Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Oscar 2012: Critics Choice Awards Nominations

In the last decade, no other critics’ group has so closely mirrored the list of potential Oscar nominations the way the Critics Choice Awards (formerly the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association) has. They correctly forecast 7 of the last 10 Best Picture Oscar winners and before that threw their support to future winners American Beauty and Gladiator. Two years ago they throw awards prognosticators for a loop when Sandra Bullock was one of their two winners for Best Actress, and she went onto sweep the Golden Globe and SAG prizes before winning her Oscar. It’s for this reason that awards-watchers should pay close attention to who is at least nominated here before going onto choosing their Oscar pool.

The major nominees are (and you can click here for the complete list of nominations):

Best Film: The Artist; The Descendants; Drive; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; The Help; Hugo; Midnight in Paris; Moneyball; The Tree of Life; War Horse

Best Actor: George Clooney (The Descendants); Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar); Jean Dujardin (The Artist); Michael Fassbender (Shame); Ryan Gosling (Drive); Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

Best Actress: Viola Davis (The Help); Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene); Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady); Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin); Charlize Theron (Young Adult); Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)

Best Supporting Actor: Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn); Albert Brooks (Drive); Nick Nolte (Warrior); Oswalt Patton (Young Adult); Christopher Plummer (Beginners); Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)

Best Supporting Actress: Bérénice Bejo (The Artist); Jessica Chastain (The Help); Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids); Carey Mulligan (Shame); Octavia Spencer (The Help); Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)

It should come as no surprise that The Artist and Hugo lead the field. What’s striking are the similarities between the two. Both are a throwback to the cinematic past, incorporating more traditional and less avant-garde storytelling methods, each has at least one major critics’ group best film prize (Artist topped New York, Hugo took the National Board), across-the-board citations and runner-up votes, and each has 11 nominations here. While neither feels like an outright Best Picture winner at this point, they have helped shape the race.

A winning cast? Davis and Spencer, nominees
Anyone doubting The Help’s Oscar chances should sit up and take notice of its seven nominations including Best Picture and four citations for its cast. The last time a drama on interracial friendship in the Deep South received mixed-to-positive critical notices but became a box office bonanza with a leading lady whose inevitable Oscar win could not be denied, it was The Blind Side and Sandra Bullock. Yes, I’m drawing parallels here now between The Help and Best Actress frontrunner Viola Davis, and I’m sticking to it. Add The Help to your list of Oscar contenders now. The film’s DVD / Blu-Ray release in early December, backed by a heavy promotional campaign right when the nomination ballots are due, was a canny move on the studio’s part.

Steven Spielberg’s War Horse may not have cleaned up with critics’ groups, but it has generally received excellent advance notices and has the importance and feel assigned to a prestige picture. Given that its source material swept the Tony Awards and won the Pulitzer just this year, it has extremely high pedigree and should be kept in the conversation. The last time a Spielberg film was in the same position, it was 2005 and Munich received a “surprise” Best Picture nomination come Oscar time.

A number of writer-driven, dialogue-heavy films maintain the status quo for the big races. These include The Descendants, Moneyball and Midnight in Paris, and they remain in the mix for Picture, Screenplay and acting categories.

The biggest boost of the day goes to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the new Stephen Daldry-directed 9/11 drama starring Tom Hanks, Bullock and Max von Sydow. Although unseen yet by critics groups – the screeners did not make it in time for early notices but did make it in time for this and the Golden Globes – this is a major boost. The last time a late entry directed by Daldry came in at the eleventh hour, it was 2008’s The Reader, which won Kate Winslet her long-overdue Best Actress Oscar. All three of Daldry’s previous feature films earned him Best Director nominations, and there’s a good chance that he may go four-for-four.

I mentioned a couple of days ago that Melissa McCarthy was a force to reckon with, given her surprise win at Boston. She just landed a Crix Choice nomination for Best Supporting Actress. About twenty years ago, Kevin Kline won an Oscar for a flat-out insanely comic role in A Fish Called Wanda. McCarthy could follow that same pattern if there is no consensus in her category.

Surprise! Olsen makes the list
One of the surprises in this morning’s announcement was Drive and the plethora of nominations it received. Most of its notices have gone to Albert Brooks but today the film landed Best Picture, Director and Actor nominations, seven in total. If you’re keeping track, that’s more than other lauded frontrunners like The Descendants, Moneyball and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. And it has also emerged as the stronger of Ryan Gosling’s two films this year, as the former front-runner The Ides of March blanked out today.

Other surprises in this morning’s nominations include Elizabeth Olsen, who received a Best Actress nomination for Martha Marcy May Marlene; Leonardo DiCaprio, for the otherwise tepidly-received J. Edgar; Young Adult, with acting citations for Charlize Theron and Oswalt Patton; Carey Mulligan, for Shame; and Andy Serkis, cited for a visual-effects-enhanced role in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Missing: Glenn Close
Amongst those who were overlooked, the most glaring omissions are those for Glenn Close’s passion project Albert Nobbs. Many expected to see her challenge the likes of Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and Tilda Swinton, but she just took a blow for the omission. Similarly, her co-star Janet McTeer, who received the lion’s share of good notices for the otherwise mildly-reviewed film, was ignored. The other major omission is Gary Oldman and the well-reviewed Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which was cited by several awards show prognosticators as the man to beat for Best Actor. The film was completely overlooked, which is in and of itself a shocker. One other omission is David Fincher’s much-anticipated remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which earned citations in a technical category and for the Trent Reznor-Atticus Ross score. It’s been advertised as “the feel bad movie of Christmas”, and major Crix Choice took that to heart if they didn’t even recognize its star Rooney Mara.

Check back in this space on Thursday morning when we discuss the Golden Globe nominations!