Friday, January 23, 2009

Oscar Nom Nom Noms

Image from WALL-E
The Oscar Nominations are in, and as usual, they’re kind of disappointing. The Academy has long taken the position that it’s better to mildly disappoint everyone instead of really outraging anyone, and while genre fans will most likely be rightfully pissed at THE DARK KNIGHT not getting a nod for Best Picture or Director, that’s actually not the biggest sin. Now, I haven’t seen some of these movies just yet and I have yet to post my finished review of dark horse/favorite SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (short version: It’s really good), but I feel qualified to rant on some of these.

As mentioned above, THE DARK KNIGHT did not get a Best Picture nomination. It was a bit of an outside shot, but definitely worthy, so it’s disappointing but not outrageous. However, the big prize also passed over WALL-E, one of the very best films from the consistently awesome Pixar and so, by definition, better than anything you could possibly have seen last year.

Both snubs have their reasons. THE DARK KNIGHT is a superhero movie, and it made lots of money so it technically doesn’t need Oscar validation. WALL-E also was reasonably popular, but more importantly, it has a nomination and almost certain win in the Best Animated Picture category. I kind of approved of that category back when it meant that SPIRITED AWAY got an Oscar, but now it’s clear that it’s just an excuse for the Academy to avoid the seeming indignity of giving Best Picture to a cartoon. It’s the first step towards a Grammy-style segregation of genres, and further dilutes the chance of animated features actually getting the full recognition they deserve. Imagine if there had been a “Best Comedy Feature” category when ANNIE HALL was up for nominations.

There’s also THE WRESTLER, which I need to see, but given how positive the reviews have been I’m starting to wonder just who Darren Aronofsky has pissed off in the business.

In the outside track, we instead have THE READER, which may well be a fine picture, but with a Metacritic score of 58 (RottenTomatoes lists no score due to some technical error on their part) it’s hardly a critical darling. And, you always hate to bring this up, but it is a Holocaust movie and you wonder if it wasn’t chosen simply because the subject matter was worthy. I’m also not really sure why THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is such a favorite, seeing as its reception has generally been warm rather than superheated.

Also, can I just say how incredibly unbelievably bored I am by the nominations for Best Art Direction? This is a category that’s been a problem for a while, because the people who nominate films for it consistently show a bias towards meticulously researched costume dramas over any other kind of movie. Some of the films that have NOT won Best Art Direction include BLADE RUNNER, THE WIZARD OF OZ, BRAZIL, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, FORBIDDEN PLANET, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, any of the Universal horror films, anything by David Lynch, anything by Terry Gilliam, an entire host of imaginative creative work passed over in favor of recreation. Don’t get me wrong, the challenge of expressing creativity and arranging images within the bounds and conventions of an established period is significant, but surely setting those bounds and conventions yourself is also challenging. WALL-E was a triumph of design and composition, and the same can be said of SPEED RACER, HELLBOY II, and arguably SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE despite the high levels of location work involved.

Finally, though this is another film I have to get around to seeing, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was not nominated for Best Foreign Film despite a swarm of good reviews. The reason, yet again, is that its country of origin, Sweden, didn’t submit it on time, and apparently it didn’t even play theaters there in time to make the cutoff. Between this and the CITY OF GOD fiasco, I think it’s clear that we shouldn’t let the countries decide for us what movies we should look at, and just pick the best from the entire world market.

There were some pleasant surprises- Robert Downey Jr. won a Best Supporting Actor nomination for a great comic performance in TROPIC THUNDER, though the late Heath Ledger is almost certain to win. (It’s always a shame when an acting award is a foregone conclusion, though it’s tragically inevitable here.) Amy Adams also gets another nod, and though I haven’t seen DOUBT I’m sure she deserves it because she is cool. IN BRUGES gets a screenplay nod, and though it deserves more it’s a miracle the Academy even remembers it was released last year. Still, I have a feeling that Hugh Jackman will have to work hard to liven up these proceedings.

But then, it wouldn’t be the Oscars if they didn’t frequently get things horribly wrong, now, would it?

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