Thursday, January 16, 2014

Going for the Gold: Some Thoughts On Oscar Nominations (UPDATED)

We are now only a short time away until everyone gathers together around giant flat screens and root and jeer for some of the finest competitors, who have given their all into their performances. The men and women in these categories are the best of the best in their respective fields, and it's a shame that they must compete to determine who is the best of the best (of the best? Who is the best cubed?). The winners will see their lives changed instantly. The race for the gold is now in full swing.
You go multiple-colored snowboarding machine!
But enough about the Winter Olympics.

An artist's rendering of "the lord of all knickknacks."

NOTE: These thoughts have been updated. I attended an Oscar nominations panel at the Gene Siskel Film Center, where five of Chicago's finest film critics discussed the nominations as well as the outstanding year we just experienced at the movies. Seriously, no matter who wins on March 2, the year that was 2013 has been a remarkable year for the silver screen.

1-Oprah did not get a nomination, which is gonna be tough to get her to present and appear. But hell, she is Oprah. She does not need an Oscar. She owns a network. She has more power than 98% of Hollywood. The (unofficial) queen of the world will be just fine.

Sidebar 1: Plus, she has a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar.

Sidebar 2: Tom Hanks did not get nominated. Meryl Streep is nominated, but not Tom Hanks. By logic, this doesn't make sense. He is just as popular and well-liked by Hollywood and the members of the Academy, which include a lot, if not all, of that town's power players.

2-Jonah Hill is nominated again. Hey, he's wearing Scorsese's glasses! I am bummed that it was at the expense of James Gandolfini, who delivered a fine performance (granted, it felt more like a leading role) in Enough Said as one half of a middle-aged couple awkwardly and adorably attempting to make a relationship work despite a complicated and bitter divorce from a poet (Catherine Keener), who happens to become Julia Louis-Dreyfus' new friend.

James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. He earned nominations
from the Screen Actors Guild and the Independent Spirit Awards,
as well as several critics prizes.
Sidebar: Critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Notebook, "We now live in a world where Jonah Hill has two Oscar nominations." This observation, which garnered moderate laughter in the audience, also recognized how the frequent Judd Apatow collaborator is becoming quite the character actor, suggesting that the "side gig" as Serious Actor is becoming the main focus of the writer-comedian's career.

3-I am glad Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years A Slave) was nominated in the Supporting Actress category. Critic Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune) was as well. "To come right out of the Yale Drama School and deliver such a just two or three scenes she lifted that movie out of the conventional Hollywood period drama into a whole other level."

4-Karen O is nominated for Original Song! ("The Moon Song" from Her) Yeah! (No, you can't make me type ''Yeah'' two more times.) This is by far my favorite nomination.

5-I watched the nominations broadcast online, tuning in just in time as presenter Chris Hemsworth and president Cheryl Boone were about to announce Best Supporting Actor.

6-They sure did take their time to announce Actor and Actress.

7-The Square, nominated for Best Documentary, is available to Netflix Instant tomorrrow to stream. Check it out.

Fun fact: The Square is the 6th film to be nominated that was backed by a Kickstarter campaign. It is also the first nomination for Netflix (which has picked up the doc for distribution, as it will stream on Netflix Instant beginning January 17).

8-But Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley's fascinating documentary on the skeletons in her family's closet, was not nominated.

9-Critics Alison Cuddy (WBEZ), J.R. Jones (Chicago Reader) and Phillips admitted that there were many movies that could have been the 10th nominee. (For the third year in a row, there are 9 nominees for Best Picture--the maximum nominations for the big prize is 10) Even Stories We Tell could have been on the list.

10-Megan Ellison, the founder of Annapurna Pictures (who turns 28 on January 31, which means an even younger woman than Lena Dunham now has more gravitas in the entertainment industry), has double nominations for Best Picture: she co-produced American Hustle and Her. In just two years, her production company's films have earned a total of 25(!) nominations for Academy Awards, including three for Best Picture (the third is Zero Dark Thirty) and eight for acting.

Megan Ellison, three nominations for Best Picture before age 30.
And the first woman to have two nominations in the same year in that category.
11-Karen O is up for Best Original Song ("The Moon Song" from Her). And the song was co-written by Spike Jonze, who is also nominated for Original Screenplay and Best Picture.

12-The Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman has some stiff competition. Pharrell Williams is also nominated for "Happy'' from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. Given his recent success on the charts, it is possible this could be another big hit for the multi-hyphenate performer. And of course, U2 is also nominated, for "Ordinary Love'' from the Nelson Mandela biopic. The song has been released as a single in Europe. Given that they have a new album out, due in June, this could be released officially as a single stateside (it has received some airplay on rock stations, including Chicago's WXRT).

Sidebar: Why are there so many lyric music videos nowadays? I don't understand their appeal.

13-Arcade Fire's Win Butler is now an Oscar nominee! Ah!

14-Speaking of the music nominees...seriously, what the fuck is up with "Alone Yet Not Alone?" (Update: The guy who created this song was a former Governor of the Academy and a former head of the music branch. Yeah, this is some shady shit. More info on this ridiculous entry here.) "Nobody saw that movie, and I mean NOBODY," echoed a couple of the critics at the panel.

15-As of this moment (9:07pm CT, January 16), the video for "Along Yet Not Alone" (the title doesn't make any fucking sense. You are either alone or not alone. Or lonely. But not both.) has 39,136 views. This number will increase significantly over the next few days. And there will be parodies. Oh God, please let there be parodies and mash-ups. C'mon you crazy fuckers of the Internet. Create these parodies!

16-What an awful song. Sweet Jesus.

17-Can you imagine how furious Taylor Shift and her horrid fan base must be right now? This is the second time she was shut out of this category.

18-Those were the only thoughts that contain some strong language. The remainder of this will try to be PG.

19-In all seriousness, this should win Best Original Song.

20-Despite winning the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, "The Great Beauty" (Italy) has some outstanding competition in this category. Each film, whether it's a romance blossoming through bluegrass music (Belgium's "The Broken Circle Breakdown"), a tragedy about the downfall of a upstanding citizen due to false accusations of improper behavior (Denmark's "The Hunt"), the horrors of a childhood recreating partly by animation (Cambodia's "The Missing Picture"), or a young man in the crossfires of constant war (Palestine's "Omar"), is worthy of the prize. Plus, they are all winners in a sense. All are going to have some money coming in thanks to their upcoming releases stateside in the coming weeks. (And eventually successful runs in home entertainment. Maybe Netflix Instant can pick up all the nominees.)

21-While I love and adore Meryl Streep, it is a shame that Emma Thompson is shut out from Best Actress. I guess that's the end of her amazing awards show appearances.

22-Streep's 18th nomination led a discussion about how the Academy tends to dole out nominations and win to the same group of people, which leads to many, many artists, actors, and filmmakers to be be shut out. J.R. Jones (The Chicago Reader) suggested that if Nebraska didn't involve the pedigree (or being well-known in Hollywood) of director Alexander Payne (who has been previously nominated for The Descendants, Sideways, and Election) and the actors (Bruce Dern, Will Forte, Stacy Keach, et. al.), then the film wouldn't have been noticed outside of art houses let alone the Oscars. Half of the acting nominees have previously earned nominations or wins in the past ten years, with three (Adams, Cooper, and Lawrence, who won) nominated last year. Now don't get me wrong, just about everyone here delivered outstanding performances this past year. But it is a shame that many lesser-known actors that also delivered some excellent performances (some of them are even superior to the nominated and mainstream ones), such as Brie Larson, Michael B. Jordan, Oscar Isaac, Amy Seimetz, Kathryn Hahn, Greta Gerwig, etc, will rarely get recognition from the Academy, if at all.
I guess that's what the Independent Spirit Awards, film critics, and instant streaming services are for.

