Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Bit About the Oscar Nominations

As I said a few weeks ago, I don't plan on even watching the Oscars this year. The whole dog and pony show has worn so thin over the years, and without any interest in the pageantry, I'm just not interested in trade awards. I know what I think are the best films I see, and I don't need that opinion validated by anyone, let alone a body of professionals that think Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a great picture, much less representative of their finest work, even in an uneven year like 2011.

But, of course, I did see all the nominees, even the ones I wouldn't have seen unless they were nominated. I can't break my completist habits on that one, and why even bother? I like watching movies. It's my main hobby. So here are my opinions of the nominees, even though I don't really give a shit what wins and won't be watching the telecast to find out.

Oh, and spoilers, probably.

As far as I'm concerned, the only truly great picture here is The Artist. It's a wonderful movie, and surprisingly reflective of today's breezy, everything-is-a-remix view towards history. I fully expect it to win, too, unless Hugo wins in its place. It'll be either one of them, because Hollywood finds nothing more fascinating than itself. So either it'll be the one about Hollywood (The Artist) or the one about the wonder of filmmaking (Hugo), but either way, something silent film-related is getting it. I think Hugo probably has the edge because it's a Scorsese picture, and probably The Departed wasn't enough to make up for snubbing Raging Bull 30 years ago.

As I said the other day, I found Hugo cold and remote, though pretty to look at.

My second favorite of the nominees is The Descendants, which I found very likable and interesting in a white guy kind of way. I thought George Clooney was very good in it. I still don't understand why he wouldn't sell the land since it's going to be taken away, anyway, but it's Alexander Payne, and I never expect him to wrap up his own point because he's much more interested in quirky characters and obvious, unoriginal points like how wine aging can be a metaphor for a person aging. But I liked Clooney's journey of understanding himself and the people around him, and that always hits with me.

I also liked Midnight in Paris, but Best Picture seems like a massive stretch to me. It's a nice movie, but one that makes an obvious, very simple point that is actually stated something like 5 minutes into the film ("Everyone romanticizes the past when they find the modern world too cold") and then negates its own moral that you have to live in reality and not a daydream by having a young French girl immediately fall in love with Owen Wilson because he also likes Cole Porter. I think this is a minor film for Woody Allen, a director I still love, and though it's certainly enjoyable Jazz Age fan fiction, I don't understand all the accolades it's getting. Weird to see a Woody Allen movie become so overrated... Oh, no, it isn't, actually, because Vicky Cristina Barcelona was terrible and overpraised.

The Tree of Life is problematic... it's so long and dull and pretentious, but it looks beautiful and at least tries to say something (even if it does say it with all of the uncritical self-preoccupation of a teenager describing her first trip to Europe). It certainly deserves a win for its cinematography. But I feel like it's this movie, more than any of the other nominees, that will be completely forgotten.

Everything else is just straight up bad. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is badly acted and badly told (seriously, this is what you honor Max Von Sydow for?), Moneyball is just boring but the Academy are still slaves to Aaron Sorkin (even though he manages to not work in all of the star players who helped give the Oakland A's such a great season), and War Horse is all of Spielberg's worst excesses, but somehow even moreso than usual.

And then there's The Help, which is as insulting as it is terrible. This is the kind of thing the Academy loves to pat itself on the back for, no matter how badly-made and condescending it is, because they like that it makes them look like they care about racism. But even better than that, it's about how great white people are for recognizing that racism is wrong. That's not offensive at all!

This is another one of those icky feel-good years.

Not that anyone's keeping track, but currently I think the 10 best films of 2011 are, in alphabetical order, Another Earth, The Artist, The Descendants, Drive, 50/50, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Muppets, Straw Dogs, Take Shelter, and Tomboy. If you remove Tomboy because it's in French, then I'd replace it with A Better Life.

I honestly care what wins this award less than I do what wins Best Original Song (especially this year, where there are Muppets involved). This is never a merited award, anyway, it just goes to whomever the Academy most wants to honor for a body of work. I'd be surprised if they didn't give it to Martin Scorsese just for Being Best at Being Martin Scorsese.

I don't think Brad Pitt's particularly great in Moneyball. Then again, Clooney doesn't do anything totally different in The Descendants, either, and I loved him in it. I almost always love Clooney, though. Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a good performance in a fatally dull movie. I thought Demian Bichir was excellent in A Better Life and I'm happy that the Academy even manged to notice it. It deserves notice.

Jean Dujardin was just so darn likable and handsome in The Artist. It would be surprising for him not to win. He's so good! And boy, can he dance! And buckle swash! And he's just handsome as hell, let's be clear about that. Not that he should win for being handsome, but goddammit, that's one sexy cat.

I think Ryan Gosling getting zero nominations is kind of crazy after the year he had. Michael Shannon's performance in Take Shelter is touching and subtle, but probably too subtle for Oscar. He's one of the best actors working today.

