Yesterday’s announcement of the 2012 Academy Award nominations sparked the usual chatter. The annual dissection of the lists to find the surprises and snubs, a tradition I enjoy. The Oscar pundits tallying up their correct predictions (while I laugh and count the told-you-so comments). The lofty few who have risen above the awards, proclaiming that “the movies are all that matter,” as if we’ve forgotten. The typically canned reactions from the nominees’ publicists. It’s the Super Bowl of awards shows for people who care about that sort of thing.
I do, for the record, even if that means silly frustration over miniature golden men. Yet every time I attempt to let the Oscars go, someone reminds me that Crash won “Best Picture” in 2006, and I’m back to caring and grumbling about how the Academy got it all wrong again.
“It’s an honor just to be nominated.” You hear that phony answer every year too. But this time I was shocked by how many strong films weren’t honored at all. The Adventures of Tintin managed only one nomination, for John Williams’ score. Drive picked up a measly sound mixing nomination. The final Harry Potter could only apparate into 3 technical categories.
But at least they managed to get something. Here are eight feature films — there were too many docs — that were completely shut out, despite being among the best movies in 2011:
Shame – Fox Searchlight did the right thing by keeping Steve McQueen’s NC-17 film intact, even if it meant stifling its chances with audiences and awards voters. Sadly, adult nudity and uncomfortable sexual situations meant Michael Fassbender’s raw portrayal of a sex addict on a downward slide was criminally overlooked. So were Carey Mulligan’s devastating supporting performance and McQueen’s brilliant sophomore film.
Pariah – Some called it “this year’s Precious,” but that label is reductive and wholly unfair to what is ultimately a much better movie. Dee Rees deserves recognition for her fantastic first film, one that started as an NYU thesis and expanded to feature length under the tutelage of Spike Lee. Adepero Oduye delivers a breakout performance as a lesbian teen challenged by the norms of society and the expectations of her family. At it’s emotional core, this is a powerful movie about being a teenager and finding your own way. Pariah indeed.
Martha Marcy May Marlene – For months, Elizabeth Olsen, sister of the “Full House” twins, seemed like a lock for the Academy’s “ingenue slot,” the annual anointing of a young emerging actress who doesn’t stand a chance for the Oscar among the usual Streeps and Winslets but still earns a career boost. (Jennifer Lawrence, Carey Mulligan, Anne Hathaway, and Ellen Page were the most recent, going backward.) Rooney Mara edged her out though, by virtue of momentum. Other curious omissions were John Hawkes in supporting and an editing nod for blending the two intense, colliding worlds of an escaped cult follower.
50/50 – Will Reiser’s personal battle with cancer wasn’t weepy enough, I guess. The Academy likes their death-defying dramas dipped in tragedy and filled with life-affirming journeys, not mainstream jokes about exploiting cancer for sex delivered by Seth Rogen. But Reiser’s screenplay played both sides of the “dramedy” effectively, and squeezed in a sweet romance subplot as a bonus. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was nominated for a Golden Globe, for what that’s worth, but couldn’t break the competitive top five this year.
We Need to Talk about Kevin – Tilda Swinton was robbed, plain and simple. She gave a truly terrific performance as the mother of a mass murdering teen, but it’s a dark role and her character’s responsibility is deliberately dubious. Too tough to swallow, Hollywood? Lynne Ramsay wrote and directed the hell out of this film too. It’s a shame, since this is a much more moving story of grief and human tragedy than the surprise, saccharine “Best Picture” nominee Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Young Adult – Jason Reitman has been nominated for directing twice. Diablo Cody won for writing (Juno). Charlize Theron won before. So it came as a shock that all three were shut out of their respective categories, and for a film that was a remarkable improvement over Juno. It must have been Theron’s caustic anti-hero, a role so bitchy and selfish it’s hard to find common ground. (Related: Charlize Theron doesn’t want your sympathy.)
Melancholia – Provocateur Lars von Trier’s Hitler comments may have been more far-reaching than we thought. The May ’11 outrage overshadowed Kirsten Dunst’s much-deserved “best actress” award at the Cannes Film Festival, so no one thought of her when the ballots were being cast. And Charlotte Gainsbourg is no stranger to being overlooked. Melancholia may be a more mainstream film than von Trier’s usual oeuvre, but it’s also a story about being bipolar, split into two halves, with a looming apocalyptic metaphor, so perhaps it was a bit too bizarre for the Academy? Von Trier at the Oscars could be fun.
Take Shelter – Another movie about mental illness passed over, in this case Jeff Nichols’ dark horse drama about a man’s apocalyptic nightmares. Michael Shannon has been consistently good lately, but he is excellent here as a father who obsessively builds a storm shelter to protect his family. Several critic associations lavished him with praise. He picked up nominations at the Independent Spirit, Gotham, and Satellite awards. There was just no room in the tight “Best Actor” Oscar race after populist picks like Pitt and Clooney. I expect we’ll see plenty more greatness from Shannon, his co-star Jessica Chastain, and Nichols.
Did I miss any of your favorite Oscar shutouts? Any J. Edgar fans out there?