Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Oscars again. Are you thrilled?

Weird morning, awakening to the depressing news that actor Alan Rickman had died at the age of 69. This, at the same time that the celebratory announcement of this year's Oscar nominations was making its way across the world, complete with the instantaneous carping that always accompanies any of the Academy's decisions.

Try as it might to re-establish its relevance, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can't seem to avoid antagonizing substantial numbers of people both in and out of the industry. Every year, produces a snarkfest.

We begin with diversity. As nearly every Oscar commentator already has pointed out, all of this year's acting nominees are white.

What? No recognition for Straight Outta Compton, director F. Gary Gray's widely praised look at the emergence of NWA and Hip Hop culture?

And there were other deserving possibilities: Idris Elba and Abraham Attah, from Beasts of No Nation, easily could have received nominations in the best supporting actor and best actor categories.

Michael B. Jordan's name had been mentioned as a best actor possibility. Jordan's 28, and I'm sure we'll be hearing more from this powerful, young actor who made a big impression in Creed. His time will come.

Meanwhile, Sylvester Stallone was nominated for best supporting actor for his reprise portrayal of Rocky Balboa in Creed. I never thought I'd feel an affectionate nostalgia for Stallone or Rocky, but the world keeps getting stranger as I get older. I'm happy for Stallone.

If the lesbian love story Carol received so much critical adoration, how was it left off the Academy's best picture list? Todd Haynes, the movie's director, also was snubbed.

This annoyed many critics, but it's also true that Carol, for all its virtues, is a trifle boring.

The Revenant, a raw and brutal action movie that's meant to be taken seriously, and Mad Max: Fury Road, a raw and brutal action movie that's not meant to be taken too seriously, got the most nominations.

The Revenant gathered a total of 12 nominations; Mad Max earned 10.

Suffering and brutality evidently are big this year.

Tom Hardy received a best supporting actor nomination for The Revenant. Hardy was as impressively scary as the CGI bear that attacked DiCaprio, but his best work of last year was in the British gangster movie Legend, in which he played both of the notorious Kray brothers.

Didn't see it? Don't worry. Nobody else did, either.

The Academy liked The Martian, which won nominations that included best picture and best actor (Matt Damon), but found no room for the movie's director, Ridley Scott, among the five best director nominees.

Maybe Room director Lenny Abrahamsson, who was nominated, squeezed Scott off the list.

Oh well, Scott and Steven Spielberg can get a drink together on Oscar night; Spielberg (Bridge of Spies) wasn't nominated either.

Remember Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Is it on the best-picture list? Nope.

Artistically, I have no argument with that, but why not recognize a movie that has been generally well-received by critics and which also has made a ton of money? Star Wars gave the Academy a chance to show that it's not entirely out-of-synch with the mass audience.

Michael Keaton must be asking himself what he has to do to get some Oscar love. For my money, his work in Spotlight was more memorable than that of Mark Ruffalo, also of Spotlight, who was nominated in the best supporting actor category.

I'm a little sympathetic to the Academy in this regard, though. It's always difficult to pick a single performance out of a fine ensemble.

Worse was the snub of Johnny Depp, who shook off all my Pirates of the Caribbean contempt with his portrayal of James "Whitey" Bulger in Black Mass.

But Black Mass didn't get much critical love (unfairly, I think), and Depp suffered for it.

Still, if you take the position that Depp was ignored because Black Mass didn't rally enthusiasm, how do you explain Jennifer Lawrence's nomination for best actress for her work in Joy?

The movie wasn't embraced by critics and doesn't seem to knocking audiences off their feet, but that didn't stop Lawrence, who was terrific in a disappointing movie, from getting her fourth Oscar nomination.

Will Smith, who gave a strong and highly concentrated performance as Dr. Bennet Omalu in Concussion, also may have suffered because his movie received mixed reviews. No best-actor nomination for Smith, who did a near-perfect Nigerian accent.

If I were measuring performance against performance: I'd say that Smith was more deserving than Matt Damon, who was nominated for best actor in The Martian. That doesn't mean I didn't like Damon's work, I'm just saying.

Oh why rattle on about Oscar? Truth be told, I'm planning to approach this year's Academy Awards with a balanced mixture of indifference and curiosity.

Will I be rending my garments and gnashing my teeth if Brooklyn takes best picture over Spotlight or if Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) beats front runner Leonardo DiCaprio for best actor? Will my pulse quicken if Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) emerges as an upset winner in the best actress category?

No, I'm going to keep an even keel, and I'm also going to try to curtail any more Oscar snark -- at least until the broadcast and perhaps even then.

With Chris Rock hosting this year's Oscar telecast (Feb. 28); I'm counting on him to do the job for all of us.*

*A word about Rickman: How sad to lose an actor who elevated enunciation to the level high art, an increasingly rare skill.
And, for a complete list of Oscar nominations, click here.

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