Well, the 2010 Academy Award nominations are in. It’s pretty common for my personal favorites to get completely shut out or, at best, receive minimal attention. This year is no exception. I will say, however, that I’m not unhappy with many of the nominations. Many are quite deserving. But it always seems to be such a narrow window that Academy voters peer through. Sure, we’ve seen a good number of indie films grab the hearts of voters and the public over the last few years and that’s a great sign. But truthfully, anything too daring, too outside the mainstream (and those films without the financial luxury of an intense marketing campaign), will simply get little-to-no notice.
My personal favorite film this year was I AM LOVE. One nomination for Costume Design. It’s a well-deserved nomination. But nothing for Tilda Swinton or director Luca Guadagnino. And Yorick Le Saux’s striking, Visconti-influenced imagery in that film apparently eluded the more mainstream tastes of the Academy voters.
Instead, INCEPTION receives 8 nominations. Now don’t misunderstand me. I enjoyed INCEPTION. I was thrilled to see an action film that required some thought on the part of the audience. So, as an action film, it was certainly above-average. And very entertaining. But as science fiction or a film about people… Eh. It fell short. There was potential there for some rich characters, some real depth. But Nolan chose to make an action film at the expense of a rich character film. It simply can’t hold a candle (or even a match) against I AM LOVE or Mike Leigh’s ANOTHER YEAR, which only received one nomination (Original Screenplay). How Leslie Manville’s tour de force performance eluded Academy voters will baffle me for years to come.
Then there’s Ryan Gosling’s performance in BLUE VALENTINE. It was nice to see that Academy voters DID recognize Michelle Williams for the same film, but how Jesse Eisenberg gets a best actor nom over Ryan Gosling is beyond me… Clearly, THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a critic and audience fave this year. And I thought it was a good film. A solid script directed with appropriate restraint. I was certainly sucked in and enjoyed the ride. But it was not, for me, a great film. It has garnered far more attention than I could ever give it. And as good as Eisenberg was, an Academy nomination never occurred to me while watching the film. If anything, I enjoyed Andrew Garfield’s performance even more.
Then we come to THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. This little indie film has won the hearts of many. I am not one of them. I have always been a fan of director Lisa Cholodenko. But I think her strengths were severely watered-down with this one thanks to the inclusion of romantic comedy screenwriter Stuart Blumberg. Cholodenko on her own has created many detailed, rich characters in the past. Characters that made us think, challenged us somewhat. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT plays more like a Nancy Meyers film about lesbians than it does a Cholodenko film. The irony here is that it’s Cholodenko’s biggest commercial and critical hit. No accounting for taste, I’m afraid. I’ve heard people rave about how daring the film was. And when asked in a Q&A why she chose to show a lesbian having an affair with a man in the film, Cholodenko replied that she didn’t feel she could get the film made otherwise. Then she went on to say how it was alright because she still felt that it fit with the character. I could not disagree more. In this day and age, with all the misunderstanding there is about homosexuality and all the arguments of nurture versus nature surrounding people’s ignorance of homosexuality and homosexuals, to have a film that shows a lesbian lustfully hopping into the sack repeatedly with a guy just seems, well… irresponsible. But perhaps even worse, I never bought it as something the character would do. Not in a million years. There was a psychological reason that might have lead to such an action, and a brief explanation (excuse?) is given in the film, but it simply never rang true given the degree of sexual lust that accompanied it. It simply felt like a writer’s device and not something that stemmed from the character herself.
Then there’s my pet peeve of showing male heterosexual characters as having absolutely no self-control or moral boundaries when it comes to sex. The written portrayal of Mark Ruffalo’s character in this film saddened me. It is as unfortunate and tired a depiction of a straight man thinking with his dick as is the depiction of a lesbian who just, ultimately, needs some dick or, at the very least, can’t resist some. And while Ruffalo (an amazing actor) did bring some much-needed depth to the role, it wasn’t quite enough to drag it out of the stereotype mire the writers created it in.
