2012 Academy Award Nominations: Surprises and Snubs – Part One

SURPRISES

1.  The Tree of Life, nominated for Best Picture and Best Director.

I probably wasn’t the biggest supporter of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. I didn’t exactly hide my distaste for the film when Jordan and I counted down our favorite films of 2011. That said, I have always appreciated Malick and if the film left me wanting more, it’s only because I very rarely feel this way. I’m (get ready for it!) pleasantly surprised that The Tree of Life was nominated for Best Picture and, more significantly – considering that he was snubbed in the Directors Guild of America nominations – that Malick was nominated for Best Director. Despite its major flaws, The Tree of Life represents a rather audacious mode of formalist filmmaking that tends to go overlooked by the mainstream. Thus, I hope the film can serve as a gateway for new viewers to more experimental modes of film practice. I’m also pleasantly surprised that Malick was nominated for Best Director, chiefly because I still think that he deserves an award for Days of Heaven (1978)…which wasn’t even nominated in the year that the lopsided The Deer Hunter took home Best Director. However, despite what may come across as surprising surprise, I still do not think Tree deserves to win in either category.

2.  Pina, nominated for Best Documentary Feature

While my review of Wim Wenders’s Pina is forthcoming at CT, I really loved it and found Wenders use of 3D even more dynamic than Martin Scorsese’s in Hugo (and that’s saying a lot!). That said, I’m surprised it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature (a category that has been taking a lot of heat lately because the Academy seems to be so out of touch with it – check out Christopher Campbell’s break down here – and snubbed the phenomenal documentaries Senna and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, another great 3D documentary) because it isn’t so much a documentary as it is a performance film. Wenders may cut away to the occasional anecdote about choreographer Pina Bausch, but the film is more about dance numbers than it is about reportage. Perhaps a better category for its nomination would have been Best Foreign Film. Still, I’m glad to see it nominated somewhere.

3.  Gary Oldman, nominated for Best Actor for Tinker Tailor Solider Spy  

While I wasn’t amazed by the latest adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it was a finely crafted piece of filmmaking (the Academy Award-nominated screenplay is a bit weak, chiefly because the writers had so little time to tell such a complex story) with wonderful performances. I’m glad to see Gary Oldman nominated for a rather outside-the-box role. He isn’t bombastic or menacing here as spy George Smiley; he barely says anything. Yet, it’s all in the face and, as the adage says, most of his acting comes from reacting – which is, perhaps, the biggest challenge for an actor.

 

SNUBS  

1.  Drive and Albert Brooks

In my opinion, Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive deserved nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score (Cliff Martinez!), and, perhaps most arguably, Best Supporting Actor for Albert Brooks. The film, my #2 for 2011, barely registered any love from the Academy except for Sound Editing. I don’t get it.

2.  Shame on the Oscars!: Blowing the Nominations for Best Actor and Best Actress

Michael Fassbender turned in the best performance of the year in Steven McQueen’s Shame. I didn’t expect him to win Best Actor but to deny him a nomination for what will stand as a powerful performance about sexual addiction and social facades is a huge injustice. Also, Fassbender got doubly screwed because David Cronenberg’s rather strong A Dangerous Method (in which Fassbender also stars) was also shut out completely. Here’s to next year, Fassy!

Similarly, Tilda Swinton went unrecognized for We Need to Talk About Kevin. Really, Oscars? You’re gonna let those chumps over at the Hollywood Foreign Press best some of your nominations in two of the biggest categories? Admittedly, they have two more categories to work with, but Fassbender and Swinton were the best performers of 2011, no doubt about it.

3.  Ignoring Innovation: Unappreciated Formalism in The Tree of Life and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

While The Tree of Life failed in many respects, it succeeded as a beautifully shot, formalist endeavor. The film was nominated for Best Cinematography and should win in my opinion, but the strengths of its editing went unnoticed. Similarly, the inspired experimental minimalist ambiance of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s epic score to David Fincher’s lackluster adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo went unappreciated by Academy voters. To be fair however, I can’t really see half of them playing it on their iPods.

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