Academy favorites take nominations

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Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley star in Martin Scorcese’s “Hugo,” which garnered 11 Oscar nominations for this year’s awards, the most of any other film nominated. (Photo courtesy of Jaap Buitendijk)

In the Tuesday announcement of the Academy Award nominees, some of the year’s best films have been left out in the cold as usual. Overall, this year’s race is shaping up to be a bit blander than years before.

Best Picture is the easily the most boring category of the year. The Academy’s revamped nomination system (which requires a film to get 5 percent of first-place votes to be nominated, allowing for a varied number of nominees) cranked out nine nominees, a collection of easily digestible Oscar bait and admired directors doing mediocre work. While the inclusion of “Midnight in Paris,” “The Descendants” and “Hugo” (which leads with 11 nominees) are worth celebrating, equally worthy films like “Drive” were left out in the cold.

Some David Fincher-happy predictors were hoping for a nod for his shockingly weak and disinterested adaptation of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but the academy’s love for the film waxed and waned in a truly bizarre fashion, with a nomination for Rooney Mara as Best Actress and a score of technical nods, but none for Fincher’s direction or the Reznor/Ross score. Even odder was the unexpectedly strong showing for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” whose 9/11 subject matter managed to manipulate its way past extremely mixed reviews and incredibly middling box office returns into a nomination for Best Picture. (Having a main character named Oskar probably didn’t hurt.)

The Best Director race is mostly par for the course here. With a roster that includes Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Terrence Malick, it’s hard to blame the academy for sticking inside the box with this one, although it would have been nice to see Tomas Alfredson honored here for his masterful direction in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”

Alfredson’s film was honored in the Best Actor race (even though it was robbed in Editing, Art Direction and Costume Design), and the esteemed Gary Oldman finally joins the ranks of the Oscar nominated for a brilliant, quiet performance. Unfortunately, Best Actor seems to be a three-man race, with Jean Dujardin, Brad Pitt and George Clooney dominating the preliminaries. It’s nice to see Demián Bichir pop up for his devastating work in “A Better Life,” but the exclusion of Michael Fassbender and Michael Shannon demonstrates a closed-mindedness that extends to every category of this year’s race.

Bold films that didn’t appeal to everyone were commonplace this year and were indeed among the year’s most memorable pictures, but these noteworthy pictures were often shut out entirely. While the snubs for “Shame” and “Take Shelter” are certainly grievous, the absence of Tilda Swinton in Best Actress for the decidedly noncommercial “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is the year’s biggest mistake, the best performance of the year left out in the cold to make room for Glenn Close’s cross-dressing and Rooney Mara’s tattooed hacker.

Best Supporting Actor, usually one of the most interesting fields of the year, did right by nominating Christopher Plummer for “Beginners” (the most deserved nomination of the year), and it’s nice to see Nick Nolte’s emotional turn in “Warrior” recognized. Less sensible is Max von Sydow’s nomination for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and Jonah Hill’s Oscar ticket on “Moneyball’s” coattails, while other strong performances such as Patton Oswalt (“Young Adult”), Albert Brooks (“Drive”) and even Andy Serkis (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) were ignored, along with their films.

It’s incredibly easy to complain about Oscar nominations, since they invariably get it a little bit wrong. And while it’s truly a shame that “Drive” only picked up a nomination for Sound Editing or that “Martha Marcy May Marlene” lost out for Best Actress and Editing, how great is it that Gary Oldman is finally, finally an Oscar nominee? Or that Woody Allen’s beautiful little riff on nostalgia can sneak into Best Picture and Best Screenplay? And even if it wasn’t to my tastes, how nuts is it that a film as bafflingly out there as “The Tree of Life” can somehow get nominated for Best Picture?

Even though the Oscars miss the mark sometimes (okay, most of the time), the fun of watching is often in what gets left out and what you’re delighted to see make the cut. Besides, at least “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” didn’t get nominated for Best Picture. 

Printed on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 as: Academy shuts out noteworthy pictures, nominates favorites