Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oscar 2012: Nominations Analysis

Jennifer Lawrence and AMPAS President Tom Sherak
announce this year's nominees

After hours – nay, weeks – of sitting through awards shows, following up on critics groups’ prizes and the likes, here are my thoughts on what went down with this morning’s Academy Award nominations announcements:

Stephen Daldry should be called “the Oscar whisperer”. Why? Because he now has a 100% strike rate of his films being nominated for major Academy Awards. Following Billy Elliott, The Hours and The Reader, his Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close sat on the benches at the Critics Choice Awards and received no citations from other critics or industry groups. The film has also opened to soft box office. Now the biggest group of them all has bestowed surprise nominations for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (for Max von Sydow) on the film. This is also a testament to Scott Rudin’s powers as a producer. Together, they got the right people into the seats to watch the film, got the intended reaction, and these two big noms are the reward. Extremely Loud is still a long shot to win any awards, but this was the biggest surprise call of the morning.

The leader, with 11 nominations: Hugo
There is no such thing as a “done deal”. Sometimes this happens, as when Slumdog Millionaire, Schindler’s List and Gandhi marched to victory. Every so often though, a “done deal” was not meant to be: cf. Brokeback Mountain and Saving Private Ryan. However, the fact that there is a large diaspora of nominations to different films means that there are several “camps” of support, so to speak, supporting each of the major nominees. You have the popular consensus with The Help, the Terence Malick fans for The Tree of Life, cineastes for Hugo and The Artist, but with so many different choices for Best Picture and no clear front-runner, the question then becomes: is there a film that is well-liked enough by the many different groups that can produce a consensus winner? While nominees are chosen by a weighted preferential ballot, the winners are selected simply by ticking one name in each category. What will be the one film that everyone chooses? If there are passionate supporters in each group, but a larger number of more indifferent voters, then it’s entirely possible that a film that pleases everyone but isn’t considered “The One to Beat” might scoop up the big prize. This is why I would keep my eye out on Midnightin Paris. Its major noms in writing and directing to back up its Picture citation might indicate stronger support for the film that one might think. Also consider that with nine Best Picture finalists, in theory, all split votes being equal, a film may only need about 11.2% of the electorate to win.

There is no such thing as a “lock” for a nomination. The snub list this year includes some heavily-decorated critical favourites and respected talent. Who didn’t make the list but who was expected to? Try Tilda Swinton, as We Need to Talk About Kevin was completely shut out despite her winning critical prizes, working the talk show circuit and appearing at different awards groups at which she was a nominee. Perhaps the Academy just didn’t want her to show up in a designer frock that no one understands, again, or perhaps they just couldn’t bring themselves to watch such a bleak film? Either way, Swinton already has an Oscar and is one of those types who would laugh off the slight. The same could be applied to Charlize Theron in Diablo Cody’s critically-adored Young Adult. Also missing is Albert Brooks, the main challenger to Christopher Plummer in Supporting Actor, who just might have clinched a win with the absence of his chief rival for the prize. Michael Fassbender, with such an amazing breakthrough year, couldn’t translate one of his revered performances in Shame, Jane Eyre or even X-Men: First Class into a Best Actor nomination. Leonardo DiCaprio proved he wasn’t as popular as everyone thought, as J. Edgar also came up empty despite numerous precursor nominations. And although many had considered her a sure thing as part of The Descendants’ campaign, Shailene Woodley’s excellent work in that film was not recognized.

Best Original Song has become irrelevant. Once upon a time, the likes of Barbra Streisand, Stephen Sondheim, Bob Dylan and even Eminem graced this category with memorable songs like “Evergreen”, “Sooner or Later” and “Lose Yourself” winning this title. These songs, if they weren’t at least considered part of the songwriter’s canonical work, also had cross-promotional appeal and were radio hits. Can you name a single song this year from a film that crossed over to radio to compete with the likes of Adele and Lady Gaga? No? Okay then. No disrespect to the nominated composers of The Muppets and Rio, but I’m not sure if these songs will exactly stand the test of time. Will either of them stand up to such award-winners as “Up Where We Belong”, “Over the Rainbow” or “Beauty and the Beast”? Also note the total lack of star power from the nominated songs at the Golden Globes, as the list produced no overlapping nominees: no Elton John, Mary J. Blige, or even Madonna, whose song from W.E. didn’t even get onto the pre-qualification list.

Sometimes, critical favourites do get in ahead of the alleged consensus choices. Cf. nominations to The Tree of Life for Picture, Director and Cinematography; Margin Call and A Separation competing in Best Original Screenplay (I banged the drum on the latter!); Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy landing Gary Oldman his first-ever (finally!!) Oscar nomination, plus citations for writing and music; and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo landing half a dozen nominations including a surprise Best Actress nod for Rooney Mara. It seems for every slight, there’s a make-up present somewhere to take away some of the sting.

Surprise! Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close lands
in Best Picture and Supporting Actor races
Speaking of popularity … Did anyone notice that George Clooney made Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay nominations? That brings his career total to eight, including acting, directing and writing nods. Brad Pitt is a double nominee since he is one of the producers on Moneyball, meaning that these two friends are really, really popular with the Academy. You know who’s not popular with them yet? Former nominee Ryan Gosling, who was overlooked for Drive, The Ides of March and Crazy Stupid Love (although a nomination there would have been jaw-dropping).

Sasha Stone, editor of the great Oscar watch blog AwardsDaily, always says that “the trick is not minding”. Maybe that’s the best way to approach the Oscar race this year. There are 33 days left to the ceremony and things can change. Nothing is ever set in stone when it comes to the Academy Awards.

Otherwise, congratulations to all of the nominees! You can view the complete list on the Academy's official website.