Oscar Nominations Surprise As Academy Goes Its Own Way: Hammond

OSCARS: Who Got Snubbed By Academy?
OSCARS: Nominations By Studio
OSCARS: Nominations By Film
OSCARS: 84th Academy Award Nominations

So despite all the pundits, guild nominations and critics awards already pontificating and pronouncing, the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters decided to throw a few curve balls into the race this year. This morning’s nominations were not shocking, but they were surprising in many ways. Yes, the key films that were expected to do best did indeed do best.  All 11 of those Hugo nominations and all 10 of those The Artist nominations were expected, as were the nods for The Descendants and Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris with 5 and 4 noms, respectively. Granted they were much further down the list but right up there in terms of key writing, directing, picture and in the case of Descendants acting mentions.

But in recent days just about every prognosticator had written off the Best Picture fortunes of War Horse, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and The Tree Of Life. Everyone that is except the Academy, which threw Best Pic noms at all three. And this in a year where there was a tweak to the rules that now say instead of a fixed number of 10 nominees (as has been the case for the last two years) there could be anywhere from 5 to 10 films chosen. Most were predicting around 7 picks, but the Academy apparently decided it liked a wider diversity of movies this year than anyone imagined by crowning 9 films — the first time in the 84-year history of the Oscars there is that particular number of Best Picture nominees. In terms of precursor awards only the Broadcast Critics Association’s Critics’ Choice Movie Awards managed to match all 9 Oscar nominees (the org’s 10th went to Drive, which received only one Oscar nod for Sound Editing).

Nevertheless this year there also seems to be a wider gap than ever between the various peer groups voting in their individual categories and the wider Academy who all vote on Best Picture. War Horse, The Help, and Extremely Loud were all deemed good enough to be Best Picture, but apparently the Academy thinks those films wrote and directed themselves as all three were snubbed in those key screenplay and directing categories. (In fact, outside of acting categories the latter two were AWOL in other races. Which means they are all but dead as realistic contenders for the actual Best Pic Oscar).

Of course there are always discrepancies. Moneyball scored 6 nominations including well-deserved nods for Best Picture, Actor (Brad Pitt), Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill) and Screenplay but saw its director Bennett Miller left out in the cold — just as he was at the DGA. And although Malick snagged a directing nod for The Tree of Life, his original screenplay was not recognized by the writers branch. Incidentally Malick’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner, if victorious in its long shot Best Pic bid, would be the first film since Marty in 1955 to win the top prize from both Cannes and the Academy.

Speaking of Cannes, if anyone thinks this year’s Oscar race didn’t start early last May on the Cote d’Azur think again. Three of that festival’s major premieres — Tree of Life, Midnight In Paris and The Artist — are all now Best Picture nominees. That’s a remarkable showing since the common wisdom is most serious contenders aren’t unveiled until the last three months of the year. Cannes usually has its biggest impact in the foreign film race but ironically only Cannes competition entry Israel’s Footnote managed to make the list of foreign language nominees (or even last week’s shortlist of nine).

In the scheme of things this season there were also surprises in the acting categories. Although George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Jean Dujardin were widely expected to be on the Best Actor list, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s Gary Oldman proved that doing a wide ranging campaign can pay off. (Though he has largely been ignored except by BAFTA, critics and SAG. And despite his SAG nod, Mexico’s A Better Life star Demian Bichir (who also has been widely seen on the campaign circuit) was still a bit of a long shot to make Oscar’s final five since his film was not widely seen and came out last June. Snubbed were J. Edgar’s Leonardo Di Caprio (who also received a SAG nod) and Shame’s Michael Fassbender. They both were expected to be in play but the love for their films was clearly not evident as both movies were entirely skunked by the Academy. Overall, though, the SAG nominations proved to be a good indicator for Oscar acting nods with 17 out of 20 matches (and five for five in Best Supporting Actress).

