Oh, dear. Déjà-vu.
The Academy Awards seem to take place in an unfortunate two-year cycle. One year, they make a mistake (or several mistakes) which they spend the next year trying to clear up and make everyone forget about. How to placate the pissed-off hordes who wanted a Best Picture nomination for The Dark Knight? Double the number of Best Picture nominees next year! After giving Colin Firth’s Oscar to Jeff Bridges by mistake, the Academy gave Jeff’s Oscar to Colin the following year. Yes, the Academy are continually having to come back to us with its tail between its legs, but no amount of begging could make up for the disgustingly safe list of nominees this year.
In a year when audiences flocked to angry and risky films, the Academy turned a blind eye and decided to reward the bland, the commercial and the twee. It has always been this critic’s contention that film festivals are the best measure of a film’s greatness. There, a set list of films have to compete with one another, and the decisions of the jury are often right in context. Critics’ Circle awards are almost as worthy as film festivals, since they are awarded by people who, nominally at least, have an appreciation for all facets of filmmaking. The Academy, however, have a whole year’s output to decide on, ranging across a plethora of categories, which often means their decisions are populist in nature and flawed by default.
The Film Cynic has been silent throughout awards season thus far; it is the belief of yours truly that the fickle nature of awards is pitiable, and undermined further by tactical and political voting and nominations. The Academy boasts a reputation as the premier awards ceremony in the film calendar, but it is this reputation that the Academy voters continually threaten with a sickly blend of populist nominations and pandering to studios for whom the lowest common denominator is never low enough.
The following is the beginning of what will probably become a new annual feature, detailing the worst exclusions and inclusions on the Oscar nominations list. There were simply too many mistakes for this critic to tolerate the Academy’s failings any longer.
How good did Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy look, eh? The palpable paranoia of Tomas Alfredson’s film was due in no small part to excellent production design, costumes and cinematography. Despite nods for Oldman, the score and the script, TTSS deserved recognition for its efforts in many other ways.
The Cynic is unrepentant in his stance on Hugo. Its good intentions can’t detract from the fact that it is an overly-mannered, over-extended and over-produced exercise in navel-gazing. Despite this, it’s the most-nominated film at this year’s Oscars. Scorsese has now won over the Academy, and in the process seems to have lost his inability to take risks and explore darker territory. The sooner he makes The Irishman, the better for all of us.
8. Michael Shannon
Michael Shannon, one of America’s best-known and admired character actors, gave one of the year’s best performances in Take Shelter. It’s an excellent nerve-shredder on its own terms, and another couple of noms for it wouldn’t have gone amiss, but Shannon’s omission alone is a major disappointment.
Undeniably, Melissa McCarthy’s Megan was one of the high points of Bridesmaids, but her nomination and the screenplay nod are a clear example of Academy pandering to the masses. Despite being dreadfully funny, Bridesmaids may as well be retitled Hangover With A Vagina, such is the lack of original plot. Meanwhile, McCarthy has essentially been nominated for passing gas and saying ‘fuck’. Bravo, Academy, bravo. Maybe if Carey Mulligan had vomited all over Fassy in Shame, this nomination could have been hers.
The lack of nominations for Drive is simply shocking. It stars the coolest man on the planet (no, not Jeff Bridges, the other one), and boasts immensely slick and confident direction from Nicolas Winding Refn, but the Academy decided to stay in neutral and give Drive precisely zero nominations. The enthusiasm behind the likes of Gosling and Albert Brooks seems to have petered out. Apparently, stomping a man’s head in does not scream ‘prestige’.
5. The Help
Like Bridesmaids, The Help is in on the back of great public admiration. For proof, at the time of the nominations, The Help was the only one of the nine Best Picture nominees to gross over $100 million domestically. This success was achieved despite uninteresting direction and a confused message that can basically be summed up as “Whitey ain’t all that bad, y’know?” This was a safe picture for the Academy to choose and, despite some good performances, is decidedly forgettable.
4. Tilda Swinton
The White Witch will have her day. For now, however, Tilda Swinton will have to cope with the fact that her nuanced and pained performance at the mother of a teenage murderer in We Need To Talk About Kevin was sidelined for a couple of skilled impersonations and a couple of “reward-me-for-getting-ugly” jobs. Despite being one of the most talented actresses working today, Swinton (and Kevin in general) was mercilessly shunned
Five years ago, he was the guy who got period-ed on in Superbad, the kind of film the Academy would shovel into a ditch. Now, he gives a good-but-unremarkable performance in the overrated likes of Moneyball, and he’s an awards contender. Funny old world, innit?
Despite some intense battle scenes and a great look, War Horse is typical Spielbergian sentimentality, with slushy scenes and overwrought emotion. Then again, it was co-written by Richard Curtis, so that was to be expected. Though War Horse remains watchable at best, it’s up for Best Picture.
Worse still is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Oscar’s golden boy Stephen Daldry (The Hours, The Reader) delivers a sometimes morose, sometimes cutesy tale of a boy going on a treasure hunt organised by his dead father. Despite critical indifference, ELAIC wants to prove the ultimate awards equation: Cute kid + Tom Hanks + 9/11 + Sandra Bullock + cheesy sentiment = awards glory. Heaven help us.
Go watch Shame. Whatever you think of it, there is no denying that Michael Fassbender is less a man and more a force of nature as sex addict Brandon. If he can’t get a nomination for this, then he’ll have to start losing limbs for his art before the Academy see fit to recognize him. It is his intensity, his fierce emotionality and his dedication to Shame that make his omission the most grievous omission from the Academy Award Nominations 2012.