Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscar Nom Nom Noms

The Oscar Nominations are in, and as usual, they’re kind of disappointing. The Academy has long taken the position that it’s better to mildly disappoint everyone instead of really outraging anyone, and while genre fans will most likely be rightfully pissed at THE DARK KNIGHT not getting a nod for Best Picture or Director, that’s actually not the biggest sin. Now, I haven’t seen some of these movies just yet and I have yet to post my finished review of dark horse/favorite SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (short version: It’s really good), but I feel qualified to rant on some of these.

As mentioned above, THE DARK KNIGHT did not get a Best Picture nomination. It was a bit of an outside shot, but definitely worthy, so it’s disappointing but not outrageous. However, the big prize also passed over WALL-E, one of the very best films from the consistently awesome Pixar and so, by definition, better than anything you could possibly have seen last year.

Both snubs have their reasons. THE DARK KNIGHT is a superhero movie, and it made lots of money so it technically doesn’t need Oscar validation. WALL-E also was reasonably popular, but more importantly, it has a nomination and almost certain win in the Best Animated Picture category. I kind of approved of that category back when it meant that SPIRITED AWAY got an Oscar, but now it’s clear that it’s just an excuse for the Academy to avoid the seeming indignity of giving Best Picture to a cartoon. It’s the first step towards a Grammy-style segregation of genres, and further dilutes the chance of animated features actually getting the full recognition they deserve. Imagine if there had been a “Best Comedy Feature” category when ANNIE HALL was up for nominations.

There’s also THE WRESTLER, which I need to see, but given how positive the reviews have been I’m starting to wonder just who Darren Aronofsky has pissed off in the business.

In the outside track, we instead have THE READER, which may well be a fine picture, but with a Metacritic score of 58 (RottenTomatoes lists no score due to some technical error on their part) it’s hardly a critical darling. And, you always hate to bring this up, but it is a Holocaust movie and you wonder if it wasn’t chosen simply because the subject matter was worthy. I’m also not really sure why THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is such a favorite, seeing as its reception has generally been warm rather than superheated.

Also, can I just say how incredibly unbelievably bored I am by the nominations for Best Art Direction? This is a category that’s been a problem for a while, because the people who nominate films for it consistently show a bias towards meticulously researched costume dramas over any other kind of movie. Some of the films that have NOT won Best Art Direction include BLADE RUNNER, THE WIZARD OF OZ, BRAZIL, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, FORBIDDEN PLANET, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, any of the Universal horror films, anything by David Lynch, anything by Terry Gilliam, an entire host of imaginative creative work passed over in favor of recreation. Don’t get me wrong, the challenge of expressing creativity and arranging images within the bounds and conventions of an established period is significant, but surely setting those bounds and conventions yourself is also challenging. WALL-E was a triumph of design and composition, and the same can be said of SPEED RACER, HELLBOY II, and arguably SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE despite the high levels of location work involved.

Finally, though this is another film I have to get around to seeing, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was not nominated for Best Foreign Film despite a swarm of good reviews. The reason, yet again, is that its country of origin, Sweden, didn’t submit it on time, and apparently it didn’t even play theaters there in time to make the cutoff. Between this and the CITY OF GOD fiasco, I think it’s clear that we shouldn’t let the countries decide for us what movies we should look at, and just pick the best from the entire world market.

There were some pleasant surprises- Robert Downey Jr. won a Best Supporting Actor nomination for a great comic performance in TROPIC THUNDER, though the late Heath Ledger is almost certain to win. (It’s always a shame when an acting award is a foregone conclusion, though it’s tragically inevitable here.) Amy Adams also gets another nod, and though I haven’t seen DOUBT I’m sure she deserves it because she is cool. IN BRUGES gets a screenplay nod, and though it deserves more it’s a miracle the Academy even remembers it was released last year. Still, I have a feeling that Hugh Jackman will have to work hard to liven up these proceedings.

