2012 Oscar nominations provide drama on their own

Hollywood loves to make drama on and off the screen, and at no time is that more obvious than during Oscar season. This year’s batch of nominees were announced on Jan. 24, but the actual awards won’t be handed out until Feb. 26. Most of the minor award ceremonies, such as the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes, have already passed, which leaves only these nominations left to discuss. And there are plenty of surprises and snubs to discuss.

“Extremely Loud” & Incredibly Surprising

Hands down, the biggest surprise in the Oscar nominations is “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’s” nomination for Best Picture. At first glance, the film certainly has the pedigree of an Oscar competitor. It stars Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, is directed by three-time nominee Stephen Daldry and is based on a best-selling book about a heart-wrenching topic. The movie could have just been titled “Oscar Bait: The Movie.”

Then something horrible happened to the film: it was released. Critics from across the nation ripped into the film. The A.V. Club gave it an F, putting it on the same level as “Shark Night 3D” and “The Devil Inside,” and Manohla Dargis of The New York Times said the proper response to the film “should be rage.”

So how did it get nominated for the Academy’s biggest prize?

For one, the Oscars have always looked to nominate films that, at even just a surface level, take on big, timely issues. 9/11 is still relatively new territory for Hollywood; including “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” there have only been four mainstream films centered on the tragedy. The movie’s nomination rewards its bravery but also, in an admittedly weak year, gives the Academy a culturally significant film to recognize.

In addition, though the film has strong detractors, many also embrace it and find it deeply emotional. Since recent voting changes have put a greater emphasis on first place votes, a polarizing movie that creates extreme reactions could fare better than a movie that is universally liked but isn’t loved.

But in the end, none of this is going to matter because …

“The Artist” and Everyone Else

“The Artist” is going to win Best Picture. Though “The Help” won big at last Sunday’s SAG Awards, making things slightly more interesting, the French black-and-white silent film has won almost every other award worth winning.

“The Help” is certainly an acting showcase, and will be rewarded as such by the Academy, but it lacks in its script and its direction, two categories in which “The Artist” is nominated and “The Help” is not. A movie without a Best Screenplay nomination hasn’t won Best Picture since “Titanic,” and the last time a movie won without a Best Director nod was over twenty years ago.

The biggest reason why “The Artist” will win is because 2011 was the year of nostalgia. Four of the nine nominees focus on feelings of nostalgia, and two of those four, “The Artist” and “Hugo,” are about film’s cherished past. The Oscars have always been accused of being self-important, so what better way to disprove that accusation than by giving their greatest prize to a movie about movies?

“Drive” Angry

It wouldn’t be Oscar season without disappointment. The main source of disappointment this year came from the lack of nominations for the stylish noir, “Drive,” which has built up a solid cult following since its release in September. Though well reviewed, the film was released too early in the award season to be remembered, and its deliberate pacing and extreme violence were likely turn-offs for Academy voters.

The movie’s best chance at a high-profile nomination was Albert Brooks, whose chillingly sinister turn as a brutal gangster attracted some Best Supporting Actor consideration. The “Finding Nemo” star was passed over by “Warrior’s” Nick Nolte and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’s” Max von Sydow, leaving “Drive” with a lone nomination for everyone’s favorite award, Best Sound Editing.

Brooks and “Drive” fans weren’t the only ones with the blues early last week Tuesday. Leonardo DiCaprio, whose performance in “J. Edgar” had earned him a SAG and a Golden Globe nomination, was left off of the final ballot. One has to wonder if his snub was more the result of his miserable old man make-up than his performance. Considering that he has two projects coming this year, one being a Quentin Tarantino film and the other being “The Great Gatsby,” I’m sure we’ll see him at the Oscars come next February.

That’s the nice thing about the Academy Awards: there’s always next year to give you hope that you won’t be disappointed, again.

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