Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oscar Snubs of 2011

It's my blog and I can talk about movies if I want to.

The Oscars are only a few days away. Normally I would be incredibly excited; the Academy Awards are my Super Bowl, after all.

But this go around, the excitement isn't there. I was severely disappointed with the nominations this year. It wasn't a particularly spectacular, mind-blowing year for film, but there were still plenty of gems. The Academy apparently didn't dig deep enough to find them. Or more likely, they were found, tossed aside, and the loudest, most obvious pieces of fool's gold were chosen instead.

The Best Picture catgory this year is full of feel-good, cliche-ridden, emotional wank fests. War Horse? Really? It was like Spielberg was trying to parody himself. Oh look it's the horse that brings opposing soldiers together and it saves the farm and it's going to save this blind kid and oh here's a dying child. Whenever I watch "horse films" I always imagine the horses being like "fuck this shit" while the humans paw all over them. What I'd really like to watch is a horse movie where the horse is just like a complete asshole. He's completely uninspiring and every person he comes in contact with has a worse life because of him. Call it something like "My Mortal Enemy Flicka."

[EDIT: I'd like to add as a disclaimer that I haven't yet seen Hugo, so please don't take this as an outright complaint against all the nominees. I'm not saying they're all horrible films. I just feel like they're all safe picks, with the exception of Tree of Life.]

There were some Oscar snubs this year of fairly popular films like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Both of which I thought were good films, but not necessarily Oscar-worthy. And there are lesser-known films (which I haven't seen yet) that the Academy has been criticized for excluding, like Melancholia, Shame, and We Need to Talk About Kevin.

But this is a list of films I HAVE seen this year that I felt were unjustly denied nominations.

Talk about an incredible performance by Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen playes Martha, an escapee from a dangerous cult who seeks refuge at her sister's house. While refusing to discuss her experience, the tension between the siblings steadily grows. Meanwhile, Martha has difficulty separating reality from her dreams, and by the end, so is the audience. I love films that play with the audience's perception of time and reality, and this one turned out the be a mind-bender, though it wasn't advertised as such. Disturbing and a bit creepy, it was nonetheless fantastic.

Nominations it should have received:

Elizabeth Olsen for Best Actress

Nominations it actually received: zero.

I love it when a smart, unique action film comes along. Hanna doesn't sport a particularly original storyline -- telling the story of a child hidden and raised in the wilderness to become a warrior -- the film makes up for it in great characterization in the protagonist, played by Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones). Hanna is a fierce fighter, confronted by new experiences, new acquaintances, and a world harsher than the frozen tundra where she was raised. If you're tired of action films filled with CGI, constant slow-motion kung fu, and female action stars in leather, you should check this one out. And if you like it, you should also get your hands on a copy of Chocolate, a Thai film directed by Prachya Pinkaew, featuring an autistic girl as the ass-kicking heroine. The fighting scenes in both of these films are phenomenal, and are shot in longer takes, such as in Oldboy. No epilepsy-inducing strobe editing here.

Nominations it should have received:

Best Score. Hanna has an excellent score written by the Chemical Brothers (sample). Most scores aren't noticeable, but this definitely was. Another film's score that should have been nominated is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, arranged by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor (sample). I thought it would be a shoe-in, after the Fincher/Ross/Reznor success last year with The Social Network. Instead, The Artist (sample) and War Horse (sample) are nominated in this category. Fun fact: both scores made me want to run out of the theater screaming. I love John Williams, but this wasn't his shining moment. And he's nominated twice this year, also for The Adventures of Tintin. He's like the Meryl Streep of film scoring.

Then again, I've never trusted the Academy on the film score category, since Clint Mansell has never been nominated in it. unacceptable. Have you heard the soundtracks to Moon or The Fountain? Requiem for a Dream or Black Swan? Just, the best. And do you know how long it took to retrieve all the links in the last two paragraphs? Like 15 minutes. You're welcome.