In the other actor race, for Supporting, it’s a real battle of the vets with youthful Jonah Hill forced to face old pros Christopher Plummer (the odds-on favorite at this point), Max von Sydow, Nick Nolte, and Kenneth Branagh. Plummer and von Sydow are both 82, the oldest of all nominees this year and among the oldest acting nominees in Academy history. Incredibly both are receiving only their second nominations ever. It should be noted that you also don’t need dialogue to get Oscar’s attention. Von Sydow along with The Artist co-stars Berenice Bejo and Jean Dujardin got their invite to the Academy Awards by staying silent (except for one word Dujardin utters at the end of his film). Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda and John Mills in Ryan’s Daughter are among those actors who have actually won for similar feats in the past.

Among the women, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo‘s Rooney Mara managed to do what Noomi Rapace, her predecessor as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version, couldn’t do by landing a Best Actress nod in a race that promises to be really tight. There’s also Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and Michelle Williams, not to mention another veteran, Glenn Close, returning to the Oscar ring for the first time since 1988.  Among the supporting actress contenders The Help’s Golden Globe and CCMA winner Octavia Spencer is the current front runner. But this is a category ripe for upsets so watch out for her co-star Jessica Chastain who with Tree of Life was in two Best Picture nominees. Also Bejo stands a chance for pulling off a difficult role and long shot Melissa McCarthy of Bridesmaids should not be counted out even though broad comic roles are rare sights at the Oscars. Janet McTeer who stole Albert Nobbs also merits attention but is also a real long shot.

It was a red-letter day for Woody Allen who with his 22nd and 23rd nominations bypassed Billy Wilder and set a record as a seven-time double nominee for writing and directing on the same film.

For Steven Spielberg, though, this must be a bittersweet day. He received his remarkable 13th Oscar nomination (against three wins) for producing War Horse with Kathleen Kennedy. She now also shares with Spielberg the distinction of having the most Best Pic nominations by an individual producer. They have seven each. But Spielberg was bypassed for War Horse in the Best Director category and in the Best Animated Feature category for his first toon, The Adventures of Tintin. The fact that Tintin is motion capture  will inevitably be blamed. Mo Cap has not been popular with those who vote for Animated Feature nominees. Nominations of obscure French toon A Cat In Paris and the Spanish Chico And Rita over Tintin and Pixar’s Cars 2 might raise eyebrows, but the branch often likes to support underdogs. In fact tiny distrib GKIDS which picked up both those little films has the same number of noms as DreamWorks Animation (with Puss In Boots and Kung Fu Panda 2) and two more than perrenial winner Pixar which this year has to settle for a animated short nomination for La Luna.

Among other quirks in this year’s roundup of nominees was the omission of just about every eligible tune in the Best Song category. Due to their complicated voting system the music branch saw fit to nominate only two songs, Rio’s “Real In Rio”  and The Muppets’  “Man or Muppet,” ignoring better known artists like Elton John, Mary J. Blige, and Sinead O’Connor who all had terrific songs in the mix. I don’t get it.

But the fact remains that at the end of a long season the Academy was still able to throw a few surprises into the mix even after all the talk and other awards that have come before. As for the show itself the fact that only one movie of the nine Best Picture nominees, The Help, has made over $100 million so far at the Box Office could prove problematic as far as ratings are concerned. This is also a very international list of contenders, probably helping the foreign viewership but possibly not here in America. It is somewhat ironic that the ONLY movie on the Best Picture list that actually was shot entirely in Hollywood is The Artist and it’s French!

With a paucity of blockbusters and the presence of a black-and-white silent movie and another love letter to early cinema leading the way — and neither exactly burning up the box office — the Academy is blowing a kiss to its own history. Whether TV viewers will care is another question.

  1. Get rid of the Best Song category. Why even have a category if the stupid music branch can only come up with 2 nominees?? There were plenty of worthy songs. I truly believe some grouchy old guys in this branch deliberately sabotage nominees by ranking them insanely low so they don’t get the points. And let’s not pretend it’s a coincidence that the big snubs in this category every year are the FEMALE song writers. Diane Warren last year, Mary J. Blige and Glenn Close this year. But they will nominate anything Randy Newman writes. Whole thing is a joke. Get rid of the category. It’s branch clearly doesn’t want it or respect other artists enough to respect their work this year.

