Friday, 23 January 2009

Let Down By The Academy Again

The nominations are out as of yesterday, and in my annual mid-January funk I have looked at them, blinked, and mentally walked away to do something else (i.e. job searching). Recently I added a poll about outlandish potential nominations to the sidebar, and when I did it I figured I had come up with some odd choices, but maybe one or two long shots. Now I see that unless the movie's title contains the words Slumdog or Curious, or is about a Nazi cougar, its chances were slimmer than a creepily enyoungenised CGI Cate Blanchett. Here are the results of that ill-fated poll...

Which Highly Unlikely Oscar Nom Would Please You Most?

  • Actor - Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) - 7 (33%)
  • Original Screenplay - Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Pineapple Express) - 4 (19%)
  • Director - Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) - 3 (14%)
  • Supporting Actor - Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) - 3 (14%)
  • Actress - Frances McDormand (Burn After Reading) - 1 (4%)
  • Photography - Caleb Deschanel (The Spiderwick Chronicles) - 1 (4%)
  • Art Direction - Peter Francis (Hellboy 2) - 1 (4%)
  • Visual Effects - Speed Racer - 1 (4%)
  • Supporting Actress - Emily Mortimer (Redbelt) - 0 (0%)
  • Costume Design - Eiko Ishioka (The Fall) - 0 (0%)
  • Foreign Language Picture - Let The Right One In - 0 (0%)
  • Adapted Screenplay - David Gordon Green (Snow Angels) - 0 (0%)

  • Winning the poll with ease was Robert Downey Jr. For his pitch-perfect personification of Tony Stark in Iron Man. As the nomination date approached it became increasingly obvious that he would be given a nod for his work as Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder, but I had still hoped that we would see a superhero getting some Best Actor love. It's hard to be bitter about it, though. Of the four actor nominations I've seen, three are definitely worthy, and the fourth, Brad Pitt, was good but varied little through the running time of the film. We've not yet seen The Visitor, but Richard Jenkins is wonderful in everything (he's very funny in Step Brothers), so I can't imagine he would suddenly suck in this.

    Next up is Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg for their Pineapple Express script, which shares Superbad's seemingly effortless air while being drumtight and superbly structured. In fact, possibly the only other original script that surpasses this for structural brilliance and comic genius is Martin McDonagh's phenomenally good work on In Bruges, which got a well-deserved nomination. Though I think McDonagh should walk it, I reckon Dustin Lance Black will get it for Milk. As Canyon said to me earlier, Best Original Script often goes to the movie that has been nominated for a few big prizes but doesn't win them (Good Will Hunting and Fargo spring to mind), and Milk won't get any of the more visible awards, so it'll win here instead. Wall*E is guaranteed Best Animated Picture, Frozen River might have a shot though it would be a very long one (another movie we've not yet seen so I can't judge that with 100% accuracy), and In Bruges and Happy-Go-Lucky have no other nominations to lose, so this one's in the bag for the Big Love writer. I may not have liked how closely it hewed to the biopic template, and it was on the nose a bit too often for my liking, but it was by no means terrible.

    Speaking of In Bruges, some people agreed with me that McDonagh deserved a nomination for his sure-handed direction. Though I think the most impressive directorial debut of the year was Steve McQueen on Hunger, McDonagh did great work on In Bruges, especially on the low budget he had. Of the actual nominees, the most personally upsetting is David Fincher. I've long adored the guy's work, but now he gets praise for his flattest movie. I'll defend everything else he's done, and yes that means Alien3, The Game and Panic Room, all of which I like/love, but this is a nothing movie that just happens to contain some of the most amazing technical film work of the decade. If it were up to me, someone would hand over the award to Gus Van Sant right now (Canyon has even admitted a Ron Howard win would make her happy, as she loved Frost/Nixon so much), but instead it'll be Fincher or Boyle. The money is on the latter right now.

    Aaron Eckhart's superb work as Harvey Dent didn't just thrill me, I'm very happy to say, but again, not enough Academy members agreed. I guess he could accept Heath Ledger's Oscar when he inevitably wins. Again, that would be a win I could live with, though it's hard to generate that much enthusiasm for it. No amount of awards is going to bring him back, after all. Other than that, I did enjoy Michael Shannon's hatstand performance as The Craziest Man In Suburbia in Revolutionary Road, but I don't think it should win.

    Frances McDormand gets a single vote for her terrific work in Burn After Reading, and believe me, I considered adding Brad Pitt to this list as well; he's almost there in Benjamin Button but he totally nails it in this. His scenes with McDormand are the highlights of the movie. Anyway, she didn't get a nomination (for a comedy?!?! Are you mad?!!?!!?!?!???!), but Kate "Gather" Winslet did for The Reader, and not her blistering work as The Unhappiest Woman In Suburbia in Revolutionary Road. We've not yet see The Reader (actually, we've not seen any of the Best Actress films, shamefully, though we're working on it), but no matter how good she is, it does smack of self-parody that the Academy has given her a nomination for playing an illiterate former Nazi from youth to old age. They really don't give a shit about how ridiculous their choices seem, do they.

