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Abe Beame doesn’t have an opinion on whether or not “Drive’ should have been nominated for Best Picture.
I don’t care about the MTV Awards. I don’t care about the Emmys. I don’t care about the Golden Globes. I really don’t care about the Grammys. The reasons differ. MTV Awards are cheap and arbitrary. Of course, all awards are but there’s something particularly random about how they’re doled out and who they’re given to. This will come of as pretentious Get Off My Lawnism, but it’s primarily intended for children. The Critics Awards are usually insightful and more of my taste, but exist in an unfortunate vacuum. I hate the Grammys and Emmys because they’re so consistently wrong. I know they matter to some people, but I don’t understand said people. Over five seasons The Wire never won a single Emmy. The most obvious indicator that an artist is out of step and uninteresting to me is winning a Grammy.
For a combination of all these reasons I shouldn’t care about the Oscars either. They’re frustrating. They rarely get it right. Their validation is hollow and often late. But they’re the only awards I really care about (okay, I also try to read the Booker Prize Winner every year, and some years I actually do!). It’s the only award for me that feels like it really matters, that has historical ramifications and gives prestige and power to the directors, actors and types of movies I love or hate. I’ll spend months advocating to family and friends and strangers in bars. I’ll attach impossible hopes and dreams to a dark horse candidate I badly want to win but fear will not. I’ll spend years afterwards writing letters in my head like a modern, less vital Herzog to a disembodied Academy for fucking up yet another stupid little statue few people give a fuck about.
Today I’m officially transcribing those letters for you, the similarly quixotic minority of people who still care about the Oscars as another year of aggravation approaches. It’s a list. There are many others like it but this one is mine. I’ve ranked all the various perceived slights over the years in order of how angry they’ve made me. The rules are simple: each year gets a single botched nominee, so it has to be the victory of one nominee over another nominee, but I’ll drop in a runner-up (or several) and the un-nominated snubs I’ve lost sleep over for each of the last 17 years (which isn’t as easy as it sounds so please don’t @ me if I forget your favorite un-nominated Argentinian film from ’06). I’ll also remind you that as irritating as this show and this voting body can be, occasionally they get it right.
And there are few moments in culture as rewarding as when they wheel out a warmed over celebrity of yesteryear. He or she opens an envelope and announces that in fact, at long last, the best film of the year is La La- I mean Moonlight. Fight!
The Snub: Best Actor — Sean Penn in Milk over Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.
This was a tough one because I really love Milk and Sean Penn is fantastic in it. Something we’ll see come up time and time again on this list is a consideration of the MOMENT. To me, it’s difficult to articulate quality as somewhere between career achievement, perfect marriage of the actor, the role, the performance, and the likelihood that a moment this perfect will ever come around for said actor or actress again. It’s different than the discovery of an actress perfect for her part, like Yalitza Aparicio in Roma — and it’s different than saying, eh fuck it, let’s give it to Pacino for Scent of a Woman because he deserved it a handful of other years.
It’s for a guy like Mickey Rourke who came back from obscurity, found an ideal part with a great director, and did the best work of his career in a great film. We’ll likely never see something like this again from him and it was the moment to reward him for that effort and his career. Another issue worth mentioning that will occur a few other times with “difficult” personalities is due to his controversial past and some enemies made, part of this snub felt punitive. Still, I have to put it at the very back of this list because Penn was so great in a truly important film; the decision is defensible.
Runner-Up: This really should’ve just been the year of Milk in Best Picture and Best Director for Gus Van Sant. Instead, Danny Boyle’s whatever Slumdog Millionaire won both. But there was a larger picture looming over the proceedings.
The Unnominated: The Dark Knight didn’t get a nod for Best Picture. The field would expand to 10 the next year largely because of this. Nolan probably should’ve been nominated for Best Director, along with Darren Aronofsky, not nominated for The Wrestler.
The Snub: Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published — Stephen Gaghan for Traffik over The Coen Brothers for O, Brother Where Art Thou?
Surprisingly, this was a year the Oscars more or less got right top to bottom. Partially because it was a strange, not great year for film. Of the nominated pictures, the Academy pretty much nailed it. Ridley Scott’s Gladiator was a monster popcorn movie that was also a pretty great sandals and swords Spartacus throwback (if somewhat formulaic and not as good as Spartacus.) The Castaway stans probably wanted it for Tom Hanks and kids today are probably baffled that Russell Crowe was once an annually nominated A-list actor but this all made sense at the time. As for my choice for snub, the Coen Brothers took the fucking Odyssey and set it in Mississippi during the Great Depression. It’s as insane as it is inspired and what’s crazier is that it actually worked.
The film and soundtrack were hits, and it’s a dense and beautiful film that rewards multiple viewings. Traffic was a British miniseries from the late 80s, and as I’m about to address, I think it would’ve been better served in a longer, more patient format. At the risk of cliche, today it would be a fantastic Netflix series (And with Narcos, it kind of is).
Runner-Up: Best Director- Soderbergh for Traffic over Soderbergh for Erin Brockovich.
