailor
     Soldier Spy

Foreign Language Film
Bullhead (Belgium)
Footnote (Israel)
In Darkness (Poland)
Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)
*A Separation (Iran)

Animated Feature
A Cat In Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss In Boots

Animated Short Film
*The Fantastic Flying Books Of Mr. Morris Lessmore
La Luna
A Morning Stroll
Wild Life

Live Action Short Film

*The Shore
Time Freak
Tuba Atlantic

Documentary Feature
Hell And Back Again
If A Tree Falls: A Story Of The Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Documentary Short Subject
The Barber Of Birmingham: Foot Soldier Of The Civil
     Rights Movement
God Is The Bigger Elvis
Incident In New Baghdad
*Saving Face
The Tsunami And The Cherry Blossom

Guillaume Schiffman, The Artist
Jeff Cronenweth, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
*Robert Richardson, Hugo
Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree Of Life
Janusz Kaminski, War Horse

Art Direction
The Artist
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – Part 2
Midnight In Paris
War Horse

Costume Design
*The Artist
Jane Eyre

Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – Part 2
*The Iron Lady

Sound Editing
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
War Horse

Sound Mixing
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
War Horse

Film Editing
The Artist
The Descendants
*The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Original Score
*Ludovic Bource, The Artist
Alberto Iglesias, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Howard Shore, Hugo
John Williams, The Adventures Of Tintin
John Williams, War Horse

Original Song
*"Man Or Muppet," The Muppets
"Real In Rio," Rio

Visual Effects
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – Part 2
Real Steel
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon

No comments:

Post a Comment