Friday, January 28, 2011

Reactions to the 83rd Academy Award Nominations

“Reactions to the 83rd Academy Award Nominations”

Up to a few weeks ago, David Fincher’s The Social Network seemed to be the favorite to beat in this awards season. But that buzz tide has started to turn dramatically with The King’s Speech grabbing the Producers’ Guild Award for Best Picture and now leading the pack of the 83rd Academy Award nominations with a total of 12 nods. The Coens’ True Grit also came up as a strong contender with ten nominations while The Social Network scored eight nods. Inception also scored eight nods even with the snub of a major award that I will write about in a moment. Here are my general thoughts on the Academy Award nominations that were announced on January 25, 2011 by category.

Best Picture

Nominees: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone.

The nominations for The Social Network and The King’s Speech were not at all surprising but now there will be a very tight race between the two to see who will take the big prize. Other nominees that appeared as expected are Inception, The Fighter, Black Swan and 127 Hours and the only one of those I take issue with is Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, which I thought was good but overshadowed by the more honest and effective Buried by Rodrigo Cortes, which gave a better sense of the claustrophobia in confined spaces.

Of course, the expansion of the number of nominees from 5 to 10 has allowed for fine commercial entertainments like Inception and Toy Story 3 to also join the pack, although I similarly think Toy Story 3 is a little overrated and simply falls in the good but not great category in the Pixar library. Two nominees that may have surprised some are The Kids Are All Right and True Grit, although both were picking up enough positive word of mouth in the awards season. One, however, that was indeed a pleasant and very deserving surprise for me was Winter’s Bone. I would have thought this tenth spot would have gone to The Town but I am glad that the Oscars showed more reach and imagination to give the spot to this great indie sleeper.

Best Director

Nominees: Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan; Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit; David Fincher, The Social Network; Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech; and David O. Russell, The Fighter.

The first thunderbolt that went off in my head as soon as I saw this list was: Where the heck is Christopher Nolan? He gets stiffed for The Dark Knight and now he gets stiffed yet again with Inception. His repeated snub is perhaps emblematic of one of the recurring issues with the Oscar voters. They typically shy away from the really daring, ambitious films and yet they do not want to seem too cave in too much with the mainstream and therefore you have a movie like Inception that does both being punished as a result. Shame on them for this ignorance…

Now that I have gotten that off my chest, I imagine the nominee they substituted for Nolan was the Coen Brothers. And after Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar last year, the field this year is back to being all men’s group this year despite that Debra Granik would have been a very worthy nominee for Winter's Bone. However, it is nice to see Darren Aronofsky at last get some recognition for his work. And the Academy has also caught up to David O. Russell albeit inevitably for the safer awards-baiting The Fighter when he really should have gotten recognition for Three Kings back in 1999.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Nominees: Javier Bardem, Biutiful; Jeff Bridges, True Grit; Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network; Colin Firth, The King’s Speech; and James Franco, 127 Hours.

The only real surprise here is the inclusion of Javier Bardem because I did not think that enough voters would have seen Biutiful (and I have not seen it yet either). But Bardem is already very well respected and the buzz from his Cannes Best Actor prize probably got the attention of the Academy. He most likely took the spot over Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine, as his awards buzz seemed to be on the rise. This category in general, however, has been pretty much all Colin Firth’s throughout the awards season and the remaining nominees should just be happy to be in his company. One interesting note is how James Franco is not only nominated but also hosting the Oscar ceremony this year with Anne Hathaway, which means that, unlike some past hosts, he will not be able to crack a joke about hosting being inferior to a nomination.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Nominees: Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right; Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole; Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone; Natalie Portman, Black Swan; and Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine.

2010 was actually a very strong and eclectic year for great, female performances and the strength of this category shows this. There were no real surprises here, although it was heartening to see young Jennifer Lawrence get a nomination for her great work in Winter’s Bone and it is in line with the audience’s general anticipation for an actress with a bright career ahead of her. Kidman also gets some vindication for her strong talents after wobbling through a series of misguided projects since her Oscar in this category for The Hours. But I suspect this category’s central race will be between Bening and Portman.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Nominees: Christian Bale, The Fighter; John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone; Jeremy Renner, The Town; Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right; and Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech.

Supporting categories are where I most often get to say, “Finally!” for actors who built a great body of work before landing their first nomination and the ones whom I feel that way about from this category are Bale, Hawkes and Ruffalo. Hawkes, I am particularly nicely surprised by, as he really does not get enough attention as a character actor. It looks, at this point, Bale might be the favorite to win in this category as he has the biggest star power of the nominees but that is not as certain as Firth’s lock on the Lead Actor category.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Nominees: Amy Adams, The Fighter; Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech; Melissa Leo, The Fighter; Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit; and Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom.

Those who have not seen Animal Kingdom may be wondering, “Where is Mila Kunis from Black Swan?” but those who saw the movie would fully understand why Jacki Weaver got a nomination here. I personally do not think Kunis, while very good in Black Swan, would have been deserving of a spot more than any of the nominees here and the Academy has picked well. The one question I have is over the placement of newcomer, Hailee Steinfeld in this category instead of the lead in True Grit. But then, considering how strong the Best Leading Actress field is this year, putting her in this category probably boosts her chances of winning. I think that the final race will be a rather close one between her and Melissa Leo.

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: Mike Leigh, Another Year; Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson and Keith Dorrington, The Fighter; Inception, Christopher Nolan; Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right; and David Seidler, The King’s Speech.

Four of the nominees here are also up for Best Picture so they are unsurprising but Mike Leigh is the one that the Academy frequently picks out as as a wild card. Part of the consistent surprise that we get may be due to Leigh being famously known to not write his screenplays before filming but improvise with his actors to make the final product. He probably took the spot over the writers of Black Swan. And at least Nolan got recognition here for Inception.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours; Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network; Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3; Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit; and Debra Granik and Anne Rossellini, Winter’s Bone.

With the exception of the surprise but deserved nomination for Winter’s Bone, overall I do not really think this is one of the stronger categories this year. Toy Story 3 was good but really recycled much of the same elements from its predecessors and the screenplay of 127 Hours did not entirely capture the claustrophobic mood it deserved (although it was more of the visuals that marred the mood). The Coen brothers did improve on the John Wayne Western so the nod is not that surprising. Aaron Sorkin will likely be the favorite here, however, for The Social Network, although personally even with that film, the slight issue I had was with the screenplay.

Other surprises and possible snubs

  • Along with the oversight of Nolan for Inception, one of the most egregious snubs was the exclusion for the editor of Inception, Lee Smith. That movie’s whole structure was really dependent on the editing and this oversight is totally foolish.
  • If there was one category that I thought the underwhelming Tron: Legacy might have a lock on, it was Best Visual Effects but it was completely shut out and perhaps Hereafter was substituted in instead.
  • In the Best Animated Film category, I was surprised to see Tangled miss a nod. I found it to be personally more enjoyable than either Toy Story 3 or How to Train Your Dragon, which were expected contenders but not really standouts in quality. However, Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist probably took the spot away from Tangled and with this film, I would not be so sure that Toy Story 3 has the strong lock on this category.
  • I was quite stunned to see that the entry from Greece, Dogtooth got a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. The movie, with its graphic content and the subject matter of incest, seemed like one the Academy would shy away from but perhaps the Academy is taking some more risks with the Foreign Language Film category.
The full list of nominees is available here from the Internet Movie Database and I will be putting another post with my personal Oscar predictions in select categories before the 83rd Academy Awards air on Sunday, February 27, 2011.

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