THE OSCAR NOMINATIONS: A REVIEW/RANT
There is a reason people dislike the Academy Awards--even film people. There are times when the Academy can seem so out of touch with everything that's going on in the real world, and settle for conventional films. They always tend to say 'no, thank you' to genre pictures, whether they be action, animated. Hell, even Michael Clayton's nomination last year was a surprise cause they don't even care for legal thrillers. As always, the Academy gravitates towards the same handful of genres: biopics, epics, costume dramas, and the Holocaust is a plus. Perhaps I was just spoiled because the Academy truly nailed it on the head with last years nominations (There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men? There will never be another year like that), and I forgot that it's not like that every year. Let's jump in with some analysis:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Despite the combined critical praise and populist adoration, neither WALL-E nor The Dark Knight were able to make it onto this year's shortlist. There was no film in 2008 that had the magnitude of The Dark Knight or the beauty of WALL-E, but alas, they're a superhero movie and a cartoon respectively, so they're out. Instead, they honored the laborious, much-more-shallow-than-people-seem-to-realize The Reader. Benjamin Button and Slumdog were locks, so there's no surprise there, but I really felt that the lack of commercial success--and an apparently absent passionate fan base--of Frost/Nixon would cost it a nomination, but I was wrong. Not to be all negative, I'm very happy that they recognized Milk, though I think that all of its buzz for the win has vanished in the wind behind Slumdog Millionaire.
Danny Boyle, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
Stephen Daldry, THE READER
David Fincher, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Ron Howard, FROST/NIXON
Gus Van Sant, MILK
A five-for-five match with the Best Picture line-up. Once again, The Dark Knight's Chris Nolan is booted out, despite doing the best film directing of the year (nobody made a more full realization of his film's world than Nolan). It's important to state that Stephen Daldry is now three-for-three for director nominations--he was nominated twice before for his only other two films, Billy Elliot and The Hours. Fincher, Howard, Boyle, and Van Sant round out the other four nominees, and other than Van Sant's Milk nomination, it is a very boring, uninteresting short list. I was hoping for either Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky) or Jonathan Demme (Rachel Getting Married), but I already knew that was too much to ask.
Richard Jenkins, THE VISITOR
Frank Langella, FROST/NIXON
Sean Penn, MILK
Brad Pitt, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Mickey Rourke, THE WRESTLER
In the war between the screen legend (Eastwood) and the dependable character actor (Jenkins), it seems that Richard Jenkins won. In The Visitor, Jenkins subtly displays a wide variety of emotions, and its good to see a hard-working actor get his due. Brad Pitt, playing the virtual spectre at the center of Benjamin Button gets his second career nomination--and first since 1995. I won't hate too bad on Pitt (though its a very lazy performance), as he's a very talented, seldom recognized actor, but where's the love for Burn After Reading? Langella, Penn, and Rourke round up the rest of the nominees.
Anne Hathaway, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
Angelina Jolie, CHANGELING
Melissa Leo, FROZEN RIVER
Meryl Streep, DOUBT
Kate Winslet, THE READER
Well, here's a surprise for you: the Academy does not succumb to category fraud, and Kate Winslet's performance for The Reader is recognized in the lead category. It bumps out her other--superior--performance from Revolutionary Road, but I'm sure it doesn't make a difference to Winslet, whose longing for the coveted Oscar has been well-documented. Much like Jenkins in the actor category, Melissa Leo scraps her way to an Oscar nomination for her wonderful turn in Frozen River; unfortunately, she bumped out the other indie darling, Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky. Jolie, fresh off last year's major snub for A Mighty Heart, grabs the nomination for Changeling. Lastly, Anne Hathaway gets the nod for Rachel Getting Married, and Meryl Streep stretches her Academy-record with her fiteenth career acting nomination for Doubt.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin, MILK
Robert Downey Jr., TROPIC THUNDER
Philip Seymour Hoffman, DOUBT
Heath Ledger, THE DARK KNIGHT
Michael Shannon, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
The only real surprise in this line-up is the inclusion of Michael Shannon in his scene-stealing turn as the brutally honest, but deranged mathmatician in Revoltutionary Road. I guess the Academy couldn't help at least one category fraud nomination, as Hoffman is nominated for his lead role in Doubt. In a performance that is particularly brilliant for its anti-Oscar sentiment, Robert Downey Jr.'s hilarious performance from Tropic Thunder gets recognized here, while Josh Brolin's Dan White from Milk also gets noticed (doesn't it seem like they're recognizing him for all of the great performances he had last year?). One thing that surely wasn't a surprise was the posthumous nomination for Ledger's haunting Joker in The Dark Knight. A win for Ledger seems imminent.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, DOUBT
Penelope Cruz, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA
Viola Davis, DOUBT
Taraji P. Henson, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Marisa Tomei, THE WRESTLER
Doubt doubles up here with nominations for both Adams and Davis. They're both great in the film, but that logjam was probably what prevented Debra Winger or Rosemarie DeWitt getting recognition for their wonderful work in Rachel Getting Married--not to mention the brilliant supporting turns from numerous actresses in Synecdoche, New York, Samantha Morton particularly. Penelope Cruz's fiery performance from Vicky Cristina Barcelona gets noticed, as well as the matriarchal, sweet portrayal by Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button--the one aspect of that film that doesn't chill you to the bone. Lastly, Marisa Tomei's stipper-with-a-heart-of-gold (Academy loves those types) gets the nod for The Wrestler.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Dustin Lance Black, MILK
Courtney Hunt, FROZEN RIVER
Mike Leigh, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
Martin McDonaugh, IN BRUGES
Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, & Jim Reardon, WALL-E
Both Martin McDonaugh (yay!) and Andrew Stanton (double yay!) are nominated for In Bruges and WALL-E respectively, which makes my day, but Jenny Lumet's wonderful script for Rachel Getting Married is left out (BOO!). The greatest-hits tour for Frozen River continues here, as the films writer-director Courtney Hunt gets recognition, while Happy-Go-Lucky gets its one and only notice for Mike Leigh's script. Finally, Milk, the category's sole Best Picture nominee, gets a nomination for Dustin Lance Black.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Simon Beaufoy, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
David Hare, THE READER
Peter Morgan, FROST/NIXON
Eric Roth & Robin Swicord, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
John Partick Shanley, DOUBT
When Doubt is the one non-Best Picture nominee that gets noticed in this category, it makes you wonder how close it may have been to getting a nod. Other than that, nothing very interesting here, except that The Dark Knight is ignored once again.
BEST ANIMATED FILM
Kung Fu Panda
What a shocker, the Academy reserves WALL-E for this little three-picture ghetto. Is there ever a year in this category when it isn't one great film nominated against two obligatory choices? Stop hating on cartoons!
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
"Jai-Ho" and "O Saya" from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
"Down To Earth" from WALL-E
Pardon me, but WHAT THE FUCK!?!?!?! Where on Earth is Bruce Springsteen's wonderful song for The Wrestler? Last year, there was the problem of Enchanted taking three of the five nominations, and this year the Academy explicably switches the nominations from five to three, and once again, one film grabs more than half of the recognition.
For a full list of all the Academy Award nominees, click here.