This was The Year of Soderbergh. He was nominated twice in the director category, a feat not even Coppola matched in 1974 when he wasn’t nominated separately for his two classics, The Godfather II and The Conversation (Though both movies were up for Best Picture. He should’ve been nominated for both as director. Some days I wake up thinking The Conversation should’ve won Best Picture). Traffic is still a good watch but its style hasn’t aged well. The kaleidoscopic ISSUE movie that gives us underwritten snap shots of all the different threads of a complex issue like the war on drugs was pretty much (I hope) killed forever by the great Crash debacle of ’05 we may be returning to at some point later in this list. Erin Brockovich, a smaller, angrier, more specific film has, if anything, become more relevant as time has passed and the agendas of ruthless corporations have continued to have a more malignant impact on our lives and our environment.
The Unnominated: I really like rom-coms even though Oscars don’t. I want to briefly cape for High Fidelity, a dorm room standard that is a touch clever and probably doesn’t sit well with 21st Century feminism. And yet I have nostalgic ties to it and would still advocate for it if we’re allowed to appreciate it in context. It was a well-made, well-acted post-modern rom-com that was pretty groundbreaking for its time. Cusack is probably never better, Iben Hjejle is a fantastic as the lead actress, and the film is littered with little and large supporting performances from Catherine Zeta Jones, Tim Robbins, Lisa Bonet and a career maker for Jack Black. Also, this one is a pie in the sky but it would’ve been nice to see cinematographer Tim Orr and/or his director David Gordon Green get some shine for their work on the beautifully stylized Malick riff, George Washington.
The Snub: Best Actor — Denzel Washington for Training Day over Will Smith for Ali.
This one will probably raise some eyebrows. First of all, I think in many ways this was a makeup call for the Oscar Denzel should’ve won for The Hurricane (It instead went to Kevin Spacey for American Beauty. I’m sure with hindsight they would’ve done it all the same). I’m never mad at Denzel winning, but it shouldn’t have been for this. Training Day is a lot of fun but I don’t think it’s a particularly great film and Denzel is playing an even bigger comic book villain version of his larger-than-life movie star schtick. He also just kind of put it on auto pilot for the next decade and settled into the old man action hero mode making some very good thrillers with the likes of Tony Scott, I think as a result of this award and to the detriment of “serious film”.
Ali is an underrated film and one of the most complicated depictions of the Civil Rights Movement we’ve ever seen. Its scope, and stunning depth of thought and feeling was unexpected from what was marketed as a standard sports biopic (not to mention its adrenal director, Michael Mann.) Will Smith puts on the muscle; he nails the charisma and the patter and the mannerisms. But what’s most admirable is the quiet, pensive melancholy he brings to Ali off stage and out of the spotlight. It’s a studied, thoughtful performance that achieves the rare feat of adding perspective and dimension to one of the most famous people on Earth who you thought there was nothing left to learn about. Smith would be nominated once more for the saccharine Pursuit of Happiness, but has generally spent this century falling to earth and incinerating after his incredible mid-to-late 90s run. This should’ve been his coronation.
Runner-Up: Best Screenplay — Julian Fellowes for Gosford Park over Wes Anderson for The Royal Tenenbaums.
Far be it for me to besmirch the good name of my lord and savior Robert Altman, but this was a bad call. Gosford Park was bizarrely over-nominated for a good but not great upstairs/downstairs murder mystery. Its lasting claim to fame will probably be as the inspiration for Downton Abbey. Anderson’s Royal Tenenbaums isn’t his best work but its close. It’s the best of his early period Glass Family-obsessed Jewel Box shit. The film was more or less shut out despite all around powerhouse performances.
The Unnominated: There’s a ton of air balls here. David Lynch was nominated for his all time-great Mulholland Drive, but the unreal house-on-fire performance by Naomi Watts wasn’t. For degree of difficulty and how radically she changes between the first and second movements of the film, it has to be one of the best performances this century. And Christopher Nolan’s Memento, another film bro, poster on the wall cult hit that announced the emergence of a very big talent — in its director as well as Guy Pierce. I love character actor weirdo late period Pierce more than his early leading man hero material, and this is the best of both worlds and a precursor for what was to come. Momento was nominated for Best Screenplay, but otherwise shut out.
Michael Mann was also not nominated for Ali as “Best Director” or for “Best Picture.” Still, even considering Watts, the worst snub could be Jamie Foxx in his gauntlet throwing, scene jacking portrayal of Bundini Brown in Ali. The snub is bad enough, but it’s compounded by the nomination of Jon Voight in a blah-with-prosthetics nothing part as Howard Cosell which netted a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Real racist and classicist (as Foxx was the In Living Color, Booty Call guy at the time).
The Snub: Best Director — Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby over Alexander Payne for Sideways.
I had this higher, but it occurred to me that there probably aren’t many people who love Sideways as much as I do and I didn’t want to invalidate the list by leaning too hard on my own personal grievances. Let’s have this award stand in for the many baffling times Clint Eastwood has been nominated as “Best Director” over many other deserving candidates (five, he’s been nominated five times). He’s only deserved one nomination and win for his Western deconstruction, Unforgiven. The rest have been Old Hollywood, right-leaning, messy, often-clumsy movies. It’s confusing that the allegedly liberal shadowy cabal who run this shit haven’t called shenanigans on his semi-annual Oscar noms.
He won for this old workhorse boxing melodrama that is quite intentionally a gender flipping Fat City-ish neo-noir boxing epic. I just don’t understand what people see in Eastwood’s one take, point-and-click style. You could close your eyes and count the beats of this standard and you wouldn’t miss much. Sideways is part character sketch, part road film, part rom-com. Mid-period Payne at his shaggy Cassavetes-esque best. It’s probably the darkest sunny movie I’ve ever seen — an absolutely brutal work that along with The Descendents probably represented his best shot at a statuette thus far.
Runner-Up: Best Picture —Million Dollar Baby over Sideways.
There’s a lot left to be desired when it comes to the un-nominated, but given the available nominees for each category, they pretty much nailed it this year. I’m putting up the two movies from the director debate for the same reasons, but I feel the Best Picture nod for Million Dollar Baby makes more sense than the director nod for Eastwood. The film may not be a technical accomplishment, but it’s occasionally warm and dramatic and familiarly watchable in all the traditional ways that make sense for winning over a wide swath of voters.
I’ll also give a quick shout to Clive Owen and Natalie Portman nominated for Mike Nichols’ Closer. I think I’m the only person left on Earth who remembers the film, and if I’m not, I’m probably the only person that loves it. Julia Roberts and Jude Law could’ve been nominated as well. I don’t really think Owen should’ve beaten a sturdy, classic Morgan Freeman performance, you could argue Portman should’ve taken it over Blanchett for her weird turn in The Aviator, but really this is just an excuse to profess my love for Closer.
The Unnominated: A year of glaring omissions. Sideways got nominated for everything except for Giamatti’s performance which anchors the entire movie. Nothing for Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine? There was also Tom Cruise in Collateral. I don’t understand why Crouching Tiger was so appealing to “Foreign Language” voters a few years before, but there was no love for the big, beautiful epic Hero, which has this great really surprising final turn that inverts classic Western mythology and makes you question the entire general idea driving Star Wars (The “Foreign Language” Oscar is a category I could bag on every year as there are almost always 5-10 films that don’t even get long-listed so I’ll try to focus exclusively on the standout misses and not my personal peccadillos).
Both Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy deserved a look for Before Sunset, an unlikely sequel much harder to pull off than the first installment (but not quite as difficult as the excruciating third). Christian Bale lost a ton of weight for the challenging, therefore unlikely to get a look Machinist, but he should have. And while we’re at it, Mean Girls anyone? Tina Fey, Rachel Mcadams, and yes, Lindsay Lohan? Will teen girl classics pass us by without mention until the end of time?
The Snub: Best Actress — Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine over Amy Adams in American Hustle.
Another unfortunate occurrence of an unstoppable force colliding with an immovable object. Cate Blanchett is fine here, she’s doing her standard, striking, regal, tall, blonde, domineering, movie star shit. Blue Jasmine is perfectly passable late Woody Allen. But I have a bottomless well of love and adoration for Amy Adams and her incredible talent, nominated five times and always a bridesmaid. She has impeccable taste in the films she chooses, but time and time again is relegated to these Lady Macbethian women behind the Great Men who she plots with and manipulates (Including her role as Lynn Cheney in this year’s Vice. She’s typically great, and I hope beyond hope she wins, but is far from my favorite performance from her).
Adams has been working constantly for two decades, and has one of the deepest, most impressive resumes you’ll find of any headlining working actor. But up until her run with David O. Russell, I had perceived her as being pigeonholed into nice girl roles. She was a literal Disney princess come to life in her breakout role, Enchanted. Russell relocated her grittiness and meanness . She’s all low cuts and hoop-earringed in his Altmanesque The Fighter, but had to fight for oxygen on all sides with Wahlberg at his best. The level of competition is just as high in fun and freewheeling American Hustle (the film received four nominations for performance, all deserved) but she’s by far the best thing in the movie. She’s flinty, gorgeous, witty and dangerous. You’re never quite sure where her allegiances lie and it’s all thanks to her reliably thought out performance.
So I’d never take credit away from Cate Blanchett, but they awarded her for swimming well in shallow water while Adams smoked a pool full of Olympic competition.
Runner-Up: Best Actor –:Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club over Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street.
A very close second. As entertaining as that McConaughey moment was, this was DiCaprio’s career best performance. As always, morality makes for shitty decisions as most critics seemed willfully ignorant to what the fantastic Wolf of Wall Street was actually about and what it was trying to say. Ironically, McConaughey won largely due to the MOMENT logic I presented earlier in defense of Mickey Rourke, it was a symbiosis of career narrative and a once-in-a-lifetime role and performance.
Look, Mcconaughey is truly great in this film. But DiCaprio is probably our greatest working actor. The guy is talented but he’s always so fucking grim. He’s bound to serious roles working with great directors. So it was such an unexpected and thrilling shock to the system to see him letting loose, coked up, laughing his ass off and improvising with Jonah Hill. It was like Harmony Korine and Judd Apatow joined up with Adam McKay to make a Wall Street farce. And it’s not just deeply funny: it is a demanding, athletic performance. Those speeches should be taught in acting classes. The level of full-bodied, red-faced commitment is off the charts. I don’t cry for DiCaprio. He’s rich, brilliant, incredibly good looking, awash in models and he’d actually get his trophy two years later. But it should have been for this and not The Revenant.