Nominations it actually received: zero.

I went into the theater not wearing eye makeup, knowing I would bawl my eyes out. And I did. Loosely based on the real life experience of screenwriter Will Reiser and friend Seth Rogen, it portrays a young man's struggle with cancer, and how he and his family deal with the situation. The way the film deals with death felt incredibly real. Death isn't falling on your knees and yelling into the sky "NOOOOO!!!" (cue montage). It's on a hospital bed, saying goodbye to your loved ones, knowing it may be the last time you see them -- a 50/50 shot that you'll never be in this world again (cue me and my friend blubbering in the theater).

Nominations it should have received:

Best Original Screenplay by Will Reiser. It packs just the right amount of humor and empathy, without it becoming an exercise in emotional masturbation (cough warhorse cough).

Best Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. An all-around great performance. The fact that he isn't nominated makes me want to kick George Clooney in his handsome face.

Nominations it actually received: zero. I actually went back and checked this like three times to be sure. That's how surprised I am that it wasn't nominated for anything.

I wasn't as blown away by this film as I hoped I would be, given the rave reviews and recommendations from its fans. But I was still impressed. It had a unique style and pacing, and the soundtrack was wonderful. The protagonist reminded me a lot of Leon from Luc Besson's The Professional, since both are silent, moralistic men working in immoral professions. And I'll have you know it only took me ~45 minutes into it to realize the title was a double entendre. I are a college graduate.

Nominations it should have received:

Most supporters of the film are upset that Ryan Gosling didn't get a Best Actor nomination. But I don't think there was quite enough to his role to warrant one. He was even better in Lars and the Real Girl. I would go more along the lines of Best Editing. The scene when the Driver kisses Carey Mulligan in the elevator in slow motion? Perfect.

Nominations it actually received: Best Sound Editing. If you say so. Wouldn't call myself an expert on this category.

If you asked me to name my favorite film of all time I would laugh in your face. But ask by year and chances are I could answer. And my favorite film of 2011 was Young Adult. I felt like it was criminally underrated, and hasn't been coming up at all in the "best of" conversations. This is a shame.

Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, the same team behind Juno, it's a character and dialogue-driven film that lives up to their previous collaboration. Marketed as a comedy, it turns out to be a pretty dark film; it's anything but quirky.

Following her divorce, YA fiction writer Mavis Gary returns to her small hometown to steal back her married high school flame. Stuck in a perpetual fantasy land, Mavis is delusional and refuses to accept reality: that she is no longer the prom queen, and that "true love" doesn't always conquer all. Or possibly even exist. It's pretty dark and a bit depressing, without a feel-good ending, which is probably why audiences didn't flock to it like they would, say, Slumdog Millionaire.

Nominations it should have received:

Best Original Screenplay, Diablo Cody. I thought Cody's writing was marvelous. The characters, the dialogue -- let's all just forget Jennifer's Body and focus on the two brilliant pieces she has put forward.

Best Actress, Charlize Theron. It can't be easy playing such a despicable and pathetic character, and still manage to make the audience identify and eventually feel sorry for her.

Possibly a Best Supporting Actor for Patton Oswalt. I admit I'm a bit biased here since I love Patton. But he showed off his serious acting chops in his role as "hate crime" Matt, the loser in high school (and afterwards) who becomes the voice of reason for Mavis.

I can't wait to see this film again when it's released on DVD mid-March. It was the little things that all together made it spectacular. The fact that in high school she was given the "Best Hair" award, and now she wears a wig. The manicure scenes that show the development of her character, and her change of tactics (black when she's on the offense, clear when she's ready to come clean, etc). The KenTacoHut (the combination KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut). Matt's sister yelling from the kitchen about ranch dressing... it is a comedy too.

