Why I remain zen about the Oscars nominations

24 Jan

Me on Twitter, being a fool

Click here for a full list of the Oscar nominations.

As I was watching the live stream of the Oscar nominations announcement, here is what went through my head:

“Wow, this is fun. A screenplay nod for A Separation, Rooney Mara getting nominated for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Tree of Life up for both Best Picture and Best Director, Gary Oldman finally scoring his first acting nomination… A fair share of surprises and interesting oddities. I bet there’s going to be a lot of happy people on the internet today.”

Re-read that last sentence. Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking either.

Of course everyone was angry. My Twitter feed quickly filled up with outcry about what was snubbed, what undeservedly got in, and how the Academy members are a bunch of idiots with no taste. “Why no love for Drive!?” “No Michael Fassbender!? #OscarsFail” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for Best Picture!? #lol #smh” “Melissa McCarthy and Jonah Hill are now Oscar nominees? Kill me now.” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon – 3 nominations. Shame – ZERO. WTF?” “Somewhere in a bar, Tilda Swinton is drowning her sorrows. What the HELL, AMPAS?”

I do not begrudge people for being passionate about films they love. It’s what being a movie fan is all about. Here it was mostly expressed in negative ways, however. Many were happy about so-and-so being nominated for this-or-that, but a majority of the comments I read were focused on complaining about the nods and snubs they disagreed with. It got a bit tiresome. Surely we should be celebrating the good stuff instead of dwelling on the bad, no? But whatever. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Speaking of opinions: did you know that they’re subjective? And that there’s no such thing as “right” or “wrong” when it comes to taste? And that not everyone likes the same stuff that you do? And that the Academy members are people with their own opinions?

I like awards season. At times, I even love it. But it’s for the brain, not for the heart. I like seeing the ebb and flow of the race, sussing out which films have buzz going for them, spotting the dark horses, and trying to determine which of my hunches should be followed up on. This is completely separated from how I feel about the movies themselves. The truth is that I haven’t seen most of the films nominated for anything yet. Hell, I’ve only seen two of the Best Picture nominees at this point: Midnight in Paris and The Help, both of which I enjoy but wouldn’t put on my own ballot were I an Academy member. Don’t take my lack of personal viewing as a reason for why I remain so detached, though. I was more caught up last year and had more horses I loved in the race, and I still had no problem remaining zen about the nominations.

The Academy voters like what they like. There is no reason for me to be neither overjoyed nor sad if their opinions do or do not match my own. I don’t need Nicolas Winding Refn to be nominated for Best Director to know that I thought Drive was a great piece of movie-making. I thought Super 8 had jaw-dropping visual effects and a teriffic performance by young Elle Fanning, but I’m fine with AMPAS not nominating that film for anything. And the fact that Corey Stoll wasn’t nominated in Best Supporting Actor for playing Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris doesn’t mean he didn’t steal in the film in my eyes.

If there is such a thing as “objectively good film” – and I doubt it more for each passing year – it’s clear that the Academy voters don’t concern themselves too much with the concept. I assume that’s what gets people so riled up: that “Best Picture” is supposed to go to what is objectively the year’s best movie – hence the outrage that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was surprisingly nominated when most critics found it lacking. It’s currently at 48% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, a fact that many people have cited the past few hours. Many haven’t seen it themselves, probably because of the lukewarm critical reception and, if I may be a bit presumptious, because it was written off as not likely to score any Oscar nominations.

But now more people probably will check it out, if only to see if it’s “worthy” of its Best Picture nomination. Which brings me to the good aspect of awards season: the way it brings attention to movies that otherwise wouldn’t be seen by as many. If not for awards season, there’s little chance that something like The Artist – a French black & white silent film – would have ever been talked about outside of hardcore cinephile circles. Smaller films from previous years like An Education and Winter’s Bone also garnered more attention thanks to the whole Oscars thing, which has lead to more interesting roles being available for their stars Carey Mulligan and Jennifer Lawrence. The Oscars and other awards ceremonies can thus do good things for movies. Perhaps this is why many people get so emotionally invested. We all want the films we love to be seen by as many as possible. Both for the sake of people seeing good movies, and so that the men and women who made them will gain added exposure and be allowed to make more great films in the future. Still, the point is diluted when you go from “I hope Fassbender gets nominated so that he’ll get more awesome roles” to “By snubbing Fassbender, AMPAS once again proves that their members have their heads up their asses.”

