MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

9 Days to Oscar: In Memoriam

Voting closes Tuesday… but the die is pretty much cast at this point.

In the 9 days to come, there will be plenty of conversation about the nominees and who should or should not win. But at this moment in the season, I find myself thinking about the ones that got left behind.

There are a wide array of reasons why this one or that one is not being celebrated right now. Like picking a “winner” for Best Film of the Year, picking the most egregious oversight is kind of silly. So don’t read any hierarchy into this list of complaints.

Warner Bros threw Contagion to the winds of history, even though it was easily the best film they distributed this year. Cliff Martinez, who stunningly has never been Oscar nominated, was disqualified for Drive, but certainly should have been high on the list of likely nominees for Contagion. No serious push for screenplay, direction, or any of the acting turns. Even with an Oscar nomination and endless pushing, Moneyball never passed Contagion at the box office… not that anyone will notice.

The Interrupters didn’t even make the documentary short list. This is a new Hoop Dreams moment. And hopefully, Michael Moore’s new rules for the doc nomination and final voting process will keep this kind of error from happening again… though I fear that while more popular docs will be nominated, the new rules will create unpleasant challenges for a wide range of theatrical, but not terribly commercial docs. There is something very odd indeed when 3 of the 5 Best Feature Documentary nominees this year would not qualify to compete next year. Yes, they might adjust their release plans to qualify. But one must seriously consider why The Academy is taking a role in the distribution choices of any film, much less a genre that is so commercially challenged.

Albert Brooks is on his way to an honorary Oscar. He deserves better. Is there a Judd Apatow without an Albert Brooks? Brooks, as a filmmaker, is a master of getting deep, rich, thoughtful laughs while almost always playing just a little off the expected key. Every one of his first four films should be included in any list of the 200 most important films in American cinema. You can still hear the reverberations of ideas he had (as well as his much-imitated SNL shorts and his 2nd group of four feature films) in both films and the daily culture of America and the world. Nicolas Refn says he was interested in casting Brooks based on Lost in America alone… the energy is iconic. Albert is not the only artist who didn’t get where many of us felt he should be going because of the circumstances of the film he was in. But certainly as much as Nolte, von Sydow, and Plummer, he is a legend and a treasure, his contribution invaluable to millions.

Young Adult is the kind of film that feels like a child of Albert Brooks. It is Jason Reitman’s most challenging film, pushed forward by Diablo Cody’s most mature screenplay (on which she worked with close collaborator Reitman), and one of the truly great performances of the decade in Charlize Theron’s brutally sad Mavis Gary. And that’s not even adding in the remarkable turn by Patton Oswalt as her reflection, a man all too aware of how broken he is. I still count Michelle Williams immersion in the depths of Marilyn Monroe’s soul as the female performance of the year. But Theron’s turn is very close, in part because she had no one else’s soul to hide behind. No make-up of note. No Maggie Thatcher. No dragon tattoo or heavy piercings. Just a raw, scared, sexy, horrifying, pained, desperate 30something woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The turn puts me in mind of Jill Clayburgh’s in An Unmarried Woman, a bit more stylized.

How did Ben Kingsley get left out in the cold – including at BAFTA – for one of his career-best performances as Melies in the awards-popular Hugo? The kids were great, but really, if you needed to pick the central performance of the film, it’s Kingsley’s. And yet, somehow it was set aside during the awards season. Stunning to me. I felt the performance (and career) were so strong that Kingsley would win Best Supporting Actor. But there was not even a nomination.

Michael Fassbender’s performance in Shame was undeniable. The ambition of the performance was overwhelming, when compared to most of the others that have been considered for Best Actor this year. It’s not a put down of those nominated. Clooney showed similar ambition in The American last year and should have been nominated. Pitt went there in Benjamin Button. Gary Oldman has gone there endless times. And for me, Demian Bichir’s turn in Che was much more challenging than the raw and beautifully acted emotionalism of the film for which he was nominated. Watching Fassbender makes the audience squirm, attracted and repulsed all at the same time.

Warrior is Rocky meets On The Waterfront. I have written all too much about the marketing problems for this wonderful film. One of the best sports-related films ever made, it coulda been a contender. I expect that it will be a home entertainment favorite for decades to come.

There are plenty of other films and performances and screenplays that were overlooked… but which I am at peace. If you can get Win Win to $25m, Win Win can’t get a flurry of deserved nominations. Senna got dq’ed and Project Nim got to the short list. There are other potential nominations for Shame for which I understand the reasons that they never caught awards fire. Dominic Cooper never had a chance, though his turn in The Devil’s Double is amazing. The Beaver, Melancholia, etc, etc, etc… just not meant to be.

But I will mourn for many. The mantle of greatness is elusive… even for the great.

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7 Responses to “9 Days to Oscar: In Memoriam”

  1. yancyskancy says:

    Ditto to many of these (though I still don’t get the extreme WARRIOR love, though I liked it well enough).

    Brooks getting snubbed reminds me that Jerry Lewis didn’t get nominated for THE KING OF COMEDY in ’83, probably his only real shot at a competitive Oscar (I’m a Nicholson fan, but he didn’t really need to win for TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, though I suppose he was the most deserving of those who did get nominated).

    I’ll also single out Kristen Wiig, not only for her performance in BRIDESMAIDS, which at least got her into the Oscar conversation, but also for her supporting turn in PAUL.

  2. Jeff York says:

    Well said, David. I too am baffled my so many omissions, particularly Brooks, Theron and Kingsley not getting recognized. I am impressed by so many nominees that the Academy did see fit to honor, but I sure wish that YOUNG ADULT, DRIVE, SHAME, MELANCHOLIA, THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE and many others were remembered more. A shame, truly. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, sir. You’re not alone in your melancholy.

  3. Tuck Pendelton says:

    I’d like to throw Win Win and Hanna in this conversation. I think the technical aspects of Hanna (particularly production design, cinematography and score) are some of the year’s best. Cate Blanchett was a hoot to watch.

    Win Win is the kind of movie there just isn’t more of anymore. Down-to-earth, average people, the end of the world is not in balance. I think its one of Giamatti’s groundest performances. It’s good. I tell everyone to see it.

    Sorry to nitpick, DP. There was nothing ambitious about Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button. He was a visual effect, and I wasn’t emotionally involved for a split second.

  4. Danella Isaacs says:

    I agree with everything you say here, David. The LAST thing I am is a sports movie fan, but WARRIOR really was something special, particularly on a big screen where it had a kind of mythic/epic quality to it–much more memorable than THE FIGHTER. Glad I was one of the fifteen people who saw it in a theater.

  5. Keil Shults says:

    Win Win is overrated.

  6. doug bennion says:

    In the year 2032, someone will compile a list of the ten best movies in the past 20 years. Drive will be on that list.

  7. joey says:

    Dear Doug,

    You clearly have strong feelings about Drive. Can you tell me why is it such a good movie in your opinion? All I saw was an interesting, at times exciting, never groundbreaking and at all times self-aware exercise in style. What am I missing? Or are other like me not getting the love for that one?

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