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The Year of the Snub: Oscar nominations

by on January 10, 2013
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Amour

Somebody really doesn’t like Ben Affleck.

Make that a lot of somebodys — at least in Hollywood, where Affleck failed to score a much-expected nomination for directing the political drama “Argo.”

Kathryn Bigelow being ignored for director also seems high puzzling, and probably quite infuriating to critics of the Academy Awards’ long history of ignoring female filmmakers. It’s hard to see how “Zero Dark Thirty” isn’t among the contenders for best-directed movies of the year.

In a better-than-average year for movies, the Oscars seem to be making 2012 the Year of the Snub. The nominations announced earlier today seem notable more for who they excluded than those who were honored.

Quentin Tarantino was also left off the list of director nominations, though that was expected after a growing backlash to “Django Unchained” and the fact that he wasn’t nominated by the Director’s Guild of America, one of the closest harbingers of the Academy Awards. Tom Hooper’s lack of recognition for “Les Miserables” indicates a tepid regard for that film — which has gotten decent but hardly great reviews, and the film I picked for the #1 spot on my list of the best.

I was thrilled to see Joaquin Phoenix get a Best Actor nod for “The Master.” The film is ambitious and troubling, and I have many problems with it, but Phoenix gave the performance of the year, in my humble opinion. Yes, it was filled with lots of tics and “behavior,” but he brought a real center to that character and made those physical manifestations a part of the gestalt, rather than defining the role.

At the same time, I am absolutely crushed about the lack of a nomination for John Hawkes for “The Sessions,” and the general disregard the Academy seemed to hold for that wonderful film. No Best Picture, Director or Screenplay nominations. That’s just staggering to me. Helen Hunt’s nod for supporting actress was its only nomination.

Instead, Academy voters seem to have made a point of honoring smaller pictures, especially foreign ones that few people have seen. Normally I’m all for the Oscars recognizing the smaller-budget non-Hollywood stuff — it’s just that this year they bestowed their graces on the wrong  movies.

The film that got the biggest bump was the Austrian drama “Amour,” about an elderly couple dealing with deteriorating health. It scored nomination for best picture, foreign language film, director, screenplay and actress. I’ve seen the film and found it worthy, but it’s an extremely well-executed version of a story we’ve seen many, many times before. I half-jokingly referred to it as “Million Franc Baby” and “My Old, Paralyzed Left Foot.” The movie held zero surprises for me.

I hate to say it, but the Best Actress category seems to have been stacked just so they can brag about having the oldest nominee ever (Emmanuelle Riva in “Amour”) and the youngest ever (Quvenzhané Wallis) in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” I don’t think either is particularly deserving.

First of all, Riva doesn’t even really have the lead role in that film — the actor playing her husband does nearly all of the heavy lifting. And yes, Wallis was very good for a 6-year-old in “Beasts.” But there’s little interior to that role, just outward behavior.

I know lots of people were overwhelmed by the primal beauty of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” but it struck me as a lyrical tale about terrible parents forcing their kids to live in abject poverty so they could get high all the time.

Putting those two in over Meryl Streep in “Hope Springs,” Helen Mirren in “Hitchcock” or Mary Elizabeth Winstead for “Smashed” is just plain wrong.

“Perks of Being a Wallflower,” one of the most sensitive portrayals of high school existence in years, came out with a great big goose egg — no nominations. Outrageous.

The award for biggest surprise nomination probably goes to Jacki Weaver for “Silver Linings Playbook.” She was solid playing the harried mother, but it’s a very modest part. Her character stays in the background the entire time. Robert De Niro at least has a few scenes that belong to the dad.

What about Doona Bae in “Cloud Atlas?” What about Javier Bardem in “Skyfall,” Jude Law in “Anna Karenina,” William H. Macy in “The Sessions?”

“Life of Pi” also did unexpectedly well, with nominations for best picture, director, screenplay and some technical awards. It’s a very good film that hardly anybody saw. It’s not in the top five in any of those categories for me, but I’m not upset about seeing it in there.

Big winners:

Silver Linings Playbook

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Amour

Big losers:

Argo

The Sessions

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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