    Someone else saw The Spiderwick Chronicles! And they loved Caleb Deschanel's radiant photography as much as I did, which is nice. It's one of the most visually impressive movies of the year, with some lovely naturalistic effects that look as beautifully lit as the sets. If only more people were interested in seeing it. Of the actual nominees, I'm pleased to see the awesome Wally Pfister get recognition for his Dark Knight photography, and am convinced Claudio Miranda will walk it for making Benjamin Button look so gorgeous. That said, I've not seen Changeling or The Reader, and Daldry's Nazi-sex-book-fest is lit by the unstoppable double-team of Chris Menges and King Deakin (whose work here is hopefully more interesting than Revolutionary Road), so that stands a very good chance. As long as Anthony Dod Mantle doesn't win for his gaudy Slumdog photography, a seriously headache-inducing melange of nasty colours, showy focus-tricks, and those fucking Dutch tilts. Compared to Robert Yeoman's pristine work on The Darjeeling Limited from 2007, Dod Mantle's obnoxious work looks empty, ugly, and needlessly complex.

    Peter Francis' art direction on Hellboy II, which got a single vote here, was ignored by the Academy, and I have to say, this was one of the longshots I thought might pay off (the other being Eiko Ishioka's costume design for TARSEM!s sumptuous The Fall). Instead, the customary praise for the costume dramas means the Troll Market, the BPRD HQ, the Devil's Causeway, the Brooklyn Bridge set, and the home of the Golden Army gets snubbed, even though they comprise some of the most beautiful environments on screens last year. That snub genuinely angers me, as I had thought Hellboy II had sewn up nominations in a few categories. The make-up nom eases my pain a bit, but it's still not good enough. Even though I'm happy The Dark Knight got a nomination in this category, I'd rather that went to the Hellboy team instead. Very sad.

    Speed Racer gets a little love, certainly more than was handed to it by the effects community that votes in this category. Just as with John Gaeta's effects work on Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, the envelope was well and truly pushed, with new technologies developed, but none of that mattered. The effects work on the three nominees is certainly good (in the case of Benjamin Button, it's exemplary), but Speed Racer deserved recognition. I guess the Academy members are more desperate to avoid the taint of failure than I had imagined (see also E.T.'s victory over Blade Runner). Of course, if they had picked Speed Racer they would have been vindicated by history, but they are cowards. COWARDS! [/Crazy John Givings]

    Sadly, some Oscar losers didn't even get a face-saving vote in this most prestigious of polls. Excluded from Best Supporting Actress, arguably the category containing the worst nominations (Penelope Cruz over Rebecca Hall for Vicky Cristina Barcelona? Taraji P. Henson for her wheezing overacting?), Emily Mortimer wuz robbed, but then she did appear in a limited release martial arts flick from a writer whose recent ramblings about politics have probably made him persona non grata in Hollywood. It's a shame, as Mortimer gets better with every film, and I gather she was even better in Brad Anderson's Transiberia.

    I have little to say about the lack of a costume design nomination for Eiko Ishioka on The Fall other than that big blowsy gowns for Keira Knightley are worthy of praise but the astonishing imagination on display in Tarsem's mad vision get nothing? Are these costume dramas getting nominated solely for research and the amount of work put in? In what universe does The Fall lose out on a nomination, other than our stupid one with shitty taste? Probably none. It's rare that awesome clothes will make me want to see a movie, but that's pretty much what happened here. Clothes, people. That's how good that work was.

    While I'm angry at the Academy voters for that error of judgement, I can't blame them for not including Let The Right One In, the most intentionally depressing vampire movie ever made. While I'd hesitate to call it ZOMG Best Vampire Tale Ever Told, it's still a startling and bold movie filled with memorable setpieces and a stunning performance by Lena Leandersson. And yet Sweden was not about to be represented by a horror movie, even one as critically adored as this one, and so entered Everlasting Moments into competition instead. I also gather Let The Right One In was released too late for Sweden to endorse it, so who knows, it might be around next year instead. To be honest, originally I was going to put Gomorrah in this section, but I figured it was bound to get a nomination. This time the snub was due to Academy rules, and this omission is one of many frustrating moviegoers and critics. Well, apparently The Class is very good, and Waltz With Bashir looks interesting even as just a technical showcase, but still, this category has made me sad.