But then, it wouldn’t be the Oscars if they didn’t frequently get things horribly wrong, now, would it?


Joseph "Jon" Lanthier said...

"Oscar nom nom noms" that like "birdie num nums"?

An interesting look at an admittedly lack-luster year. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the foreign-language film category -- several movies from abroad were far more accomplished and engaging than any of the arty statue-bait that Hollywood churned out this year, so it seems a little ridiculous. I agree completely about WALL-E, but I can empathize with the Academy's decision. Had WALL-E been nominated for Best Picture and lost (which would have happened) it would have been slightly embarrassing, seeing as how WALL-E is a much more poetic and entertaining film than any of the other Best Picture nominees. WALL-E was segregated out of fear -- "how we can we be letting a cartoon beat us?", that sort of thing.

Interesting statement here: "THE DARK KNIGHT is a superhero movie, and it made lots of money so it technically doesn’t need Oscar validation." I'm not sure I totally agree, primarily because it's hard to imagine anyone truly "needing" Oscar validation: do sheer ticket grosses make a great film? Do the opinions of a narrow-minded society that uses its dominance for nepotism and marketing ploys to assure the machine of Hollywood runs smoothly one more year make a great film?

I understand your point, though -- the Oscars' job should be to offer an alternative to popular opinion and support the awareness of film art with carefully calculated awards. It's a shame they don't do that. But I also think that (in an ideal world) if popular opinion and genuine art intersected (and it's happened before) that the Academy should recognize that, too. I don't quite think TDK is an example of this rare situation, but I also think the Academy's snub had more to do with pride -- nominating a "superhero movie" would have surely eradicated the very last, dwindling hope that the Oscars are devoted to serious film of any kind.

Anyway, also a note that Sam Juliano will be discussing some of these issues in our upcoming Oscar series, so the conversation will no doubt continue...

weepingsam said...

Interesting - it's a boring slate of best picture nominations, but it was a boring year. I'm not sure the academy could have done better - I might have preferred The Wrestler or Rachel Getting Married or Happy Go Lucky to the films nominated, but they aren't significantly different - they're the same type of films, not that much better or worse. I haven't seen the Dark Knight, but I'm willing to take people's word that it was a worthwhile film - the Lord of the Rings movies got nominated - I'm not sure why this would be different. I haven't seen Wall-E either (no real excuse for that, I know) - again, people say it's good, I believe them (Pixar films generally delivering)... Considering the animation nomination the equivalent of best picture is ridiculous - animation is, basically, another technical award - why that disqualifies films from best picture is beyond me. But it seems to be the case - though the academy has no track record at all with science fiction, so....

Even so - I don't know if those 2 films would have been much better than the ones that were nominated... They would have been more interesting, anyway. They are films people are likely to argue about. It would be better to have films argue about the films that are nominated instead of the ones that aren't. Of the nominees, the only one people are every going to care about as a film after this year is Benjamin Button, and it's not all that good a film - just made by an important filmmaker. I suspect that Dark Knight and Wall-E will have far more shelf life than any of the nominees...

Though if it were up to me, I would saymt he film that should be winning the Oscar - the one American film I saw from last year that lives up to the standards of 2007's crop - ambitious, substantial, highly accomplished, featuring a fascinating star turn and a tour de force of writing and direction, worthy of comparison to Zodiac (what is wrong with the world when this is overlooked at Oscar time and the new Fincher, an altogether duller affair, is rewarded?) or There Will Be Blood (if not quite as good as those films) - if Letters From Iwo Jima could be nominated, there's no reason for another war movie in a foreign language not to be nominated - I say, the best American film of the year was Che. Best of all, it would have made them cry at Big Hollywood.

Finally - the academy missed a rare chance - why didn't they find a way to nominate Waltz With Bashir for best foreign film (they did), best animated film, and best documentary? (I'll leave aside the fact that it's also better than any of the best picture nominees...) That chance can't come up that often....