Internet, before this Oscar nominations rant explodes into a tirade of curmudgeon grumbles, let me start off by offering a shiny, non-copyrighted mantra, free of charge, that best describes this race: "Old is gold."
I'll leave precise predictions on this year's awards to a later date, but let's talk about the nominations themselves. There's a lot to cover, (I'll miss a few things), but first let's look at how Oscar likes to look back, with its directors and what it considers be the year's top films.
I. "Best Director" and "Best Picture"
Especially when looking at the "Best Director" category as a more concise picture of this year's race, this Oscar year is a veteran's hall of filmmakers. With an exception of Hazanavicius (more on him in a second), the works of previously nominated (if not awarded) "auteurs" dominate this list. Some directors have plenty of gold behind them, such as Martin Scorsese and especially Woody Allen. Terrence Malick has been nominated for "Best Director" before, and Alexander Payne was nominated for Sideways, but didn't win. (He lost to Clint Eastwood that year, who is now completely MIA from this nomination list).
There are three movies with direct nostalgia for the older days of art, and two of them come from the "vets" - Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris and Scorsese's Hugo.
The only fresh nominee to "Best Director" is Michel Hazanavicius, who is able to sneak into this vet's club by being an "old soul" with his film The Artist. Nominated ten times, The Artist plays into nearly the same heart-strings of those who gave great kudos to Hugo, but does so with an even more unique touch. (How Beginners doesn't win more of the "old soul" vote is beyond me.)
Though they are not recognized by the "Best Director" category, two other filmmakers are given a shot at "Best Picture", (a shot they will undoubtedly lose): Steven Spielberg for War Horse, and Stephen Daldry for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
We all know how much the academy loves Spielberg, but Daldry has been personally nominated three times - and hasn't won. Whoever the hell is out there voting for snoozefests like The Reader and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, you need to step your game up. Or better yet, apologize for voting for this movie up to "Best Picture."
In terms of "old," every "Best Picture" nominee explores its stories with earlier time settings, with an exception of one - The Descendants. Even "current" movies like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Moneyball distance themselves from 2012 by at least four or five years.
Perhaps its a coincidence, or there really is some screenwriting science to it - Oscar prefers to look back, then look ahead.
SNUBS: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I don't want it to be on this list, (it could be Fincher's least interesting movie of all), but the film's nominations for Best Editing, Best Actress, and even Best Cinematography have me thinking this one could have snuck into the top of the race if it had more mojo.
And yes, Drive. Nicolas Winding Refn is more than deserving of a "Best Director" nod, and more so than, dare I say, Woody Allen. Refn was able to make the most groan-worthy pitch into a fresh roaring beast. He proves the vitality of Hollywood's storytelling abilities, and the importance of a director's vision to every nook and cranny of a film.
II. Acting categories
On top of the general sense of competition, this year's acting categories receive a delicious boost by featuring a large amount of performers who have been nominated, but have never won. Under this list you'll find Brad Pitt, Nick Nolte, Christopher Plummer, Max von Sydow, Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Williams, Viola Davis, Glenn Close, and Janet McTeer. Not only will this year's voting take into account an actor's performance, but their overall impression on academy members as a whole. Will the same people who gave Nolte his two Oscar nominations before push him towards a victory with Warrior? What about Glenn Close and her history of having five nominations?
Of course, there are also new faces in this race, some of whose presence is exciting, if not already triumphant. For example, it's certainly a victory for the Judd Apatow Hollywood Family Tree with Jonah Hill's nomination for Moneyball, as he reminds us of the potential for those who start off in goofy comedies (a la Tom Hanks). Perhaps this will boost people towards accepting actors like Seth Rogen when they try more projects like 50/50.
Look, even Gary Oldman is getting a nomination for finally being quiet after shouting for two decades!
I don't understand or agree with Rooney Mara's nomination for Dragon Tattoo. There was never a point in which she made me completely forget Noomi Rapace, the original Listbeth Salander from the Swedish films. And in fact, there was hardly a point in which director David Fincher had me forget the Swedish version too. Do academy members make up for "Best Picture" snubs by throwing actor accolades around?
Or, Bridesmaids got its revenge against those who wrote it off as a "female Hangover" by earning Melissa McCarthy a nomination for "Best Supporting Actress," reminding viewers that it's possible for a comedy with "pooping in the sink" jokes to have some merit.
As 2012 has been the Year of the Chastain, (since she was in every movie except The Smurfs) it's not surprising she got an Oscar nomination. It's just surprising that it's for The Help over The Tree of Life, especially since Terrence Malick's movie has "Best Director" and "Best Picture" going for it, but not even a single performance. And because her work is much more significant in Malick's movie as the mother to the film's spirit, as opposed to being a woman whose ditziness (and tight dress) make her endearing.
My favorite surprise is Demian Bechir's nomination for A Better Life, which gives more credit to non-hyped movies still catching the academy's eye. (Let's be honest, have you even heard of it? I gave it a 4/10 back in July.) Bechir has little chance of winning, but this nomination is a victory nonetheless. It's this type of unexpected recognition that makes Oscar season more exciting.