To me, words like “worthy” and “deserving” tend to be misused in Oscars discussions. It’s a contest to get the most votes from the Academy members. If you do well in this contest, you get in. That’s the mark of being deserving of an Oscar nomination. I get what people are saying, though: this or that movie does not deserve to be called one of the best films of the year. What I feel often goes wrong is that the sentiment gets warped by the wording and context. A movie can be worthy of attention, accolades and acclaim in our eyes, yes. But what tends to be conveyed instead is that “this film does not deserve to be liked by the Academy members”, which is something I don’t think we have any right to say.

By all means, express love for the films you adore and spew bile on the films you hate. You are definitely entitled to. Your opinion is as important and valid as anyone’s. But allow the same courtesy to the Academy members. They’re often the same people who make the movies you enjoy seeing.

A few closing notes on the nominations…

Max von Sydow

  • A big congratulation goes out to my fellow Swede Max von Sydow, who got an unexpected Best Supporting Actor nomination for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It’s always nice to see Swedish actors recognized internationally.
  • Drive, which I’ve seen at the top of more 2011 Top 10 lists than any other film, got its sole nomination in the Best Sound Editing category. 12 years ago, this very same fate befell another film with lots of devoted fans: Fight Club. They both made roughly the same amount of money at the box office, too.
  • It has been 30 years since a film won Best Picture without also being nominated for Best Editing. If this holds true this year too, there are only four conceivable Best Picture winners: The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, and Moneyball.
  • Yes, Transformers: Dark of the Moon got three nominations: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects. Don’t be upset about how it doesn’t deserve to call itself an Oscar nominee. The Oscars are meant to reward great crafts work within their respective fields. The overall quality of the film is irrelevant.

What nomination were you the happiest over?


Posted by on 24 January, 2012 in Oscars


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18 responses to “Why I remain zen about the Oscars nominations

  1. Diana

    24 January, 2012 at 21:41

    I was very happy for Nick Nolte, Rooney Mara and Gary Oldman- they all deserved it! Also, it is nice to see Jane Eyre on the list, if only just for costumes! Biggest dissapointment: Fassbender for Shame, I can deal with the rest! Great post and you are right- my twitter exploded after the announcement!

    • Emil

      24 January, 2012 at 21:48

      Jane Eyre seems to be one of those films that has a small but very devoted group of supporters. I’ve seen a number of people call it one of their favorites of the year. I might have to check it out at some point myself, even if it doesn’t particularly look like my cup of tea.

      Haven’t seen any of the performances you mentioned yet, although I’m hoping to catch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sooner than later. If Mara is anywhere near as good as Noomi Rapace was in the Swedish films, I should be in for a treat. Assuming I can see past that weird accent of hers, that is…

  2. Jessica

    24 January, 2012 at 22:47

    I’m happiest about Max von Sydow! I haven’t seen the movie since it hasn’t come up yet as you know and I fear the worst from the reviews I’ve seen. But man, I love him so much! I wish he finally could get an Oscar for long and good service if nothing else.

    • Emil

      24 January, 2012 at 23:27

      Yeah, von Sydow was a pleasant surprise for us Swedes, wasn’t it? I think he might be one to keep an eye on in the category. People were clearly underestimating the Academy’s love for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I think many might have relied on Plummer getting the win due to his overdue status, but there is no such card he can play now that von Sydow can’t match. They’re both respected veterans, both 82 years old, both with only one previous nomination and no win. Max von Sydow will be one to watch in the coming weeks.

  3. Movies - Noir

    24 January, 2012 at 22:58

    I didn’t get the surprises I had hoped for, but the two nominations that made me happy were Nick Nolte for supporting actor and Rundskop (Belgium) for best foreign film. Not because they were best, but because they weren’t favorites to make it. I won’t go into disappointments, those can be found in my own blog post on the subject.

    This year I lack movies and performances I really love and can cheer for a bit extra. I’m also a bit dissapointed when we have heavy favorites, just like last year. This year it’s The Artist vs. The Descendants. Last year it was The King’s Speech vs. The Social Network. Problem is, neither of those films were/are ones I could cheer for. I guess I’ll have to hope Moneyball can pull off a major upset… somehow.

    • Emil

      24 January, 2012 at 23:35

      Best Picture eventually always boils down to either a dead-certain winner (like Slumdog Millionaire or Brokeback Mountain, even if the latter lost in a huge upset) or a two-horse race (King’s Speech & Social Network, Hurt Locker & Avatar…). It’s inevitable. I’m just happy it took so long this year before it narrowed down. The Artist took its sweet time before it was declared the arguable front runner.

