Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mike's Musings: The 2012 Oscar Nominations

The Oscars: Hollywood's favorite night of self promotion.  Officially, it's to recognize the best movies of the year, but because it's plagued by self-promotion (Harvey Weinstein, that means you!), it's really just a bunch of ass-kissing.  That being said, here are the nominees and my thoughts on them (because publicity and ego are such a huge part of what determines a win, it's too early to predict the winners).  Note: There are a few of these that I haven't seen, like "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," "The Artist," "Moneyball," "The Iron Lady," and "My Week with Marilyn."  I'll review those at a later date, but some won't be reviewed until they reach Blu Ray, like "The Artist" (silent movie in a theater with everyone munching on popcorn...no thanks).

Best Picture:
"The Artist," "The Descendants," "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," "The Help," "Hugo," "Midnight in Paris," "Moneyball," "The Tree of Life," "War Horse"

As of right now, it's going to come down to "The Artist" and "The Descendants."  No other movies have been talked about more.  I saw "The Descendants," but because I had to go out and get a soda refill, I couldn't review it.  From what I saw, it was a 2.5; Alexander Payne is beloved by critics for reasons I do not know.  His movies are little more than feature length sitcoms, and even by those standards, they're still not very good.  "The Help" is this year's "The Blind Side," a solid mainstream drama to appease those who complain that only the artsy movies get nominated (they're not artsy...they're just made with smaller budgets and more intelligence).  I saw it, but didn't review it for some reason.  It was a 3/4.  "Hugo" was very good, but it lacks the defined audience to really wow market.  "Midnight in Paris" was lame, and while critics liked it and touted it as Woody Allen's comedy comeback ("Match Point" was well received by critics, but ignored by the Academy (it received a Best Original Screenplay nomination, and didn't win...hardly all that it deserved).  'The Tree of Life" was beloved by critics and anticipated by audiences, but it's reception was justifiably lukewarm by the masses.

Best Actor
Brad Pitt for "Moneyball," Demian Bichir for "A Better Life," Jean Dujardin for "The Artist," George Clooney for "The Descendents," Gary Oldman for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"

There are two big surprises with the Best Actor nominees: the nomination for Bichir and the lack of nomination for Michael Fassbinder in "Shame."  Bichir appears to be the token nomination for the arthouse lovers, since few people have even heard of it (although the name of Chris Weitz from "American Pie" and "About a Boy" probably helped).  Michael Fassbinder's snub is curious.  He has been getting raves for his acting year round, from "X-Men First Class" to "A Dangerous Method" (another highly anticipated but weakly received movie this year).  The Academy loves movies that push boundaries, but apparently only safe ones.  The NC-17 rated "Shame" is apparently too controversial for them, which considering how screwed up our values are, isn't surprising (gotta protect the little kiddies who are staying up till 11 on a school night watching awards shows for movies they can't see...).  I haven't seen it, but I'll catch it soon (I LOATHED the director's previous feature, the utterly self-indulgent and artsy "Hunger").  The real wildcard is Gary Oldman.  Although long recognized by all for his acting prowress, he has been ignored by the Academy until now.  I haven't seen the movie, but he's been getting raves, so expect him to be a front runner.

Best Actress
Meryl Streep for "The Iron Lady," Glenn Close for "Albert Nobbs," Viola Davis for "The Help," Rooney Mara for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," Michelle Williams for "My Week with Marilyn"

Although Meryl Streep is being predicted for a third Oscar win (which is going to come along sooner or later…she’s too talented and too popular not to win a third), “The Iron Lady” is supposedly very weak, so that will hurt her chances.  Glenn Close has been nominated five times without a win and is very popular, but her passion project, “Albert Nobbs,” was not well received, so I think she’s looking at another loss.  Viola Davis was good in “The Help,” and she’s gathering some supporters after she hit it big with “Doubt.”  Ironically, Rooney Mara is the only nominated performance that I’ve seen, and she was terrific.  Michelle Williams is well-liked, but too the film is too low profile.  She may get the win…we’ll have to see.

Best Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer for “Beginners,” Jonah Hill for “Moneyball,” Nick Nolte for “Warrior,” Max von Sydow for “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” Kenneth Branagh for “My Week with Marilyn”

Christopher Plummer has been a well-respected actor for decades (“The Sound of Music” for example), but he’s becoming a known name, and he’s already generating Oscar buzz for “Beginners.” Jonah Hill is famous for comedies, but this could be a crossover, or “nominee by association,” which happens from time to time (Anne Archer in “Fatal Attraction…I rest my case).  Bergman favorite Max von Sydow is a great character actor, but not very famous.  And Kenneth Branagh is beloved for his Shakespeare films, and is long overdue for a win.  Nick Nolte is the long shot.  He was terrific in “Warrior,” which is the only one of the nominees that made my top ten list, but I don’t see him winning, despite his reputation and love by the Academy.  The film is just too low profile.

Best Supporting Actress
Berenice Bujo for “The Artist,” Jessica Chastain for “The Help,” Octavia Spencer for “The Help,” Melissa McCarthy for “Bridesmaids,” Janet McTeer for “Albert Nobbs”

Jessica Chastain is this year’s Jude Law.  The actress came out of nowhere and with five movies this year, and she was bound to get nominated for one of them.  If she’s not picked this year, than she’s going to get one down the road.  Berenice  Bujo has been lauded in “The Artist,” so don’t count her out.  Octavia Spencer is a hilarious comedienne who has been given tiny bit parts until now.  She won the Golden Globe, so she’s at the top of the running.  Janet McTeer has been nominated before, but she’s too low profile.  The most surprising nomination is for Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids.”  For the longest time, all out comedies were left out of Oscar attention: Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen’s acting (he was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Borat,” but not for his acting) and so on.  The only comedies recognized were the ones with a heavy dose of drama and small internal chuckles.  Don’t get me wrong, Melissa McCarthy was hilarious in “Bridesmaids,” and deserves some kind of recognition.  But she’s a groundbreaker, and I don’t think the Academy is ready to recognize an openly comic performance with a statue.

Best Director
Alexander Payne for “The Descendants,” Michel Hazanavicius for “The Artist,” Terrence Malick for “The Tree of Life,” Martin Scorcese for “Hugo,” Woody Allen for “Midnight in Paris”

It’s really going to come down to Alexander Payne, Michel Hazanavicius and Martin Scorcese.  “The Tree of Life” was profitable, but again, too low profile.  Woody Allen is much beloved by the Academy, but “Midnight in Paris” doesn’t have enough buzz to be a serious contender (I could be mistaken though).  Again, “The Descendants” has been widely acclaimed by critics and it’s made a hefty profit at the box office, but for me, it shouldn’t have been nominated.  Alexander Payne isn’t very good (I did like what I saw of “Sideways,” though); the only good thing about it is the atmosphere.  “The Artist” has a whopping 10 nominations, and most films that win Best Picture win Best Director; there hasn’t been a mainstream silent film since the 30s and to have one this well received, don’t hold it against Hazanavicius.  Scorcese’s film was well received, but it majorly flopped (as of right now, it’s made $83 million against a $150 million budget).  Still, Scorcese is a powerful and well-respected filmmaker, and profits don’t always mean a lot when it comes to wins.

Well, those are the major awards, and the only ones that can be discussed at the moment.  I do really want to see “Chico & Rita,” the animated film that made a smash at some film festivals; hopefully with the Oscar nomination, it will become available on DVD.

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