February 26, 2010 9 Comments
Nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards were released a couple of weeks ago — with the telecast right around the corner on March 7, 2010. I’ve been doing my very best to catch up on all of the year’s films (especially those nominated), which is why it has taken me a bit to post this blog in reaction to the list of nominees announced. Overall, I must say that this year’s nominees were quite predictable, with very few pleasant surprises, if any at all. If anything, there were a handful nominated that I find to be undeserving, and simply riding the Oscar-media wave, campaigning quite well. But unlike most years where there is a surprise here and there, this year’s list of nominees is, in a nutshell, somewhat bland.
I think much of that has to do with the year in film that was 2009. It was a relatively weak year, with very few great (let alone extraordinary) films released. The decade has been a good one, no doubt. Recent years have been good ones, with some wonderful films battling each other out for Oscar supremecy. Not this year. Not when your two leading front runners (so it seems) are “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker.” You know there is a problem. But more on that later. I have managed to see 9 of the 10 nominated films for “Best Picture” (I have yet to see “Precious” so I will say to you up front, that of course I am not able to write about the movie with any first-hand knowledge whatsoever). Anyway, here are just a few random thoughts on the Oscar race this year…I hope you enjoy!
THE 5 BIGGEST SNUBS
A list of this year’s 5 biggest Oscar snubs, plus a handful of others for good measure:
Tilda Swinton (Best Actress for “Julia”)
In a “Best Actress” category that I find to be very weak this year, Ms. Swinton gave the year’s most raw, electrifying performance as the title character. Not only was she snubbed of a mere nomination, but I would have given her the Oscar outright. It’s the type of leading female performance seldom seen and was the most courageous and gutsy accomplishment I have witnessed since possibly Mimi Rogers in the wonderful (and overlooked) 1991 film “The Rapture.” I know few filmgoers actually saw “Julia,” but I wish the studio gave it a bigger push. If it had, then I am sure Tilda Swinton would not have been so egregiously overlooked.
(500) Days of Summer (directed by Marc Webb)
How this originally delightful film was overlooked, I do not know. In a year where the “Best Picture” race ballooned up to ten nominees, I was shocked to see that this film was not in the Chosen Ten. And if you are going to ignore it in the “Best Picture” category, then at least honor it with a well-deserved Screenplay nomination. It was fresh, witty, melancholic, and yes, hopeful. In addition to be snubbed for Picture and Screenplay, one could make the argument for Joseph Gordon-Levitt and/or Zooey Deschanel being honored in their respective roles. This slight is still hard to swallow, especially when films like “The Blind Side” and “Up” are nominated for Oscar’s grandest prize. Alas, the film goes away empty-handed. Hopefully it will fare well at the Independent Spirit Awards where it was not forgotten. Regardless, if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and rent it!
Watchmen (directed by Zack Snyder)
I found this to be one of the year’s best films, much better than your typical blockbuster/superhero type of films that have been released. I can understand it being snubbed for the heavyweight categories like “Best Picture” and “Best Director” (though I feel it would have been most well deserved considering the list of films), but to completely ignore it for Visual Effects, Make-Up, Art Direction and Screenplay was quite remarkable. There are 3 nominees in the Visual Effects category (which “Avatar” will most assuredly win) and 3 nominees in Make-Up… ”Watchmen” deserved a nod in each here. The Art Direction was stellar (clearly better than 3 of the 5 nominees up for the distinction), and even though the Cinematography was glorious as well, that is a tough category this year and I did not expect such notice. “Watchmen” ranks in my Top 10 films for 2009 – I was hoping Oscar voters would agree.
The Road & Viggo Mortensen (directed by John Hillcoat)
A crowd-pleasing film this is not. A non-stop action ride? Again, not the film. This is a haunting, powerful film that moves at its own pace – but stays with you long after the final credits roll. I was taken aback at how the film did just that. Again, I did not expect it to find a place in the ten nominated films (though so much more deserving than a number of them – and “Up” has its own “Best Animated Film” category and because of that, should never have been eligible here). However, the Cinematography was unbelievably effective and should have been noticed in that category. Also, you could have nominated so many more worthy leading male performances than Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”) – Viggo Mortensen would have been an admirable choice as the desperate father doing his utmost to protect his son from death. His performance here is understated, but commanding in every sense. A much more commendable work than a handful of other films that will be mentioned come March 7th.
Michael Stuhlbarg & the Coen Brothers
Yes, it was a very pleasant surprise to see “A Serious Man” justly nominated in the “Best Picture” category. The same holds true for its only other nomination for the evening – “Best Original Screenplay” (which it absolutely deserved). I’m glad enough people saw — and remembered this wonderful film to not completely snub it. That said, the fact that the Coen Brothers were not nominated in the “Best Director” category leaves me thinking that it has no chance whatsoever at the top prize. Also, having won in the screenplay category before, it’s a long shot to capture that prize as well. A subtle, dark, funny piece of cinema, “A Serious Man” is one of the stronger works in the canon of the remarkably talented Coen Brothers. I thought it was actually better than “No Country for Old Men” and was the closest they’ve come in mood and style to their masterpiece “Barton Fink.” The real snub here is Michael Stuhlbarg – not a film star at this point by any stretch. He’s mostly known as a “theatre guy” at this point. He gives a terrific performance here in a very complex role. I cannot imagine why Jeremy Renner made the Top 5 (I’m not picking on the guy – but see the film and you tell me what’s so special) and even George Clooney, but not Stuhlbarg. Clooney was fine but come one, he could’ve played that role in his sleep. And Richard Kind as Uncle Arthur should have also been given serious consideration. So in the end, though it was not snubbed for “Best Picture” (thankfully), I do strongly feel that the film should have been remembered in a few other categories.