23-But there is a silver lining to all of this familiarity. Amy Adams is finally nominated as a Lead Actress!

Amy Adams and Christian Bale. She rocked the low-cut dresses, accents,
confidence, and style that very few actors can accomplish.
24-American Hustle is the second film in two years to earn nominations in all acting categories. Silver Linings Playbook, also written and directed by David O. Russell, achieved the same feat last year, with Jennifer Lawrence winning Best Actress.

25-It is also a pleasant surprise to see Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio going head to head for Best Actor, making this a very, very interesting and competitive category.

26-Bruce Dern was previously nominated 35 years ago(!) for Supporting Actor for the Vietnam War drama Coming Home, which earned Oscars for Jane Fonda (Actress) and Jon Voight (Actor). His ex-wife, Diane Ladd has earned three Oscar nominations, all for Supporting Actress (including one for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, directed by Martin Scorsese); while daughter Laura Dern has one nomination, for Actress (Rambling Rose).

27-When I typed in "Bruce Dern Coming Home'' on YouTube, that was one of the first results that appeared.

28-June Squibb, nominated for Supporting Actress (Nebraska), is one of the oldest nominees ever, at age 84. The youngest nominee, Jennifer Lawrence (age 23), has earned her third nomination in the same category, making her the youngest person to earn three nominations for acting.

29-Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is nominated for Best Makeup! It's a great day to be Spike Jonze, who co-created the TV series for MTV in 2000 and co-produced all five Jackass movies.

Johnny Knoxville in very convincing old man makeup.
30-Speaking of kinda offensive entertainment, I sure hope Jared Leto has a much better speech prepared in the event he wins for Supporting Actor. 

31-Pixar is not a nominee for Best Animated Short, which is surprising, given that they are usually a shoo-in for this category (along with Disney, which is animated thanks to a new Mickey Mouse short, "Get A Horse''). They are also not nominated for Animated Feature, since Monsters University was, to quote, one of the critics (I can't remember who. I should have written notes.), "a piece of shit."

32-Sally Hawkins is finally nominated! After being shut-out five years for Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, it's great that she is being recognized for her scene-stealing work as Jasmine's overshadowed sister, who temporarily decides to listen to the increasingly batshit that spills out of her and throws herself into an affair with a smooth-talking sound engineer (Louis C.K., who I hope does more on-screen work, preferably that Woody Allen film about stand up comedians that should happen)

Louis C.K. and Sally Hawkins, who previously won a Golden Globe
for Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky
33-It is a bit weird that Woody Allen is nominated for Original Screenplay (once again breaking his own record, with now 15 nominations in this category), considering that Blue Jasmine is considered by many to be a thinly-veiled version of A Streetcar Named Desire.

34-But seriously, Cate Blanchett. Methinks she has this in the bag.

Cate Blanchett, who won the Golden Globe for Best Actress-Drama,
is predicted by many to win Best Actress, which won make it her
second Oscar, following her Supporting Actress win for Martin Scorses's
The Aviator.
35-I have yet to see 12 Years A Slave and I'm not sure I will ever get around to it. I have seen the trailer and a couple of scenes. Almost everyone, especially the five critics at the panel, have given it praise, but maybe it's the subject matter or the fact that Steve McQueen's previous films (Hunger and Shame, both featuring Michael Fassbender) are also uncompromising and uncomfortable works as well.

36-Alan Partridge, errr, Steve Coogan is now nominated for two Oscars (Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay for Philomena). This is a world I can definitely get used to living in. 

37-"Our job with these movies is done," said Prokopy of the Oscar nominees. "They have grown up. Everyone knows about them. Now its our job to get these other movies which didn't get any recognition to be seen by people." He has complied a year-end list that includes 40 movies. Forty. That's about thirty more than most film critics place in their year-end lists. I wait to see this list. (I tweeted him after the panel. Still no response.)

Tune in for the 86th Academy Awards, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, on Sunday March 2 on ABC and

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