      I also think you might be off when it comes to its biggest threat. The Descendants didn’t do as well as expected with the nominations. Only 5 nods in total, missing out on an expected Supporting Actress nom for Shailene Woodley and not having much support from the crafts branches. I’d say Hugo is the one that could challenge The Artist. Not just because it got a lot of nominations, but because it too is about the love for cinema’s past. Having Scorsese on board doesn’t hurt either.

      • Movies - Noir

        25 January, 2012 at 02:56

        After seeing The Descendants, I hope I’m wrong cause I didn’t find it that special. But I’m mainly going by what I’ve read and that’s that The Artist and The Descendants are the front runners. However, this could easily change when it comes to the Oscars and you’re right that Hugo might be the one challenging. I still hope Moneyball can somehow get a buzz going and go for the win. That would be sweet.

        I remember when Crash “upset” Brokeback Mountain and how happy it made me. So upsets do happen every now and then, even though I feel they happen less often now than let’s say ten years ago.

        • Emil

          25 January, 2012 at 09:12

          Hard to say whether upsets happen more or less nowadays than in the past, considering I didn’t pay any attention to the Oscars back then. They do still happen though, at least if one looks past the Best Picture category and towards the other fields. Precious winning Adapted Screenplay over the much-predicted Up in the Air, Alarn Arkin getting Best Supporting Actor for Little Miss Sunshine from out of nowhere… There can still be surprises.

  4. CMrok93

    24 January, 2012 at 23:42

    Honestly, at this point I think it’s pretty well established that the Oscars are going to overlook handfuls of artists who truly deserve recognition each and every year. Not only that, but it’s also an exceedingly subjective discussion in the first place. The snubs are obviously here like Swinton, Fassbender, Brooks, and even Serkis to an extent, but it’s the Oscars and I will always watch them.

    • Emil

      24 January, 2012 at 23:59

      There’s only so much room each year. Plus, while nobody can tell the Academy what to like, there’s always things going on behind the scenes that are out of the movies’ hands. Some distributors don’t have the funds to send out screeners to voters, other companies have too many films to focus on and can’t support everything on its plate, etcetera. Call it politics or business if you will, but it’s the reality of the situation. The voters are people who work with films. Many of them don’t have the time to see everything that deserves to be seen. They need to be prodded to see this or that film instead of those other ones. If no prodding is done, it’s hard for films to gain traction with enough of people, especially when it’s as big a voting group as AMPAS.

      I don’t want to sound like an Academy apologist. I just think it’s important to see the Oscars race for what it is. And it’s also important to keep talking about the films you yourself love, so that people will hear about them and want to see them.

  5. Nostra

    25 January, 2012 at 07:53

    That was a very nice writeup. Personally I don’t care much about the Oscars, which like you say is a popularity contest, so there are always going to be movies/actors etc. missed out.

    • Emil

      25 January, 2012 at 09:17

      Thank you! As a film lover, I can totally see why one wouldn’t care about the whole circus. The talking about the merits of the films themselves can often get drowned out by awards gossipping. This is why I think it’s important to separate the two in one’s mind.

  6. Pete

    25 January, 2012 at 22:08

    Whole heartedly agree Emil. Far too much whining, not enough love, joy and happiness… and it really is just the Oscars. They are pretty predictable and I actually think the amount of comedy and the inclusion of people like McCarthy is a step forwards. The ‘best’ films don’t have to be dramatic, neither do the best performances. Good point about Drive and Fight Club. These films won’t win Oscars but doesn’t mean we love them any less. It’s just the Academy is a bit on the traditional side. It’s not that bad… like you say, they’re entitled to their opinions and their opinions are worth a lot to many. And not so much to others.

    • Emil

      25 January, 2012 at 22:35

      I too like that the Academy seems willing to accept comedy a bit more than they normally do. I’m a big fan of comedies and feel that it should be considered as important a genre as drama. While I can’t speak for either McCarthy’s or Hill’s performances, having not seen their films yet, I like the principle of their inclusions.

  7. Hannah Megill

    26 January, 2012 at 21:45

    I feel less connected to the Oscar noms this year than I have in years past – I’ve hardly seen any of the major movies involved. However, I was psyched to see Midnight in Paris’ Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing nods. I’m a mega Woody Allen fangirl and thought this was his best in *years* so it was exciting to see some Academy recognition for it.

    • Emil

      26 January, 2012 at 22:54

      Haha, I figured that would make you happy, yeah. It’s definitely a charming film. :)

  8. TR

    30 January, 2012 at 16:07

    lets just hope A separation wins the oscar….it is truly a masterpiece !!

    • Emil

      30 January, 2012 at 17:22

      I haven’t seen it yet myself, but I keep hearing great things about it. :)


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