  2. Also completely ignored was the critical Cannes favorite MELANCHOLIA, with Lars Von Trier and Kirsten Dunst shut out.

  3. I agree. Dump the Best Song category. The useless music branch makes it so difficult to get vote that we’re left with a handful of people choosing songs based on a ridiculous criteria. And if they want to say those are the two best songs this year, they’ll get arguments from almost everyone in the industry and out.

    1. Because nobody who writes reviews that appear on Rotten Tomatoes votes for the Academy Awards. Did you even see the movie?

    2. Yeah, it’s kind of funny.

      The whole joke with that film is that it’s completely terrible, but it’s also like the most “oscar bait-ish” Oscar bait film ever made. To the point of approaching near self parody.

      I’ll bet most who voted for it only saw the trailer.

    3. Because Rotten Tomato’s is the same crappy website that gives so many crappy films high scores.

      Possibly the most overrated website in the film industry.

  4. I would disagree with your assessment regarding original songs. It’s unfortunate that there are only two but its based on the song construction and quality of use in the film not on popularity or notoriety of the artist or writer. Also, I would disagree with Andrea and her comments. The song regardless of which sex writes it has to be part of the dramatic function of the picture and cannot appear in the end titles of the film. The songs are not a popularity contest based on the writers notoriety that’s for The People’s Choice, The MTV Awards, The Nick Awards, The Grammy Awards and The Golden Globes. The music branch is not a group of old men but a mixture of both sexes , award winning schooled and unschooled composers , prominent award winning lyricists. Sure they make mistakes but some of the songs ignored were specialty pieces whose sole attention was to get a nomination rather than do what was best for the dramatic moment in the film. It’s an afterthought to showcase ones ability to get a superstar to record a song for your film unless it was written into the plot of the script.

    1. That’s really interesting – I honestly didn’t know that. Maybe the category name should be changed to better reflect that. ‘Best Use of an Original Song in a motion Picture’ or ‘Best Use of an Original Song within the context of the narrative of a motion picture’. Something snappier than that – but you get the idea – I think it helps if people actually understand what the award recognizes – and it appears currently this award title isn’t working hard enough to do that.

    2. The Academy is too strict when it comes to Best Original Song. Period.

      With respect, I no longer buy the “only songs that were meaningful to the film” excuse. If that were the case, “I See the Light” (Tangled) would have beaten “We Belong Together” (Toy Story 3) last year. That latter song was just as tacked onto the credits as this year’s “The Living Proof” (The Help) or “So Long” (Winnie the Pooh).

      Besides, songs like “Life’s a Happy Song” (The Muppets), “Pictures in My Head” (The Muppets) and “Star Spangled Man” (Captain America) were integral to their film. Why weren’t they nominated?

      Here’s why: Because the voters only listen to a certain amount of seconds of each song before voting. A song must then have a score of 8.25 to be nominated. If only one song reaches that point, the next highest-rated song will also be nominated. Which probably means “Man or Muppet” or “Real in Rio” still wasn’t good enough for the Academy.

      Imagine if every other category were like that or similar. Voters would only see half the movie, and only the films with a score of 8.25 would be nominated. Sound fair?

  5. How did “Tree of Life” not get an editing nod? Is there some rule about number of editors that can work on a movie?

  6. Nine Picture nominees, five Director nominees. Obviously four helmers are going to get snubbed. It’s just simple arithmetic.

  7. It sounds like once again the Academy will not just be honoring films, but deciding who produced them. Not sure who decided they had the right or the means to do that. They decided Brad Pitt hadn’t produced “The Departed,” and this year they’ll probably try to expunge his producing credit on “The Tree of Life.”

  8. And Patty Duke!!!

    Re: Song

    I have to agree, get rid of it if the standard is going to be this difficult to meet.

  9. Man or a Muppet is a brilliant, hilarious, and surprisingly moving song. Kudos to Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords.

  10. In the realm of silent Oscar winners, don’t forget Marlee Matlin who, unlike others who played mute characters, actually is deaf in real life.

  11. Bottom line: DRIVE was robbed.

    At the very least, the film should have received:

    Best Picture – the film has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the Academy could have nominated up to ten films – DRIVE should have been in the 10th slot, hands down

    Best Director nom for Nicolas Winding Refn (*for Christ sake, he WON Best Director Award over Malick for Cannes!)

