Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2011 Oscar Noms: And Then There Were Nine

The cabal of statuette distributors at AMPAS, two years after doubling the Best Picture field from five to ten, have made another adjustment, paring it down to Nine contestant films. Why nine? Odd number magic? Cloud 9? Nine Levels of Hell?

Walter Hill once explained in the DVD extras section of The Warriors (1979) that nine was key number for a "Collective Hero" movie, the right number of members for a small group of adventurers to embody a full range of personalities and traits. Perhaps the nine nominees are this collective persona, showing all facets of the human condition, set out against a wilderness of adversity and indifferent Academy voters. Or maybe I'm thinking about this a bit too much.

Of course if they had stuck with ten films, the Academy could have considered including Drive, Young Adult or Bridesmaids. Sheesh. Speaking of which, Kristin Wiig got a writing nod for Bridesmaids but not an acting nomination-- but Melissa McCarthy snagged a Supporting nod (this year's Marisa Tomei?). And Terrence Malick got a Best Director nod for The Tree of Life, but not for screenplay-- because there wasn't one.

Okay, here are the nominees, coupled with even more overheated insight.

The Artist - Technically a foreign film, nonetheless this black and white silent is 100% Hollywood to the core. I think this is a litmus test for Academy voting sensibilities: If The Artist takes the top prize, I think it indicates the industry folks in the voting body have given up caring about the outside world.

The Descendants - Didn't see it. Looked like an Oscar movie right out of the gate, akin to Up In The Air (2009), complete with George Clooney. Still: go get 'em Alexander Payne!

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Really? I've read four major-paper reviews on it, and they each hated it. Is this the "Remember 9/11: it was really, really bad" nominee?

The Help - A studio mainstream summer-release film in the Best Picture category? What's this doing here? Actually, it is a fine film, a look at race and discrimination told from a simplified YA-style perspective.

Hugo - Like The Artist, This is another Hollywood self-referential nod, though it reaches back a little further than Golden Age Hollywood for it's source material.

Midnight in Paris - Hey, it's another film set in Paris featuring cameos by historical characters! Two in a year, what are the chances. Nice to see Woody Allen in the running again, how long has it been?

Moneyball - Just saw this one. Love to see it win, as it was a mature, complex film featuring recognizably grown-up characters.

The Tree of Life - My personal favorite film this year. It probably doesn't stand a chance of winning, as it didn't have a story per se. But it did have dinosaurs, Barton Springs Pool and Brad Pitt, and that's a powerful combination. The official line from AMPAS says the nominees for this film are "to be determined." Terrence Malick must be looking through piles of receipts to see who paid for everything.

War Horse - Quite a few reviewers intoned on the Old Hollywood Epic quality of War Horse, pointing out reverently that this movie was actually shot on film. I mentioned earlier that the last film camera was manufactured in 2009-- which makes the 'novelty' of a film actually shot on film yet another milestone in the triumph of digital filmmaking (and further evidence that Kodak's bankruptcy is sadly well-justified).

All in all, it's a typical year for Oscar-- a lot of artfully made, not particularly successful movies vying for prestige and an early 2012 re-release bump.

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