Also, I’d be remiss not to mention The Great Beauty over Omar in “Best Foreign Language Film.” I actually really like The Great Beauty, a gorgeous existential Fellini throwback, but Omar is a better film. It’s a smart, constantly surprising political thriller. The rare entertainment that is also important and devastating. It should get an American remake but unfortunately it wouldn’t translate because we’re not currently embroiled in absolutely abhorrent nationalistic oppression that breaks down along racial, socioeconomic lines so no one would- oh wait.
The Unnominated: The biggest snub by far was in the “Original Song” category where somehow the Academy failed to acknowledge Knicks Owner Jim Dolan’s vanity project, JD & the Straight Shot, and their classic contribution to the August: Osage County Soundtrack, “Violet’s Song”. Just kidding it was Margot Robbie for Wolf of Wall Street.
The Snub: Best Supporting Actress — Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl over Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful 8.
As will be an unfortunate trend throughout, this felt like a snub based on morality in a Tarantino film. Leigh has been great for too long without recognition. This is low on the list because I’ve actually never seen The Danish Girl. As you will discover later, I’m not a huge Eddie Redmayne guy. Alicia Vikander is a fine actress and I’m sure she has many great roles in her future but it looked like an issue oriented heartstring tugging melodramatic period piece, while this was one of those perfect Tarantino stunt casting jobs where he preys on our history with a talented actor to not just provoke a great performance but hit all of our nostalgic pleasure centers.
The Hateful 8 is a weird and less accessible late Tarantino film. As is his wont, he makes Leigh use the N-word and spends most of the film beating the shit out of her, torturing her and cathartically lynching her at the end of the film. So yeah, if you’re a squeamish alarmist type who is going to ignore all context and just focus on the violence of the film it doesn’t come off great. But Leigh is just so awesomely vile and slimy and repulsive in this. It’s a great heel turn and to the extent the film works, Tarantino has her to thank (And as always, Samuel L. Jackson). It’s one of those performances that make you say, “Wow. I didn’t know she could even do that.” A pretty incredible feat after 40 FUCKING YEARS!
Runner-Up: Best Supporting Actor — Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies over Tom Hardy for The Revenant.
As I said, DiCaprio is great but he won his Oscar for the wrong film. In this frozen epic he’s no fun, just glaring and scowling through an overlong phallic symbol masquerading as a masterpiece. He’s also blown off the screen in pretty much every scene they share by Hardy, a great actor who seemingly hates to open the throttle and just fucking act. His John Fitzgerald is an early American squirrely weirdo villain in the same vein as Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Daisy Domergue. His accent is sawed off, somewhere between Virginia and Louisiana and delivered out of the side of his mouth. He’s funny and shifty. Innaritu could’ve built a better and more interesting movie around him instead of the bleak Hugh Glass. Rylance is fine but just try throwing this movie on some random weeknight after work and staying awake.
The Unnominated: The biggest snub, and I almost broke my own rule and named this the snub of the year because it was so awful, is that Phoenix by Christain Petzold wasn’t nominated for “Best Foreign Film.” I’m almost certain this is the year it would’ve qualified for but even if it was 2014 it wasn’t nominated then either. I like Ida and a lot of the other nominated Foreign Films from this year but Phoenix is simply one of the best films made this century.
The Snub: Best Supporting Actor — Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine over Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls.
For all the many sins Brett Ratner has committed against the cinema and entertainment, the absolute worst may have been in 2011 when in the promotional lead up to his worse than it should’ve been film Tower Heist, he stuck his foot in his mouth to the ankle and got himself fired from directing the Academy Awards. As a result, we’ll never get to see what could’ve been an all-time host job by Eddie Murphy — the announced host — who Ratner brought down with him.
But perhaps we can get some idea what that might’ve been like by watching the first hour or so of Dreamgirls. Murphy plays a variation of the Cooper role in A Star is Born. Only with effortless charisma and no need to go on “Fresh Air” to tell the world how brilliant he is. Alan Arkin got a lifetime achievement award for playing his colorful, affable grandfather in a quirk-fest, but just go back and watch the “Jimmy Got Soul” number and tell me that man didn’t leave his heart on the screen. I wouldn’t have even ranked Arkin second in this year’s race. That would’ve been Mark Wahlberg’s Sergeant Dignam, who dances all over an overstuffed film and does about as much as you can do with less than ten minutes of screen time in The Departed.
Runner-Up: “Best Original Song” — “I Need to Wake Up” by Melissa Etheridge in An Inconvenient Truth over three Dreamgirls songs.
Do I really need to elaborate? This type of stupidity is why I don’t watch the Grammys.
The Unnominated: Somehow in “Best Director,“ Clint Eastwood was nominated for Letters From Iwo Jima and Alfonso Cuaron wasn’t nominated for Children of Men.
The Snub: Best Actor — Sean Penn in Mystic River over Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.
Sean Penn is a slayer of beloved American treasures long overdue for recognition. This is somehow Bill Murray’s only Oscar nomination for anything. He should have a handful of others and he absolutely should’ve taken home this one among a weak field in a weird movie year. It’s a classic MOMENT performance, he reminds us of all the things we’ve always loved about him but imbues this quiet, meditative film with hard-earned soul and gravitas. Sean Penn is dripping spittle and grieving all over the place and ACTING!. Murray is doing the hard work.
