Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The rights and wrongs of Oscar

I have no problem with Hugo (11 nominations) and The Artist (10 nominations) leading the field of Oscar nominees for 2012. I’m fond of both pictures, each of which is aware of and rooted in movie history. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo involves the earliest days of cinema, and The Artist focuses on the period in which silent films gave way to talkies.

If you’re interested in the entire Oscar list, you can find it at The Hollywood Reporter.

As for me, I'll focus on a few of the things Oscar got right and also, some of its mistakes. I'm sure you'll agree that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does make mistakes, even if you disagree with me on what they might be.

Best Picture
Right: The Tree of Life. Not an easy choice for the Academy, but a right one.

Wrong: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and, to a lesser degree, War Horse. Neither of those pictures belongs on a list that, for my money, could have been narrowed to the traditional five contenders, The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, The Tree of Life and Moneyball.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Right. Demian Bichir was nominated for playing an immigrant father in A Better Life. Great choice that could serve as a career boost for the worthy Bichir.

Wrong: Gary Oldman’s portrayal of George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy might not have been the best performance in that movie, and it probably pushed Michael Fassbender (Shame) off the list. But the NC-17 rated Shame may have been too much for the Academy.

Actress in a Leading Role
Right: Michelle Williams was recognized for her work as Marilyn Monroe in the overrated My Week With Marilyn, a true act of transformation.

Wrong. Glenn Close’s nomination for her portrayal of a woman posing as a man in Albert Nobbs struck me as the major problem with that movie: I didn’t buy her in the role. Close may have pushed two better performances off the list of nominees: Kirsten Dunst’s work in Melancholia deserved recognition, as did Tilda Swinton’s performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Or maybe it was Rooney Mara’s nomination for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that bumped those two gifted actresses.

And what about Elizabeth Olsen who was terrific in Martha Marcy May Marlene?

There's some real suspense in this category, though. Will perennial nominee Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) beat out Viola Davis (The Help) as she did at the recent Golden Globes?

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Right. Nice to see 82-year-old Max von Sydow get a nod for his work as a grandfather who chose not to speak in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Wrong. Kenneth Branagh is a wonderful actor with great skill at directing and playing Shakespeare, but I couldn't quite buy him as Laurence Olivier in My Week With Marilyn. Branagh got Olivier's voice, but not necessarily his vibe. And for a movie that spent so much effort making Michelle Williams look like Marilyn; shouldn't at least as much work have been gone into finding someone who looked more like Olivier?

An aside: Nick Nolte’s nomination for his portrayal of an alcoholic father in Warrior may mark another step in Nolte’s career redemption, but I’d have put Kevin Spacey (Margin Call) on this list before Nolte. Of course, lots of folks thought Albert Brooks would show up as nominee for his work in Drive.

But, hey, does any of this really matter? Doesn't Christopher Plummer have a lock on best-supporting actor for playing a late-blooming gay man in Beginners?

Actress in a Supporting Role
Right: Janet McTeer did the best work in Albert Nobbs; she played another woman posing as a man in 19th century Ireland.

Wrong: Melissa McCarthy was funny in Bridesmaids, but I don't see her turn as a crude but ultimately endearing woman as an Oscar turn, especially if it bumped Shaileen Woodley (The Descendants) off the list.

Here's another category that doesn't seem to allow for much suspense. Octavia Spencer (The Help) have a probably has a lock on this on.

Right: Terrence Malick was recognized for The Tree of Life, a movie that divided audiences, but stands as one of Malick’s best.

Wrong: Nothing, really.

Best Adapted Screenplay.
Right: The Descendants and Moneyball, although The Descendants is probably more right.

Wrong: I have no problem with any of the nominees (which also include Hugo, The Ides of March and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but if The Help is nominated as best picture, how could it be omitted from a list that did not include The Ides of March. And wasn't the narrative in Tinker Tailor just a wee bit confusing?

Best Original Screenplay
Right: A Separation. Ashgar Farhardi’s look at an Iranian family in distress (also nominated for best foreign-language film) is beautifully written.

Wrong: Bridesmaids. It may have been the best-written comedy of the year, but Martha Marcy May Marlene was a better-written original, as was Another Earth.

Oh well, my choices tend to skew indie, which is only one of may reasons Academy voters never asks for my opinion. Sta tuned for more as the race heats up.

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