My beef with the Academy

A report came out a few days ago that revealed the members who vote on the Oscars are overwhelmingly white and male. Specifically, the group is 94% white, and 77% are men. That is nowhere near an accurate representation of the audiences who watch movies -- or even the people who make them. So is it any surprise that of the nine Best Picture nominees, only ONE features a female lead character? The Help. It's also the only film featuring a lead who is a person of color. Not just lead, come to think of it -- persons of color are almost entirely absent from the scripts of the other eight nominees; unless you count the "savages" in The Artist, and I don't think you want to do that. The Help has come under a lot of scrutiny itself for its portrayal of black women and racism in the 1960s (I won't be jumping into that), so its nomination probably feels bittersweet to many. Such as when Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture in 1989, while Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing wasn't even nominated. Guess which one you will actually watch in a respectable film class. Regardless of what you think about The Help (I liked it, and I feel like I've been apologizing for liking it ever since), you have to agree that Viola Davis' performance was spell bounding, and I will be crossing my fingers for her Sunday night.

So why do the nominations this year feel so old and stale? Probably because old, stale people are voting for them. With the exception of Tree of Life, the Best Picture noms are exercises in old-fashioned filmmaking. In the case of The Artist, very old-fashioned. I have such a love/hate relationship with the Oscars. On one hand I love to see great films get recognition, where otherwise only those making $100 million plus get any notice. On the other hand films like Crash, Braveheart, and Shakespeare in Love (and nearly The Blindside one year, god help us all) end up winning the top prize. Ten-year-old me loved Braveheart. But the Academy's voter pool shouldn't be made up of ten-year-old me's.

I'll still be watching Sunday night, probably cursing up a storm and throwing things at the tv. I'll be cheering for Emmanuel Lubezki to win Best Cinematography for Tree of Life, Jean Dujardin for Best Actor in The Artist, and Midnight in Paris for pretty much anything. I'll look for Jack Nicholson in the front row wearing sunglasses, and will be sad when he isn't there. I'll probably be laughing at whatever Billy Crystal is saying, and praying he comes back next year.

Then I'll pick up a book, read it in its entirety, and share what I thought about it on this blog. HAHHAHHAAAAHHAHA. Sure.


  1. One of my aunt's horses used to kick at granaries until there was a bunch of wheat pouring out then stood aside and watched while the other horses gorged on grain until they nearly foundered. She's my favourite horse ever because she was a raging asshole. I like to think of her as some kind of horse super villain. I fully support your uninspiring horse movie idea.

    1. Yes! Good to know that asshole horses do exist.

  2. Can I syndicate this article? It's well written and I've been trying to get people to sign on as guests writers. You could syndicate my Roger Ebert book review if you'd like.

    I agree with most of what you said. The major exception would be Marcy Martha May Marlene. I had such high expectations for that film but I thought it was so flat. I will cocede that Elisabeth Olsen is an absolutely fearless actress. I also like that she has a beautiful body and isn't afraid to show it off. I'm not trying to be perverted, but her sisters are notoriously skinny. Elisabeth has the kind of curves that don't make it on screen that often. She looked completely comfortable in those scenes, which is impressive.

    I haven't seen Young Adult or Shame, but I undoubtedly will. Melancholia is a huge snub that can probably be attributed to the controversial statements made by Von Trier during Cannes film festival.

    The best picture category has some bad films, but I think its an okay pool overall. Midnight in Paris, Tree of Life, The Artist, The Help, and The Descendants are all great movies.

    I have seen Drive and you're right, it deserves something. Best soundtrack nomination at the very least.

    This "And do you know how long it took to retrieve all the links in the last two paragraphs? Like 15 minutes. You're welcome."

    People have no idea how much work that takes.

    1. Sure, I'd really appreciate it if you syndicated this post -- and I'll do the same for your review of Ebert's book.

      And a super-villain horse? How incredibly awesome. Guess there are more evil horses out there than I realized.

  3. P.S. The movie/webseries "Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog" features a equine super-villain named Bad Horse. He's the leader of "The Evil League of Evil"

  4. What a great post on overlooked movies! I'll be adding these to my netflix queue!