Snubpocrisy: The 2010 Oscar Nominations
February 2nd, 2010
There are times in this life when I realize that I can be quite cynical, which I know flies in the face of everything that Conan O’Brien instructed me to do during his final episode of the Tonight Show. However, it’s not something that can be cured overnight, and during Awards season it’s hard to resist that cynicism when it is just so damn apt.
But with the Oscars this year (whose nominees were announced this morning, and can be found here), we have pretty much the definitive litmus test. It’s the first year (in a long, long time at least) with 10 Best Picture nominees, which means that the favourite films of a large swath of viewers have made it to the dance, so to speak. You’ve got your blockbusters like Avatar, your breakout hits like The Blind Side, your art house selections like A Serious Man and An Education, and even your animated selection in Up. Combine with your intelligent science fiction like District 9 and your prestige pictures like The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, Precious and Inglourious Basterds, and you have something for everyone.
And it makes me sick.
My problem, I think, is that I legitimately want to be disappointed, if only to feel some semblance of emotion from the proceedings. People getting nominated for things is great, and I’m happy to see (for example) the fantastic Up pick up five nominations while evading being relegated to Animated Film, or to see District 9 break into Best Picture, or to see Star Trek and Avatar dominate the tech categories with Transformers 2 only breaking into Sound Mixing. But I realize now that I am far happier when I get to be pissed off and angry than when I can say I am genuinely pleased; in other words, I prefer snubs to surprises.
This may seem cynical at first, but I think I simply derive more pleasure from offence than defence, preferring to attack rather than defend. And with ten nominees in Best Picture, there isn’t really an angle there, which was by design: they don’t want me to be angry with the nominees, and they don’t want me to have a narrative of “Elitist Oscars ignoring popular cinema” or something similar to write about here. However, in the process there are too many narratives, and they’re all either one-dimensional (in that the five films without Directing nominations are just “happy to be nominated”) or have been previewed to death by the precursor awards. The one potential the Oscars had for creating new narratives, in snubbing films that were perhaps favoured during those precursors, is now entirely gone in the show’s most important category.
I understand that the precursors are responsible for making the Oscars too predictable (All acting awards but Actress are entirely non-competitive), but they aren’t wholly responsible for making the nominations so gosh-darned boring. There are plenty of snubs in the acting categories, which should make me extremely happy to some degree in that I could rant about how both Alfred Molina and Peter Sarsgaard were overlooked for An Education, or Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty for The Hurt Locker, or Melanie Laurent for Inglourious Basterds. However, the acting categories are always full of snubs, movies that not enough people saw or performances that get overshadowed by other narratives within the awards season (Mulligan as the “star” of An Education, Bigelow/Renner as face of Hurt Locker, Waltz as Basterds’ most successful turn). And so the disappointment isn’t a surprise, which sort of takes the fun out of it.
So in those categories we want something surprising, something that throws a wrench into the established order of things; this is especially true when both supporting categories are already decided in terms of going to Mo’Nique and Waltz, so nominating relative unknowns would be entirely harmless. And it just wasn’t here: the closest that the awards came to a surprised was Maggie Gyllenhal, who missed out on most of the precursors for Crazy Heart but is riding the inevitability of Jeff Bridges’ Best Actor win to a nomination here. But people like Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren getting nominated for a movie that no one saw and few liked, The Last Station, is the kind of boredom that just annoys me rather than inspiring me to get fired up and defend other candidates. I can’t be angry with Helen Mirren getting nominated for anything, if we’re being entirely honest, but I’d simply much prefer if there was someone there for their performance rather than for being, you know, Helen Mirren.
When we eventually get to the Oscars themselves, the excitement will return: while there was no suspense in someone like Michael Giacchino being nominated for his score for Up, there will be suspense about whether he can win his first Oscar, and I will be on the edge of my seat to see if he can get complete the EGO of the EGOT. And while the acting categories will still largely have no suspense, and while Bullock’s precursor love more or less destroyed any chance of us being blind sided (heyo) by her nomination, there is still doubt over whether she can top Meryl Streep. And while we knew Avatar was getting nominated for everything under the sun (except for some snubs in Screenplay/Original Song), we don’t know if the hype can hold so that they actually win everything under the sun, and the Best Picture Race between Avatar, Basterds and The Hurt Locker (sorry, Up in the Air, but the dream is dead) is actually quite legitimately compelling.
However, the nominations sometimes offer in and of themselves an enjoyable narrative to boost interest or provide newfound interest, and that seems to have been the intent behind 10 Best Picture nominees. In the end, though, an enjoyable narrative for me is one of devotion and disappointment, and those seem to be in short supply this year, at least until the ceremony begins.
- Interesting that thanks to an acting nod and love in the tech categories, The Hurt Locker matched Avatar’s nomination count with 9.
- While Up’s five nominations is impressive for a film without any Original Songs, it isn’t a Pixar record: Ratatouille had the same number of nominations just a few years ago, grabbing an additional Sound Mixing nod in place of Up’s nomination for Best Picture.
- It is very rare that a film I have never heard of before makes it into a major category, but The Secret of Kells managed that feat, sneaking into Animated Feature over Ponyo and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. I need to get around to seeing some films that were nominated, but this might be at the top of the list so I can understand the surprise.
- Adam Shankman has to be a bit disappointed in the Best Original Song category: two Randy Newman songs isn’t an overly ambitious choice, and he probably would have preferred more from Nine for the sake of the elaborate production. Combine with an obscure French song no one has heard (From Paris 36), and you’ve got a production number challenge.