    And Snow Angels got nothing at all either. I honestly thought it would be one of those indies that caught people's attention even though it was released early in the year, but by December any chatter about Hott Sam Rockwell was about his performance in Choke, and Kate Beckinsale was attracting buzz about Nothing But The Truth with little mention of her impressive work here, and that was all she wrote. A shame. The actual adapted screenplay nominees contain zero surprises. At a push I would pick Frost/Nixon (though who knows what I will think of The Reader or Doubt), but I know it's going to Eric Roth for The Pointless Repeat of Forrest Gump. Either that or Slumdog. It makes me weep. Or consider weeping. Whatever. It makes me not happy, anyway.

    Is this the worst list of nominees in memory? The little victories (Richard Jenkins, In Bruges) pale next to the wrong (Benjamin Button should not be leading the noms), the frustrating (Dark Knight missing out on Best Picture), the criminal (The Boss not getting Best Song), and the anomalous (Wanted got as many nominations as Frozen River and The Wrestler). ::sigh:: I'll find some things to root for on the night, but it's a dispiriting list, full of cowardice and compromise. Anyway, a new poll is on the way. Watch this sporadically updated space!


    sjwoo said...

    Benjamin Button was one away from tying All About Eve, Titanic, and Ben Hur for most noms. I mean that's just sad.

    Slumdog's gonna win it. At this point, all I can hope for is Langella somehow managing to beat Sean Penn. I think Canyon mentioned something about Penn reminding her of I Am Sam, and the more I see his performance, the more I keep chuckling. If only we had Amy Poehler in Milk, doing her impression of Dakota Fanning...that would be an Oscar-worthy film!

    The Academy has had a history of awarding the wrong work/person at the wrong time. Like giving Denzel the statue for Training Day. Training Day! I mean it's a good movie and his performance was good, but ummm...Malcolm X? Hoo-ha! So Fincher getting a nod is in keeping with their much delayed response.

    We'll be watching Doubt and The Reader tonight.

    Admiral Neck said...

    The thing with Fincher is that it's come out of nowhere. Awarding Oscars to people for their previous work usually happens when they've been nominated but lost. Fincher has had no nominations himself, and Zodiac was totally shut out. I'm not sure the voters were feeling bad about that. Maybe they just didn't get any screeners and then watched it in March 2008, and in unison said, "Oh shit, we made a boo-boo."

    Someone on the AV Club pointed out that the film probably got that many nominations because much of the movie is award-worthy. I can't gripe about any of the technical nominations, or the soundtrack, or anything to do with the look or sound of it. You could even make a case for the actors. Pitt's performance got progressively more annoying as the film progressed, but I can see why people voted for him. And Cate Blanchett has to be nominated each year. It's the law.

    The really annoying nominations are Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Fincher did some great work with some dire material, and the result is an impressive, boring, flat movie. That screenplay is an abomination. From the guy who wrote The Insider! Such a shame. And so there it is in the two categories it doesn't deserve to be in. I can see why, but even so, it's irksome.

    I don't want to talk about Boyle's movie. I'm utterly sick of hearing about how wonderful it is. "Oh, I loved it so much! It's utterly preposterous, and patronising, and flashy, and badly acted, and the script was filled with plot-holes and dreadful exposition, but it's about LOVE CONQUERING ALL! How could you not love it for that?" What-thefuck-ever. Just give it all the Oscars and we can move on and watch some proper movies.

    sjwoo said...

    I'd love to see the marketing machinations that took place for both Slumdog and Button. If either movie gets anything, those statues should go right to the marketing folks, because they did an amazing job. I have no problems liking Slumdog, but best picture? And the same goes for Button -- not the worst movie I've seen, but again, best picture? Wow.

    Of the five, Frost/Nixon is the only best picture movie I can wholeheartedly recommend. I thought this was unprecendented for me, but looking back at last year, the same thing happened: Michael Clayton (Atonement and Juno were fine pictures, but they had more faults). 2007: Departed and Queen, so two there. 2006: now there was a good year -- Brokeback, Crash (for me, not you!), Capote, Good Night and Good Luck.

    Regarding Fincher's nom -- it's true, it's his first, but I think that goes to show again how incredible the marketing has been for Button. You could've had Ewe Boll directing it, and he probably would've received a nom. So you're right -- this really isn't the Academy honoring his previous works. Rather, it's all about the Benjamin.

    sjwoo said...

    By the way, we saw the Reader and Doubt last night. I'm convinced that Kate Winslet should win best actress now -- she's just terrific. The movie was a perfect translation of the book, meaning it was infuriatingly stupid and terrible. Doubt was excellent, great performances all around. Some of the supporting noms don't make sense (neither Josh Brolin nor Viola Davis were on the screen for very long), but then again, Judi Dench won for her five minutes on Shakespeare in Love, so I guess anything goes.