Runner-Up: Best Director — Peter Jackson for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King over Sofia Coppola for Lost In Translation.
I get that the Academy wanted to award Jackson for the monumental, years-long undertaking that a definitive filming of a fantasy epic must’ve cost him, but it shouldn’t have been for this specific film. The fucking thing ends for an hour-and-a-half. Coppola’s film is a triumph of tone, a mature and accomplished follow-up to The Virgin Suicides. She should’ve beaten Kathryn Bigelow to the podium as the first female to win the award.
The Unnominated: Like I said, weird movie year. I don’t feel strongly about any of these but a young Chiwetel Ejiofor would’ve been worthy for Dirty Pretty Things, or William H. Macy could have joined Alec Baldwin in his Best Supporting Actor nod for The Cooler. Either would’ve been better than a head scratching nom for Jude Law as a Union soldier in the absolute shit bomb Cold Mountain.
This is a strange one and I don’t know if there a universe in which this could ever happen but Thom Anderson’s Los Angeles Plays Itself would’ve been a bold and inspired choice for “Best Documentary Feature.”
I may be alone in this but I’ve always thought Richard Linklater’s School of Rock was way better than it had any reason to be. Not just as a warm family entertainment but a funny and weird movie that saw Jack Black at his best as a movie star. Wouldn’t have minded either men getting recognized but Eastwood was there yet again for Mystic River. I forget there was a stretch when he could’ve filmed himself on the toilet and gotten nominated.
The Snub: Best Actress In A Supporting Role — Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton over Cate Blanchett for I’m Not There.
The Academy is doomed to constantly award trophies to the right people for the wrong things. I love Tilda Swinton and her nomination — let alone victory for Michael Clayton was fine — but she doesn’t have much to do here. There’s this one moment of moral compromise that was interesting, but she’s done a half dozen other things I would’ve awarded instead. Particularly when you’re putting her up against a fucking nuclear warhead taking the human form of Cate Blanchett, a great actress I’ve paradoxically already tried to take two Oscars away from, who shoots lightning bolts out of her eyes in Todd Haynes’ one of a kind Bob Dylan meditation. Blanchett is Electric Rock Star Dylan at his most angry and enigmatic.
She’s not doing a straight impression, but she’s also not not doing an impression and it’s impressionistically spot on. She’s still androgynously beautiful but what I appreciate about the outfit and the hair and the shades is she’s lowering her astonishing beauty shields and giving us the opportunity to appraise her power and command without the unapproachable ivory tower of her statuesque visage. She might be even better without it. It’s like one of those “ugly-up” prosthetic-laden Theron/Kidman performances but the best possible version of that without all the makeup and effects and way more effective as such. Blanchett spits acid and fire, seething at reporters and fans trying to solve her. Maybe it was just too weird for the voting public. It’s a performance so big and incredible that the rest of the movie suffers from aftermath on a first watch, and on a re-watch it’s the peak you build to and the crest you come down from. It simultaneously validates and destroys the film. It’s really unique and remarkable work that should’ve been recognized.
Runner-Up: Best Screenplay — Diablo Cody for Juno over Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava and Jim Capobianco for Ratatouille.
Some will stand up and walk out on this post in protest, or I guess click a Buzz Feed list on their phone or snap their laptop shut or whatever the modern equivalent of walking out is. However, the flawless screenplay and subsequent execution of the all-timer Ratatouille should’ve taken the award over this already insanely-dated talky twee fest. Ratatouille takes several centuries of culinary philosophy and condenses it into one beautifully considered, egalitarian message in the form of a child accessible, fish out of water story. Juno feels like it was made five minutes before I saw it for the first time, much to its detriment today. I feel confident that my grandchildren will be touched and affected by the storytelling and moral of Ratatouille. Juno, not so much.
The Unnominated: I don’t know how this is possible but Cristian Mungiu’s Romanian Communist abortion anti-drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days was never nominated for an Academy Award.
The Snub: Best Director — Damien Chazelle for La La Land over Barry Jenkins for Moonlight.
At this point, a “Best Director” Award for technical achievement should be like handing out a Man Booker Prize for competent grammar. Chazelle presents some great compositions, and I don’t even dislike the movie as much as some, but if you want something well made go to ABC Carpet & Home. And it’s not like the guy was up against some schmo doing seizure inducing handheld Greengrass shit or a hack doing still frame BBC Masterpiece biopic work. If anything, Moonlight is a more technically accomplished and beautifully photographed film that has the added bonus of telling a tragic, subtle, original tale that is slightly more meaningful than a white bro and his epic struggle to preserve the authenticity of jazz.
The set pieces in La La Land are truly inspiring and worthy of your attention, but everything about Moonlight was revolutionary. Its palette, the life of its camera, the way the film elevated its groundbreaking subject matter. There are multi-second cuts that reveal more than 5 minute monologues; it’s a master class and the signifying Oscar Jenkins belatedly won for Best Picture is a disservice to the work he did directing a paradigm-shifting film.
Runner-Up: Best Actor — Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea over Denzel Washington for Fences.
