So I guess the Oscar bitchfest was begun by my colleague so I have no choice, absolutely no choice, but to weigh in with my two cents. But since Quaid beat me to the punch on looking at the Best Picture nominees and slights, I’ll take a walk through some other categories and see if I can’t single out a significant snub or two. And here….we….go:
Probably the most criminal act of snubbery in this Oscar season was the lack of recognition for Bruce Springsteen’s song, “The Wrestler,” which ends the film of same name. I’m a Springsteen fan, so I’m a bit biased, but I know non-fans who feel like this snub is truly ridiculous. The song is simply breathtaking–a meditative, elegiac piece of soul. Springsteen tracks the spiritual deterioration of Mickey Rourke’s protagonist, a wrestler whose only sense of identity comes from his bouts in the ring, brought to life by the lyric “my only faith in the broken bones and bruises I display.”
I know Springsteen already has an Oscar (he won in 1993 for the song “Streets of Philadelphia,” from Jonathan Demme’s film Philadelphia) but still, it isn’t illegal to give rock icons more than one Oscar. True, the presentation of the song in the film (playing over the end credits) may not stand up very well against the Bollywood dance sequence at the end of Slumbdog Millionaire , but it is my recollection that the best material should be nominated, not the most impressively displayed material. I mean, there are usually five nominations–why dole out only three this year? Is there a built-in prejudice against rock songs by big acts being played on the Oscar telecast? A travesty similar to Springsteen’s occured in 2003 when the Academy failed to recognize Pearl Jam’s magnificant original song “Man of the Hour” which they composed for the film Big Fish. Are they nervous that it will look like they are pandering to the musical tastes of the audience?
Oh well, Springsteen will just have to live with the one trophy on the shelf for now, but it really is a shame that such a good piece of songwriting wasn’t recognized. It makes the whole Best Song category feel like a sham, and I would think the Academy would be trying to bring some credibility back to the category after nominating three songs from Enchanted last year.
Best Supporting Actor
This one wasn’t so much of a tragedy since the dude got nominated in another category, but I thought Brad Pitt was so outlandishly funny as the clownish gym trainer in The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading that a nomination for that film, instead of for the insipid, overrated The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, would have been well deserved.
Pitt hasn’t been this amusing in a film for a long time–if ever (I’m thinking of 12 Monkeys, but he was pretty scary in that film too). With shagged-out blond hair, constant dance moves, and the curiosity of an overgrown twelve-year-old, he essays the role of Chad, a gym employee and coworker of Frances McDormand who, after finding a computer disc filled with what he thinks are valuable CIA spy secrets, tries to blackmail the government agent (John Malkovich) that the disc belongs to. The result is uproariously funny. It’s one of the more underrated and enjoyable films of the year (the Coens are being punished for having so much success with No Country for Old Men; how dare they make a comedy right after!)
It would have been nice to see Pitt nominated for the right movie. I’ve never seen him create anything quite like Chad before, and it is a shame to see such a good performance go by the boards. I guess with Robert Downey, Jr. being nominated for another outrageous comic turn in Tropic Thunder, the Academy felt like they had used up their one comedy nomination for a significant category.
Also, nominating Pitt for Burn After Reading would have freed up a spot in the Best Actor category, which saw Colin Farrell get snubbed for his outstanding work in a film that far too few people saw, In Bruges. Farrell is simply outstanding in the film as Ray, a young hitman who accidentally kills a young boy during a hit in London and is made to hang out in Bruges, Belgium with his partner, Ken (Brendon Gleeson) to wait for instructions.
Farrell turns a corner in the film, presenting us with a genuine baffoon who both acts out his angst about his crime but also fully understands the implications of it. At first glance, his work is brilliantly funny, but is also an exploration of the character’s guilt and self-loathing. I also can’t remember a time when a dramatic film placed at its center a true baffoon with such heart.
I was happy to see In Bruges at least acknowledged (it received a screenplay nomination) but I felt bad that Farrell wasn’t recognized for his outstanding work. Hopefully, this performance is a harbinger of more significant work from him.
Best Director/Best Screenplay
Okay, The Dark Knight did not get nominated for Best Picture this year. I have come to terms with that. Even though I think it is the best film of the year, its exclusion from that category, while dismaying, was forseable. It was one of those situations where, after seeing that it wasn’t nominated, I automatically knew all of the reasons why. Comic book movie. Too mainstream. Not close enough to the course of action that the Academy have taken over the past few years with their nominations, which seem to go more to indies and dramatic studio fare with big-name, serious actors. At the end of the day, it was probably just too much of an event film.
But the fact that neither Christopher Nolan’s direction nor the screenplay by Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, were nominated is an absolute travesty. All of the signs were there for The Dark Knight. It was acknowledged by the Producers, Writers, and Directors Guild nominations this year. Yet the Academy saw fit to ignore it when doling out nominations in what many consider the second and third most important categories.
I suppose they felt that a nomination for Heath Ledger in the Supporting Actor category was enough. But I was seriously let down to see Nolan snubbed for his direction and the Nolan brothers snubbed for their screenplay, both of which were easily among the best of the year if not the best. The Dark Knight was the monumental achievement of the year; I have rarely seen a film that pushed the medium to its limits the way that film did. I can understand why they didn’t want to put it among the best movies, but he Academy should acknowledge it’s qualities by nominating it in some other significant categories. It speaks very low of the Academy that they can’t even bring themselves to acknowledge the quality of a comic book movie on that level.
Bitching, for now, is concluded.