Sunday, February 14, 2010

The biggest casualties of Awards Season 2009

It happens every year, and it always stings: some film, performance, or artistic/technical aspect gets horrendously snubbed, not just by the Academy and the HFPA, but the critics awards as well. Why does it happen? A number of reasons, but the key factor is usually the strength of a film's campaign, which is of course dependent on a studio's confidence in it, and the amount of money it is willing to give. So the question is, who/what got the worst overall snubbing this awards season? Sadly, in what is revealing itself to be one of the stronger years of the past decade, quite a lot.

The Victims: Best Picture

A Single Man: Was the Weinstein Company only confident enough in Colin Firth that they decided to totally drop the ball on A Single Man? It's the second best of the their "Big 4" (behind Basterds, which made it), and with enough campaigning this beautiful little film should have been able to sneak into the Academy's Top 10. Sadly that's not the case, and Firth is the film's sole Oscar nominee, leaving the film, Tom Ford's direction, the impeccable production values, and that gorgeous score in the dust. My guess is that it was too "small" for most, compared to the likes of and Inglourious Basterds and Nine. Still doesn't explain the artistic snubbing, though.
  • Cause of Death: Lack of confidence
In the Loop: It did manage a screenplay nomination, thank goodness, but it's a real shame that this hysterical ensemble farce couldn't have gone further. All it really needed was a strong enough campaign. With the 10 BP nominees, AMPAS likely would have been more open to letting a comedy in, and one so acclaimed as Ianucci's film would have been a great addition. Alas, the studio, for whatever reason, didn't feel like pushing the film hard enough.
  • Cause of Death: Lack of campaign
The White Ribbon: It's always nice when foreign films get nominated for Best Picture, and it would have been amazing if Michael Haneke's Palme D'Or winner could have made it. The film is challenging, certainly, but isn't that something that is often praised in foreign films (and sometimes based in English-language films...oddly). At the very least the could have nominated Michael Haneke for his superb direction...but apparently AMPAS just wasn't terribly keen on the foreign films this year. Oh well, at least it managed to get a cinematography nomination.
  • Cause of Death: Foreign film bias
Best Actor:

Sam Rockwell, Moon: Arriving around roughly the same time as The Hurt Locker, Duncan Jones' Moon should have at the very least been in the running for Best Actor. Aside from Kevin Spacey's voice, the whole film was a one-man show from Rockwell, and he pulled it off masterfully, giving one of the best male performances of the year. So what happened? Most likely the studio had bigger films it wanted to push, despite the stellar reviews for Rockwell and the film. Plus, Rockwell plays dual roles, which seems like something that would grab the Academy's attention. That is, after their attention was brought to the film in the first place by any semblance of a campaign...
  • Cause of Death: Studio neglect
Viggo Mortensen, The Road: At least Colin Firth can be glad that he made it to the nominee list. Poor Mortensen, also in a Weinstein Co. release, was mostly left out in the cold (I think the Houston Critics nominated him...and that's it...). Mortensen was a brilliant choice to play the Man in John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's bleak post-apocalyptic masterpiece, but apparently the good-not-great consensus of the film was enough to persuade the cash-strapped Weinsteins to drop the film completely. It's a real shame, because Mortensen's role has all of the suffering and misery that AMPAS loves to reward, and he does it damn well, and has great chemistry with young co-star Kodi Smit-Mcphee.
  • Cause of Death: "Good" just doesn't cut it
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer: This one wasn't a big surprise by any means, especially after he lost the Golden Globe, but it still stings. In a film that could have fallen into the trap of merely focusing on Zooey Deschanel's big blue eyes, Levitt gave a touching, delightful performance that more or less carried the film (along with the screenplay).
  • Cause of Death: AMPAS being lame (yep, that's all I've got)
Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man: While it wasn't one of the best performances in a Coen brothers film, and the ensemble as a whole is better than any individual cast members, Stuhlbarg's work deserved a slightly greater degree of recognition this season (I'm still stunned that he was nominated for a Globe, of all awards).
  • Cause of Death: Lack of support
Sharlto Copely, District 9: One of the most surprising performances of the year came from one of the most surprising films of the year: Neill Blomkamp's District 9. While I'm thrilled that the film is up for Picture, Editing, Adapted Screenplay, and Visual Effects, it's a shame that AMPAS couldn't have gone the unconventional route and picked Copely for Best Actor over the likes of Morgan Freeman. What could have been an empty shell of a role becomes a compelling character, one who you want to punch in the face at first, but grow to like and root for. He never becomes a saint, however, keeping Blomkamp's film from being obnoxious or preachy. And all from someone who's never acted before.
  • Cause of Death: Lack of support + genre bias
Best Actress:

