MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Nomination Autopsy

It’s funny, the night before the Oscar nominations I was remarking to everyone I knew that this would most likely be the first time the Academy didn’t nominate a film for Best Picture that I absolutely detested. I mean, I expected them to nominate a film like The Dark Knight which I wasn’t particularly fond of, but it was still a good film. So I was looking forward to the first Academy Awards where every film nominated would be something decent. Then, they went and nominated The Reader – but I’ll get to that in a moment. Part of me was kind of glad that some kind of surprise occurred, as the season so far had progressed almost too predictably, but the “daring” choices the Academy made were actually confounding and silly. So, here are my thoughts on what transpired.

The Reader goes for the gold.

Clearly, this was the biggest surprise for most people, but “surprised” doesn’t do justice to what I felt. I haven’t really written much about The Reader because I thought it was unspeakably awful and had no real chance of getting anything beyond a nomination for Kate Winslet. But now I find myself with the need to vent. The problem with the film, beyond being exploitative and plodding, is that I don’t have a clue what its point of view is.

There is some stuff in there about the sons of Germany being disappointed by the sins of their fathers during the Holocaust, but it seems to be saying, essentially, that illiterate Nazis are okay. And that’s another thing, when it is finally “revealed” that Winslet’s character is indeed illiterate, it might be the least shocking “surprise” in movie history. Anybody that hasn’t figured that out by then seriously needs to pay attention to the movie they’re watching. But I suppose they could be forgiven, given how tedious the rest of the film is.

The acting is fine, but I really do not understand the motivations of any of the characters, leading me to believe that some of the internalization in the source material never made it to the screen. I do not understand why the main character does not speak up for this Nazi who meant so much to him, nor do I understand why he helps her when he does. I also don’t understand why he takes his daughter to the cemetery at the end of the film. The reason I don’t understand these things is not because I’ve failed on some level as a moviegoer — to be sure, I could create my own reasons for why people do what they do in the film — but because the film has failed me by not giving me a purpose for its existence.

For example, there is a scene in the film in which the main character goes to visit a closed-down concentration camp. He walks through it slowly and we follow him as he sees the place where thousands, if not millions, lost their lives. The scene goes on for about two minutes and the problem is: I don’t have a clue what this scene is supposed to mean to the main character or to me, as an audience member. Yes, I feel sad when I see concentration camps and I’m sure the protagonist does as well; so what? What am I supposed to glean from this scene beyond the fact that the Holocaust was unspeakably awful. But I knew that already, what is the movie telling me that I didn’t already know?

I have to believe that a large part of the issue has to do with the film being rushed out to compete in the awards race. Harvey Weinstein famously (infamously), against the wishes of producer Scott Rudin, insisted that the film be released for contention. And Weinstein proved to be right in figuring that The Reader could be a player in the Academy Awards, but perhaps if the filmmakers were given more time to work on the editing, it could have actually been a decent film too.

Stephen Daldry’s nomination to go with it cements his status as the best director alive, right? I mean, every film he’s made has gotten him a best director nomination, so he must be good. It’s amazing to me that a director of pretentious and muddled melodramas like Daldry is able to garner a nomination every single time out while a director like Wes Anderson has yet to get one even though he makes singular, original visions spring to life with vitality. David Fincher just got his first nomination this year, but Daldry got his third; I think most of us film lovers out there would take Fincher’s filmography over Daldry’s.

And that’s the most disappointing part of this; the Academy is supposed to be an organization of people in the film business that love film. This isn’t some haphazard, random sampling of ordinary folks, this is an esteemed panel of actors, directors, and screenwriters and if they can’t see the flaws in a film like The Reader, then it seriously hurts the credibility of the organization in the same way Crash did.

Robert Downey, Jr. is awarded for being awesome.

Hey, Academy members, I love Downey, Jr. too, I’ve loved him for years. But really, Tropic Thunder, that’s what you’re going to nominate him for? Three years after ignoring his real comeback performance in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, you’re going to give him a nod for a film in which he gives a one-note portrayal that he could have done in his sleep? Listen, I thought it was funny too, I had a few chuckles, but please think of the lunacy of putting that performance in the same category as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s turn in Doubt. Sure, it’s ridiculous to compare performances at all, but you’re really going to tell me Downey, Jr.’s schtick in Tropic Thunder is comparable to Hoffman’s genius in Doubt?

