Sooner or later, all movie geeks have to make their peace with the fact that the Academy Awards are growing increasingly political. Mind you, I don’t mean “political” in the standard liberal-versus-conservative sense, though that can play a factor as well. No, I mean to say that much like in any political campaign, the winner will have more to do with whoever ran the best campaign and less to do with whoever the most deserving nominee is.
This shouldn’t be news to most film buffs. We know what films have hit theaters, we put effort into finding the most creative and ambitious films out there, and we know what films truly deserve to be recognized as the year’s best.
But laypeople don’t. Oh, I’m sure any layperson could tell you that Oscars are won for entirely political reasons, but precious few of them ever realize just how much damage that causes. I’ve often heard it said that the Oscars don’t matter, and that statement couldn’t be farther from the truth.
To the world at large, all that they know about arthouse cinema is what they see at the Oscars. They only see a celebrity go up to accept a statuette, without ever paying any heed to the filmmakers who probably deserved it more and was in more desperate need for such massive publicity. It’s simply taken for granted that this is the best that Hollywood has to offer, even when that isn’t necessarily true.
As an example, consider this year’s list of nominees for the Academy Awards. Personally, I’m left fuming at this list. The more I think about it, the more it absolutely pisses me off.
Instead of my usual routine — listing the nominations and offering my commentary for each category — my raw hatred for this year’s batch forces me to switch up the format a bit. This time, I’ll be listing each film one at a time to describe my grievances over its standing with the Academy. We’ll start with…
Lincoln (12 nominations)
Anyone who saw this film could’ve told you that it was transparent Oscar-bait, and the ploy apparently worked. To put the film’s twelve nominations in perspective, no film has ever gotten more than fourteen (the record is shared by All About Eve and Ben-Hur). Even so, it was a brilliant movie, and I have a hard time arguing several of its nominations.
A nomination for Daniel Day-Lewis was predestined, and I’m rather glad that Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones got nods as well. The film also picked up a ton of technical awards, and almost all of them were hard-earned. Though I do wish that Spielberg might have been passed over for some other directors I’ll name later, I’ll grudgingly admit that his film was superbly directed.
However, the film’s nomination for score is just ridiculous. Yes, I know it’s John Williams. Yes, I know that he’s quite possibly the greatest composer currently working. In my own review of Lincoln, I said “the guy could pound random notes on a keyboard and somehow, it would still sound better than 90 percent of all the other soundtracks released this year.” Even so, his score was still the weakest part of the film without a doubt. There was simply nothing to it.
Life of Pi (11 nominations)
I realize that I’m in the minority who didn’t think this film was a masterpiece. I’ve been told that I’m some godless heathen who didn’t hold any of the faith that this movie celebrates, and I’ve been told that the film had none of the subtleties found in its source material. In any case, I maintain that the film completely fell apart in its third act. I just didn’t get it, so sue me.
As such, I take issue with its nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. However, I would certainly not argue that many of its technical nods were well-deserved. Even the most hardcore detractor of this movie would have to admit that it was one of the year’s most gorgeous films.
Still, eleven nominations? Seriously? I saw the film, and I’m sure there’s no way it was that good.
Silver Linings Playbook (8 nominations)
To be clear, I didn’t hate this film. On the contrary, I thought it was a very good film. I didn’t think it was a great film, but I’ve met others who do and I can understand why. I wouldn’t put this film on my list of the year’s best, but I wouldn’t complain to anyone who chose otherwise. If you thought it was a film worthy of a whopping eight nominations… well, I’d disagree a bit more strongly, though still not enough to argue the point.
But for this film to be the first one since Reds to score nominations in all four acting categories? You’d better fucking believe I’m going to argue the point.
Of the five nominees up for Best Actor, Bradley Cooper sticks out like a sore thumb. Don’t get me wrong, I like the guy and he did turn in some great work this year, but his nomination could have and should have gone to Suraj Sharma. Life of Pi already got so many other nominations, so how the hell did the Academy overlook that one?!
I’d complain about Jennifer Lawrence’s nomination, but I like her too much and her performance was too good. Plus, I can’t speak to Marion Cotillard’s performance in Rust and Bone, and word around the campfire seems to think that she was the one who got snubbed.
Robert De Niro? Gag me. After spending the past decade proving that he’s beyond the point of caring, the Academy gives him a nomination for the one role he puts a modicum of effort into? Fuck that noise!
Jacki Weaver? Honest to God, I forgot she was even in the movie. When I wrote my review for it just after seeing the film, I didn’t even think to mention her. I’m sure she contributed a few good jokes, now that I think about it, but no way was she good enough to earn another Best Supporting nod.
More than anything, I get the impression that Silver Linings Playbook only got so many Oscar nominations because of leverage from the Weinstein Brothers. Of course, that leads to the question of why the Weinsteins didn’t throw more weight behind…
Django Unchained (5 nominations)
The slot that went to Robert De Niro should have gone to Leonardo DiCaprio. I’m not exactly crying for Leo — he’s on such a streak lately that some amount of Academy love would be inevitable in a fair and sane world — but still. Samuel L. Jackson might have been another acceptable nominee, but there’s no way the Academy was ever going to go that racially-charged route. If nothing else, I’m very disappointed that Jacki Weaver got a nomination over Kerry Washington’s work here.
Aside from that, the big problem is that even though this film got a Best Picture nod, the picture stands no chance in hell of winning. This film at least deserved a shot at getting the top prize, but that’s probably not going to happen without getting Best Director as well. And that won’t happen because Tarantino was unfairly denied over Spielberg and Ang Lee.
Les Miserables (8 nominations)
It’s stupid and frustrating that such an uneven film could have gotten a Best Picture nomination (though, again, it stands no chance without a nod for Best Director). Other than that, the film picked up nominations for Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, makeup, costumes, sound mixing, and production design. In my opinion, those are all the nods it deserved and not a one more.
Amour (5 nominations)
Okay. Though I admittedly haven’t gotten around to seeing the film yet, I have seen the trailer multiple times. If you actually clicked the link to watch the trailer, then I’m guessing you need a nap right now. Go ahead and take one. I’ll wait.
Five nominations, folks, and not just any five nominations either. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Foreign Language Film. Those are some heavy nominations to go toward what appears to be the kind of slow and pretentious tripe that gives arthouse films a bad name. I can’t for the life of me understand it, but I’ll save the rest of my bile for when I review the movie. Sweet Jesus, I’m upset that I actually have to go and review this movie.
Zero Dark Thirty (5 nominations)
In retrospect, there’s no way the Academy was ever going to grant Kathryn Bigelow two Best Director Oscars in a row. Though I’m certainly disappointed that she didn’t get the dignity of a nomination, it’s not like she was going to win anyway. As such, Zero Dark Thirty didn’t really have a chance at getting Best Picture, though it’s nice that the film got a courtesy nomination all the same.
Jessica Chastain got a nomination last year, she got a nomination this year, and I’d stake my wallet that she’ll turn in at least one 2013 performance worthy of another nomination next year. Though she still has naysayers (my mother among them, I’m sorry to say), she’s too talented an actress and her career has too much momentum to be denied. I don’t know if it’ll be this year or next year, but her big day is coming fast. Count on it.
Aside from that, I still need to see the damned movie before commenting further.
Argo (7 nominations)
Naturally, the big story here is that Ben Affleck didn’t get a Best Director nod. Personally, I’d much rather see him on the list than Michael Haneke, Ang Lee, Steven Spielberg, or even David O. Russell. That said, Affleck is on an amazing directorial streak, and no one could deny that he’s paid his dues in Hollywood at least a dozen times over. His year is coming soon, it just isn’t here yet.
Aside from that, I’d say that its other nominations were well-earned. Again, it’s nice that the film at least got a courtesy nomination for Best Picture, even though it deserves a real shot at actually winning.
(Side note: Argo’s Best Picture nod means that George Clooney has been nominated as a producer. This means that Clooney holds past and present Oscar nominations for Best Pic, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, and Adapted Screenplay. Six categories. That’s a new record, ladies and gents.)
Skyfall (5 nominations)
If there is any justice in the Academy, this will be the one that FINALLY gets Roger Deakins an award for cinematography. Then again, if there was ever any justice in the Academy, that award would have gone to Emmanuel Lubezki for The Tree of Life last year. Yes, I’m still bitter about that. Some crimes are just unpardonable.
The other big story here is that Adele’s theme rightfully got a nomination for Best Original Song. I’m sure we can look forward to Adele performing that song during the ceremony — God knows the Academy and ABC wouldn’t turn down the ratings boost.
I expect that her big number will come either after or before the big tribute to the Bond franchise’s fiftieth anniversary. Personally, I’m hoping that the montage is introduced by Judi Dench. Even better, I hope they bring all of the Bond actors together onstage (they’re all still alive, right?) after the segment. In tuxes. Just tell me that wouldn’t be awesome.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (4 nominations)
This one deserved better than it got. Yes, it’s a huge deal that it got nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. But let’s cut the crap here: It doesn’t stand a chance. The film might win Best Screenplay, but that’s it.
Does anyone out there really think that the Academy is going to vote in favor of a nine-year-old black girl in her film debut? No matter how much she deserves the Oscar, there’s just no fucking way. There’s no way it’s going to win Best Director or Best Picture, either: It’s up against Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook, both of which have way more heat behind them.
At the very least, we can hope that these nominations spread the word about this movie and encourage more people to see it. I doubt that’ll happen, but one can hope.
Flight (2 nominations)
My utter loathing for this film aside, I don’t begrudge Denzel Washington’s nomination for this film. Hell, he’s the only reason (John Goodman’s cameo aside) that the film was watchable at all.
But Best Original Screenplay?! They gave Best Original Screenplay to the film with one of the year’s worst protagonists? Are you shitting me?
I can only assume that this was due to lack of competition. Original screenplays are in short supply, after all. Where else this year could we possibly find a better original screenplay than this one? Oh, I don’t know, how about…
The Master (3 nominations)
I’m glad that this film picked up nods for Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. All three of them deserved it. Even so, this one totally deserved more. It should have been in the running for Best Picture and Best Director. It was one of the year’s most intriguing screenplays. And no recognition for the camerawork? Fucking bite me.
Rise of the Guardians (0 nominations)
Look, I’m not going to pretend that the film was some kind of masterpiece. I won’t pretend that it deserves to win Best Picture or even Best Animated Picture. I would, however, argue that it was more fun and told a more cohesive (albeit rote) story than either Brave or Pirates: Band of Misfits.
Also, I maintain that Alexandre Desplat turned in the year’s best score with this picture, hands down. I know it’s heresy to say that he deserved the nomination over John Williams, and I can’t believe I’m saying it, and yet I’m totally saying it.
Cloud Atlas (0 nominations)
Apparently, the Academy doesn’t believe that putting so much care and effort into crafting six completely different time periods doesn’t merit a single technical nomination. Apparently, the Academy doesn’t believe that an entire cast of actors playing six roles apiece doesn’t merit a single nomination for any of them. The Academy doesn’t seem to think that the Herculean efforts of the makeup crew deserved recognition. The beautiful Cloud Atlas sextet and its place in the film’s wonderful score were clearly beneath the Academy’s notice. The borderline-impossible task of compressing a thousand pages and six distinct stories into a single cohesive film apparently didn’t merit a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay or Best Direction.
BULL… FUCKING… SHIT!
Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot rely on the Oscars anymore. Clearly, we can’t depend on the AMPAS to be the arbiters of quality and the main source of exposure for great films any longer. I urge you all to please go out and find good cinema for yourself. Pay attention to your local arthouses. If you have any friends who are film buffs, listen to them. Vote with your dollars, your feet, and whatever voice you have online or offline.
If you’re fed up with pretending that this is the best the film industry can do, then for God’s sake, go out and do something about it!