OTHER SNUBS — IN SHORT
THE FEW NICE SURPRISE NOMINEES
The White Ribbon (Best Cinematography nominee)
A gorgeous film. Tough to sit through at times, but profound and potent without hitting its viewer over the head. Very Bergman-esque in scope, character and themes covered which is perhaps why I loved it so much. I was glad to see it recognized in a category other than “Best Foreign Film.” A Screenplay nod would have been merited here as well – in addition to a supporting performance or two. A haunting, riveting piece of work – all in spectacular black-and-white….
Vera Farmiga (Best Supporting Actress nominee for “Up in the Air”)
This was a nice surprise and well deserved. After her nice work in Scorsese’s “The Departed,” Ms. Farmiga gives a multi-layered, complex performance opposite George Clooney. Unpredictable, alluring, clever and quick – her character in this wonderfully written film is a memorable one thanks to her.
Christopher Plummer & Helen Mirren (Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress nominees for “The Last Station”)
I was glad to see these two master thespians were not forgotten in a film that very few saw (and I thoroughly enjoyed). Plummer’s Tolstoy is a great piece of character work. He is funny, seductive, authoritarian and forever wise. And Mirren’s ever-loving (and obsessive/paranoid) Sofya is a pleasure to watch. We see why Tolstoy is so smitten with her despite the forces trying to tear them apart. Both are marvels here, but that should be of no surprise to anyone.
“Take it All” (Best Original Song nominee from the film “Nine”)
Though the film was a bit underwhelming (I was expecting so much more from such a marvelous Broadway musical) in the incapable hands of Rob Marshall, there were some fine performances from this all-star cast and one of them was from Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard who sings this nominated song. Of course the musical numbers from the original musical cannot be nominated, but this song written (by Maury Yeston) especially for the motion picture is a memorable moment in the film. If you haven’t heard it, YouTube it, iTunes it, whatever…just listen to it. The vocal work here is gutsy, naked and raw. The lyrics fit so well with the character of Cotillard’s underappreciated and vulnerable wife whose genius of a husband has been with countless other vixens who throw themselves in his direction. This piece captures the essence of character of Luisa Contini perfectly which is what the song should do.
District 9 (multiple nominee, including one for “Best Picture”)
I was so glad to see that this film was recognized come Oscar time. It is still my favorite film of 2009, and I am in no way a fan of science fiction films, though it is so much more than that. I wish that, in addition to its 4 nominations, that it would have been chosen in the fields of “Best Director,” Cinematography, and possibly a “Best Actor” nod for Sharlto Copley).
TWO OF THE UNDESERVING FEW
Every year that the nominees for the Academy Awards are announced, there are those few satisfying surprises that manage to squeak in, many favorites that have long been considered shoe-ins, and then there are those that…well, to put it quite bluntly, are just not worthy of the esteemed nomination. These are known as “The Undeserving Few.” Perhaps the timing was just right or the Oscar campaign backed by the studio was highly effective, or the popularity game went into effect. Whatever the reason, they get in each and every year and we learn to deal with it. Sometimes, sadly, they even win (anyone remember Jack Palance?). These are the Undeserving Few (in my humble, yet outspoken opinion) that eked in to this year’s race:
The Hurt Locker (Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay)
Fine, you want to nominate this film for “Best Picture” and “Best Director?” I get that. I must state though that, as well done and as powerful as it was at times, I felt overall that this film is highly overrated…highly! This film is the perfect example of the critics all hopping on the proverbial bandwagon and very few having the guts to stand out from the crowd. Again, I can understand why it’s in the two aforementioned categories (though it’s not in my Top 10 of the year) – but there is no way that this Screenplay deserves Oscar recognition with so many other Original Screenplays out there that are more fresh and creative (“The Invention of Lying,” “Management,” and “Funny People” to name a couple). On top of this, Jeremy Renner should kneel down and thank the Lord that he is nominated here. He has no business being here when Sam Rockwell (“Moon”), Michael Stuhlberg (“A Serious Man”), Michael Caine (“Is Anybody There?”), and Viggo Mortensen (“The Road”) are home watching on their flat screens.
The Blind Side (Best Picture, Best Actress)
A very nice feel-good film. I saw it. I enjoyed it. It was sweet. And yes, it was nice to see Sandra Bullock select a project that wasn’t complete crap. She’s a beautiful woman with a strong screen presence, charisma, and so much potential still untapped. Here she is fine and gives a good performance – just not Oscar nominee worthy! I guess those who vote thought that they would reward Ms. Bullock for turning in a good performance after years of poor, mainly silly films (for the most part). Those women who suffer this year because of the mistake: Emily Blunt (“The Young Victoria”), Jessica Biel (“Easy Virtue”), and Maria Heiskanen who turned in a wonderfully crafted performance in “Everlasting Moments.” The film has made a ton of money, so maybe by opening up the “Best Picture” field to ten, the telecast will get some more viewers who are rooting for this film, though it has absolutely no shot. Just consider yourself lucky to be there.
I will make sure to post a new blog before March 7th with my thoughts and predictions on who will win in each category for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.
*Note: As of February 25, 2010, I have yet to view the following notable films of 2009:
Summer Hours, Antichrist, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, Precious, The Lovely Bones, Tickling Leo, and Where the Wild Things Are.