Of course, with all of this talk of newcomers, there are two previous award winners who have a strong chance of taking the top categories and shutting down the previously nominated pity party, Meryl Streep and George Clooney - veterans of the Oscar gambit for sure. Streep could very likely punch Michelle Williams' impersonation of Marilyn Monroe right in the face, and George Clooney could kick away Brad Pitt's cane, while also telling the guy from The Artist (Jean Dujardin) to shut up. Streep and Clooney - just two a**holes.
And lest we not forget my incredibly original motto, "old is gold" - especially for the "Best Supporting Actor" nominees. Everyone except for Jonah Hill is over the age of fifty, and the two oldest candidates, who carry heavy "veteran" presence appearing in numerous lauded films throughout their entire careers, are both 82.
SNUBS: As we have probably figured out already, this movie year has been populated with more notable performances than in the past few years, but that doesn't give the academy an excuse to miss over some top-notch turns. For example, Charlize Theron Young Adult. It's a challenging performance, and Theron plays it like a queen. (Just watch her last interaction with Patton Oswalt's on-screen sister - magnificent stuff). If Oscar voters were really so wrapped up in Rooney Mara's f**ked up character, why not choose a performance that really challenges American audiences, instead of gives them more of the same, but with no subtitles? Overall, the academy really didn't gel with the film from Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, but maybe that's because it's about being 35, and not 55 or 82.
The distaste towards the villain seems to have taken effect in supporting actor as well - where is Albert Brooks for Drive? How do academy members vote for performances like Heath Ledger's Joker or Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh without at least throwing a bone towards the year's best villain?
Those who seemed to love Shame are probably up in arms on Michael Fassbender not getting a nomination for showing his penis and acting shifty, and I feel they might be on to something. It's certainly an - excuse me - ballsy performance. And if not for Fassbender, why not Carey Mulligan's performance?
And lest we forget, Shailene Woodley in The Descendants seemed to be a straight-shot for a nomination, but somehow that changed over the course of many The Help-themed slumber parties at academy member households.
III. Screenplay Categories
"Best Original Screenplay" and "Best Adapted Screenplay" might be the least stressful section of all the Oscar categories, but my teeth still slightly gnash in confusion when certain movies are taken into account (you can read about them in the more organized "Snubs" section below).
"Adapted Screenplay" has little surprise in my book aside from The Ides of March, which is a perfect place for that movie. It doesn't deserve to win, but it deserves to be acknowledged (at least, if you're going to already ignore Philip Seymour Hoffman's and Paul Giamatti's performances).
The category with a bit more color is "Original Screenplay." While Bridesmaids may not seem the same type of film to get similar recognition to a Woody Allen script, the more surprising inclusion is JC Chandor for Margin Call. Like Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo for Bridesmaids, Margin Call is Chandor's first script. On top of this, a screenplay for a highly-praised foreign film (I haven't seen it yet) A Separation has been thrown into the ring, making Hazanavicius' likely victory a tad more questionable.
SNUBS: As far as recognizing independent first-time scripts go, Margin Call isn't the one I'd put at the top of the pile. Where is 50/50, which even the hacks at the Golden Globe sought to recognize? Or Martha Marcy May Marlene?
In general, I'm surprised Beginners hasn't caught more steam with voters. If you're looking at it from an incredibly shallow perspective, what components is it missing? It has cancer, homosexuality, death, parents, and it's all based on a very true story. Please tell me the subtitled dog didn't have anything to do with this.
It would have been nice to see Win Win pop into the category of "Best Original Screenplay," but I suppose that's the fate you face when releasing your movie in March.
Also, insert here more grumbles about Young Adult not being included.
IV. Other Categories
Animated Feature: How do you nominate the abysmal Puss in Boots and not The Adventures of Tintin? Show me one sequence you find to be impressive in Puss and I'll show you triple that in Tintin. The script may not be the best, but it's certainly more involving than a Shrek spin-off.
Best Cinematography: Where's The Descendants? Take out Dragon Tattoo, replace it with the gorgeous yet humbling depiction of Hawaii captured in Payne's movie, and call it a day. David Fincher cinematographer Cronenweth deserves kudos for better work, which I'm sure isn't too far down the line. (If he wasn't up against Inception last year, he should have won it then.)
Best Original Score: The fanboys and girls who keep voting John Williams need to step up their game, or just submit to the fact that they will lose again to The Artist ... even with Williams being nominated TWICE in the same category. The biggest surprise here is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I didn't think anyone liked the muted jazz score as much as I did.
Best Make Up: Looks like The Iron Lady and Albert Nobbs are going to fight over the award Norbit was once nominated for.
Sound Editing: Okay, yes, the sound in Drive is great. But that's it? If you're going for technical kudos, why not give Drive a nudge towards "Best Cinematography"?
Best Visual Effects: Here's hoping Hugo loses to a summer blockbuster just because. This might be the one category that Harry Potter fans will get to claim their own as their movie franchise disappears from movie calendars forever (until the inevitable remake).
As outsiders to the academy, we can at least be glad that this year's ceremony holds little guarantees. The same people who voted for Demian Bechir could help flip this movie awards showboat away from the direction of The Artist, and in the direction of something like The Help. Academy members, if you are reading this, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please make sure that doesn't happen.