This is a tough one. Context-free, you could make an argument that Casey Affleck deserved this award. It’s a career performance for him (though I gotta say, Gone Baby Gone remains an underrated classic and kind of sets up this role). He plays a clenched fist the entire film, the brief rays of light we get through cellars and police interrogation rooms and Northeast alleys in semi permanent winter are Seymour Hoffman-esque when he cathartically unloads.
But it was the wrong year to say “fuck it.” Particularly, when you’re opposite Denzel who worked his ass off on a career-long passion project and he really, really gave a fuck for the first time in over a decade. Fences is not a perfect movie. Denzel, the director/star, seems to actually, potentially willfully mis-understand his source material. That or he just can’t help being wildly magnetic and charismatic in a role that demands he should be neither. Either way, it signals a late career apex and should’ve been a no-brainer with the troubling allegations of misconduct swirling around Affleck. The next year he was so toxic that he had to withdraw as a presenter. A much simpler solution? He didn’t have to win.
The Unnominated: On the other side of the Affleck debate, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is one of those films that must’ve taken several years to make but was seemingly engineered for its specific moment in sexual politics. It’s an equal parts unsparing and perfect film with an incredible lead from Isabelle Huppert. I’ll never understand how some random-ass foreign language films like Amour get elevated to “Best Picture” contention and something this insightful and explosive from the guy who directed Robocop, Starship Troopers, Basic Instinct and Total Recall gets shut out.
The Snub: Best Actress In A Supporting Role — Allison Janney for I, Tonya over Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird.
Listen, I probably love Allison Janney more than you do. She’s a unique, fierce presence that totally deserved recognition for decades of good work. And the narrative fit here. This film was her baby and she served herself up a great opportunity to perform her schtick with an oxygen tank and a parrot. But Laurie Metcalf had a MOMENT role as a tough but loving soulful mother in Ladybird, a film that was right there with Get Out and Phantom Thread as the year’s best. (I also want to briefly shout out Metcalf’s performance in future Fox News comedian and one-time artistic genius Louis C.K.’s Horace and Pete. Decades from now, I’d like you to remember this parenthetical when you have to read a piece by a culture blogger kid from whatever the generation after Millennials is called when he or she rediscovers C.K.’s weird Eugene O’Neil riff/online series Horace and Pete, finds it utterly reprehensible but is floored by this insane Metcalf monologue that opens one of the episodes. It was the first moment I can remember sitting up and thinking “Goddamn. Aunt Jackie is not fucking around.”) Janney played a Disney villainess, Metcalf was unbearably human and won a movie full of brilliant and tough performances.
Runner-Up: Best Picture —The Shape of Water over literally any other movie.
Oh yeah, also, The Shape of Water won BEST FUCKING PICTURE LAST YEAR! BRO ARE YOU SERIOUS?
The Unnominated: Armie Hammer for Call me By Your Name. I get that the guy was born on third base but Jesus. Are you not entertained? This was my personal favorite film from last year. A full throated joyous affirmation that felt like a direct response to the infinite sadness of Moonlight. Also there was no room anywhere for Good Times? The Safdie Brothers for direction or screenplay, Pattinson, nothing?
The Snub: Best Lead Actress — Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side over Gabourey Sidibe for Precious.
Sandra Bullock plays a literal white savior to a Left Tackle in a Lifetime movie that happened to get a widescreen release. Gabourey Sidibe bore her soul in a film that gave voice and agency to a type of character we never get to see on screen.
In A.S. Hamrah’s The Earth Dies Streaming, a masterclass in criticism that has quickly changed the way I watch movies and think about them, his most salient and unapologetic point is how a strain of welcoming populism has boxed us all into this corner where we feel the need to validate and intellectualize American stupidity, transforming the art of criticism itself into a big tent. I think this is an early version of that detente. Sandra Bullock is a wonderful presence in our lives, an American sweetheart in the vein of Julia Roberts. We wanted this to be her Erin Brockovich moment so we made it that. But it wasn’t. It was time to recognize a really special breakthrough performance, despite being paired with a just as good supporting role from Mo’nique who miraculously won. We don’t need a quota. Two can win.
Runner-Up: Best Actor — Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart over George Clooney for Up In the Air.
I’m reaching a little for this one. Outside of Bullock, based on what was nominated the Academy pretty much nailed this year. I’m all for Bridges getting recognized. And he’s pretty great here doing Jeff Bridges Stuff. But the award probably should’ve gone to Clooney who was his best self in Up in the Air. He’s vulnerable and sad, it’s his Jerry Maguire where he deconstructs the Clooney character we all know and love and shows us the strings. The film was also timely and prescient and basically bought Reitman a decade of shitty-to-decent films we forgive him for because we’re waiting for a proper successor to the brilliance of this one.
The Unnominated: The Coen Brothers weren’t nominated for directing their best film, A Serious Man, neither was my guy Michael Stuhlbarg or the great Fred Melamed.
The Snub: Best Picture — Chicago over Gangs of New York.
