Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Burning Questions: 2012 Oscar Nominations Edition

After making nary a peep all Oscar season, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (whose title I still can't seem to get right) snags a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Young Adult and its star, Charlize Theron, are left out in the cold. And no Bridesmaids or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in a Best Picture category with nine (?) nominees. Those aren't the only unexpected developments that have me scratching my head after the January 24 announcement of the 2012 Oscar nominees (for 2011 films)!

Who is Demian Bichir, and what did he do with Ryan Gosling's nomination? Every year the Academy likes to throw us at least one WTF nomination, and this year, Bichir's Best Actor nod is it. I've read the Mexican star of A Better Life's name on several prediction websites, and he did score a Screen Actors Guild nod, so it's not a total surprise, but it's the first time in years that I can recall two performers no one knew about one year ago -- and both of them foreign-born! -- being contenders in the Best Actor category.

Is Ryan Gosling destined to be a one-nominee wonder? Snubbed yet again. The Academy must hate him. Or perhaps with three big films this year -- Crazy Stupid Love, The Ides of March and Drive -- he simply may have spread himself too thin. So did Jessica Chastain and Michael Fassbender, but it's easier to triumph over overexposure when you're gunning for a supporting nod (like Chastain, who really should have gotten hers for The Tree of Life), and look what happened to Fassbender (shut out, too).

Did the Academy despise Drive that much? It just goes to show you, when it comes to the Oscars, there's no such thing as a sure thing. After showing up in all of the precursors and hogging the critics prizes, Drive's Albert Brooks wasn't invited to Best Supporting Actor. Drive's shutout in the major categories is more surprising after its excellent showing in the BAFTA nominations, where it made the Best Film and Best Director shortlists, tellingly, without nominations for any of the cast. I guess the film's extreme violence went over better on the British side of the pond.

Was The Descendants really that good? Sorry, but no. I knew George Clooney was a lock (though, as pointed out above, there's really no such thing as one), but Best Picture and Best Director, too? I adore Alexander Payne, and he's been making me take long hard looks at my life for years, but, like Terrence Malick, he's so beloved, and he works so infrequently, that he's on his way to becoming a sort-of default contender. If another director's name had been attached to The Descendants, filmed as is, I probably wouldn't be writing about it right now.

Whom Does Tilda Swinton have to sleep with to get a Best Actress nomination? Since winning a surprise Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Michael Clayton in 2008, Swinton has been overlooked for leading roles in Julia, I Am Love and now We Need to Talk About Kevin. She made it into all of the precursor contests (including the BAFTA nominations, where the film and the director also received citations), but I suspect that the movie's dark subject matter may have scared off the Academy. I know mothers who refuse to see the movie because the idea of a mom unknowingly raising a mass murderer-to-be hits too close to home. So out with Swinton, in with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Rooney Mara.

Speaking of Mara, why so glum? Much has been said of Mara's gloomy appearance on the red carpet all Oscar season. Either she's still in character, or she's simply overwhelmed by all of the sudden attention. I haven't walked a meter in her shoes (not that my feet could fit into them, with my bunion and all), but I imagine that I might be the same way if fame were suddenly thrust on me. She's an excellent actress (one of the best things in The Social Network), so I suspect this is only the beginning for her. She'll grow into it.

Can we go back to five Best Picture nominees, please? Having 10 the previous two years took some getting used to (and I didn't), but nine contenders is just plain weird, especially when one of them isn't The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which means only one Best Actress contender, The Help's Viola Davis, appeared in a Best Picture contender. (Does that immediately make her, and not The Iron Lady's Meryl Streep, the frontrunner?) Inviting so many nominees takes away from the prestige of a Best Picture nomination and dilutes the category of its impact, especially since it almost always comes down to two contenders anyway. This year's: Hugo vs. The Artist.

Is a two-song race much of a race? The other day, a friend of mine suggested that the Academy do away with Best Original Song completely. It's been going downhill since the Disney-dominated '90s, and for most of this century, it's been populated by tunes that hardly anyone knows. I'd be okay with keeping the category if the Academy would revamp the confusing rules that kept Madonna out of the running. But even with W.E.'s "Masterpiece" on the sidelines, there was still plenty of nominations fodder, thanks to Elton John, Mary J. Blige, Glenn Close and others. So how did it come down to songs from Rio and and The Muppets? At least now Elton John and his husband have someone new to bitch over. Look out, Marshall and Sheldon!

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