Okay, I can't really carp too much about this year's Oscar nominations, since my four favorite movies of 2011 are up for multiple awards. But, oh, heck, I just can't help myself!
Sure, Midnight In Paris, The Artist, Hugo, and The Descendants (which didn't quite make it into my Top 10, but I still really liked) are all Best Picture nominees, with significant nominations in other categories as well. For instance, all four have also scored nominations for their directors, along with (surprise!) Terence Malick for the occasionally brilliant but woefully uneven The Tree Of Life—which suggests the Best Picture category (which also includes four other films) just got smaller.
But in passing out the kudos, how on earth could the Academy overlook Shailene Woodley as George Clooney's elder, teenage daughter in The Descendants? She was phenomenal in the role—poised, edgy, and as subtly nuanced as Clooney himself.
Speaking of subtle, Gary Oldman's Best Actor nomination for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a surprise; his performance is so full of muted, wary reserve he practically blends into the wallpaper. Not that he's not good, but actors usually have to do something more showy—put on a dress (William Hurt, Kiss of the Spider Woman), play an alcoholic or a nutcase (Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas; Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), or play (or pass as) a member of the opposite sex (Jaye Davidson, The Crying Game; Linda Hunt, The Year of Living Dangerously)—just to get noticed.
Another interesting surprise: Demian Bichir, nominated for playing a Mexican immigrant trying to keep his son out of gang life in A Better Life, a film that played for about 14 minutes at the Nick, then disappeared. This means either Bichir gave a tremendous performance, or has a tremendous press agent. (I didn't see it, but I suspect the former.)
One more factoid about this year's lineup: only Brad Pitt in Moneyball is nominated for playing an actual historical person. This bucks a trend in recent years where nominees in this category have been cited for playing everyone from Truman Capote, Edward R. Murrow, and Harvey Milk, to Richard Nixon, Nelson Mandela, Johnny Cash, and King George VI.
Vestiges of this trend remain in the Best Actress category, where Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams are poised to go mano-a-mano for playing Margaret Thatcher and Marilyn Monroe, respectively. (I thought Glenn Close would be in the running too, for her cross-dressing Albert Nobbs—see above—but the film seems to be getting a cooler reception than expected.)
It's also interesting to see Rooney Mara nominated in this category for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. She was fine, but it seems like a desperate move by the Academy to still seem, you know, with it, after having overlooked the sensational Noomi Rapace in the same role last year in the original Swedish trilogy.
Meanwhile, going back to the Supporting Actress category for a minute, I'm glad to see Janet McTeer nominated for the year's gutsiest performance in Albert Nobbs. But what, no Judi Dench for My Week With Marilyn? Her gracious Dame Sybil Thorndike kept the whole film grounded. And what about Mary Page Keller as the loyal, but understandably acerbic wife in Beginners?
But overall, it's not a horrible list of contenders, by any means. (At least Melancholia wasn't nominated for anything!) Now all I have to do is figure out how I'm going to dress a Barbie doll to look like Margaret Thatcher...
(Above, right: William Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman; above, left: Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady.)