It’s time, once again, for Hollywood to congratulate itself for doing such a wonderful job. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is about to hand out its annual awards, affectionately known as “the Oscars.” The categories have been filled, the hosts have been chosen and sweatshop employees in Thailand are working overtime trying to figure out which red carpet dresses need to be knocked off by Monday. So what will the 2011 ceremony bring?
Not a lot has changed for this year’s Oscar race. Last year’s doubling-up of the Best Picture category from five to 10 nominees represented the most significant alteration to Academy rules in many a moon. This year’s tweaks, by contrast, were significantly more minor.
A 1996 rule limiting the number of Visual Effects Award nominees was altered to increase that category from three to five. Given the runaway use of CGI in just about every film in creation, it makes sense. Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Hereafter, Inception and Iron Man 2 are all onboard because of this rule change. It’s especially nice to see a drama like Hereafter in the category. Though it’s not an effects-heavy film, it does feature a spectacular tsunami sequence in the beginning that’s well worthy of Oscar consideration.
Another minor change is in the Best Animated Feature category, which has reduced eligibility from films that are 70 minutes and above to films that are just 40 minutes and above. That didn’t make any difference to the films nominated in the category this year (all three are more than 80 minutes), but it could mean nominations for films that are less than an hour in length in the future.
Past tweaks to the Documentary Feature category have resulted in one of the best fields there in years. In 2005, restrictions on how soon a documentary could be shown on television after its theatrical release were softened. Since the majority of documentaries end up finding homes on TV, this gave filmmakers more leeway with how they sold their films. (“Hmmm. Get an Academy Award nomination, or sell my film to HBO?”) As a result, more quality documentaries have started to show up at the Oscars.
In 2008, a provision that documentaries have a “multi-city theatrical rollout” was dropped. Now, so long as a doc plays for “a minimum of seven days in either Los Angeles County or the Borough of Manhattan,” it’s eligible for consideration. Seems like a moot point, though. Of the 2011 Best Documentary Feature nominees, only one failed to open in Albuquerque (Josh Fox’s Gasland). Only three of the films nominated in this category in 2010 played here. Go back five years or more, and you’ll be lucky to have heard of a single one of the nominees.
Exit Through the Gift Shop, Restrepo and Waste Land were three of the best films of last year, documentary or otherwise. Any one of them would be a worthy winner—although you can expect a certain amount of artistic controversy if Exit walks away with it. Most astute reviewers assumed the film was fabricated by artist/
Let’s face it: Oscar is a snob. The Academy is made up of the most entrenched and elite members of the Hollywood community. If you’ve pissed off people in Hollywood, they’re gonna remember. And when it comes time to vote for Oscars, they’re all going to leave your name off the ballot no matter how good a job you did. (If I were you, I wouldn’t be holding my breath for Oscar gold there, Charlie Sheen. ... Mel Gibson. ... Lindsay Lohan.) On the other hand, most Oscar categories only have room for five nominees. So the majority of “snubs” come not from spite but from overcrowding.
The list of people left off this year’s Oscar list is sizable: No Christopher Nolan for Best Director on Inception? No Andrew Garfield or Justin Timberlake for Best Supporting Actor in Social Network? No Julianne Moore for Best Supporting Actress in The Kids Are All Right? No Ryan Gosling for Best Actor in Blue Valentine? No Despicable Me for Best Animated Feature? No Daft Punk for Best Original Score on Tron: Legacy? (How cool would that Oscar telecast performance have been?)
These are all worthy nominees. But who are the unworthy ones? Look at the people in the Actor in a Supporting Role category: Christian Bale, John Hawkes, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Geoffrey Rush. Rush and Bale are the frontrunners, but the others are no slouches. Hawkes is the least known, but anyone who saw his terrifying turn in the hillbilly noir Winter’s Bone knows he earned the spot.
All in all, this year is one of the tightest collections of nominees in recent memory. How about Actress in a Leading Role? Annette Bening, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams: That’s three distinct generations of Hollywood acting talent (running from the 52-year-old Bening to the just-turned-20 Lawrence). Portman is the best bet after her win at the Golden Globes, but it wouldn’t be a shocker to see any one of those ladies walk away with the statue.
Of course, winning is dependent not merely on skill, but also upon which direction the Hollywood tides are flowing. Earn too much money, Hollywood thinks you’ve already been aptly rewarded. (Sorry, Inception.) Flop at the box office and you’re considered insignificant. (Winter’s Bone, there are some lovely Independent Spirit Awards waiting for you.)
Initially, Black Swan was the lead horse in this year’s Oscar race. It landed on just about every critic’s top 10 list and earned five Oscar nods. So far, though, only star Natalie Portman has managed to earn pre-Oscar bling (one Golden Globe, one BAFTA). She’s the best chance the film has at winning anything on Sunday.
Starting out in second place and running strong is The King’s Speech. It’s a resolutely stereotypical Best Picture kind of film. It’s got British actors in costumes giving speeches and being vaguely inspirational. It’s like A Beautiful Mind, Shakespeare in Love, The English Patient and Chariots of Fire all rolled into one. It’s gobbled up just about every statue in award season, including five British Academy of Film and Television Awards, five British Independent Film Awards, and a Golden Globe. It’s nominated for 12 Oscars and will probably win several. But has its growing box office and crowded award shelf stunted the interest of Oscar voters?
If so, all-American faves The Social Network and True Grit (which failed to land a single Golden Globe nomination, then bounced back with 10 Oscar nods) could come from behind to take the gold.