Oscar Nomination Fallout: A Few Surprises, Omissions, Plus Hugo & The Artist’s Domination

As you may already know, nominations for the 84th Academy Awards went out today. Hollywood’s Super Bowl, the Oscars, is always something worthy of water cooler chater. Just today I was discussing nominations at work with colleagues, trying the assuage concerns on why certain performers or films were selected versus those that were overlooked.

Listen, sometimes the deciding factor in a person or film being nominated relies on the two P’s: politics and popularity. The Academy Awards is a glorified popularity contest, only instead of deciding the prom queen and king at a high school, they decide on who’s the best actor and actress, which film had the best original and unoriginal (adapted) stories, and technical merit.

Personally, my predictions were pretty good with a few exceptions. I was brave and tried to decide the animated feature films category, only to see two of my three picks make it. The Academy had the field go to five and included two features that have escaped my viewing. Those would be Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris. I had heard rumblings of Chico & Rita, but the Parisian feline I was at a loss.

In the Best Actor and Actress races it seems that the current Academy members are not keen on recognizing dark, brooding characters. Recent exceptions may be for Forrest Whitaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, who was a flamboyant bad hombre, and Daniel Day-Lewis for drinking milkshakes in There Will Be Blood, but overlooking Michael Fassbender’s seering performance of a sex addict in Shame is, well, a shame. But totally understandable considering the subject matter and Academy members being reluctant to watch. For the Best Actress race, there were a bunch of lay-ups with one exception: Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I may be in the minority in liking Noomi Rapace’s performance from the Swedish original better, but at least I was smart enough to have her playing spoiler should one of the other actress nominees miss the cut. My speculation is that she most likely got the nomination that would have gone to Tilda Swinton for her work in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Her omission was for a lack of Oscar push from distributor Oscilloscope Laboratories. A little more marketing and screenings could have helped it in the Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay races, as well.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close‘s appearance in the Best Picture race was a shock. As was the total number of films selected. A total of nine films. Nine! Like Ferris Bueller’s mom finding it a surprise that her son had been absent from school on nine different occasions, I was stunned to see nine films selected. Seven films was my guess – including everything but Extremely Close and War Horse – but the voters must have really liked a lot films in 2011 to give them first-place votes for Best Picture consideration. So a year after people balked at the dilution of the Best Picture field when it was at ten, is nine a perfect – or at least better – number?

In terms of surprises, whoever had J.C. Chandor’s screenplay for Margin Call as one of the scripts picked for the Original Screenplay category, consider yourself blessed. 50/50, which was riding a fave of awards buzz do to Will Reiser’s screenplay, got no love from the Academy, but congratulations should be given to Asghar Farhadi for his A Separation screenplay. Though my knowledge of Iranian cinema is limited, I could go all hyperbole and say that it may be the best to ever come out of the country.

How about Terrence Malick getting some love for The Tree of Life? In a category that sees a recluse (Malick) and a habitual skipper of award proceedings (Woody Allen) getting nominated, you also have Martin Scorsese getting his seventh directing nom for his family feature Hugo, which also doubles as a metaphor for film preservation.

Hugo and The Artist both tied with the most nominations with 11 each. Both are callbacks to the days of early cinema, where stories were told with music and body inflections instead of words. Considering both were featured in my yearly top ten, it’s easy to see why the Academy fell in love with both films and their “new is old again” approach.

George Clooney is a double nominee for his acting in The Descendants and for adapted screenplay (The Ides of March). So if this year’s ceremony turns out anything like the year his film Good Night, and Good Luck were up for a slew of awards, he’ll be rewarded for his acting rather than his writing. Brad Pitt, who was part of Clooney’s crew in Ocean’s Eleven, gets his second leading actor nomination for Moneyball and he’s joined by Jonah Hill, who is up for supporting actor. It just sounds weird to say “and starring Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill.”

Other surprises of note include The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo being recognized for sound editing and mixing, yet Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score went unacknowledged. The editing category is always confusing to the extent that a majority of the time the films nominated are Best Picture contenders. Martha Marcy May Marlene would have been a definite surprise, as aside from its direction and performance of lead actress Elizabeth Olsen, the editing was also crucial to the film’s brilliance, seemingly moving from present to past to events that we don’t know are real or dreams.

Random thought: How weird would it be to see Dean Pelton from Community (Jim Rash) accept an award for his contribution to the screenplay of The Descendants?

In terms of omissions, Albert Brooks for Drive seems strange. He had been up for a number of critics awards, include the recent Globes, but his name went uncalled. Instead, we heard the names of Nick Nolte (for Warrior) and Max Von Sydow (for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close). Both were the highlights for their respective films, but Brooks playing against type in an adversarial role was just too juicy to ignore. Sadly, it was.

Also ignored, you had the likes of Steven Spielberg – War Horse had quite a few nominations but none for directing. The Adventures of Tintin missed the cut for animation, more likely due to the fact that most found fault with its use of motion-capture (same for Andy Serkis in Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Buck and Project Nim were missing in action in the Documentary race, as was Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

It was a clean sweep for Supporting Actresses. My gut to go with Janet McTeer over The Descendants‘ Shailene Woodley was the key. Because if you are going to nominate Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs, then you have to consider the performance of her much better co-star.

Finally, in what was likely the biggest surprise of the day, we had Demian Bichir getting acknowledged for his performance in A Better Life. Bichir, who also was nominated for a SAG Award, bested the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio (for his showier portrayal of J. Edgar Hoover), Ryan Gosling (a double threat for Drive and The Ides of March), Fassbender as already stated above, and even Michael Shannon (a nom for his performance in Take Shelter would have been too sweet).

Complete list of Oscar nominees.

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