That’s another problem with the Academy; when they try to show that they have a sense of humor, they make a mockery of the award. I definitely think comedy is underrated at the Oscars, that there really should be more of a comedic presence there. But the acting choices Hoffman makes are difficult, tragic and heartbreaking and Downey, Jr. was playing a role in which there weren’t many different choices he could make. How many ways are there for him to play that part? Once you get past the controversy of a white actor in black face, it’s really a lot of idiot jokes and race jokes.

I love that the Academy nominated Downey, because he’s one of the best actors we’ve got, but not for this. Short Cuts, Natural Born Killers, Two Girls and a Guy, Black and White,Wonder Boys, Zodiac, A Scanner Darkly; just because the Academy screwed up by not nominating the guy for all those worthwhile roles doesn’t mean they should nominate him for this one, not when there were so many other worthy candidates.

The Academy does some good stuff.

Wow, I am so overjoyed by the fact that Richard Jenkins and Melissa Leo got deserved nominations for their searing work in The Visitor and Frozen River, respectively. It’s not often that the Academy awards character actors who’ve gotten the chance to headline a film, especially not when those actors give performances that don’t fit easily into any mold.

Leo, in particular, plays the kind of blue-collar character that is so rarely portrayed at all on film, someone who is struggling to get by. Kudos, as well, for the Academy nominatingCourtney Hunt’s emotionally assaultive (in the best way) screenplay. If you need a reason for why Hunt and Leo got their respective nominations, then look no further than the “dead baby” scene. If you’ve seen the film, you know exactly what I’m talking about because it’s a scene that lingers and hurts and it’s a perfect blend of true writing and a true performance.

I would expect these performances to be nominated if they were played by a deglamorizedBruce Willis and Charlize Theron, but the fact that they gave the nod to two familiar faces that aren’t exactly household names is the kind of ballsy move that makes me respect the Academy.

Revolutionary Road: the most glaring omission.

I understand that this film was polarizing to a lot of folks, but I don’t understand how it got almost completely shut out. I’ve talked it out with several people and all seemed to be as confounded as me. This is not exactly an indie film; it’s got Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet — giving amazing performances — directed by Sam Mendes. The themes might be a bit difficult, but no more difficult than something like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; it’s depressing, but no more than Milk; it’s slow-paced, but it moves faster than The Readerand is infinitely better made. I really don’t get what could turn the Academy off so much that they don’t just deny the stars, but Roger Deakins’ beautiful cinematography and Thomas Newman’s gorgeous score. (Deakins, by the way, had another phenomenal year with The Reader and Doubt in addition to Revolutionary Road.)

This was a film that I thought would be a major player before the year even started and when I saw the finished film, there was nothing in it that made me think any differently. I can only imagine that it subverted a lot of folks’ expectations of what it was supposed to be; it featured those Titanic lovebirds in something in which they weren’t really in love with one another. It wasn’t even similar to American Beauty because it was darker, more cutting, more serious than cynical.

They rightly nominated Michael Shannon’s terrific performance for Best Supporting Actor, but to shut out the rest of the film is very strange indeed.

In the end…

Ultimately, as much fun as it is to discuss the Academy Awards, it doesn’t really matter to anybody except the makers of those films that were nominated and the marketing geniuses who helped. If a film that you loved didn’t get nominated, it shouldn’t really matter to you because it shouldn’t lessen your love for that film.

Sure, it’s possible that someday people will look in the history books and see the Best Picture winners and say, “Wow, hey, Shakespeare in Love must have been the best film in 1998!” But to date, I’ve never met somebody who judged films solely based on how they did at the Academy Awards. For a lot of folks, they will see the nominated films simply because they were nominated. But, for us folks that love film, this really shouldn’t be anything other than something else for us to argue about.

Noah Forrest
January 27, 2009

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

Frenzy On Column

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon