We look forward to the announcement of Oscar nominees every January. But we really look forward to the carping that inevitably follows.
Everybody loves a good controversy. And this year, as always, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences provided plenty for movie fans to ponder, marvel at, and gripe about. Here are just a few of the latest Oscar snubs that left us shaking our collective heads.
BEST PICTURE: “Drive’’
You’d have to turn somewhere other than the nine best-picture nominees for proof that 2011 was more than merely an adequate year for movies. You’d just have to tolerate subtitles, forgive a lack of marketing, enjoy comedies, and love Ryan Gosling. Gosling appeared in four movies last year, the best of which was a thriller, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, that cast him as a getaway driver and stuntman. Its detractors found something to roll their eyes at - it’s so violent; it’s such nonsense; Michael Mann already did this - and they were right. But this movie got more out of me than anything in contention for an Oscar. The truth is that “Drive’’ - and probably “Bridesmaids,’’ too - were hurt by the new nomination process, in which only a percentage of first-place votes can keep a film eligible for best picture. That’s how you wind up with such an array of self-serious, self-congratulatory, conscientious movies and none in which a head is stomped on or a city street is used as a toilet. That’s a shame. WESLEY MORRIS
BEST DIRECTOR: Bennett Miller, “Moneyball’’
The best picture contender that, in Billy Crystal’s immortal words, somehow “directed itself’’ has long been an Academy staple, and now that the nomination rules have changed, there are more of them per year than ever. Miller’s snubbing in the director category is understandable - the movie’s mostly a bunch of men sitting around tables. It’s also unfortunate: Do you know how hard it is to make men sitting around tables interesting? What the director of “Capote’’ does here is so rare that few parameters exist for it: He dramatizes an idea (numbers can tell you how to win baseball games) and turns process into a subtle, satisfying, and above all human story. TY BURR
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Ben Kingsley, “Hugo’’
“Hugo’’ hinges on Kingsley’s magnificent performance as Georges Méliès. Kingsley refuses to be likable (that temptation no actor since Adam has been immune to) yet manages to make a sour, coldly overbearing man sympathetic. Kingsley won a best actor Oscar for playing Gandhi, someone quipped, because Academy members wanted to be like his character: tanned, thin, and moral. So maybe Kingsley didn’t get nominated because Méliès is who Academy members fear becoming: bald, bitter, and booted from the biz?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Patton Oswalt, “Young Adult’’
Of all the acting categories, this is the one where Oscar voters got it most wrong this year. Kenneth Branagh for high-brow British snark? Jonah Hill for geeky jock snark? No way does either trump the perfectly balanced charm and bite of Oswalt in this year’s most under-appreciated comedy, “Young Adult.’’ As a disabled former high school classmate of Charlize Theron’s character, Oswalt could easily have been run over by Theron’s impressive (not to mention nomination-worthy) performance. Instead, he is the veteran traffic cop who keeps this black comedy from crashing. He should at least have gotten a nomination for that, if not a medal. JANICE PAGE
BEST ACTRESS: Yun Jung-hee, “Poetry’’
The Academy Awards often prefer to honor performers for their uncanny re-creations of historical figures. This year, Margaret Thatcher faces off with Marilyn Monroe for best actress, hoping to join the likes of Edith Piaf and Queen Elizabeth II as Oscar beneficiaries (although Viola Davis, playing a non-boldfaced name, may walk away with the prize). In this cocoon of celebrity begetting celebrity, there would be little room for the year’s most quietly shattering performance: Yun Jung-hee as a grandmother who learns that her grandson was responsible for a classmate’s death in Lee Chang-dong’s “Poetry.’’ Yun triumphs by doing what Oscar winners seem to have mostly lost interest in: building a character from the ground up.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Leslie Dixon, “Limitless’’
The elements that immediately grab you about Bradley Cooper’s smart drug trip are the telescoping visuals and hot-cool soundtrack tunes that perfectly convey his altered state of mind. But something we keep coming back to is just how cleverly, and hiply, the movie captures author Alan Glynn’s brainstorm of a novelist finding a magic key to writer’s block. And yet, no Oscar love, no Golden Globe nominations, nothing. This year’s adapted screenplay nominees are all strong, but given the category’s frequent unofficial status as a consolation - see the otherwise overlooked “The Ides of March’’ - you would think “Limitless’’ might rate a nod. TOM RUSSO BEST DOCUMENTARY: “Project Nim’’
James Marsh’s “Man on Wire’’ won the 2009 best documentary Oscar but the Academy this year snubbed his equally compelling “Project Nim,’’ despite the film garnering honors from a host of critics’ groups, including Boston’s. Masterfully edited archival footage and present-day interviews tell the story of Nim, an infant chimpanzee snatched from his mother’s arms in 1973 and sent to live with various humans as part of an ill-conceived Columbia University language experiment. As the project falters and the caretakers move on, Nim’s Dickensian journey is about the humans who fail him - a heartbreaking story of ego and hubris.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: “The Adventures of Tintin’’
How did “The Adventures of Tintin’’ not get nominated? And how did Andy Serkis not nab a best actor nom for his performance as the super-intelligent chimp Caesar in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes’’? (Same problem when Serkis played Gollum.) In a word: performance-capture. The Academy doesn’t know what to do with this technology, which translates an actor’s movements into the digital realm. Is it animation? Special effects? Chicanery? Whatever is, I say it’s worth recognizing.
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Adam Stone, “Take Shelter’’
Jeff Nichols’s “Take Shelter’’ captures the mounting anxiety and slow-burn paranoia that permeates a world where environmental, economic, and industrial disasters seem forever to be looming. Michael Shannon’s anguished performance as a Midwestern Everyman should have been rewarded with a best actor nomination, while the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain scored her Oscar nod for “The Help’’ instead of her more soulful work opposite Shannon. Then there’s the overlooked cinematographer Stone, who imbues lush landscapes and ordinary household objects with a pulsating sense of dread. He and Nichols deftly convey the fraying psyche of Shannon’s character with unsettling and evocative images: flocks of birds swooping across the sky in ominous formations, portentous storm clouds brewing on the horizon, the levitation of living room furniture. All the while, you wonder if these menacing visions signal a psychic unraveling, the unbearable pressure the character feels to protect his family, or are they prophetic harbingers of real apocalyptic doom?CHRISTOPHER WALLENBERG