Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Obligatory Oscar Opinions: Nominations, Snubs, Predictions

After weeks of anticipation, major entertainment news was announced this morning. Yes, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will be embarking on a U.S. tour this Spring.

Unfortunately, those of us in the Chicago area are being passed over, but rumors abound that the Boss and his band--no word yet on how the late saxophonist Clarence Clemons might be replaced--will play Wrigley Field in September, after a run of European dates.

And in other entertainment news, the Oscar nominations were announced.

You can see the actual announcement, of the major categories, in this YouTube clip, and beyond my addressing of those nominees below, you can view all the nominations here (or just about anywhere).

I enjoy the Oscars as a celebration of film and a topic of conversation. They are a fun diversion, but as history has shown, clearly not an impeccable arbiter of cinematic excellence. The Academy is comprised of about 6,000 film industry professionals, whose votes determine the nominees and award winners. Like any electoral process, the Oscars are purely subjective, based on personal--possibly uneducated and/or biased--opinion, with popularity, politics, self-interest and sentimentality often being factors, and thus reasons to take the selections with a grain of salt.

As such, I really don't care if the Oscar choices right or wrong, as there really is no right or wrong. But that won't stop me from pontificating a bit. Here are the nominees for the 84th Academy Awards--to be presented on February 26--and what I think about them (you may also wish to see my recent picks for the Best Movies of 2011).

Best Picture

The Artist
The Descendants
The Tree of Life
Midnight in Paris
The Help
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
War Horse

After years of nominating 5 films, for the 2009 awards (presented in 2010), the Academy went to 10. That seemed unnecessary, as does subsequent tinkering that means that now, between 5 and 10 movies can be nominated (the convoluted tabulation process is explained here). Of the 9 that were nominated, I've seen seven of the films, and have heard that The Tree of Life is quite good though rather challenging. I would excise War Horse, which I found far too sentimentalized, and conceivably for similar reasons, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, whose reviews have been lukewarm. Completely missing in action, from any category, was Trust, a March release that I thought was excellent, and Take Shelter, which got great reviews but which I missed in theaters. I just saw The Ides of March and think it belongs as well, even if not quite in a top 5.

The silent film, The Artist, was the most original movie I saw last year, while Martin Scorsese's Hugo was nearly as inventive. I'll be happy if either wins, and imagine that The Artist will.

Best Actress

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Viola Davis, The Help
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

I haven't seen Close or Streep, but assume both were great. Mara was good as Lisbeth Salander, but Kirsten Dunst was better in Melancholia as was Charlize Theron in Young Adult. I didn't see Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin but she was seen as a likely nominee. Based on what I've seen, I think Williams should win, but Davis would be worthy and I wouldn't be shocked if Streep gets it.

Best Actor

Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

I'm not familiar with A Better Life but can't gripe much about this field. Would've been nice to see longtime Chicago stage actor Michael Shannon get a nod for his heralded work in Take Shelter. I think Clooney will win, not undeservedly, but would vote for Dujardin.  

Supporting Actress

Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

No complaints, though I haven't seen Albert Nobbs. Some nice performances that I also liked include Melanie Laurent in Beginners, Evan Rachel Wood in The Ides of March, Emily Watson in War Horse and Charlotte Gainsbourg in Melancholia. My vote here goes to Spencer.

Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Didn't see von Sydow and am not planning to. Nolte was good, as was Plummer, probably a sentimental pick to win, but I have no problem with that. It's a shame they couldn't nominate the dog from The Artist, who was outstanding. Ryan Gosling is a surprising omission for his work in The Ides of March (was it considered a leading role?) and Patton Oswalt also gave a notable performance in Young Adult.

Best Director

Michel Hazanivicus, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

I vote for Haznivicus from a strong group, though I don't think that Allen deserved the nom over Bennett Miller for Moneyball.

Best Original Screenplay

Michel Hazanivicius, The Artist
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo, Bridesmaids
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
Asghar Farhadi, A Separation

I'm looking forward to seeing A Separation, said to be sensational. For now, I'll go with The Artist

Best Adapted Screenplay

Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, The Descendants
John Logan, Hugo
George Clooney, Beau Willimon and Grant Heslov, The Ides of March
Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin, Moneyball
Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Moneyball was a strong adaptation from Michael Lewis' book, but I think I'd vote for Logan for Hugo.

Sorry that I didn't see any of the nominees for Documentary Feature, Foreign Language Film or Animated Feature and thus can't provide an opinion.

If you want to argue about the Oscar nominees or discuss other 2011 faves, consider coming to the Chicago Film Discussion Meetup Brunch this Sunday.

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