The Oscar Warrior: Surprises, Snubs and Disappointments

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We’ve been so busy Sundancing, we haven’t had time to post any sort of reaction to yesterday’s announcement of the nominations for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. A lot of the movies and performances we’ve been discussing over the last few months were mentioned, but part of the fun of talking or writing about the Oscars is in the time leading up to nominations when anything can happenÂ… and yesterday, a lot of the crazy things no one expected did indeed happen, as we did get a number of surprise nominations and omissions.

All of the support expected for Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist, Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris came through.

Tate Taylor’s The Help also received a Best Picture nomination and three acting nods but Taylor himself, the man responsible for buying the rights to Kathryn Stockett’s novel, adapting it and directing the actresses to multiple awards, received no nomination for his writing or directing. That’s pretty shameful if you ask us.

There had been a lot of talk about the changes in how the Best Picture nominees are selected so it wasn’t too surprising when only nine movies made the cut. Many were surprised and even shocked when those nine included Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Steven Spielberg’s War Horse even though neither had received a lot of support, either among critics or the guilds, leading up to the nominations. While War Horse did receive five technical nominations, it didn’t receive a single acting nomination, nor one for its screenplay or direction. We can assume that maybe the technical branches liked what they saw, so why didn’t the guilds nominate War Horse for anything before that? And if the film is so technically brilliant, why not nominate Steven Spielberg, the man who hired and led all of them through the making of the movie?

The most surprising omission may have been David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which had been receiving a lot of late guild support over the last month including nominations by the DGA and WGA for Fincher’s direction and Steve Zaillian’s screenplay. The movie wasn’t among the Best Picture nominees, nor did it get nominated for its direction or screenplay, and yet, Rooney Mara (who didn’t receive a SAG nomination) was nominated in the leading actress category. To make the situation even stranger, Fincher’s film received four technical nominations, including Cinematography and Film Editing, two categories that normally go hand-in-hand with movies that receive Best Picture nominations. Every single one of the other four nominees in both those categories received Best Picture nominations, so why not “Dragon Tattoo”? Strange.

Instead, it was the elusive Terrence Malick who received a nomination for his direction of The Tree of Life, which also received a Best Picture nomination, as well as a nomination for Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography, the only nod that was expected.

An even bigger shock was the lack of support for Nicolas Refn’s Drive, a critical fave that made many Top 10 lists last year. The Academy didn’t even nominate Albert Brooks who at one point had been among the frontrunners to win in the supporting category, instead following the lead of SAG and leaving Brooks off their ballots. Instead, they nominated Max von Sydow, who actually was pretty decent in Daldry’s film. It’s his second nomination, his first since 1989, but most agree that the 82-year-old will probably lose to that youngster Christopher Plummer. Drive ended up receiving just one nomination, for Sound Editing. Wow.

On the other hand, it was presumably the British members of the Academy who showed support for the screenplay and leading performance by Gary Oldman in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, since the movie had only received BAFTA support up until that point. Oldman was thought to be an early favorite and it is a very good screenplay, so we can’t hold these choices against the Academy. The terrific screenplay for George Clooney’s The Ides of March also received a nomination in the adapted category, essentially bumping out two of the movies that received Best Picture nominations, which neither of these did.

Similarly, two actors who had received a lot of support throughout the race going back to the critics’ awards and even the National Board of Review were nowhere to be seen in yesterday’s nominations. Michael Fassbender had been receiving raves for his performance in Steve McQueen’s Shame and Tilda Swinton’s performance in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk about Kevin has been receiving same, but for whatever reason, the Academy couldn’t look past the difficult nature of both movies to honor those performances. Meanwhile, The Iron Lady only received one other nomination, in the make-up category, and yet Meryl Streep was nominated for her performance. We’re more shocked by Fassbender being ignored than Leonardo DiCaprio for his performance in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, and the Academy didn’t even nominate that movie for its make-up, basically backing up the critics after insulting them with a Best Picture nomination for “Extremely Loud.”

Up until yesterday, many felt Disney’s The Muppets was a shoe-in to get a number of nominations for its original songs by Brett McKenzie of “Flight of the Conchords.” When the nominations were announced and only one of the songs, “Man or Muppet,” made it through, some were wondering whether the criteria for an “Original Song” nomination had gotten a bit too stringent. Only one other song, “Real in Rio” from Rio, made the cut, and it’s pretty weird having a category with just two nominations. We think that if “Man or Muppet” doesn’t win this, there may be some sort of internet riot.

While A Separation has always been thought of as the frontrunner in the Foreign Language category, the fact it received an Oscar nomination for its Original Screenplay clinches its support from the Academy. J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call also got a nice boost a year after its Sundance debut with a nomination in the same category.

One of the most shocking snubs though had to be Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, an animated movie that had received a number of prominent precursor awards including a Golden Globe win just last week, but then was completely ignored in the Animated Feature category even while John Williams’ score for the film received a nomination. This supports the theory that the Academy, either just the animation branch or on the whole, does not think highly of performance capture, because that’s the only explanation for the movie not receiving a nomination even though they found enough films they liked to nominate five including the unknown and yet-to-be-released Chico and Rita and A Cat in Paris.

Either way, the 84th Annual Academy Awards will be announced on February 26, and hopefully there will be some more surprises. Sometime before then, we’ll go through some of the categories we haven’t discussed up until this point.