Overlooked by Oscar
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is not infallible. Sometimes the wrong films win: Citizen Kane lost to How Green Was My Valley. Apocalypse Now lost to Kramer vs Kramer. Raging Bull lost to Ordinary People. Goodfellas lost to Dances with Wolves. Pulp Fiction lost to Forrest Gump. And Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash.
But at least all those losers were nominated. How much worse to be overlooked entirely!
I’ll give you an example: in 1958, the Academy ignored Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo except in the categories of best sound and art direction. (It lost in both.) Yet today it’s regularly cited as one of the top ten films ever made. The same goes for John Ford’s 1956 western, The Searchers, which didn’t get a single Oscar nomination. More recently, Pixar’s first Toy Story was nominated for best song, best score, and best original screenplay, but missed out for best picture and best director – an omission so egregious that the Academy decided to award John Lasseter a special achievement award by way of compensation.
This year, of course, Toy Story 3 is not only up for best animated feature (a category that didn’t exist in 1995), it’s also in there vying for best picture. By keeping the expanded field of ten nominations that worked pretty well last year, the Academy is essentially hedging its bets against that kind of embarrassing historical oversight. I think most commentators agree that by and large the Academy has got the best picture contenders more right than wrong this time - even if we all have our favourite dark horses who didn’t make the cut. Mike Leigh’s Another Year would be high on many lists. Leigh hasn’t been an Oscar favourite, but it was a certainly a surprise that Lesley Manville didn’t get a nod for supporting actress (even if I find myself in agreement with the Screen Actors Guild members who went with the Australian actress, Jacki Weaver, instead).
This week’s new release Never Let Me Go is another British film with Oscar calibre that’s come up empty handed. Why? I’d suggest the snub has more to do with the film’s weak US box office ($2 million) than any deficiencies in the performances from Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield or Keira Knightley. Like last year’s The Road, it was just too depressing for the Americans.
It was no surprise that Matt Reeves’ Let Me In was ignored as well – a box office failure, it was also a horror film and a remake. But in my opinion it was as good as at least half the films that are up for best picture, and I’d like to have seen Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee get a nod too.
Beyond the confines of the best picture category, where the academy has to sharpen their nominees to just five, the most controversial omission may be Christopher Nolan in the best director line up. For me, Nolan has a better claim on a nomination than Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech, but I’d put him behind Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island), Danny Boyle (127 Hours), Roman Polanski (The Ghost) and (why not?) Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3. If you bought me a pint, I might even throw Gaspar Noe (Enter The Void) into that mix.
In the best actress category, well, I think Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) should be there with the big girls, while Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right) belongs in the supporting category. For me, the most memorable lead performance by an actress this year came from Kim Hye-ja in Bong Joon-ho’s Korean thriller Mother. And in the English language, I’d vote for Rachel Weisz in Agora, another really underrated movie and perhaps the most complex and admirable female role of the year.
As for best actor, I think Ryan Gosling was unlucky to lose out for Blue Valentine, and Leonardo DiCaprio for Shutter Island, not forgetting Joaquin Phoenix playing himself – or not – in I’m Still Here – even if the movie itself wasn’t worthy of his commitment. French actor Mathieu Amalric was wonderful in his film, Tournee. But the most astonishing lead performance of the year has been nominated in the supporting category: Christian Bale in The Fighter.
Supporting-wise, Andrew Garfield should have been nominated either for The Social Network or Never Let Me Go – or both. I thought Mark Ruffalo made The Kids Are All Right, Matt Damon was excellent in True Grit, and how about Stanley Tucci in Easy A? Supporting actress: Rebecca Hall in Please Give, Anne Marie Duff in Nowhere Boy, and Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass were all superb, and let’s give a special mention to Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams and Patricia Clarkson as Leo’s nightmare women in Shutter Island.
What else are we overlooking? Comedies almost always get missed at awards time, and this year is no exception – not that many worthy contenders come to mind – but if there was an Oscar for best improv, then Will Ferrell’s tuna trumps lion riff in The Other Guys would be the runaway winner.
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