And the Nominees Are…


It’s often overlooked that one of the original purposes of The Academy Awards – aka The Oscars – was public relations. The much-maligned “tabloid culture” of entertainment news was already alive and well in the late 1920s. Coverage of the “scandalous” exploits of high-living famous faces on the mysterious West Coast was a constant headache to their studio boss employers, who lived in mortal terror of more media-driven debacles like the now-infamous Fatty Arbuckle Scandal. Louis B. Mayer, the king of the early Hollywood moguls, is said to have conceived The Oscars in part to help control the celebrity news narrative, ensuring that the biggest, most glamorous, most star-packed event of the year would be a press-saturated awards ceremony where the stars would dress their finest and line up to make grateful acceptance speeches. “See, Joe and Jane Average? These aren’t godless hedonistic elitists, but rather humble servants blushing at recognition and bowing before your almighty ticket-buying dollar!”

In much the same way that The Superbowl has become less a clash of American football’s best teams than it is a high holy day for bookies and HDTV salesmen, these days, The Oscars seem less like a party and more like the peak of the film industry’s year-long marketing strategy. Nominated and victorious films hope for a bump in forthcoming DVD sales, nominated or winning actors hope to up their asking price, and the ad campaigns of upcoming films start getting re-written. Will the American adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo be coming to you “From The Director of Seven” or “From Academy Award Winner David Fincher”? Oscar will decide.

Alright, enough intro – Here are the major nominees this year, and some relevant commentary from my end. Click here if you’d like to check out the full list of nominees.

Best Picture

Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone

The ten nominee change from last year once again produces an interestingly mixed field. Five dramas, a horror film, an animated film, a western and a sci fi/action movie. Not bad.
Every year’s best picture contest has a narrative in the lead-up, and this year said narrative is all about analog versus digital. All the top tier prognosticators seem to agree that despite the wide field, it all comes down to whether or not The Academy’s aptly-nicknamed “old guard” will prefer the solid-but-unremarkable King’s Speech – which isn’t so much a movie as it is an expertly filled-out “How To Win An Oscar” Mad Libs sheet – over The Social Network – a right-here-right-now encapsulation of a modern cultural landscape that the “old guard” is largely unaware and/or terrified of.

Truth be told, if I were voting it’d be for Inception or Toy Story 3 before either of them, but yeah, that’s probably what it comes down to with Grit or Fighter as possible spoilers. Pleasant surprise seeing Winter’s Bone in there – a murder mystery set in the rural mafia of Appalachian meth dealers, it’s the best movie nobody saw this year.

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Best Director

Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), David O. Russell (The Fighter), Tom Hooper (King’s Speech), David Fincher (Social Network), Joel & Ethan Coen (True Grit)

Easily the biggest outrage of this year’s roster is Christopher Nolan getting snubbed for a nomination here, despite Inception being damn near the definition of a “director’s film.” I liked Speech enough to feel a bit bad for the slagging it’s going to take as an “undeserved” or “out-of-touch” nominee a la Shakespeare in Love but Tom Hooper doesn’t belong on this list this year. The King’s Speech is a formulaic, workmanlike film built on a slew of always-reliable British acting powerhouses, not any kind of noteworthy directing accomplishment.

David Fincher probably wins this, though that doesn’t necessarily mean Network takes Picture.

Best Actor

Javier Bardem in Biutiful, Jeff Bridges in True Grit, Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, James Franco in 127 Hours

Really, really, really good list, and the also the easiest one to call: Colin Firth, who’s been due forever, will win. Second easiest call: Oscar pundits will be near-unanimous in reading it as an apology by The Academy for not recognizing him in A Single Man last year.

Best Actress

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

Another good list, another rather easy call: Natalie Portman takes it for Black Swan, unless a significant portion of the voters were turned off by the film’s explicit sexuality and descent into horror territory, in which case it’ll be a good night for longtime industry favorite Bening.
In “honor just to be nominated” terms, the big winner is newcomer Jennifer Lawrence. Bigger winner? The producers of X-Men: First Class, who cast Lawrence as the teenage Mystique and now get to put “Academy Award Nominee” on her credit in the trailer.

