Now that the Academy Award nominations have been announced, with a total of nine films vying for the Best Picture Oscar, the question on the minds of all who care is “Who will win?” Sure, I’ve thought of that, but the bigger question on my mind is “Who cares?” The Academy Awards have been an up and down roller coaster of disappointment and surprise for me over the years, but I honestly can’t recall the last time I was this underwhelmed by the ballot. There are some good films in the mix, but so many great nominee-worthy films have been completely unrecognized.
- The Academy made such a big deal about the change in their Best Picture structuring, as a way to enhance the excitement and potentially open the category up for more and different films to have a chance. They tell us “hey, we’re going to select between 5 and 10 films,” but then they select 9 and fill the extra 4 spots not traditionally there in the past with films of questionable worthiness, leaving one spot open where there are several worthy of filling that 10th slot.
- Does anyone really believe EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE is Best Picture worthy? Perhaps it made the list simply to fill this year’s sole “hot button” ticket, given it’s a film that involves both 9/11 and a boy with autism (we assume?). Seriously, I don’t mean “did you like the film,” but “would you actually vote for this as Best Picture up against the ballot as it stands?” I didn’t think so. I would love to see the full voting results, see if ANYONE of the voting members actually votes for it, and if so… who paid them to do so.
- Of the 9 films nominated for Best Picture, I personally think it’s going to boil down to a three-way race between HUGO, THE DESCENDANTS, and THE ARTIST. For my money, HUGO has the best shot, partially because Martin Scorsese has suddenly become an adopted favorite of the Academy, which is ironic seeing as they’ve invited but somewhat ignored him for so many years. It’s kind of like all of a sudden, Scorsese having been a chubby nerd in junior high, lost a bunch of weight and reinvented himself as a cool kid upon entering high school. The other reason HUGO has a good shot is, well… it’s that damn good! THE DESCENDANTS is probably in second place, partially because the Academy can’t seem to get enough of George Clooney, like an overly proud parent assaulting everyone they pass on the street with pictures in their wallet. “Here’s George again, and again here. Isn’t he great! He’s so good! We’re so proud!” I liked THE DESCENDANTS, I think Alexander Payne (this is where Best Director is more favorable) is a great filmmaker, and the film deserves to be nominated for Best Picture, but it also feels like a safe choice this year, and with all the buzz and controversy swirling around this year’s Oscars, I’m inclined to say THE DESCENDANTS won’t be having any celebratory luau’s this year. Now, to address the “white elephant” in the room… THE ARTIST. Cute, charming, nostalgic… these all describe the silent French film, but none of this equates to Best Picture. I enjoyed the film, although at 100 minutes, it started just slightly to fee a bit long for a silent film. Maybe that’s a sign of it’s flaws, as I’ve willingly sat through the restored version of METROPOLIS (153 minutes) twice now. Sure, Uggie the Dog was cute, and talented/well-trained, but Ive seen better dog tricks and why is the dog of all things getting the most publicity for a Best Picture nominee? The performances were good, the directing was good, but once again… shouldn’t the Best Picture be synonymous with “great” performances and directing? Honestly, the ONLY people I’ve heard buzzing positively about THE ARTIST for Best Picture are the marketers, and a select number of old school critics. I have not once heard anyone out in the “real world” say anything along the lines of “I sure hope THE ARTIST” wins Best Picture. It’s about 50/50 with half on my boat of “it was good, but not great” and the other half (guess who) utterly annoyed and/or befuddled as to why a black & white silent French film is even nominated for Best Picture.
- This brings me to yet another qualm I have with the Academy Awards, an issue some may feel is akin to beating a dead horse, but why do they insist on having separate Animated Feature and Foreign Film categories if they are both eligible for Best Picture? I don’t mind having these categories separated, but in doing so, they should be ineligible for Best Picture. It’s like double-dipping a movie in the Oscar guacamole. Otherwise, if you want foreign films and animated films to be eligible for Best Picture, do away with those two separate categories. If nothing else, that will free up some time in the endless issue of the Academy Awards broadcast running long, and we can better justify having ten nominees over just five. Besides, we have a separate category for Best Documentary Feature, but when was the last time you saw a documentary film nominated for Best Picture? (The answer is NEVER.) Let’s put the petty squabbling aside, shall we, and just go with common sense here. It’s best for everyone involved.
- Finally, how I feel about the “other films” nominated. THE HELP was an obvious contender from the very beginning, but for that reason, I find it very unlikely it will win Best Picture. Personally, it feels way too Hallmark-ish for me to stand behind for the award, despite how good it is and how much people enjoyed the film. But, on that note, there is something said for a film’ popularity with the public when it comes to choosing a winner. It’s not the only factor by far, but should it be considered? Why not? I guarantee the public’s reaction to THE ARTIST winning will be less than appreciative. WAR HORSE. Steven Spielberg. Right there, you have three key phrases that spark the Academy’s attention. I enjoyed WAR HORSE, thought it was an accomplished feel-good film, but I think it missed the mark by a horse’s hair for being a realistic frontrunner for Best Picture. However, it should have a decent shot for Best Cinematography. Woody Allen and the Academy have have an odd relationship over the years, almost as though Woody left the traditional marriage to the Academy to be in a sexier relationship with a younger, more exciting Independent Spirit Awards. With that said, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is one of Woody’s best films in a while, but will Oscar agree? I doubt that, but it is nice to see the film recognized as a nominee. Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE, I believe, is still a dark horse. It’s different enough, beautiful enough, ambitious enough, and controversial enough to have embedded itself deep within the Academy’s subconscious voting mind. My odds would be against it, but don’t crucify this spiritually experimental juggernaut just yet. Finally, we’ve come to the MONEYBALL. This, I believe, is this year’s long-shot contender. This makes Brad Pitt’s third Oscar nomination without a win, plus Jonah Hill is also nominated (although, doesn’t have a chance at winning, if the world is fair) and was a popular film amidst the general public. However, it’s a film about baseball, and that’s not exactly a topic I associate as being high on the Academy’s list of significance.
What does all this mean? Absolutely nothing. In the grand scheme of things, this is all purely speculation. For all we know, this entire thing may be a rouse by the Academy to throw us off and we could find ourselves relatively surprised, but I doubt that. Personally, the only way I’ll be truly shocked and pleasantly surprised with this year’s Academy Awards is if DRIVE is suddenly revealed as the “secret” 10th Best Picture nomination and we see a Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar walk off the stage engraved with the name “Michael.” (You pick which one. I’d be happy with either.)