84th Academy Award nominations: Hollywood holds mirror up to itself in adoration

With nominees for the 84th annual Academy Awards announced this morning, chalk up another year in which Hollywood happily rewards its own industry and spirit by pinning the bulk of Oscar nominations to two films devoted to celebrating cinema and the filmmakers who helped forge the industry.

Topping the field with 11 nominations including Best Picture and Directing for Martin Scorsese, HUGO is a fantastical tale about a young boy who, in a quest to fulfill his father’s dream of perfecting an automaton, encounters the pioneering filmmaker (and special effects guru) Georges Melies in Paris. Not only is Hollywood self-reflexively acknowledging its own cinematic past with a near-dozen nominations for the film, but Scorsese’s personal story makes this a film about filmmaking by a filmmaker obsessed with honoring and preserving film history, past and present.  The only way HUGO could better celebrate cinema is to let audience members go up in the projection booth and change reels as the film unspools on screen.

Likewise THE ARTIST also nabbed Best Picture and Director nominations amid a total of ten nods for this silent, black-and-white slice of cinematic gold about a 1920s French actor whose fortunes fall with the rise of talking pictures in Hollywood. While THE ARTIST is definitely pleasing audiences and critics (along with some early award givers), its Oscar acknowledgements are definitely Hollywood’s feel-good treat to itself and its legacy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but these two top nominee films signify Hollywood’s comfort with looking inward rather than outward at the crop of 2011 films.

Odds are, you can safely place your bets on these two front runners to battle for the gold in most of their shared categories, and with few exceptions fend off their competitors across the board.  Speaking of which, here is the complete list of Oscar nominees announced this morning:

Actor in a Leading Role
Demián Bichir in “A Better Life”
George Clooney in “The Descendants”
Jean Dujardin in “The Artist”
Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
Brad Pitt in “Moneyball”

FilmEdge is glad to see Gary Oldman recognized for his work in the low-key spy film entry, and a little surprised that Hollywood favorites Clooney and Pitt were nomination shoo-ins for quite atypical characters in a category usually rewarding higher profile films.  We certainly give Jean Dujardin the big edge over all others in the category.

By the way, we held some hope that the Academy might give a nod to Andy Serkis for his excellent portrayal of Caesar in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, despite their general prejudice against rewarding genre films outside of technical categories (RISE got one nomination for Visual Effects). Obviously it will take a long time before the Academy stops deducting nomination points for motion capture acting, but I see it as no different in effect than performances given in substantial makeup like John Hurt in THE ELEPHANT MAN. The Academy didn’t hesitate to give him an Oscar nomination, by the way. Lon Chaney built a career playing roles in which he greatly altered his appearance, and he’s rightly considered a Hollywood legend. Alas, Serkis will likely be the trailblazer in this field who will get Academy recognition long after its due — but they did the same to Paul Newman. At least Serkis is in good company on that count.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Kenneth Branagh in “My Week with Marilyn”
Jonah Hill in “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte in “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer in “Beginners”
Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

If you never in your life expected to hear the phrase “Oscar nominated actor Jonah Hill,” get ready to live with it now. In a year of Hollywood adoringly examining its own navel, we have no complaints about veteran actors Plummer and von Sydow being nominated in the category. Nolte’s not exactly a newcomer either, and the hype over MY WEEK WITH MARILYN does tend to make Hill the oddball on the list for MONEYBALL.

Actress in a Leading Role
Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis in “The Help”
Rooney Mara in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady”
Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn”

Streep breaks the record with her 17th nomination, but will Williams’ lauded transformation into Marilyn Monroe give Thatcher a run for the gold?  We’d never argue with Streep’s commanding talents, but is Britain’s Iron Lady a role too similar to her past wins to outshine the bold challenge of becoming a Hollywood icon in the very medium that made Monroe a legend?

Actress in a Supporting Role
Bérénice Bejo in “The Artist”
Jessica Chastain in “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer in “The Help”

Chastain and Spencer’s nominations are a welcome sight though the old awards truism about duel nods from the same film canceling out each other will likely come to pass for them both. Add McCarthy along with Jonah Hill to the surprisingly refreshing trend of the Academy better recognizing comedic actors who stand out in unconventional roles. While Bejo is likely to take the trophy here in a predictable semi-sweep for THE ARTIST, the two nominations for BRIDESMAIDS shows some evidence of Oscar loosening up its attitude about comedy films in general.  Now actually handing them the statue is a different matter, though.

Animated Feature Film
“A Cat in Paris” Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
“Chico & Rita” Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
“Kung Fu Panda 2” Jennifer Yuh Nelson
“Puss in Boots” Chris Miller
“Rango” Gore Verbinski

The lack of Pixar-produced entries in this category will spice up the prediction handicapping a bit, with DreamWorks Animation holding a slight monopoly. Nominations for the French and Spanish features display a bit more broad-mindedness from the Academy that is often the case for Animated Features.  Some true toss-up potential exists in picking the winner here.

Art Direction
“The Artist”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”
“Midnight in Paris”
“War Horse”

What a wildly diverse bunch of films and film styles have collided in this category! From monochrome silent cinema recreation to dazzling digital design, with more grounded Spielberg and Allen looks offering stark contrast.  Will the Academy voters give the nod to Scorsese’s CG wonders or will they reward the old school nostalgia of THE ARTIST?  HUGO might eke out the win here in a category that might boost its total against its silent arch rival for Oscar statues.

