Not a lot of huge surprises in today’s Oscar nominations, but there are enough wrinkles to keep things interesting. It’s been a down year with no dominant movie or even three or four that clearly set themselves apart from the field.
If you want a movie of pure joy in tough times (my theory about why “Slumdog Millionaire” won best picture three years ago), go with “The Artist,” which many will say is the favorite to win among the nine nominees for best picture. If you want more depth and complexity, turn to “The Descendants.” If you want a pure emotional saga, there’s “War Horse,” which seems like a long-shot anyway. And if you want the movie that might be most emblematic of the year – sweet and smart, well-crafted, somewhat memorable but less than four stars – go with “Midnight in Paris.”
It’s a little surprising that “J. Edgar” got overlooked, including lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio. He, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt are all actors of such skill and ubiquity that they are easy to take for granted. DeCaprio has been nominated for three Oscars, most recently as lead actor in the underrated “Blood Diamond,” but has not won. Maybe it’s a Clint Eastwood thing. Since “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Flags of our Fathers” five years ago, he has directed several movies (“Changeling,” “Gran Torino,” “Hereafter” and “J. Edgar”) that are fine movies that just don’t quite get there at Oscar time. Still, DiCaprio was stronger by a mile as J. Edgar Hoover than Gary Oldman is in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”
Some will find it surprising that Kirsten Dunst was overlooked for a best actress nominee for “Melancholia,” but that movie was so leaden and overwrought that no nominations came out of it. On the other hand, anyone who saw Viola Davis in “Doubt” in 2008, for which she was nominated for best supporting actress, has probably been a fan ever since, and it’s good to see her nominated for best actress in “The Help.” And those of us who sat through “Blue Valentine” and “Wendy and Lucy” have been glad to see Michelle Williams in a role in which she actually gets to smile and bring joy to the screen – and get an Oscar nomination for best actress in “My Week with Marilyn.”
Another of those good-not-great movies doing well here is “Moneyball,” which is up for best picture (hardly), best actor (Pitt, probably not) and best supporting actor (Jonah Hill – hey, it might happen because his deadpanning is hilarious). But my favorite comedian, Patton Oswalt, was pretty darn good in the disappointing “Young Adult,” another not-so-much film (Charlize Theron in the lead, script by Cody Diablo, directed by Jason Reitman – all very promising, but still ...) Oswalt, Theron and company were shut out today.