Tilda Swinton, Julia: I absolutely hated Erick Zonca's Julia. The screenplay bugged the hell out of me, and turned a potentially compelling story into 2 hours and 20 minutes of awkward dialogue and over the top set-ups. That said, the one gem in this often head-bangingly awful film is the lead performance by Tilda Swinton as the titular Julia, who spends most of her mornings stumbling back to her apartment drunk. Even when saddled with clunky dialogue and poor direction, Swinton is captivating from beginning to end. I'm convinced that with a proper campaign she could have been one of the front-runners for Best Actress. The problem, however, lies in two categories. The first is that the film is really, really, really small, not even grossing $1 million at the box office. The second is release confusion; there's debate as to whether the film's Oscar eligibility lies in 2008 or 2009. A shame that two silly factors like this took down one of the best performances of 2009...and/or 2008. Here's hoping that the same fate doesn't befall Ms. Swinton in her upcoming film I am Love.
  • Cause of Death: Lack of campaign, box office, timing
Abbie Cornish, Bright Star: Now here's one that really stings. With Swinton there were issues of release timing. That's not the case with Ms. Cornish. The film was clearly released in Oscar season (albeit at the very start) and had A) the reviews and B) the reviews for Cornish's performance. She could have been one of three breakthrough actresses in Oscar's lineup (along with Mulligan and Sidibe). Not only is Cornish wonderful in the role, but she has a great (not to mention real) character to play in Fanny Brawn. She's not some wilting flower, but rather a strong female character who designs her own clothes (and is more financially successful than her love interest) and isn't afraid to trade barbs with the gentlemen (some of them surprisingly humorous). Oh, and she gets a big crying scene. AMPAS, how on earth did you pass this one up!?
  • Cause of Death: Lack of campaign, random Academy BS
Best Supporting Actor:

Peter Capaldi, In the Loop: I'm still ecstatic about In the Loop's screenplay nomination, but the film (like last year's In Bruges) deserved so much more, especially for its performances. Stand out recognition in the brilliant ensemble has to go to Capaldi as the hysterically foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker, almost constantly angry, but not to the point of ridiculousness (even if the film is a satire/farce). Sadly, Capaldi's stellar (and profane) work gets to join the ranks of snubbed comedic performances (and not just by AMPAS; the critics awards almost entirely snubbed him as well).
  • Cause of Death: Lack of support, lack of campaign
Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker: Mackie gets the closest thing to an "Oscar clip scene" in Bigelow's top tier war film, but it never feels shameless or manipulative. A large part of this is owed to Mackie's excellent work, which contrasts beautifully with the recklessness of Renner's character. Mackie's face is extremely lean, which draws one's focus to his eyes, and they don't disappoint. It may be a cliche to call eyes the "window to the soul," but in Mackie's case it's entirely true.
  • Cause of Death: Constantly on the outside of people's Top 5 in the category
Supporting Actress:

Penelope Cruz, Broken Embraces: This is a tricky one to categorize for two reasons. First, Cruz did get a nomination this year, just not for what I consider to be her stronger performance. Second, there's the issue of category confusion. Even though she's the top-billed star, I consider the character supporting because she appears only in (lengthy) flash back sequences, and there's a significant chunk of film left after her arc comes to an end. Regardless, she's marvelous in her latest collaboration with Almodovar, and plays a more interesting role than she does in Nine. Not necessarily a terrible tragedy of awards season, but a shame she couldn't have been recognized for this performance instead.
  • Cause of Death: Conflicting films, category confusion
Marion Cotillard, Nine: Now here's a real victim. Easily the best-in-show performer in Rob Marshall's dazzling-yet-flawed musical, Cotillard is where the heart of the film lies. She also does the best job of incorporating her acting into her singing, which is good because she's the only woman in the film to have two songs. The pain, love, and eventual fury is all expressed so beautifully in both word and song, that it's a damn shame to see her go unrecognized all because Harvey Weinstein wanted to push her as lead. It would have been nice for her to get a follow-up nomination just to show that her win wasn't some sort of one-time thing. They better not screw her out of getting to perform "Take it All" on March 7th, or else this is going to really suck.
  • Cause of Death: Category confusion
Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds: Another victim of category confusion thanks to the Weinsteins insisting on placing her in the lead category. Laurent 's performance may not have had all of the things that scream "OSCAR!!" but it was a strong, controlled performance, with the highlight of it being her scenes in the projection room in the final chapter, and her eyes-only acting when she eats with Col. Landa, the man who murdered her family. She was never going to be a major player in Awards Season, but she could have at least be a player, if only she hadn't been so wrongly campaigned.
  • Cause of Death: Category confusion

1 comment:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I think Nine and The Messenger were two obvious casualties. The latter is lovely and the former is just really, really good. I know it's not a popular thought but I can't stop thinking about it. Ben Foster was a casualties as was Ben Whishaw, I'm with you especially on Cornish, Mortensen and Mackie and of course Cotillard.

Didn't see Julia, so can't comment there.