It’s a big day tomorrow. Early in the morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces their official shortlist of films they feel represent the very best the movies had to offer in 2011. Alex has already done a fantastic job of rationalizing his predictions for tomorrow’s Oscar Nominations, so I thought I’d take a slightly different approach to putting in in my two cents.
I may not be a particularly talented awards prognosticator, but I like to think I know just enough to be able to predict which of my very favorite movies, performances and cinematic achievements have absolutely no chance whatsoever of being recognized tomorrow morning.
Below I have listed numerous major Oscar categories, and have listed a single noteworthy film or performance I loved – one that is bound to have been snubbed by this time tomorrow. Why will it be snubbed? Perhaps it was previously deemed ineligible. Perhaps its distributors opted to back more viable Oscar hopefuls. Perhaps my picks were simply far too obscure. Whatever the reason, it does not change the fact that these movies and these people deserve some recognition, even if the Academy is too shortsighted to realize it:
Having ranked this as my #2 film of last year, I feel like it is impossible to say any more about Andrew Haigh’s honest and deeply romantic story of two men forging a powerful connection in only a few days. But for a voting body so Anglophilic in nature (they’ve previously lavished praise on the likes of Lawrence of Arabia and Chariots of Fire) and, given their slight reputation for not giving higher-profile gay movies their due recognition, a nomination for Weekend really would be a win-win situation for the Academy.
Pedro Almódovar, The Skin I Live In
Pedro Almodóvar’s eminently creepy mad scientist story may not depict horses galloping through elaborate recreations of the WWI-era European landscape like War Horse, nor is it explicitly a love-letter to a long-gone cinematic epoch quite like Hugo, nor is it an encapsulation of life’s essence like The Tree of Life. But simply because the scale of Skin is comparatively smaller, that does not mean it is any less thematically ambitious. Entirely in keeping with his reputation as a transgressive and affectionate filmmaker, the director of Volver and Talk to Her seamlessly blends his love for cinema with a brilliant dissection on the politics of identity. It’s a bit too daring for the Academy’s taste, but it would still make for an inspired choice.
Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life
I often find myself sharing the minority opinion regarding the career of Brad Pitt, whom I frequently consider an actor far better at choosing great roles instead of giving great performances. That said, the role of the oppressive patriarch in Terrence Malick’s masterpiece is not only perfectly suited to Pitt’s strongest assets as an actor – his uncritically primal instincts and his domineering movie-star gaze – but he manages to bring an air of tragedy to a man ultimately broken by the absence of whatever dreams he lost to adulthood. Many, including Alex, have pegged this performance as a more likely Supporting Actor contender, but I feel Pitt’s presence is so domineering here, so palpable, that he practically succeeds in making the film as much his story to tell as it is Malick’s.
Jeong hie-Yun, Poetry
In any other year (read: one that didn’t contain Juliette Binoche’s turn in Certified Copy), Jeong’s utterly heartbreaking turn as an aging Soeul woman coping with incomprehensible tragedy and loss would have been the performance I championed the most staunchly. A lesser performance in a lesser film would have put every single emotion on the table for the world to see. But Jeong makes us work to understand who her character is, and rewards us for the effort we put in. Few other performances this year – certainly not any of the current Oscar frontrunners – tackle their roles with such complexity.
Best Supporting Actor
Tom Hardy, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Many have complained about Tinker, Tailor’s resistance toward emotion, dismissing it as aloof and even rather cold (I’d recommend those same critics give the film the second chance it deserves). If I were asked to make a case for the film’s humanity, I would start by pointing out the sequence in which Ricki Tarr (Hardy) recounts his story of falling for the wife of the Soviet operative on whom he was spying. For me at least, Tarr’s story is our first glimpse of the deeply personal havoc life in “the Circus” is capable of wielding, and Hardy nails that scene with pitch-perfect delivery and emotional credulity. It’s a small role, but it sticks out.
Best Supporting Actress
Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia
When I saw Melancholia last fall, I recall being somewhat dismayed at first to see Lars Von Trier shift the perspective of his story from the hopelessly depressed Justine to her ever-patient sister Claire (played by Gainsbourg). I was surprised, however, to find Claire’s half of the story ultimately more compelling than Justine’s half. Part of this has to do with my own ability to identify more strongly with Claire and her frustration, but it would be remiss for anybody to discount the beautiful specificity Gainsbourg establishes in her character, even when she is intended primarily as an entry point to Justine’s world of crippling depression. There’s a functionality inherent to the Claire character in Melancholia, but Gainsbourg succeeds in masking it.
Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted)
Asghar Farhadi, A Separation
Purely as a matter of taste, I tend to be more affectionate toward films that favor ambition and aspiration over formalism or more disciplined filmmaking, which is why I would be more inclined to fall in love with a sloppy mess of a movie like Black Swan and just really, really like an impeccably engineered entertainment machine like Inception. With Iran’s surefire Foreign Film frontrunner, however, it is impossible not to see how perfectly each of its many ideas are predicated on its airtight script. Farhadi’s screenplay is not only the best of the year – adapted or not, eligible or not – it is a work of utter perfection, and it deserves to be discussed in screenwriting classes years from now.
Zachary Stuart-Pontier, Martha Marcy May Marlene
As a character study of a woman incapable of distinguishing the real world from the one into which she had been indoctrinated, Sean Durkin’s Sundance hit relies heavily on being able to transpose, both visually and emotionally, an entailing sense of confusion to an audience that is considerably more in-touch with reality than its protagonist. Stuart-Pontier cuts from Martha’s scenes with her sister to flashbacks of her time in a cult with notable seamlessness; at some points even I had trouble determining the story’s precise chronology. Some might dismiss that as sloppy filmmaking. I would counter by saying that is almost the point.
Best Animated Feature
Winnie the Pooh
Not only is Winnie the Pooh probably my favorite animated film of this terribly weak year for animation, I actually find it wittier and more entertaining than the comparatively disjointed 1977 original. Pooh does not attempt to break new technological ground, as was the case with this year’s frontrunners Rango and Adventures of Tintin, but I was nonetheless more enraptured by Pooh and company’s low-stakes adventure to find Eyore a new tail and to save Christopher Robin from the dreaded Backson. Given the movie’s modest commercial reception, it’s not likely to garner much love. Oh, bother…
Best Original Score
Chris P. Bacon, Source Code
Source Code may be a fairly modest entertainment, but please trust my sincerity when I say Bacon’s pulsating, intense opening credits music successfully evokes what Bernard Hermann did when he wrote those iconic opening tunes to Vertigo and North by Northwest. Bacon establishes the mood right away for the high-concept Duncan Jones thriller, and he manages to complement the characters’ emotional path quite beautifully for the film’s duration. As much as it pains me to say this, I’d swap out either of John Williams’ scores in a heartbeat this Oscar season if it meant giving a nod to Mr. Bacon.
Joel Hodge, Bellflower
It speaks volumes to Hodge’s inherent talents (this is his freshman effort as a DP) that he is able to take such an ugly and polluted world and bring out its unique sense of beauty and romantic essence. Hodge works with director/star Evan Glodell to successfully encapsulate the unmitigated joy of finding new love in Bellflower’s first half, and additionally deserves a great deal of the credit for making the film’s jarring tonal transition in the latter half work as well as it does. Compound this with the wonders both Glodell and Hodge perform with the makeshift camera they built specifically for this movie, and you begin to wonder why more praise has not been lavished upon Bellflower from critics circles or the Academy.
Best Art Direction and Costume Design
For a film taking place in 1979 and aiming to capture the spirit of the movies being made at that time, Art directors David Scott and Domenic Silvestri – in addition to Costume Designer Ha Nguyen – deserve considerable credit for establishing a sense of time and space specific enough to support J.J. Abrams’ nostalgic vision, but not to the extent of undercutting the film’s ability to foster its own sense of identity and urgency. The train station used for the pivotal wreckage sequence early on made for one of the year’s most intense action set-pieces.
Best Sound Mixing
Felix Andrew & Team, Meek’s Cutoff
My biggest frustration with this particular voting branch of the Academy is that their shortlists – and therefore winners – chronically favor the year’s loudest movies and not particularly the best-engineered soundtracks. Seldom do they seem to recognize the truly deafening effect silence is capable of having in a movie. The sound of that quiet, droning, imposing creak of the wagon wheel in the background of Meek’s Cutoff did more to establish the feeling of desolation Kelly Reichardt was clearly gunning for, and it succeeded more than almost anything else to keep the film – and its ideas – lingering in my head. No summer blockbuster boasts efforts by their Sound Editors that make kind of imprint.
Best Visual Effects
Sam Conway & Team, Attack the Block
I have already sung the praises of how much Attack the Block is able to accomplish despite its meager effects budget, but given its ineligibility this year, it warrants repeating: the reason the monsters in Joe Cornish’s films look as they do may indeed have been a compensation for the production’s shoestring finances, but at no point do they look cheap and ill-conceived as a result. This film, in addition to its effects team, are textbook examples of how to accomplish more with less.
Those are the movies I will root for tomorrow morning, despite the fact that they have almost no chance whatsoever of being nominated. Are there any darker-than-dark horses this Oscar Season you are secretly keeping your fingers crossed for?