    Best Supporting Actor for Albert Brooks (*but Plummer will get it for “lifetime achievement” since he’s pushing 85)

    Best Score (?) – even if composer Cliff Martinez did use a lot of French electro songs (College, Chromatics) for key moments, the film was charged/propelled/defined by its music

    Best Cinematography – no brainer – the BEST shot movie of the year, frame for frame, from the first moment to the last – and on a lower budget

    Well, if DRIVE wins for Best Sound Editing, then at least they can promote it on DVD as an “Oscar-winning film…”

    1. Drive was not well liked by older Academy members. Many found it to be too violent and some walked out of screenings. As for Brooks, they don’t like him and apparently he’s rubbed some in the industry the wrong way, so no surprise there.

  12. Every year there are snubs and surprises and this year is no exception. I wish Ben Kingsley had gotten a best Supporting nod for HUGO (and I thought Gosling, Giamatti and Hoffman all could have been nominated for their IDES OF MARCH work.) Weird year, we’ll see. I do hope Viola Davis takes home an Oscar – rock solid, amazing performance in a spotty film.

  13. The over/under on how may Oscars Hugo will win has to be about 3. Anyone think it’s going to earn more? Not likely. The movie every Academy member thinks you should see but not good enough to honor. Nominating War Horse and Loud are there to keep the golden geese happy. If we can even call them that anymore. Tintin sucked BTW.

  14. You forgot Marlee Matlin in performances in which no “word” was uttered and for which an Oscar was given. She did however “speak” in American Sign Language.

  15. I’d be fascinated to know how many people truly loved one of the best picture nominees? I liked a few when I saw them, shifted in my seat and checked my watch viewing most of them and found “Extremely Loud…” a strident bore. This year seems overwhemled by good but not great movies.

  16. This is the weakest batch of noms in recent memory.

    Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a massive piece of shit (and it has to stand as one of the worst reviewed best picture noms ever, I think it has like a 40 something on rotten tomatoes). How that was nominated over something like “Drive” is beyond me.

    Plus no Fassbender for “Shame” is inexcusable.

    The only bright spot is that it’s nice to see “A Separation” nominated twice.

  17. Congrats to Demian Bichir. He was great in A Better Life. If you are an academy member please do not pass up screening this film.

  18. I’m shocked there is no Lifetime Achievement Award for Alan Hale Jr. He had the Lobster Bin on La Cienga. He had the Landlubber Plate. Steak. Lobster. Hello. What is Hollywood waiting for?

  19. I lose patience with this “not a great year” talk – please; I sat thru True Grit and that was just one of the painful experiences of moviegoing last year. The exuberance of The Artist, the fascination of Melancholia (poor Kirsten Dunst was robbed!), the charm of My Week With Marilyn… and that’s just for starters. Sure, The Help is embarrassing (but more pointedly, it’s effective and it had appeal), and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close… well, don’t get me started. But this is a remarkable year, I think, with some great films and mostly the right recognition by The Academy. And many times… you just can’t say that.

    Did Peter Sellers win for Being There? Does that count as mute(-ish)? I thought Patty Duke (obviously) and I forgot Holly Hunter. I thought Marlee Matlin spoke at some point in Children, but that obviously counts, too.

    I also agree with many that Best Song is simply ruined. It might as well be eliminated, since the Music Branch can’t seem to figure out to recognize perfectly fine songs that deserve some.

    I also think this year’s awards are especially hard to predict – just start with Best Actress and go from there. Those 9 films all got a bunch of “#1” votes, which means even Best Picture is likely to be some sort of split. All in all, I’m pretty happy. Can’t wait for the show… even if it means snoozing thru Billy Crystal. Again.

    1. It was not a great year for filmmaking.

      Critical reviews and box office show that Hollywood just didn’t have much compelling content in 2011.

  20. Overall the nominees are quite good except:
    The inclusion of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close as Best Picture is an embarrassment. Universally disliked movie (48% positive on rotten tomatoes).

    1. Then rottenbananas dot com should give their own freaking oscars!
      It is just some dude’s website…it is not the empirical arbiter of goodness.

      1. Actually, the website is owned and operated by IGN.com, which owns and operated a number of entertainment websites, not “some dude.”

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