Best Supporting Actor

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

Dear Christian Bale,

Alright. Here is your Oscar. Now please, please think about chilling out a bit, huh? We all really appreciate the intensity, the dedication, the intensity, the physical transformations, the intensity, the genuinely-frightening submission of The Self into The Character almost to the extent of quasi-blank-slate psychopathy – and did we mention the constant intensity? But we’d also like great actors to not burn themselves out before they turn 40. So, yeah. Here’s your trophy, congrats. Now maybe think about taking it down a notch once in a while – maybe do a comedy, or a talking-dog movie, or something between the big heavy stuff.

The Academy Awards.

Best Supporting Acress

Amy Adams in The Fighter, Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech, Melissa Leo in The Fighter, Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit, Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom

Really good category, really too close to try calling.
Something to take note of, though is the absolutely nonsensical manner in which Oscar decides what constitutes a “supporting” performance. Anyone who’s seen Grit can tell you that Hailee Steinfeld wasn’t just the lead (hell, only) female character, she was the main character, period. Mattie Ross drives the plot and tells the story. But because she’s a newcomer in a film packed with megastars she’s “supporting” here. Gimme a break.


Best Animated Feature

How To Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 3, The Illusionist

Aww, cheer up Everybody Who Isn’t Pixar! Their next movie is a Cars sequel, so you’ll have a much better shot next year!

Best Original Screenplay

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

Probably Seidler. On the other hand, Hollywood’s very strong and vocal pro-gay-equality populace would love the chance to publically laud The Kids Are All Right – ideally with accompanying anti-Prop8 acceptance speech – and this would be just the place to do it.

Best Adapted Screenplay

127 Hours Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy; The Social Network screenplay by Aaron Sorkin; Toy Story 3, screenplay by Michael Arndt, story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich; True Grit, written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen; Winter’s Bone, adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

I have no joke to make here. It’s a great list, and Aaron Sorkin will probably win – and he deserves to.

Best Score

How to Train Your Dragon, John Powell; Inception, Hans Zimmer; The King’s Speech, Alexandre Desplat; 127 Hours, A.R. Rahman; The Social Network, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Second most outrageous snub of the year outside of Nolan for Director? Daft Punk shut out of even a nod here for producing one of the best (and certainly the most original) scores of the year for Tron: Legacy. Yes, I know, not everyone liked the movie, but that score was a triumph. Sadder still, fans of the duo are thus denied the fun of explaining to their bewildered family/friends/coworkers why the Power Rangers were sitting in the audience at the Oscars.

Further Observations

Congratulations to makeup FX legend Rick Baker on his eleventh nomination (and six wins!) in the Best Makeup category for his stunning creatures in The Wolf Man. Baker won the first Oscar ever awarded for m akeup FX back in 1981 for An American Werewolf in London.

The lack of love shown to Tron: Legacy extends into its total shutout from the special effects, costuming and art direction categories. Again, whatever you think of the movie overall it’s a visual marvel – although it’s possible that the not-quite-perfectness of the digitally de-aged Jeff Bridges overshadowed how good the rest of the effects were, to say nothing of the rather incredible costuming.

Zero chance of it, I realize, but it would’ve been nice and wholly deserved to toss Edgar Wright a directing nod for Scott Pilgrim. No, the movie didn’t need to be a Best Picture contender, but its direction in terms of pace, blocking, composition and sheer visual energy is some of the freshest and most engaging of the year.

Speaking of too unlikely to be a snub: It would’ve been both awesome and deserved for Chloe Moretz to get a nod for Kick-Ass‘s Hit Girl. I know, I know – it’s a controversial role in a divisive movie, but it’s every bit the star making breakout role that Steinfeld’s turn in Grit was.

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards will be held February 27th, with future Catwoman-to-be Anne Hathaway and Zany-Art-School-Performance-Artist-Currently-Doing-Movies-For-The-Lulz James Franco hosting.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.