Shock & Awe: Oscars 2013

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A truly shocking set of nominations were announced yesterday by the Academy. Of all the years that I've been following the awards season game, this one takes the cake in the crazy department. A part of it, I believe, had to do with moving the nominations up so early: people had little guidance from traditional precursors before casting that ballot. A part of it, too, might be that only a handful of films had truly reached the heart of the balloteers. There may be too many second tier films - in heartstring matters - to fill the rest of the ballots with, that they vary wildly across the field. Or maybe I'm just talking out of my wazoo. Anyway, here are some yays and nays:

YAY:
Amour surprised with Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Script and Best foreign film nomination. And it's doing that without being a blockbuster action film! Haneke, in particular, made the Director category so much more prestigious by his nomination. He's no middle-brow director. What was the Academy thinking?

Acting nominations for The Master cast, which put on a master class of its craft (you can rap this line out). It helps to ease a little pain from P.T. Anderson's no show.

NAY:
The biggest shock is Bigelow's lack of nomination. I don't know how good the movie is just yet (I'll know soon), but judging from the trailer and everyone's breathless praise of Bigelow, I don't get how she could be left off the ballot, no matter who's nominated. If it was my ballot, I would take O. Russell out. How was that film best directed of the year again? No offense to Russell, as I like him just fine, but Playbook is no great gift of direction in any year.

Tabu and Holy Motors had no chance in hell, but this was such a crazy year that I feel like they really missed their chance at some much deserved gold glory.

To elaborate further, here are some sane thoughts by guest contributor, Griz:

While the Academy tends to throw in a few surprises each year, this year they decided to throw out everything we thought we knew and gave us something completely different. It was a shocker to even the most seasoned Oscar geeks, but mostly a pleasant shocker (as long as your last name wasn’t Affleck or Bigelow). But at least Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow can take solace in the fact that they both garnered Best Picture nominations as producers of their respective films, and that they missed out on directing nominations to one of the most solid and worthy line-ups in years.

So why did their nominees end up being so different from what most were expecting? Was it the earlier deadline, which meant voters were able to make up their own minds rather than having guilds and other awards shows dictate which ones to pick? Did the switch to online voting (and the troubles that brought along) affect the result? Whatever the cause, as much as I initially thought January 10th was too early to announce nominees, I am now fully on board with them doing it like this for all years to come.

The financial success of the traditional Oscar films is also one of the stories of the year, and what may be responsible to some degree for the extremely poor showing by summer blockbusters. When you’ve got films like Lincoln, Django Unchained, Argo and Les Misérables (and soon Life of Pi) making over $100m in North America, who needs Batman? No one, apparently, seeing as The Dark Knight Rises garnered not a single nomination (compared to the eight nominations and two wins The Dark Knight earned). The Avengers could only muster one nomination, the same for Prometheus. The Hobbit could only manage a meager three. Even the sound categories, typically the bastion of blockbusters, were dominated by the Best Picture nominees.

Anyway, here’s what I liked and didn’t like about this year’s nominations:

THE GOOD:

• The Academy going their own way and nominating the likes of Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild for Best Picture. One can only hope this is a sign of things to come.

• Tim Burton scored the second Oscar nomination of his career, and I’ll always be happy seeing him nominated, even if it is “only” for Best Animated Feature.

• Even though I didn’t quite love it as much as others did, I was really happy seeing Wes Anderson (and Roman Coppola) getting a screenplay nomination for Moonrise Kingdom.

• The same could be said for Aardman’s terribly-titled but very enjoyable The Pirates! Band of Misfits. I fully expected it to get nominated, but was still pleased to see it get in.

• Song nominees worth a damn. When they only managed to nominate two songs last year I thought the category should be scrapped altogether, but this year’s slate is actually pretty good, even if they left off a few more deserving contenders.

• The Best Actress category featuring the oldest- and youngest-ever nominees in Emmanuelle Riva and Quvenzhané Wallis is like a feelgood Hollywood movie in its own right.

THE BAD:

• The snubbing of Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow. Even if all the directors that were nominated are equally worthy, it’s hard not to feel for these two stumbling on the final stretch.

• I just don’t see what everyone else saw in Alan Arkin’s performance in Argo. He’s funny, gets a few great lines, but that’s it. There’s nothing even remotely substantial about his role, and there were many other far more worthy contenders left out.

• Another undeserving nominee would be Thomas Newman for Skyfall. I’ve always loved his scores in the past, but he was a real mismatch to score a James Bond movie and the result is pretty bland.

• Speaking of Skyfall, Judi Dench missing a Best Supporting Actress nomination stings considering she was the heart and soul of the movie.

• The Hobbit, for all its flaws, deserved much better than its three nominations. Production Design, Score and Song were just as worthy as anything that was nominated in those categories.

• Prometheus, another flawed film, also deserved better than its sole visual effects nomination. Ridley Scott knows how to put a film together, and I would’ve loved to see it grab a few more.

• Though all five Best Actor nominees strike me as very deserving, it’s hard not to feel for John Hawkes, who likely was sixth on the ballot and probably missed out mostly because he’s not well-known enough.



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