Lamest. Oscar. Noms. Ever.
Here they are … read em and weep.
I acknowledge having no personal experience of filmgoing in the Studio Era (my seen-lists from that era are heavy on the established classics), but I’m still confident that, for the most part, the Oscars honored the best films of the 30s and 40s, because the Hollywood studios MADE the best films of the 30s and 40s — the indie movement didn’t exist yet, the distribution of foreign films in the US was spottier than now, the “art house” concept wasn’t really mature, the market and nonmarket barriers to entry were far higher than now, etc.
But I can pretty definitively say that these are collectively the worst batch of films ever to get the five Best Picture slots. I have seen all five already, and I can’t give a “thumbs up” to any of them. Not a one. On my 10-point scale, their combined grades are 18 (out of a possible 50), and a 6-grade or higher = a Siskel & Ebert “thumbs up” or a Variety Crix Pix “pro.” Not a one.
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE 4
THE READER 4
BENJAMIN BUTTON 3
Yes … FROST/NIXON is best of the Best Pic nominees: in one phrase, it’s a well-made lie (and the lie is central to the movie’s raison d’etre, not a peripheral thing or a matter of emphasis) featuring a for-the-ages performance by Frank Langella and first-rate in every other way bar Opie’s usual merely-functional direction. And that functionality is the right choice for a movie like this; certainly better than DOUBT’s John Patrick Shanley trying to tart up his stage play with every eccentric angle he could think of).
But I decided to see if it was true … are 2008’s nominees the worst collective batch ever? Here is a list of all the nominated films, broken down by year. Going all the way back to 1944, when the Academy began limiting the Best Pic race to five films, and counting only the years in which I’ve seen at least two nominated films (most years I see 3 or 4, and 1 is simply too small a sample size) … this is in fact the first year since 1961 in which I can’t recommend any of the five nominated films. More damningly, this is the first time I’ve seen all five nominated films and the films went 0-for-5 (to pick on 1961, it was just 0-for-3 — WEST SIDE STORY, GUNS OF NAVARONE and JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG).
I’m not under any illusions about what the Oscars are about: commercial A-list English-language movies. All eligibility issues aside, I still would have been stunned had the Academy picked 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS or SILENT LIGHT, although they are the two best films of the year in a walk. But what about WALL-E, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, DOUBT, THE DARK KNIGHT and THE WRESTLER — five commercial American A-list movies that were better than any of the five that got nominated. While that entire precise lineup would be unrealistic (MILK and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE were locks and remain the frontrunners), all of them would be reasonable choices on the nonartistic things that matter to the Academy — box-office success, token indie, December prestige releases, etc. And I’m not just parroting my own taste — only 3 of that 5 makes my Top 10.
Not that there aren’t plenty of headscratchers in the other categories —
- in what universe was St. Angelina of the Millinery’s beatific posing for the whole last hour better than Sally Hawkins’ HAPPY GO-LUCKY Poppy (and how on earth does that film get a script nomination without Hawkins getting an Actress nod)?;
- did Kate Winslet get nominated for THE READER (which she will almost certainly win) rather than REVOLUTIONARY ROAD because playing a Nazi counts for more than playing a bohemia-wannabe or because in the former film she’s naked for much of the first act and (I think) never is in the latter?;
- is reading Hallmark-card dialog and having your face made up and pasted onto others’ bodies in an “important” film like oh … BENJAMIN BUTTON … better “acting” than creating one of the most memorable screwballs in the Coens brothers entire ouevre, as Brad Pitt did in BURN AFTER READING (the Academy obviously thinks so)?;
- was it a surprise that Michael Shannon picks up this year’s Going Full Retard Award for his unspeakable performance in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (he’s even up against Robert Downey Jr., who had that brilliant monolog about “Fell Retard”; there is no other category in which I will be rooting so hard).
So that names one of the good and correct choices the Academy made — Robert Downey Jr. for the comedy (yay!!) TROPIC THUNDER. Any others besides the no-brainers even the Academy couldn’t blow (Heath Ledger for supporting actor; Mickey Rourke and the aforementioned Frank Langella for lead actor; Anne Hathaway for lead actress; WALL-E for animated film, etc.) Just really a couple … I was relieved by the snub of the vile REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, gratified to see Melissa Leo get a nod for the indie FROZEN RIVER, happy to see Austria’s REVANCHE get a foreign-film nomination (neither of these last two have a chance of winning). And though I don’t consider ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD (best doc) or SLUMDOG MILLIONARE (best score/songs) to be either man’s best work, the possibility of hearing “Academy Award Winner Werner Herzog” or “Academy Award Winner A.R. Rahman” is something I wouldn’t miss. And c’mon … a Werner Herzog acceptance speech? Tell me you can resist that possibility.
And that’s why unlike Jeffrey Overstreet, I’m not gonna boycott the show over the lameness of these picks. There are still some things to root for or hope for. The spectacle of these liberal glitterati either trying to hold back on the O-gasms or letting their libidos run free for the Lightworker’s Message Of Hope And Change has just too much potential car-wreck value.