Woof. This year has not aged well as we’ll discuss when we get to runner ups, but man this was a bad call. I want to say this was the dawn of the big relaunched movie/musical thing so maybe we got here on novelty, but fuck. Scorsese rips his heart out Temple of Doom style, puts it on screen and we go for Catherine Zeta Jones in pantyhose and John C. Reilly in fingerless gloves and eyeliner. Day Lewis would win the lead Oscar a few years later for basically playing the same role in There Will Be Blood and he deserved them for both. I’m basically out of words. Watch Gangs of New York then watch Chicago and get back to me.
Runner-Up: So much to choose from. 30 years on from his statutory rape conviction, Roman Polanski wins over Martin Scorsese in Best Director. Adrien Brody over Nicholas Cage (who probably should’ve won two for playing twins to perfection) AND Daniel Day Lewis, Pianist Adapted Screenplay over Adaptation. Leonardo DiCaprio was completely shut out in an incredible year which saw him star in Gangs of New York AND Catch Me If You Can. It was brutal. I’m fortunate it was my senior year of High School and I was way too high to be invested in any of this shit at the time.
The Unnominated: No love for Spike Jonze directing Adaptation? Really?
The Snub: Best Picture — Crash over Brokeback Mountain.
You knew this one was coming when you clicked on this story because you’re the type of person who would click on this story and this slight has probably been bouncing around in the back of your mind for the last 13 years too. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fucking awful decision, for most people this deservedly would land at #1. But for me just slightly less egregious then the next few.
The Runner-Up: Best Lead Actor — Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote over Heath Ledger for Brokeback Mountain.
I’m a huge Hoffman fan but Ledger should of won this. I personally would’ve given it to Hoffman for about ten other roles before I got to this one. It’s his big showy impression Oscar-bait role but it doesn’t really showcase most of the things I really loved about him as an actor. For that matter, Gyllenhaal should’ve taken it over a nothing Clooney performance for Supporting.
The Unnominated: Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney weren’t nominated for The Squid and the Whale which is abject insanity.
The Snub: Best Picture — The King’s Speech over The Social Network.
I just don’t even know how we got here. On one hand you have a film that told a vital story about how we live life now. It was a fantastic screenplay, a parable created in a lab to explain modern life to us. Something we’ve never seen before by a director I never thought had something as human as this in his bag. It was really the perfect marriage of subject and stylist. Then we have The King’s Speech. A story about a white man with the most privilege on Earth overcoming his stutter, however briefly.
Even as I’m writing this right now, nine years later, it’s still infuriating. What makes it even crazier is down to the wire The Social Network was the favorite. I went into the movie assuming I was watching the year’s “Best Picture” and walked out feeling secure in that assumption. Then this mind numbing biopic came out and the Dad Vote won the day. I would love to say this was the last gasp of an antiquated patriarchy but as we’ve seen and as we will see, they just kept doing idiotic shit like this.
Runner-Up: The entire King’s Speech sweep, including an Oscar for Tom Hooper over Darren Arronofsky, David Fincher, David O. Russell and the fucking Coen Brothers. That actually happened.
The Unnominated: Justin Timberlake finally sheds his child pop star jacket and wins the best movie of the year but wasn’t even nominated for his breakthrough. There’s a great scene in the middle of the film where he’s getting drinks with Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg at some Sushi Club hellscape. They get into raison d’etre, why Parker started Napster, why Zuck started Facebook, it’s a great writerly exchange from Sorkin, “The Victoria’s Secret Parable”. At some point Zuckerberg returns to his primal wound. He asks Parker if he ever thinks about the girl he supposedly started Napster for, the windmill that animates the quest of the film. Timberlake’s incredulous “No!” Is basically my favorite line read of all time.
The Snub: Best Lead Actor — Jean Dujardin for The Artist over George Clooney for The Descendants, Brad Pitt for Moneyball and Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
It’s still stupefying to me. As not great as the winning performance is, the real sin is the competition that it beat out. Even considering Up In The Air, with the possible exception of his absolute drippin performance in Out of Site, this is it, the best performance from our best, or at least most authoritative movie star in a grief stricken beautiful film from an also apex Alexander Payne. 1A in our best movie star department is Brad Pitt, who also found his perfect role and is downright Redfordian as Billy Beane in the elegiac Moneyball. But some days I wake up thinking this should’ve gone to Oldman, who is just perfectly buttoned up and British in a Le Carre adaptation. For a guy who made his bones as Sid Vicious, it’s an incredibly restrained but deeply felt work of traditional spycraft and a movie I’ll never stop going back to and enjoying. Instead, they gave it to this fucking clown.
Runner-Up: Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady over Viola Davis for The Help.
The always great Viola Davis is a close second to yet another lame late Streep performance but The Help has its own issues and I don’t really feel like going to bat for it.
Also while we’re at it, a big fuck you to Michael Hazanavicius for beating out Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick and Woody Allen for Best Director.
The Unnominated: I’ll give it up to a pair of Documentaries, namely The Interrupters, Steve James’ heartbreaking look at the attempt to break the mind-numbing, soul-crushing cycle of violence in Chicago, and Bill Cunningham New York, the kind of UES warm and funny humanist catnip that should’ve made this a no-brainer nominee if not winner.
The Snub: Best Lead Actor — Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything over Michael Keaton for Birdman.
