This year's Academy Award nominations were announced this morning, and, for the most part, they feel just about right. Most of the shoe-in, expected ones are present, while a few shockers and wild cards pulled through. Without getting too deep into things, I can't let this particular nomination-crop go by without offering a few knee-jerk reactions that have me either elated or ready to flip the Academy my middle-digit bird.
First, here's the entire list of nominations, for disclosure purposes: thanks, IMDB
Here goes....positive vibes first....
--In Bruges screenwriter (and director) Martin McDonaugh scoring a nod for Best Original Screenplay: This one was totally unseen, and shows a bit of testicular fortitude on the Academy's part. In Bruges pretty much evaporated from the box office with little fanfare, but that only meant that audiences were too busy seeing and too slow to catch on. In Bruges is hilarious, sardonic, unpredictable, violent, and such a unique beast that, after watching it, I felt like I'd just seen an entire crime genre flipped on its head and shot to hell in a flurry of bullet-spit, creating a whole new lane all its own. It's nice to know that those with true opinion-power agree.
--The Wrestler's Marisa Tomei earning a Best Actress in a Supporting Role shout: I'll ignore my basic carnal attraction to cougar-extraordinaire Tomei for the time being....The Wrestler remains my favorite film of '08, and I really would've been happy if it had scored a Best Picture nom over a certain Holocaust snoozer (more on that later), but knowing that Tomei's raw, brave, and completely naked (both figuratively and literally in this case) performance has become a front-runner in this category without Kate Winslet/Revolutionary Road competition is quite snug. If Tomei loses this one, that aforementioned middle-digit bird will fly high, and ultimately give way to furious tirades.
--Michael Shannon's sneak attack, landing a much-deserved but widely-unexpected Best Actor in a Supporting Role nod for Revolutionary Road: This one could be the most unexpected nomination in my Oscar-following history. Dude had zero awards' season buzz up 'til now, outside of widespread critical acclaim (concurring with my own high-praise stance for the guy) for his truly-disturbed, even sharply-comical turn as a released mental patient who singe-handedly tips the Wheelers' (Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio) disintegrating marriage off the iceberg (right ahead!). Hell, I thought Shannon deserved some bigtime recognition his insane work in last year's slept-over-and-on Bug, but beggars no choose. Heath Ledger will clearly, and deservedly, win this award, but Shannon's nomination alone screams "vaildation," and that's all good in my book.
--The Visitor's inconspicuous Richard Jenkins beating Clint Eastwood for a Best Actor nomination: Like many, I thought the Academy would throw Sir Eastwood a "in honor of your career, we'll recognize your supposed-final acting job" bone, which would've deleted Jenkins from the running. Eastwood is more-than-solid in Gran Torino, but the film itself is way too forced; it stuffs subtlety up its poorly-written ass and fires racial slurs upon heavyhanded youth-gone-to-shit-and-elders-know-it imagery. The Visitor, on the other hand, is a film I foolishly ignored when it was in limited release back in early '08, but the heaps of adoration that Jenkins kept receiving prompted me to hit up on Netflix, and what a stripped-down, meat-and-taters heart-grabber of a film it is. Thanks in mammoth part to Jenkins, who plays an old, closed-off sourpuss enlightened by some spontaneous exposure to culture and immigration drama with understated elegance. The fact that Jenkins also co-starred in Step Brothers last year doesn't hurt either, in terms of my utmost respect for him.
--Robert Downey Jr. bringing Tropic Thunder to the Oscars with his Best Actor in a Supporting Role look: Tropic Thunder was, and, well, still is, damn funny, but I'm sure even Ben Stiller would admit that the source of about 88% of its "funny" is Robert Downey Jr.'s totally-committed and sublime "blackface" Kirk Lazarus performance. Every line he drops is gold, and every scene he's in becomes one you wish wouldn't end. It's like the comedic equivalent to Heath Ledger's presence in The Dark Knight. And considering the amazing 2008 that Downey Jr. had, seasoned filmgoers can't help but be proud of the man. Well done.
And now, to bring the mood down a bit....
--The Reader for Best Picture over The Dark Knight??? Fuck outta here: I can only imagine the levels of anger comic book lovers are feeling right now. This seriously reeks of "oh, but it's a comic book film, and we're suckers for melodramatic, obvious Oscar-baiting Holocaust stuff like The Reader, and we the Academy get off on being pandered to, and have no backbone to salute a truly genre-redefining wonder that just happens to star a dude in new-age black tights." I finally saw The Reader last week, and aside from Kate Winslet's great work, its really nothing to write home about; in fact, I'd write home only to warn my mother, who wants to see it, that she'd be better off waiting for the YouTube compilation that strings together all of Winslet's scenes. Everything else is a bit of a sheep-count. Deep down, I'd also love to see The Wrestler over The Reader here, or even Wall-E, but The Dark Knight is the most deserving, and therefore the most snubbed. Not only does this passing-over trivialize the movie, but it immediately cancels out a Best Director nom for Christopher Nolan, and that's downright criminal. Slumdog Millionaire is totally going to win this category anyway, but if by some cruel hell-spawned twist of fate The Reader takes home the gold, I'm going to turn my middle-digit bird stance into a swarm of winged-firebreathers that even Alfred Hitchcock couldn't have imagined.....So yeah, this one really grinds my gears.
--Taraji P. Henson's painfully-hammy performance in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button getting a Best Actress in a Supporting Role nom: Look, I really like Ms. Henson. Always have, always will. She's such a charismatic and powerful presence on screen, and she's gone unfairly overlooked for smaller roles in flicks like Talk To Me. But, her â€¦Benjamin Button performance of just didn't work. A bit too "Ohhh, lord, Jesus, my sweeeeet child!" for my liking. All this nomination proves to me is that every year, the Academy harps on one particular film and basically nominates anybody who had more than 20-minutes-involvement (well, except for Cate Blanchett in this case). And Henson's "important" character in the story was too prominent to go unnoticed, I guess. Whatever. She won't win, anyway. I'd be much happier if Rachel Getting Married's Rosemarie Dewitt beat Henson out here. Now that was a supporting performance that, at many times, upstaged its dominant leading counterpart, and rang loudly in the "genuinely touching" department. A damn shame.
--Angelina Jolie's vanity-driven Best Actress nomination for Changeling: The more detached I became from Changeling weeks after seeing and initially admiring the flick, I started realizing that it isn't all that wonderful. Not a bad film, by any means, but one that's a wee-bit jumbled and overlong, and is saved by the un-fuck-up-able weight of its tremendous source material/true story. Thoughts on the actual film aside here, though....Angelina Jolie's performance isn't Best Actress worthy, by any means. It certainly looks Best Actress worthy, and on paper must've read Best Actress worthy. But it's way too much "I want my son!" screaming and not enough believable anguish. For me, at least. I'd hate to think that the Academy singled her out simply to earn some "cool points" from pop culture heads, but in this day and age, it's surely possible.
There it is. A few more Awesomes than Loathesomes, so all in all a pretty on-point year for nominations. Finally, here are my personal picks for the top categories, just so my two-cents is counted somewhere, anywhere:
Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)
Best Actress: Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married)
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
Best Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler)
Best Director: David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Original Screenplay: Martin McDonaugh (In Bruges)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire)