Jan 22 2009 5:47pm

Better luck next year (or decade)

The nominees for the 81st Academy Award for Best Picture are:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

(The rest of the nominees are here.)

Although this year’s list of Academy Award nominees for Best Picture aren’t as obscure or impossible to watch as last year’s, I’m noting a distinct lack of love for genre titles, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button notwithstanding. I never really held out hope that The Dark Knight would get into the ring with the “serious” movies, but I’m taking its snub worse than I anticipated. (But I am laughing at its nomination for Best Film Editing.) I truly thought that it had the best shot at getting a science-fiction/fantasy film back into consideration after the years-long drought since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won in 2004.

As I predicted, Wall*E gets to sit at the kiddie table with Bolt and Kung-Fu Panda. The Best Animated Feature is the “Hurray! Everyone’s a winner even when they’re a loser!” category. If critical success stands above any other marker (which explains how No Country for Old Men won last year), then how the hell could Wall*E have been excluded and The Reader promoted? Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes, and Entertainment Weekly’s individual pools of critical reviews all place Wall*E at the top (or nearer to it than any of the nominees).

The Academy Awards: where movies win Best Picture because a cadre of hipster assholes and old farts say they do.

The other major categories are not much more heartening. (And are even more insulting and bizarre, like Wall*E’s nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Best story, but not Best Picture?) The Best Director category is in lock-step with Best Picture. (Sorry, Christopher Nolan.) There are three genre performances nominated out of twenty, two of which are from Benjamin Button with the third being the inevitable nod towards the late Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight. Robert Downey Jr. is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his “daring” role in Tropic Thunder (which he will never win, because two words: Heath. Ledger.) and never mind that he gave a more lively, funny, sly, and vulnerable performance as Tony Stark in Iron Man. It’s just a stupid comic book movie, and nobody died after making it; ergo, as only one “fringe” movie may be praised at a time, The Dark Knight trumps. (Ledger’s win would also achieve an unholy trifecta of Oscar stereotypes by giving him an award: for a later role after being snubbed for Brokeback Mountain; after his death; and for an eccentric performance in a movie otherwise regarded as not worth Academy time.)

Genre fans will have to content themselves once again with the fleeting thrill of hearing mega blockbusters announced for minor categories like Best Makeup (go Hellboy II!), Best Sound Editing (if they don’t give it to Wall*E, I’m waking Cthulhu), Best Visual Effects (Iron Man has a lock on this one)—you know, all those categories where the band starts playing the exit music before the winners even have their statuettes.

And that’s Hollywood for you: the studios will gladly make the projects that we want to see, happy to pocket our money. (We made them billions this year—fully $1bn on The Dark Knight alone, the box office gross almost triple that of all the Best Picture nominees put together.) But respect and recognition will be hard to come by for years yet. In the meantime, we’re made to feel as though we should be grateful that we are tossed a bone with some of these categories because they could just excise them from the bloated telecast and lump them with the Science & Technical Awards. And they wonder why ratings for the broadcast are constantly slipping? Maybe because the people who fund the self-congratulatory love-in for movies they never saw are tired of their choices being denigrated in favor of the vanity vehicles? Because we can see through the transparent bid for our attention in their choice of having Wolverine host while blithely ignoring the genre that got him his big break in the first place?

Hugh Jackman or no Hugh Jackman, I’m voting with my remote and just not watching this year.

1. pissed
i agree with you. completely pissed that The Dark Knight isn't in the running for best picture. Please the g-damn thing got 1 billion bucks in it's theatrical run. How much more successful does a movie have to be in order for the "academy" to think, "uh, this shite must be the shite." grumble grumble. Heath better win.
Megan Messinger
2. thumbelinablues
unholy trifecta of Oscar stereotypes
If only the Joker had been a struggling single parent dying of cancer, it'd be five.
Samantha Brandt
3. Talia
to be honest, the only thing outstanding about Dark Knight was Health Ledger.

It was a good movie, overall.. Ledger made it great. Thus I felt the way the nominations fell was appropriate.
4. skurk
"Although this year’s list of Academy Award nominees for Best Picture aren’t as obscure or impossible to watch as last year’s..."

"obscure"? that's just silly. and "no country..." was a fantastic movie.

it mostly seems like people still want "the dark knight" to be the fantastic masterpiece we all hoped/thought it would be before we actually saw it.
then it turned out to be just great.
Torie Atkinson
5. Torie
I'm not upset about Dark Knight (I thought it was merely good, and entirely too long) but I'm phenomenally disappointed in the Wall-E snub. I'm tired of animation getting short shrift. That film was hands-down the best picture of the year--why should its medium hold it back?
6. Patrick MW
I'm just ticked off the Curious Case of Benjamin Button got 13 nominations...

Anyone who liked that movie is also a fan of the emperor's clothes.

