2012 Oscar Nominations: What’s Right? What’s Wrong?

I have no problem with “Hugo” (11 nominations) and “The Artist” (10 nominations) leading the field of Oscar nominees for 2012. I’m fond of both pictures, each of which is aware of and rooted in movie history. Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” involves the earliest days of cinema, and “The Artist” focuses on the period in which silent films gave way to talkies.

If you’re interested in the entire Oscar list, you can find it at The Hollywood Reporter.

As for me, I’ll focus on a few of the things Oscar got right and also, some of its mistakes. I’m sure you’ll agree that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does make mistakes, even if you disagree with me on exactly what those missteps they might be.

Best Picture.
Right: “The Tree of Life.” Not an easy choice for the Academy, but a right one.
Wrong: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and, to a lesser degree, “War Horse.” Neither of those pictures belongs on a list that, for my money, could have been narrowed to the traditional five contenders, “The Artist,” The Descendants,” “Hugo,” “The Tree of Life” and “Moneyball.”

Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Right. Demian Bichir was nominated for playing an immigrant father in “A Better Life.” Great choice that could serve as a career boost for the worthy Bichir.
Wrong: Gary Oldman’s portrayal of George Smiley in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” might not have been the best performance in that movie, and it probably pushed Michael Fassbender (“Shame”) off the list. Maybe the NC-17 rated “Shame” was too much for the Academy.

Actress in a Leading Role.
Right: Michelle Williams was recognized for her work as Marilyn Monroe in the overrated but popular “My Week With Marilyn. Williams’ performance amounted to a true act of transformation.
Wrong. Glenn Close’s nomination for her portrayal of a woman posing as a man in “Albert Nobbs” struck me as off base. I had trouble buying her in the role. Worse yet, Close probably pushed two better performances off the list: Kirsten Dunst’s work in “Melancholia” deserved recognition, as did Tilda Swinton’s performance in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Or maybe it was Rooney Mara’s nomination for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” that bumped those two gifted actresses.

And what about Elizabeth Olsen who was terrific in “Martha Marcy May Marlene?” No nomination for her, either.

There’s some real suspense in this category, though. Will perennial nominee Meryl Street (“The Iron Lady”) beat out Viola Davis (“The Help”), as she did at the recent Golden Globes? My money’s on Davis.

Best Supporting Actor

Right. I’m not a fan of the movie, but it was still nice to see 82-year-old Max von Sydow get a nod for his work as a grandfather who chose not to speak in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”
Wrong. Kenneth Branagh is a wonderful actor with great skill at directing and playing Shakespeare, but I couldn’t quite buy him as Laurence Olivier in “My Week With Marilyn.” Branagh got Olivier’s voice, but not his vibe. And for a movie that spent so much effort making Michelle Williams look like Marilyn; shouldn’t at least as much work have been gone into finding someone who looked more like Olivier?

An aside: Nick Nolte’s nomination for his portrayal of an alcoholic father in “Warrior” may mark another step in Nolte’s career redemption, but I’d have put Kevin Spacey (“Margin Call”) on this list before Nolte. Lots of folks thought Albert Brooks would show up as a best-supporting-actor nominee for his work in “Drive,” but does any of this really matter? Doesn’t Christopher Plummer have a lock on best-supporting actor for playing a late-blooming gay man in “Beginners?”

Actress in a Supporting Role.
Right: Janet McTeer did the best work in Albert Nobbs; she played another woman posing as a man in 19th century Ireland.
Wrong: Melissa McCarthy was funny in “Bridesmaids,” but I don’t see her performance as a crude but ultimately endearing woman as Oscar-worthy, especially if it bumped Shaileen Woodley (“The Descendants”) off the list.

Here’s another category that doesn’t seem to allow for much guesswork. Octavia Spencer (“The Help” probably has a lock on this award.

Right: Terrence Malick as recognized for “The Tree of Life,” a movie that divided audiences, but stands as one of Malick’s best and more personal works.
Wrong: Nothing, really.

Best Adapted Screenplay.
Right: “The Descendants” and “Moneyball.”
Wrong: I have no problem with any of the nominees (which also include “Hugo,” “The Ides of March” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” The Help,” which was nominated as best picture, didn’t make the best-adapted-screenplay cut, and “The Ides of March,” under consideration in best-adapted screenplay category, wasn’t nominated for best picture. Go figure. And excuse me for bringing it up, but wasn’t the narrative in “Tinker Tailor” just a wee bit confusing?

Best Original Screenplay.
Right: “A Separation.” Ashgar Farhardi’s look at an Iranian family in distress (also nominated for best foreign-language film) is beautifully written.
Wrong: “Bridesmaids.” It may have been the best-written comedy of the year, but “Martha Marcy May Marlene” was a better-written original, as was “Another Earth.”

Oh well, my choices tend to skew indie, which is only one of many reasons Academy Voters never ask for my opinion. Stay tuned for more as the race heats up.

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