As for being a “daring” film, don’t give me that. Just because it’s about lesbian parents does not make it daring. For fuck’s sake, in 1975 one of the most popular films of the year was about a man who tries to rob a bank so that his boyfriend can afford a sex-change operation (DOG DAY AFTERNOON). Are we really more socially backward today than in yesteryear? And though I do love both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore (they are two of my favorite working actors), I never fully believed their relationship. For me, the problem seemed more inherent to the script than a performance issue. Sadly, at the end of the day, I think we are honoring Cholodenko for her lesser work. Which always makes me think of all those great foreign directors Hollywood scoops up and systematically strips of everything that made them so interesting. And while Cholodenko isn’t a foreign filmmaker, I hope the success and popularity of this film doesn’t rob us of a chance of seeing her take greater risks in her future films. She is, in my opinion, better than THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. A backhanded compliment, yes, but success has many different faces…
THE FIGHTER. While I truly enjoyed Christian Bale and Melissa Leo’s performances, I felt the script was rather predictable and didn’t really take me anyplace I hadn’t been several times before in other, better films. I guess, for me, the script just couldn’t compete with the performances so there was an imbalance to the experience. And while I did leave the theater feeling that I had been somewhat entertained, I also felt equally underwhelmed.
It’s hard not to feel frustrated when films like INCEPTION, THE FIGHTER and THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT get screenplay noms over I AM LOVE, RABBIT HOLE, BLUE VALENTINE or NEVER LET ME GO. And, as is to be expected, Sofia Coppola’s amazing and daring film SOMEWHERE was completely ignored in its entirety. One of America’s most under-recognized and under-appreciated filmmakers who consistently pushes her own boundaries, her actors’ boundaries and the boundaries of her own audience with each new film. To Hollywood and the Academy, Sofia Coppola is simply too odd, too esoteric. Too much a true “artist.” And oftentimes in Hollywood, “artist” is a dirty word, though it’s tossed around as if it were well embraced. Producers will applaud a Lifetime Achievement award for Robert Altman at the Oscars, then return the next day to their offices and systematically try and rid the world of any future Robert Altmans.
On some brighter notes, I’m happy about THE KING’S SPEECH and 127 HOURS. I’m thrilled to see THE BLACK SWAN find a large audience and Daranofsky get some more well-deserved attention. He’s a filmmaker with a vision and not afraid to take chances. And while many of his films seem quite imperfect to me, those imperfections are part of the world of risk-taking that Daranofsky embraces. For me, he is someone I’ll continue to watch. Let’s hope Hollywood doesn’t grip him too tightly and squeeze the artistic drive right outta him. Remember, word is he’s slated to direct the next WOLVERINE movie…
I’m also glad to see WINTER’S BONE in the nominations.
I also applaud TRUE GRIT receiving so many noms. But I have to ask… Hailee Steinfeld as Best Supporting Actress? I’m sorry, did anyone else see this film? She’s the STAR of the film. She’s not in a supporting role. Here’s something that happens at the Academy Awards all the time. Jeff Bridges is a star. Hailee Steinfeld is not (yet). Jeff Bridges plays the title character. Hailee Steinfeld does not. So therefore, Bridges must be the “star” of the film. Yes, he’s a star who’s IN the film. He would even be considered the co-star. But he’s Hailee’s co-star. HER character is the lead character. It is HER journey we’re on, not Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn, as terrific a performance as Bridges delivers in that role. But Steinfeld’s chances for a nomination are reduced in the Best Actress category, so the rules are bent for political and marketing purposes and she is nominated in a category less than the one she actually inhabited, carried, and deserved recognition for. It’s a shame. And it’s one of the many reasons I no longer take the Academy Awards very seriously. But they are a staple of the film world and I do tune in every year and often have a lot to say on the matter, so the Awards clearly mean something to me. Even if it’s just me having a hard time separating the Hollywood that once existed –or the Hollywood I imagined once existed– from the Hollywood that is.
I’m sure one day I’ll just stop watching the Academy Awards altogether and move on with the part of my life that is more interested in filmmaking and risk-taking and filmmakers exploring and pushing themselves as artists; of success being weighed by artistic integrity over box-office profits or even critical praise. Much of who I am is already moving in that direction. But I still have my holdovers from the past that I have not completely shed. The Academy Awards fall into that category.