Alex: So I think Aaron and I were pleasantly surprised that our favorite movie of 2011, The Tree of Life, got some love from the Academy (noms for best picture, director, and cinematography). We’d heard some scuttlebutt that an Academy screening left its audience befuddled, so I’m glad at least some faction of the voters recognized greatness.
And I’m happy Moneyball got well deserved attention (six noms, including best picture and best adapted screenplay), though I know Aaron isn’t with me on this one.
I’m also a huge fan of Hugo, but even though it’s the most nominated film (12), it’s hard to see the Academy rallying around it. It’s almost too smart for them. They’re more likely to champion the movie that makes them feel smart (The Artist).
Aaron doesn’t like Hugo. He also doesn’t like ice cream, puppies, or joy.
Anyway, as ever, these are the bits of plant life sticking up through a sea of middlebrow and reactionary mud. Aaron and I haven’t planned a format for this particular post, but just to keep me from going on ad infinitum, I’m simply going to pull out the three nominations that annoy me most:
- Meryl Streep as best actress for The Iron Lady — or, as our dear friend Damien called it, The Vile Evil Tory Harridan. Meryl’s sure to win her third Oscar, and man is she workin’ hard to bag it, but I actually think it isn’t a great performance. Actually, I’m not even sure it’s a performance. Under a great makeup job, Meryl never gives us access to the soul of dear old Maggie (if there is one), and because so much of the movie is about Alzheimer’s-afflicted Maggie going steadily crazier, Meryl can relish looking befuddled and distant. Meanwhile, in her younger, saner patches we find Meryl’s Maggie stiff almost the point of caricature. I was more impressed with Alexandra Roach, who plays the young Maggie — in a more interesting stretch of the film, it’s worth adding. Roach, and that section of the movie, begin to show us how a personality like Margaret Thatcher (nee Roberts) could come to exist in working-class, post-war England. How iconoclasm and fascism could exist in the same character. (It really points up the missed opportunity that is The Iron Lady.) Meryl’s best scene is also, not coincidentally, the best-written and best-directed scene in the film: the scene with her doctor. The movie is otherwise directed without a style or point of view, and I couldn’t escape the sense that we were seeing the film of a screenplay that was only on its third draft. I’ve done enough theatre to know that usually everything goes wrong together, and when things go right they go right together, and here Meryl is exactly as uninteresting as the movie around her.
- Christopher Plummer’s supporting-actor nod for Beginners. Nothing against Plummer, who ought to have won a couple of Oscars already (namely for Inside Daisy Clover and/or The Insider). But he just doesn’t have much to do in this movie. Something feels obligatory about the nomination, and not just because Plummer is old and Oscar-less, but because he’s playing a gay character. It’s the kind of performance (well, casting, really) you often hear described as “brave.” Why is it brave? Because he risks people actually thinking he’s actually gay in actual real life? Did anyone start to think that Anthony Hopkins might actually enjoy eating people? Gimme a break. (Plummer’s cause isn’t helped by the fact that I hated Beginners.)
- But here’s the one that really makes me want to cut a mofo. Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo are nominated for “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen” for the odious, nasty, unfunny, unstructured mess that is Bridesmaids. Let’s pretend, though, that it is funny, and that there is a basic humanity in its comedy. Let’s also pretend that its moments of sincerity are earned, are genuine. Even then the movie is a series of schticks. Who sees craft in this screenplay? How can such labored and implausible events be called “best writing”? So the bitch bridesmaid poisoned the lunches of the other bridesmaids so that when they all went dress shopping together, the other women would get the poops ahoy and the bitch would be the only one able to choose the dress? That was her plan? That’s the joke? It’s so fucking labored. The whole movie is like that. The screenplay is also up for a BAFTA and a Writers Guild Award. I’m totally baffled.
- Yes, I said I’d only do three, but in the time since I wrote all the words above, I’ve been infuriated anew. I’ll keep this short. The Ides of March, which I finally saw last night, is also a writing nominee. In a story replete with — indeed, characterized by — hackneyed events and lazy dialogue, one line stuck out as being unconscionable: “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna jump ship when the shit hits the fan.” It’s back-to-back-to-back cliches, and it’s also a mixed metaphor. Lines like that should never get past a first draft.
Aaron: So I fell and badly sprained my hand the other day, making typing at the computer (yeah – typing – totally) difficult, so I’ll keep this short.
Alex, your love for Hugo baffles me totally, especially considering you think The Artist is fake smart. I was so deeply bored by Hugo I fail to see its genius. The story has gigantic problems (like that dumb love story between the flower lady and the station agent… or the hackneyed agent himself) and feels at times wooden and at other times turgid (Oh! One of the first films by the Lumieres was a train coming at the camera and we get that same feeling! It’s like I understand it more now because Marty made it really clear for me to see!). I don’t really want to get into a post here about Hugo, because it’s such a minor movie I will never be interested in it (though I know you’ll have a smart answer for me).
What I really don’t understand is your adoration for Moneyball, a film about a boring gimmick with no sports or emotional charm. I went grocery shopping today and decided to buy a bulk-sized jar of peanut butter. I should make a movie about that and have Brad Pitt play me (obviously) and people will think it’s interesting. This is such an artless procedural it boggles the mind how people like it so much. The Pitt daughter story is absolutely secondary and pointless and gives a veneer or “family film” that really has nothing to do with anything here. On top of this, Pitt’s performance here is fine, but, Alex, as a lover of the superior The Tree of Life, you should be upset that Pitt wasn’t nominated for that – a role with much more variation and interest.
I generally agree with your comments on Meryl, but I’m a bad judge because she’s never done anything for me other than a bunch of accents. I actually think her old Maggie is much better than her middle-aged Maggie, though the subject is disgusting and not very interesting.
I totally agree with you about Bridesmaids, which I also found totally dumb and safe. It’s a preposterous story and fails to be funny at all. I think it’s the best effort of Academy to seem hip (“I LOVED that movie! I saw it with my girlfriends! My wedding was just like that!”), but it comes off as tonedeaf and painful. (And really just has to do with box-office, rather than work… which is exactly what the Oscars always do.)
In terms of nominations I don’t like, there’s a long list… though I am surprised by very few of them. (OK – and can we all stop talking about ‘snubs’?! I think Trent Reznor will be fine with not getting another nomination this year for the same score he won for last year. Stop feeling bad for him.) I’m sick that John Williams got TWO nominations for his two (fucking) Spielberg movies. They both were dumb and recycled. I’m annoyed that Jessica Chastain got a nomination for The Help and not The Tree of Life (but, whatever, bigger studio push, I’m sure… and special pie). I’m shocked that Janet McTeer got a nomination for Albert Nobbs, where she plays the least male-looking drag king ever in a sub-average film (again, something about the Academy feeling good about itself for liking the gays). Her performance is a’ight, but nothing wonderful (come to think of it, Chastain singlehandedly had most of the best supporting actress performances in 2011).
Now I’m going to go watch something long and Romanian.