At first blush, it would seem that studios trumped indies, or at least edgy indies. The biggest acting snubs, based on expectations (which often just feed on each in an ouroboros) were for Michael Fassbender for Shame, Tilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Albert Brooks for Drive. All totaled, those three films got only one nomination (Drive, for Sound Editing). But, on the other hand, some categories were fragrantly fresh. In Best Actor, there were the expected heavyweights, George Clooney and Brad Pitt, but instead of Fassbender, and also instead of Leonardo DiCaprio (for J. Edgar), who had picked up a SAG and Golden Globe nomination, Demian Bichir, from the little-seen A Better Life, scored a nod. Another, milder surprise was that Gary Oldman, a longtime standout performer, got a nomination for his skillful underplaying in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. For those who always say that these things are predictable and boring, I submit this category in disagreement.
There were plenty of nonsurprises, though, especially in the Actress categories. Meryl Streep extended her record of acting nominations to 17. She has sat through more losses, though, than any other performer. Everyone keeps waiting for her to win her third Oscar–she might do it this year (though I think not).
In the Best Picture category, the rules changed so that anywhere from five to 10 films could get nominated. The requirement was that a film had to get five percent of the first place votes. Nine films made the cut. Most had predicted seven or eight, so I think the party crashers are The Tree of Life, which was a big favorite on critics list but not to the general public (I loved it, but admittedly there are a lot of WTF? moments), and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which didn’t get a sniff from the Globes or the guilds, and has a below 50 rating on Metacritic. That it made it in may be a testimony to the power of Scott Rudin, or perhaps to its 9/11 subject matter (though this did not help United 93 or World Trade Center).
Extremely Loud is a bit of a throwback–it veers toward the sentimental, but not to the mawkish (at least I thought so). Many of the films in the nonette have a nostalgic bent. The Artist and Hugo are both tributes to silent films, while War Horse is consciously modeled on epics from the ’40s and ’50s. Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s return to this category, is about the notion that somehow the past is better than the present, while The Help deals with a difficult time period in a nonthreatening, Oprah Book Club kind of way. The only film from this group that feels modern to me is Moneyball, but even that has some tried and true sports cliches.
Some other ruminations on the nominations: As far as music goes, John Williams received his 46th and 47th (!) nominations, scoring twice in Best Original Score. The Best Song category is a joke–a list of eligible songs are listened to by the branch, who then score them on a 1-to-10 rating. Any song that rates 8.5 are higher can be nominated, but if none of them do the top two are nominated by default. It’s entirely possible that the two songs, one from The Muppets and the other from Rio, did not score higher than 8.5. This category should be ashbinned.
Brad Pitt could end up with three nominations. He’s nominated for acting and producing for Moneyball, and, pending a decision by the Academy, could be one of the producers for The Tree of Life (only three producers can receive nominations for Best Picture from any one film). Pitt could be only the third person to get two nominations in Best Picture in the same year (following Francis Coppola and Scott Rudin).
From now until Oscar night I will focus on the top six categories and my thoughts and predictions, but until then I can say what winner will earn the biggest whoop of delight from me–Mark Bridges, nominated for Best Costumes for The Artist, was a classmate of mine in the theater department at SUNY-Stony Brook with me. We appeared in a few plays together, including Romeo and Juliet (he was Mercutio, I was Benvolio). He was a good actor, but obviously a better costume designer. Go Mark!