It was full of itself, aimless, way too long, poorly paced, and all in all an absolute chore to watch.

Actually, that has Oscar written all over it.
7. jere7my
I'm not surprised about Dark Knight, but I'm shocked that Let the Right One In didn't get any kind of a nod. That was, far and away, the best movie I saw last year. Every delicate ice crystal of mood was perfectly placed, and it managed to be touching and horrifying and funny and brutal, often all at the same time.

(I fully support No Country for Old Men's win last year. That movie kicked me in the hindbrain for two hours. Powerful stuff.)
Mitchell Downs
8. Beamish
Talia: The only thing outstanding about Dark Knight was Health Ledger.

Absolutely. Otherwise, "The Dark Knight" is really not a good film, in fact at times it is particularly awful.

The amount of box office money made is irrelevant. Nothing outside of the Ledger performance is worthy of note.
Theresa DeLucci
9. theresa_delucci
I'm not a hipster asshole and I thought No Country deserved its win last year. I think a few entertainment reporters were surprised that The Dark Knight got snubbed, too. I liked it, but it was way too long. Which makes its nom for Best Editing really funny. Heath Ledger was the best part of the movie. Christian Bale's Batgrowl voice was laughable.

I thought The Wrestler and Che (was that even eligible this year?) would have stronger showings. @jere7my - Agreed about Let the Right One In I haven't seen it yet, but everyone I know who has seen it was blown away by it for several days. Maybe its native country didn't submit it for voting? That happens a lot.

I take more issues with Slumdog Millionaire being this year's Little Miss Sunshine. It was one of those movies I enjoyed until I thought about it for a few minutes afterwards. Although I loved the score and the idea of M.I.A. playing at the ceremony. (Unlikely as she's very pregnant right now.) Oops, I admitted to loving M.I.A., I guess I can see how one would mistake me for a hipster asshole.
Dayle McClintock
10. trinityvixen
@2: Clearly, you've watched these things a time or two before! It reminds me of a line Eddie Murphy has in Bowfinger to the effect of the only way a black man can get an Oscar is by playing a retardard person or a slave. Have issues, get statues.

@Torie: I have a lot of trouble imagining the animated film that would convince the Academy to respect animation. If Wall*E wasn't the one to do it, what would? You could probably animate the equivalent of Casablanca and it would be laughed out of the theater.

@4,7,9: Liking No Country for Old Men is, like all things, a taste issue. My issues were with its complete lack of cohesion. As a thriller, it moved along well enough, but it completely lost its narrative thread forty minutes from the end with the protagonist's death. The transfer of focus onto Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem was completely nonsensical and directionless; I'm convinced the reason it won was because it had a typical "indie" non-ending.

There Will Be Blood was the superior film that year. Its creative use of sound (and lack thereof) and excellent performances enhanced the story that was, like No Country centered on an inherently unlikeable person.
11. cheem
No Country goes down in my book as one of the few book to movie adaptations that actually adds to the canon. The book and the movie complement each other. Things explicit in the book were implied in the movie and vice versa.

trinityvixen, I suspect you missed something about the film if you thought Llewellyn was the protagonist of the movie. And No Country made make great use of sound as well. Which is not to say There Will Be Blood wasn't worthy of winning Best Picture in its own right. 2008 was a very strong year and it's almost a shame that the likes of Zodiac were overshadowed.

This year, I'd say WALL*E was the best film of the year and relegating it to the animation ghetto is one of the more egregious oversights of this year's nominees, along with the Best Song category (where's Bruce Springsteen?).
12. DG Lewis
You'll never be surprised by the selections of AMPAS if you remember the Oscar prediction from an SNL cast member (can't remember which) when Gandhi came out -- to the effect that "Gandhi will win the Oscar because Gandhi was everything that Academy Award voters want to be - noble, principled, and thin."
Dayle McClintock
13. trinityvixen
@11: I won't argue No Country because I dislike having to defend myself against arguments that start with "You just don't get it." No, I get it fine, I just didn't like it. Matter of taste and there's no point in arguing because you can't argue taste. (And, if I did want to get into it, I would point out that Josh Brolin was the protagonist as, by definition, he was at the center of the story. He was not the hero, I grant you.)

But the song category thing throws me--since when do we have only three nominees? Were there really not more than three songs in the movies for the entire year worth nominating?
Theresa DeLucci
15. theresa_delucci
@ DKT Exactly! I can kind of see why The Wrestler didn't get a Best Picture or Director nod as that was really more of a performance-driven movie. It's a time-worn kind of plot. (But so is Benjamin Button which really is Forrest Gump 2008.) But that was a pretty good Springsteen song. And it won a Golden Globe. Surely they could've thrown the Boss a bone.

But I'll still be rooting for "O...Saya" all the way and hoping we get to see some bhangra at the Academy Awards.

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