This one just made no sense. I’m no great lover of Birdman, but if you’re operating under the assumption that it’s a great movie that deserves all the awards, doesn’t it stand to reason that the performance that grounds the entire movie deserves recognition? Not to mention, we’re talking about Michael Keaton. Fucking Batman! Fucking Beetlejuice! The world’s most loveable actor, out of the limelight for far too long, who ran a fantastic Awards Season campaign and it was the epitome of a MOMENT. The perfect blend of career narrative, personality and performance.
Instead they gave it to Eddie Redmayne, the Guiness Book World Record holder for Most Punchable Face for, sorry, sitting in a wheelchair with his neck cocked in a stupid biopic no one liked or remembers. If you want to break your own heart and see the physical manifestation of heartbreak, somewhere out there you can find video of Keaton realizing he’d lost his once-in-a-lifetime performance and best shot at winning the award as a smug British fuckboy minces past him. I refuse to re-watch it or post that video here. In the event you’ve stuck around this long, I just want you to remember, and remind yourself everyday, that Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for Best Lead.
Runner-Up: Best Adapted Screenplay: Graham Moore for The Imitation Game over Paul Thomas Anderson for Inherent Vice.
This one is a deep cut, and even a bit controversial because admittedly Graham Moore crushed his acceptance speech and it was one of if not the most memorable things about this Oscars; but I have to acknowledge PTA’s accomplishment with Inherent Vice. It’s basically an unfilmable book (though ironically, as close as you get to filmable with Pynchon). Anderson solves it by making a film that is essentially a visual companion to the novel. It’s a very difficult film to wrap your arms around if you haven’t read the novel and at least have cursory familiarity with the plot, but if you come in with that knowledge it’s an incredible set of footnotes that will bring out things in the narrative it’s nearly impossible to understand with nothing but Pynchon’s labyrinthine text as a guide. It’s probably the most studied, literary film made this century, perhaps that I’ve ever seen, and operates by its own specific, strange yet instructive shadow logic. I’ve never seen and am likely to never see something so difficult and ambitious pulled off so seamlessly.
The Unnominated: The most egregious snub was Ralph Fiennes wasn’t even nominated for a career best performance in The Grand Budapest Hotel. The Lego Movie wasn’t nominated but How to Train Your Dragon 2 was for Best Animated Feature. Damien Chazelle wasn’t nominated for Whiplash, nor was Miles Teller in a strange habit the Academy has of letting one great performance obfuscate another.
The Snub: Best Supporting Actor — Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained over Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master and Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln.
If you’ve come this far I’d guess your response is, “Really? 20 years of snubs and the worst offense in your eyes is Best Supporting Actor in 2012?” Well, yeah. It is. This was a fucking crazy one and you just have to look at the relative logic the voting body applied to their decision. For starters, Waltz was the fourth-best performance in Django and yet, the only actor even nominated. My guess is that the incredible performance by Samuel L. Jackson as a house slave, Leonardo DiCaprio doing fucking everything in a character role as a villainous slaver, and Jamie Foxx who qualified as a lead but more importantly as a murderous slave, were all too hot to touch for the Oscars. Philip Seymour Hoffman was a co-lead and should have been nominated as supporting, and I get why the producers wanted to avoid the Day Lewis train, but obviously if you want to explain Hoffman’s brilliance to your children you show them The Master, or I guess The Talented Mr. Ripley, or Happiness. I can go on.
But really my heart bleeds to this day for Tommy Lee Jones. As Thaddeus Stevens, he’s the one woke, modern perspective in an asylum run by psychos; he even wars with Lincoln and his famous pragmatism. He has to walk such a fine line between noble and abrasive and he’s both but you still love and root for him. His culminating gut punch moment is basically betraying his beliefs but putting a brilliant spin on the issue of equality. Kushner’s screenplay is a fucking miracle, but I can’t think of another actor who could’ve pulled off the equal parts curmudgeonly and progressive Stevens. When he hobbles out of Congress with the newly passed Thirteenth Amendment in the crook of his arm, I tear up every time.
Runner-Up: Best Documentary Film — Searching for Sugarman over The Gatekeepers and Five Broken Cameras.
Two vital, full throated attacks on the Israeli Industrial Complex were snubbed in favor of a fluffy Dad and Mom Doc about a forgotten soul singer in Detroit. Cute over important. Way to go Academy!
There was also Brave over Wreck It Ralph. Has anyone reading this ever actually watched Brave? It is a deeply fucking stupid movie that got a pass because it has a female protagonist. They should’ve called it Bears because that’s all the movie is about to the extent it has any semblance of plot. Whereas Wreck It Ralph was a brilliant and heartwarming film that used to be Pixar’s wheelhouse and launched a modern Golden Age for Disney Animation.
Argo over Lincoln is a distant runner up to these two. It’s peak late Spielberg in his mining the Social Studies Book cycle and just a fantastically written and paced film that is more entertaining than any historical electoral procedural has any right to be.
The Unnominated: Here’s a random one to end on but it’s my list. Tom Hardy in Lawless, a really great weird mid tier American film from early this decade. Hardy is why we’re here but I’d be totally on board with supporting nominations for Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain and a completely bonkers Guy Pearce. It’s the type of engaging, well-made and well-acted little movie that we seem to never find in the running for big Awards at the end of the year. Here’s hoping that in the next decade we do.