Seeing the nominated films seems not to matter so much this year. A handful of films seem to have caught the eye, or fancy, or whatever, of the Academy members, and gotten the nominations and hype.
The Artist proves my point. It was a pleasant experiment in retro film-making. It plot was hackneyed, its actors attractive but hardly called upon to engage the audience in deep emotion, and its musical numbers brief and never breath-taking. Nevertheless, it has gained nominees for best picture, actor, supporting actress, director and screenplay. It’s as if the Academy is trying to prove that it loves the French when they pretend to be American?
The Help–a weak rendition of a weak novel–will compete with The Artist. It did command extraordinary acting performances by its almost unknown black actresses, but it added one for a rising white actress as if to balance the racial mix. The film also got a nod for best picture, of course.
And then there are nominations for other films that I found deeply flawed last year:
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was so reserved that its plot was almost unintelligible, making the whole, long film boring.
Hugo was interesting but boring–a self-contradiction that often fits experimental films. This one is made by Martin Scorsese, and so pulls in nominations for best film and best director.
Rooney Mara (Rooney?) got a nomination for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which seems a nomination, really, to fill out the Best Actress category and to show that the Americans can do a better job on a Swedish thriller novel than the Swedish can. Take that, Noomi Rapace.
Well, enough kvetching. Here are my grudging choices in a year when I was never swept away by any movie.
Best Actor: George Clooney in The Descendants is the sentimental favorite, and my own as well. I think he acted even better in Syriana (2005), but his body of work (and very intelligent contributions in a number of spheres) make strong claims on an award this year. The same might be said of Brad Pitt. His work in Moneyball showed his capacity, though I would have nominated him for his acting in The Tree of Life. Actually, I really liked his work in Burn After Reading (2008).
Best Actress: This is a tough one, even though Hollywood is reported as already giving the Oscar to Viola Davis for The Help. My choice is Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady, an astonishing feat of impersonation — though Margaret Thatcher was probably never as human as Streep’s performance makes her. It is a very strong category this year, and I wouldn’t be outraged if any of the other nominees got the award. Except Rooney Mara.
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer will probably win for her fine work in The Help, though I would give the Oscar to Janet McTeer of Albert Nobbs. She made a remarkable contribution to the remarkable ensemble work of the whole cast, led by Glenn Close.
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer’s turn in Beginners as the octogenarian father who finally comes out after his wife’s death, wins hands down. Plummer fully deserves a statuette, and I say this despite my prejudice against the man who rejected his own success portraying a repressed father in the beloved Sound of Music (1965). I haven’t seen Nolte in Warrior Or von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Still, my second choice would be Jonah Hill of Moneyball.
Best Picture: I haven’t seen enough of the leading contenders to have an opinion. I liked the ambition of A Tree of Life. Midnight in Paris will perhaps win for Woody Allen’s life’s work. Other nominees belong to “we had tos, because we nominated one of its actors for a best.” Or a sense that the category belongs to big, sweeping, weeping, films. That’s why I kept putting off War Horse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.