|“I don’t get no respect, no respect at all.”|
After the revelation of the Oscar nominations Thursday morning, in a production that was supposed to highlight the comedic genius of Seth McFarlane (judging by his jokes–one about Hitler?–the Oscar show could be a long one) there was general consensus that most things went according to Hoyle, except for the WTF Best Director category. The director’s branch and the DGA are usually very similar–80 percent in most years. This year it was a shocking 40 percent, with three directors left out in the cold.
So what happened? Ben Affleck of Argo, Kathryn Bigelow of Zero Dark Thirty, and Tom Hooper of Les Miserables got DGA noms but no sniff from Oscar, effectively scuttling their films’ chances at Best Picture (and paving the way for a Lincoln win). In their place were David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook, not a big shock, but also Michael Haneke for Amour and Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild, which registered pretty big on the Oscar seismograph.
The director’s branch, like the writer’s branch, tends to stray into art-house fare, but this was news. Was Bigelow overlooked because of the backlash from liberal groups about the incorrect use of water boarding in the film? If so, it didn’t stop the film from getting a few other big nominations. Was Affleck bounced because he has a less than serious record as an actor (Gigli, anyone?). The branch has never been reluctant to nominate actors (Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, Tim Robbins), and Argo was a real director’s picture. What gives? I guess Ben shouldn’t feel too bad–Argo‘s Best Picture nomination means he is a nominee, for producing. As for Tom Hooper, it’s clear that though Les Miserables got some major nominations, including Best Picture, it didn’t get nominated for writing or editing, two key categories. Les Mis just wasn’t loved across the board.
The only other big surprise, at least to me, was John Hawkes being left out of Best Actor for this role in The Sessions. An actor playing a man who can only move his head in a well-received, if under-performing film, seems a natural. The film’s lack of impact, or its uncompromising sexuality, didn’t hurt Helen Hunt, who got a Best Supporting Actress nomination while going full monty. I think Joaquin Phoenix of The Master got Hawkes’ nomination, (the actor’s branch seemed to love that film, giving it three nominations, while it gone none elsewhere) coming back from a gaffe where he criticized the process of Oscar campaigning. Phoenix’s performance drove me to distraction–maybe it was a case of getting nominated for the “most” acting, not necessarily the best.
Aside from the above, the nominations were fairly predictable. Lincoln got the most, 12 (although not a Makeup nomination, even though it had much better makeup than Hitchcock, which did get nominated). Life of Pi was next, with 11, and got nominated in almost every category except acting. Silver Linings Playbook was the opposite, the first film since Reds in 1981 to have a nomination in each of the four acting categories. Despite criticism of a social nature, Django Unchained picked up some big nominations, including Best Picture, and Quentin Tarantino was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, even though a high percentage of words in the script are “n*gger.”
It’s also refreshing to see that the Academy doesn’t seem beholden to Mammon, as high-grossing films like The Avengers and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey only got technical nominations (The Hunger Games and The Dark Knight Rises were shut out), while barely-seen art house films Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour got nominated in all major categories. Amour is the first foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (if you don’t count the American production of Letters from Iwo Jima) and only the ninth such film in Oscar history. And Beast’s Quvenzhane Wallis (I’m learning to spell that without checking) and Amour’s Emmanuelle Riva became the youngest and oldest, respectively, Best Actress nominees.
I haven’t seen all of the Best Picture nominees (still have Amour, Zero Dark Thirty, and Les Miserables to go), but already I think this is the best crop of nominees since the Academy expanded the category. Hollywood may continue to pander to teenagers, and cable TV may now be making the best entertainment available, but there are still some people who are trying to make good films. As Lincoln proved, they can even make money.