I liked Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs, but only up to a point. She veered towards the cartoonish a little too often; she (and the film, honestly) wasn't entirely convincing. Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady is excellent in a film that doesn't support her; like Julie & Julia, it's another case of Meryl Streep being so good in a bad movie that you almost think it's better than it is. Rooney Mara was very good in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, injecting pieces of humanity into a role that's the kind of fantasy character a middle-aged pedophile creates (the invincible bisexual ninja super-hacker who nevertheless needs to be emotionally protected; see the entire works of Luc Besson). And Michelle Williams was spot-on in My Week with Marilyn, playing the fantasy version of Marilyn Monroe, which seems genuinely complex to me; everyone projects their own pet version of Marilyn onto movies and TV shows about Marilyn, and the movie is in part about how various people perceive her and assume their own perception is the correct one (even the film itself). Michelle Williams is an actress of surprising and genuine talent.

But come on, Viola Davis is going to win for playing Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple, complete with sharecropper accent to hammer home the point that her character is a noble stereotype, because giving Viola Davis an Oscar solves racism, dammit! Again. Or something. At least Davis winning will offer hope to a younger generation of African-American actresses that one day they too can be acclaimed for playing a housemaid or other domestic servant.

I think it's too bad the Academy overlooked Kirsten Dunst's performance in Melancholia (too cold? that was the point...) and Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin (no flashy "give her the shot" moment), but no one will ever accuse the Academy of being too interested in subtlety, which basically explains American filmmaking. Brit Marling was also excellent in Another Earth, but the Academy didn't notice that movie. And after all the talk of her, I'm surprised they didn't nominate Elizabeth Olsen.

I figure the winner will be Christopher Plummer in Beginners, a very likable (and good) performance in a very likable (and good) movie. I find Jonah Hill's nomination inexplicable, Max Von Sydow's disappointing, and I didn't even see Warrior so I don't know how Nick Nolte is in it. Notorious overactor Kenneth Branagh plays notorious overactor Laurence Olivier a little too perfectly in My Week with Marilyn, which makes it weird that he got nominated, because he would be so easy to overlook. Come on, Albert Brooks deserved a nomination for Drive.

I imagine this year's winner will be Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, because it's okay for overweight women to win in the supporting category (it makes the Academy feel like they're less superficial) and, in typical Best Supporting Actress Oscar fashion, she had the sassiest and funniest dialogue of the nominees. Why else did Renee Zellweger win this award for playing Granny Clampett in Cold Mountain? Which could, I guess, mean Jessica Chastain could win for her shrill, over the top, naive-almost-to-the-point-of-retarded character in The Help. She's nominated for the wrong movie; she was so much better (but too subtle!) in Take Shelter.

Berenice Bejo was alright in The Artist, but Jean Dujardin was magical. Janet McTeer was better in Albert Nobbs than Glenn Close was, in my opinion. Flashier, anyways (no pun intended). And Octavia Spencer plays the same pidgin servant that Viola Davis does in The Help, but with less noble suffering and more sass, but she won't win because Davis will.

I don't think anyone got overlooked, this is yet another shitty year for supporting actress roles.

I have to include this because it's me. And I haven't actually seen Kung Fu Panda 2 (because it looks like typical animated DreamWorks tripe) or Puss in Boots (because it looks like typical animated DreamWorks tripe that takes place in that goddamned Shrek universe). But I have seen the other three nominated films, and I think the so-so, thinks-it's-more-clever-than-it-is Rango is probably going to win because it not being DreamWorks or Disney is different enough, but not so different that too many people would have to sit through the subtitles in the two far superior nominees, A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita, both of which are works of art, and will take their place alongside other works of art such as The Secret of Kells and The Illusionist and The Triplets of Belleville and Persepolis in losing to lesser films.

Anyway, throwing in my two bits like everyone else online this weekend. I'll find out the next day who won. Or that second if I'm on Tumblr and everyone's bitching about who wins. Either way.


Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

I can't say enough about Michael Shannon and 'Take Shelter'. After 'Boardwalk Empire' I would Shannon read the phonebook. Jessica Chastain had a terrific year if you look at the variety of excellent performances she gave.

Roger Owen Green said...

Jonah Hill was nominated because he was doing something unexpected of Jonah Hill.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I too felt that Midnight in Paris was overpraised, and have expressed it at some length here:

The Pretentious Know it All said...

Cinematically speaking, we disagree on a lot sir. But, as always I love reading your take on things. And I'm always glad to find another We Need to Talk About Kevin fan out there.

"Fan" is maybe a strange word to use in relation to that movie.

Tallulah Morehead said...

My Oscar prediction: The Artist will lose Best Sound.

Roger Owen Green said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roger Owen Green said...

Oh, a nice article about The Descendents. BTW, I expressed my thought in my review of The Iron Lady that Streep would probably win because I just didn't see the Academy giving the acting awards to two black people.