By sheer numbers, the 84th Annual Academy Award Nominations seems to belong to Hugo, with 11 nominations. But given those are largely in the technical / craft categories, the success story this year is The Artist, a modern silent movie, shot in black and white, with two French stars practically unknown in the United States. With ten nominations, it should be the surprise off the season, except for the fact that this is simply the last lap in its run as the unlikeliest picture to win the hearts of awards season voters.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences moved the nominations announcements to January a couple of years ago, effectively shortening the “awards season,” but the unintended consequences have been to push the rest of the pretenders to Oscar glory into a free for all, everyone trying to predict or influence or simply contrast eventual Academy Award nominees. As a result, there are few real surprises by the time the Oscars are announced. It’s the final party in an absurdly overcrowded season of awards proms and I’m about partied out.
Plus there’s that new Academy sliding scale of Best Picture nominees. Bumped up from five to ten spots last year (not out of altruism but because indie pictures kept knocking the big audience-pleasing Hollywood movies out of contention), the number is now determined by the number of “You like me, you really, really like me!” number one votes a film received on the Academy ballots. This year, it resulted in nine nominations: an odd number for an odd year.
And yet… it’s the Oscars. They still matter. A nomination is indeed an honor (certainly more of an honor than the Golden Globes) and a snub is still something to get worked up over. And so here is out annual scorecard on Oscar’s slights and oversights: they shoulda been a contender.
There are nine nominees this year, but is more really better when Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Hollywood’s inevitable and inadequate 9/11 drama) and The Help (this year’s answer to The Blind Side?) and War Horse (Spielberg sentiment run amok) fill out those extra slots? This year swings so far in the other direction of Big Films with Important Messages Hammered Home with Insistent Direction that the indie films that spurred the expansion are all but ignored.
Two of the most glaring slights: Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt’s lost-in-the-desert frontier drama (did it play too early in 2011 for voters to remember its understated virtues?), and Take Shelter, a psychological drama about mental illness and end-of-the-world fears wrapped up in contemporary anxieties of economic survival.