Surprises/Happy/Sad: Response to the 2012 Oscar Nominations

Academy Award nominations have been issued, and as always, there are the usual suspects and the few surprises. There are always surprises, and the fun is in trying to figure out where those surprises are going to be—and then trying to ascertain why.

Happy: One unpredictable was the number of best picture nominations. OK, so we end up with nine—this year. The good news here is that the new system of determining this (based on the number of #1 votes for a film) doesn’t determine a specific number. That makes for at least a moment of genuine suspense in the process.

Happy, too: The Tree of Life, the most inventive, ambitious and possibly influential film of the year, made the list. So did Moneyball, for my money the near equal of The Descendants. Perhaps more folks will rent the DVD for Moneyball now. Great film, tight script, first-rate performances and as enjoyable a ride as any this year. Also glad that Ides of March was rightfully thought not worthy of this list.

Sad: War Horse. On the list; shouldn’t be. But glad SS didn’t get a director nomination for it. Since I live in a backwater, I haven’t seen Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, so I’m withholding a happy/sad thought on that. Midnight in Paris—not sure if it should be here, and am thinking it’s just slightly overrated. But it’s the best Woody Allen in a long time, and has a freshness to it compared to most of his recent films that might make it seem better than it is.

No surprises in the directing categories, except that I am happy to see Terrence Malick recognized for The Tree of Life. My Woody Allen thoughts? See paragraph above.

Happy: Leonardo DiCaprio not being nominated for J. Edgar, which was rightfully ignored by the Academy. Poor Leo, still one of our best younger actors, was caught in the crossfire between a screenwriter and director with conflicting visions. His performances reflected the conflict, which says nothing about his talent.

Surprise: Gary Oldman for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Enjoy the nomination, Gary. You’re a greatly talented actor who stands the same chance of winning as A Better Life’s Demián Bichir. Sad thought: I’m resigning myself to a Clooney win, which might cement this growing talent at the current level. That’s not good.

Not a surprise, but worthy of note: Nothing for future Oscar winners Michael Fassbender (Shame) or Ryan Gosling (Drive and Ides of March). Not yet, anyway. Maybe they can hang with Leo on Oscar night and take bets on when they will win.

Surprise: Best supporting actor nod for Jonah Hill for Moneyball. It’s a solid performance, and one that I would have expected the Golden Globe folks to nominate, but not the Academy. But what’s really fun here, and happy news, is that we have three—count ‘em, three!—screen legends competing for their lifetime achievement Oscar. In any other year, Nick Nolte would have won on the winning combination of actual performance and sentiment. (And a lot more people need to see Warrior.) Nolte’s nomination, completely deserved, messes up the nomination of another screen legend, Christopher Plummer, who without Nolte, would have been a shoe-in. But wait, we have someone else, not just a screen legend, but a SCREEN LEGEND!!!—Max von Sydow. Now what is the Academy going to do? Someone great is going to win. But Hollywood’s political correctness leans heavily in Plummer’s favor for a performance as an old man coming out of the closet. But two great someones are going to lose in what may be their best chance for a late-in-life Oscar.

Best actress nominations included one slight surprise: Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Good for her, but really wasn’t expecting that. Expected Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin) in that spot. The others—yes. I thought several months ago that this was going to be the Streep vs. Glenn Close battle, with sentiment firmly behind the perennial non-winning nominee (Close). But now it’s the Viola Davis vs. her friend Streep competition that will be highlighted.

And while we’re here, please let me remind the entertainment folks on television that in spite of her record number of nominations (now 17), Streep has only won twice, including once for best supporting actress, and that her other Oscar was nearly 30 years ago. So this silliness about being up against Streep and not being able to win is absurd. The fact that she hasn’t won in ages and put in a classic performance this year, and the fact that Davis has just recently gotten started in her film career might tip things toward the great Streep. We’ll see.

Happy: That Melissa McCarthy was nominated for Bridesmaids. Even though critics are nearly pulling a tendon patting themselves on the back for their acknowledgement of a good comedy performance this past year, it IS a fact that good comedy performance are routinely, historically, either ignored or wildly underappreciated. (Jim Carrey should have been nominated for Best Actor for Liar, Liar, but I know I’m in the minority on that.) Who knows–McCarthy might even pull a Marisa Tomei on us and beat all the “dramatic” contenders.

Sad here: No nomination for Shailene Woodley, who stole The Descendants from Clooney and absolutely nailed the angry teen role, setting a modern gold standard for it. If this role is any indication, we’ll see her nominated soon.

Oscar predictions and personal preferences will come later. For now, after all the speculation, it’s just fun to see what really happened!

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About Mark DuPré

Full-time (associate) pastor at a Christian church. Part-time film professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Husband for 40 years to the lovely and talented Diane. Father to three children and father-in-law to three more amazing people. I preach, teach, counsel, write and plan in my real job. I teach a subject I love at RIT in my "other job," which is a lot of fun most of the time.... I play piano for our local college choir, and sing and play at church occasionally. I also have a film-related website at www.film-prof.com.
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