One thing we now know for certain, lest we ever harbored any doubts: The voting members of the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sure love them some movies.
Consider: When nominations for the 84th annual Academy Awards were announced Tuesday morning, the leaders of the pack were Hugo (11 nominations), Martin Scorsese’s exhilaratingly loving ode to the enduring allure of cinema, and The Artist (10 nominations), Michel Hazanavicius’ playfully clever comedy about a silent movie star’s bumpy transition to talkies.
Add the two acting nominations that went to My Week With Marilyn, Simon Curtis’ fanciful dramedy about Marilyn Monroe’s off-camera misadventures during the 1956 filming of The Princess and the Showgirl, and you can’t help suspecting that, this year, the voters were in a mood to celebrate their art and industry – and, yes, themselves.
There were, as always, some surprises, both pleasant and otherwise, across the board in this year’s list of Oscar nominees. Mexican-born actor Damien Bichir’s Best Actor nomination for his acclaimed portrayal of an undocumented worker in the critically lauded but relatively little-seen (by audiences, at least) A Better Life indicates that, yes, sometimes the Academy ignores the hype and gives one from the heart.
It’s reasonably safe to assume at least one Hollywood heavyweight isn’t feeling much love today.
On the other hand: The conspicuous absence of Steven Spielberg from the Best Director lineup (despite a Best Picture nod for his War Horse) and the snub of his Adventures of Tintin in the Animated Feature category indicates… Well, it may be rash to rush to judgment. (According to an old newsroom joke, the best definition for a trend: Two facts and a reporter on deadline.) But it’s reasonably safe to assume at least one Hollywood heavyweight isn’t feeling much love today.
Speaking subjectively, I’m very sorry to note the total and complete shut-outs of Win-Win, Young Adult and 50/50, three worthy 2011 releases that richly deserved recognition in a number of categories. (And before anyone says that Charlize Theron was overlooked for Best Actress because she played an unsympathetic character in Young Adult – well, d’uh, she won the Oscar for playing a freakin’ serial killer in Monster, remember?)
On the other hand, I’m happy to see an Original Screenplay nod for Margin Call, and even happier to see Undefeated (a 2011 SXSW Film Festival premiere coming soon to a theater near you) crack the final five in the Best Documentary category.
And at the risk of enraging those fervent fans of Drive – and you know who you are, so don’t be coy about it – who boldly predicted Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and, gee, I dunno, Best Catering nominations… Look, folks, it was a good movie. But it wasn’t that good. Honest.
Right now, the serious Oscar soothsayers and obsessively blogging handicappers are calling The Artist the front-runner in the Best Picture race. But from where I sit in the bleachers, The Descendants appears poised to score an upset, with Hugo trailing not so far behind. And if you doubt that an underdog could ever triumph over a designated sure thing in this category, go talk to the makers of Reds and On Golden Pond about the year that Chariots of Fire left them standing in the dust.
What follows is my overview of the top Oscar races. Take it with as many grains of salt as you care to sprinkle.
ACTOR IN LEADING ROLE
Damien Bichir, A Better Life; George Clooney, The Descendants; Jean Dujardin, The Artist; Brad Pitt, Moneyball; Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Likely Winner: George Clooney
Possible Upset: Jean Dujardin
Conspicuous by Absence: Joseph Gordon-Levitt for 50/50
ACTRESS IN LEADING ROLE
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis, The Help; Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn.
Likely Winner: Meryl Streep
Possible Upset: Viola Davis
Conspicuous by Absence: Charlize Theron for Young Adult
ACTOR IN SUPPORTING ROLE
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn; Nick Nolte, Warrior; Christopher Plummer, Beginners; Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close; Jonah Hill, Moneyball.
Likely Winner: Christopher Plummer
Possible Upset: Nick Nolte
Conspicuous by Absence: Albert Brooks for Drive and Ben Kingsley for Hugo
ACTRESS IN SUPPORTING ROLE
Berenice Bejo, The Artist; Jessica Chastain, The Help; Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids; Octavia Spencer, The Help; Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs.
Likely Winner: Octavia Spencer
Possible Upset: Melissa McCarthy
Conspicuous by Absence: Shailene Woodley for The Descendants
Right now, the serious Oscar soothsayers and obsessively blogging handicappers are calling The Artist the front-runner in the Best Picture race. But from where I sit in the bleachers, The Descendants appears poised to score an upset, with Hugo trailing not so far behind.
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids; J.C. Chandor, Margin Call; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; Asghar Farhadi, A Separation.
Likely Winner: Woody Allen
Possible Upset: Michel Hazanavicius
Conspicuous by Absence: Diablo Cody for Young Adult and Will Reiser for 50/50.
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, The Descendants; John Logan, Hugo; George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, The Ides of March; Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin, Moneyball; Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Likely Winner: The Descendants
Possible Upset: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Conspicuous by Absence: War Horse
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Martin Scorsese, Hugo; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life.
Likely Winner: Martin Scorsese
Possible Upset: Michel Hazanavicius
Conspicuous by Absence: Steven Spielberg for War Horse
The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, The Help, Midnight in Paris, War Horse, Moneyball, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Tree of Life.
Likely Winner: The Artist
Possible Upset: The Descendants
Conspicuous by Absence: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The 84th Academy Awards ceremony will be presented Feb. 26 at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, hosted by Billy Crystal. Of course, I’ll be watching.