This year’s Oscar race has been a lot like the Republican primary. The nominees have been extremely divisive (with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close being the Herman Cain of the bunch) and the frontrunners have had a “next movie up” quality. For a while, The Descendants seemed the one to beat. Then Hugo took a small lead. Briefly War Horse surged. But all along, The Artist has been holding steady—it’s clearly the Mitt Romney of the field—and I see it, much like Mitt, capturing the big prize.
This is the first year that the number of Best Picture nominees was not predetermined. It could be anywhere from five to 10, depending on some sort of arcane algorithm involving first place votes (I’m not sure it’s ever wise to model your voting system after the BCS, but so be it. . .).
As someone who loves to prognosticate the nominees for sport (and profit) (just kidding)—not knowing the number of Best Picture nominees bugged me to no end.
But I have to admit, I was on the edge of my seat as Jennifer Lawrence and MPAA president Tom Sherak announced the Best Picture nods. There were certain gimmes—The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, The Help, and Moneyball (my favorite film of the year, if you don’t count the essentially unreleased Margaret)—but would Terrence Malick’s arty The Tree of Life get some love (it did). And what about the bawdy but beloved Bridesmaids? (No dice.) Would the Academy’s love affair with Woody Allen continue (yup—the delightful Midnight in Paris made the cut). What about the existential action flick Drive? (Alas, no.) And whither the fate of the mawkish War Horse, which had been shockingly snubbed by the Director’s Guild? (Made it by a nose.)
But the best moment certainly came in the end—after Lawrence and Sherak had rattled off eight of the nine nominations. Dramatically, reality TV style, they paused and said: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Audible gasps were heard among the assembled.
Now, I happen to be a pretty big fan of that film. But I was downplaying it when I called it the Herman Cain of the bunch. At least most people agree that Cain was a source of amusement. There are some critics who revile that film. I mean, break out in hives at the very thought of it. In fact, my Twitter pal Sasha Stone over at the indispensable awardsdaily.com noted that it has the lowest “Metacritic” score (46) of any film to ever be nominated for an Oscar. Wowsa. (I’m not going to get all apologist on the film—again. Suffice it to say, the Oscar nom suggests that at least some people were as moved by the peculiar little film as I was.)
Anyway, at this point, the winner is almost a foregone conclusion and to me, it feels a lot like last year’s big win for The King’s Speech. That is to say, I absolutely loved both The King’s Speech and The Artist, but I couldn’t help but to feel a little meh about their inevitable death march to victory. Both films are safe and crowd-pleasing and, while brilliantly executed, hardly stirring, provocative works of art. The Academy had been showing a little chutzpah in recent years, with wins for complex films like The Hurt Locker, No Country For Old Men, and The Departed, but they seem to have regressed a bit to a middlebrow comfort zone.
So be it. I don’t want to resent The Artist—which is a gem—just because it’s a film we can all agree on.
As for the rest of the nominations. I was profoundly disappointed by a few omissions—Tilda Swinton, for her hauntingly raw work in We Need to Talk About Kevin, Michael Fassbender for his let-it-all-hang-out (literally) sex addict in Shame, Leonardo DiCaprio, who emerged from pounds of makeup to give us great insight into the elusive J Edgar, Albert Brooks for his chillingly menschy sociopath in Drive, and Ryan Gosling for. . .well, just for being Ryan Gosling.
My predictions for the big awards? Right now, and these are preliminary guesses I’m going with:
Best Picture: The Artist
Best Director: Martin Scorsese in Hugo (The Artist’s Michel Hazanavicius is actually considered the frontrunner, but call it a hunch).
Best Actor: George Clooney for The Descendants
Best Actress: Viola Davis (!) for The Help
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer for Beginners
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer for The Help
We’ll see. It’s still early. And since Newt Gingrich just won South Carolina, it’s obvious that neither race is over til it’s over.