Let’s start this second part off by discussing some of the films and perfs that didn’t get nominated before we move on to more of the ones that did. I already talked about the travesty that is not nominating MELANCHOLIA for any awards. So let’s talk about TAKE SHELTER next. This incredible film by director Jeff Nichols not only deserved a script nod, but noms for actors Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. Now Chastain did get a nomination for her role in THE HELP, in which she was excellent. But it always seems that the Academy is more responsive to larger-than-life roles. Subtlety of performance is rarely recognized, unless it comes from someone they only think of as usually delivering bombastic perfs. As far as Chastain is concerned, I’m thrilled she’s nominated for anything as her body of work from this past year alone is nothing short of extraordinary. If it were me, however, her performance in TREE OF LIFE topped everything else she did and I would have nominated her for that above all others. I was blown away.
But back to TAKE SHELTER for a moment. Michael Shannon is not a household name, but he’s always been a terrific actor and this film is no exception. But there was no big studio behind this effort and, despite making many top 10 lists, the film has been ignored by the Academy in its entirety. If you missed his performance and this film. do yourself a favor and see it. Academy members clearly missed it. Either that, or they didn’t recognize what they were seeing.
I mentioned the film SHAME in Part 1. Here’s one of the most daring, intense, emotionally raw films of the year starring two terrific actors, Michael Fassbender (who, like Jessica Chastain, seemed to be in everything this year) and Carey Mulligan. Both deserved Oscar noms, particularly Fassbender who put himself out there in ways very few actors dared in 2011. Is it just that no one went to see this film? Or was director Steve McQueen’s film simply too raw and honest for Academy voters who would rather not be asked to look much deeper than THE DESCENDANTS for films about human beings? To me, that’s like trying to pass off MANNIX as a hard-hitting TV series about intercity crime and law enforcement while ignoring THE WIRE.
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE. Easily one of the most intense films of 2011. Incredibly well acted, written and directed. Again, not a film with studio backing. There were some people who felt pretty certain that John Hawkes would get a nomination. He didn’t. When a film like this, that moves back and forth in time with such calculated grace is overlooked for editing while the tepid DESCENDANTS takes the nomination instead… What does this say about voters? It’s been suggested that too many Academy voters let their significant others cast votes for them. This must be the case since any editor who would overlook this film for some of the ones actually nominated, does not deserve the Academy membership they currently hold.
The fact that Tilda Swinton was overlooked for WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is another great loss. And again, this was another hard-hitting film that seems to have been ignored by Academy voters for far “easier” fare.
Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier. I actually thought Branagh did a spot-on job. It didn’t occur to me that it was an Oscar-worthy performance, but I cannot fault Branagh here for that.
Jonah Hill did a great job in MONEYBALL. Again, it’s not something I thought of as Oscar-worthy, but it was an excellent perf nonetheless.
Nick Nolte absolutely deserved this nomination in what was one of the more grossly underrated films of the year. I loved WARRIOR. And I would have nominated both Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton for their perfs as well.
Christoper Plummer in BEGINNERS. Terrific film, terrific performance.
Max Von Sydow. One of my all-time favorite actors. And, while he did a nice job in EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE, the film itself was so silly that it was hard for me to even take von Sydow’s character seriously. Again, no fault of the actor’s. No one could have played it better.
Bérénice Bejo was wonderful in THE ARTIST. And even though I thought she looked far too modern to be believable as a starlet of the era portrayed, she nonetheless turned in a terrifically charming performance.
Jessica Chastain in THE HELP. See above comments on that.
Melissa McCarthy in BRIDESMAIDS. She was certainly the best part of this film and I applaud her in giving such a no-holds-barred performance. The film itself didn’t do much for me and I’m horrified that it received a writing nomination, but I won’t argue that no one can shit in a sink like Melissa McCarthy.
Janet McTeer in ALBERT NOBBS. This is a tough one for me cause, while I like McTeer, I never bought her character as being able to pass for a man. McTeer seemed to me to clearly be a woman pretending to be a man. It was a stretch for me to believe no one around her would have been suspicious. She seemed like any lesbian I might see walking down my street on her way to The Grove. So while it is by no means a bad performance, it wasn’t believable in the way I assume it was meant to be. In some instances, I even felt like it was more a stereotype of how women think men act, but never really do. This is a performance that, for some reason, would have worked much better for me on stage than it did on film.
Octavia Spencer in THE HELP. Absolutely deserved. She helped make this movie more than it would have been otherwise.
As for Art Direction, I was sorry to see JANE EYRE excluded.
Cinematography. Oddly, I would not have given it to THE ARTIST as, as stated in part 1, I didn’t feel the look of the film captured the silent era. Other than being in black and white.
On the other hand, I am THRILLED to see Emmanuel Lubezki recognized for TREE OF LIFE.
And though I had some problems with the film, I thought Janusz Kaminski’s work in WAR HORSE was stunning.
Happy to see, however, that JANE EYRE did get recognized for Costume design. But what a shame that actor Mia Wasikowska was overlooked as best actress. It was a terrific performance and a great bit of casting.
Once again, THE DESCENDANTS being nominated for best editing confirms my fears that the Oscars is more popularity contest than anything else. In the face of such impressive works of editing as TREE OF LIFE, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, CORIOLANUS, DRIVE, and WARRIOR… How is this even possible? Even if it was simply THE DESCENDANTS over TREE OF LIFE. How do you even compare? There should be no contest here. And yet, the Academy voters celebrate mediocrity once again while all but ignoring greatness in their own field.
It is obvious by now that I’m no fan of THE DESCENDANTS :) But I do want to clarify as I’ve singled this film out to such a degree, that I don’t actually think this is an awful film. I just think it’s painfully average and not even slightly daring. It’s the public and critical reaction to the film, holding it aloft as some great and deep piece of filmmaking, that irritates and disappoints me to no end. Particularly when compared to works far more deserving of such praise and attention. Most years, there are films just like THE DESCENDANTS that I find to be tepid works that strike a chord in audiences. But I believe that chord is struck in people who do not ask much of their films. Or, perhaps, of themselves. And that is why it irks me so and receives such intense criticism from me. Had it been recognized as a moderately entertaining film, albeit with limited dimension, I would have no argument. But, like other films of years past such as CRASH, UP IN THE AIR, DISTRICT 9, BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR, I find myself frustrated by the act of praising unexceptional filmmaking as exceptional.
And so, as I do most years, I will watch the Oscars with a mixed sense of nostalgia and disappointment, knowing all too well that Hollywood’s biggest night ultimately adds up to being a self-congratulatory party unintentionally detailing its members’ lack of vision or daring and showing once again what a long road filmmakers have to truly being recognized as artists and not just mild entertainers.
With a few exceptions, of course.