“The Artist” Guillaume Schiffman
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Jeff Cronenweth
“Hugo” Robert Richardson
“The Tree of Life” Emmanuel Lubezki
“War Horse” Janusz Kaminski

Here’s another behind-the-camera category that could have THE ARTIST and HUGO trading award wins all night long, with neither film dominating the other outright. Does the Academy reward the technical achievement or the grand Hollywood illusion?

Costume Design
“Anonymous” Lisy Christl
“The Artist” Mark Bridges
“Hugo” Sandy Powell
“Jane Eyre” Michael O’Connor
“W.E.” Arianne Phillips

“The Artist” Michel Hazanavicius
“The Descendants” Alexander Payne
“Hugo” Martin Scorsese
“Midnight in Paris” Woody Allen
“The Tree of Life” Terrence Malick

While MIDNIGHT IN PARIS has proven to be Allen’s most successful film, neither Malick’s nor Payne’s nominated films have garnered huge critical support in their release. This category quickly boils down to a duel between Hazanavicius and Scorsese, and it could well be a pick-’em coin flip. This early on, FilmEdge is playing the Academy odds that Scorsese’s 2007 Directing win for THE DEPARTED gives Hazanavicius the edge for his bold effort to stack up a black-and-white silent film against the likes of HUGO’s 3D family film trendiness.

Documentary (Feature)
“Hell and Back Again”
“If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front”
“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory”

Documentary (Short Subject)
“The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement”
“God Is the Bigger Elvis”
“Incident in New Baghdad”
“Saving Face”
“The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom”

Film Editing
“The Artist” Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
“The Descendants” Kevin Tent
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
“Hugo” Thelma Schoonmaker
“Moneyball” Christopher Tellefsen

FilmEdge can see HUGO and THE ARTIST trading these ‘technical’ awards all night, but might a dark horse nominee like THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO sneak in to pick off an upset?

Foreign Language Film
“Bullhead” Belgium
“Footnote” Israel
“In Darkness” Poland
“Monsieur Lazhar” Canada
“A Separation” Iran

“Albert Nobbs”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”
“The Iron Lady”

We suspect the Academy voters are all Pottered out by now, which leaves the two character-creating transformations left to fight for the gold. Which is tougher: turning Meryl Streep into a known public figure like Thatcher, or transforming Glenn Close into a woman pretending to be a man?  Both actresses were nominated in their leading roles, but perhaps Streep had the slightly tougher challenge of becoming a world leader of recent memory both inside and out. Expectations and scrutiny were certainly tighter in bringing Thatcher to the big screen.

Music (Original Score)

“The Adventures of Tintin” John Williams
“The Artist” Ludovic Bource
“Hugo” Howard Shore
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Alberto Iglesias
“War Horse” John Williams

Venerable John Williams’ two nominations here will likely cancel each other out, leaving three-time Oscar winner Shore to contend with the less well known Bource and Iglesias. We don’t think there’s enough love for the spy remake to boost Iglesias to the podium, so once again the battle boils down to HUGO versus THE ARTIST. With the score playing such a prominent role in the silent film, FilmEdge gives the edge to Bource.

Music (Original Song)
“Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets” Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
“Real in Rio” from “Rio” Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown Lyric by Siedah Garrett

This category seems like it was a struggle to fill for the Academy this year, especially since we can’t remember when Best Original Song was literally a coin flip prospect. FilmEdge isn’t sure Academy voters could sing you either song from memory after seeing the films, but the odds are likely stacked that the Muppets’ feel-good value will give it the win.

Best Picture
“The Artist” Thomas Langmann, Producer
“The Descendants” Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” Scott Rudin, Producer
“The Help” Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
“Hugo” Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
“Midnight in Paris” Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
“Moneyball” Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
“The Tree of Life” Nominees to be determined
“War Horse” Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers

Dropping a notch this year from the previously arbitrary 10 firm nominations as Best Picture, this category would be a two-film race had the Academy dialed the entries back to five again. Both THE ARTIST and HUGO have technical presentation working for and against them, depending on a given voter’s preference or prejudice. FilmEdge still suspects that Scorsese’s overdue win for his less-inspired THE DEPARTED hurts his chances for HUGO taking the top award. Despite its international pedigree and cast, THE ARTIST is pure Hollywood at heart without the distraction of computer generated Paris in 3D, so we’re predicting THE ARTIST wins in a tight contest.

Short Film (Animated)
“Dimanche/Sunday” Patrick Doyon
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
“La Luna” Enrico Casarosa
“A Morning Stroll” Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
“Wild Life” Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

Short Film (Live Action)
“Pentecost” Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane
“Raju” Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
“The Shore” Terry George and Oorlagh George
“Time Freak” Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
“Tuba Atlantic” Hallvar Witzø

Sound Editing
“Drive” Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Ren Klyce
“Hugo” Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
“War Horse” Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

Sound Mixing
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
“War Horse”
Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson

Visual Effects
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”
Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
“Real Steel”
Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
“The Descendants” Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
“Hugo” Screenplay by John Logan
“The Ides of March” Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
“Moneyball” Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin Story by Stan Chervin
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

HUGO seems a likely winner here in the splitting contest with THE ARTIST, but might a dark horse like MONEYBALL or TINKER TAILOR sneak in the back door to steal an Oscar?

Writing (Original Screenplay)
“The Artist” Written by Michel Hazanavicius
“Bridesmaids” Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
“Margin Call” Written by J.C. Chandor
“Midnight in Paris” Written by Woody Allen
“A Separation” Written by Asghar Farhadi

Speaking of upsets, Best Foreign Film nominee A SEPARATION also snagged a very unlikely nod in the Original Screenplay field here. We’re betting it takes the former category and misses here in the Academy’s long-standing tradition of rewarding films in one category where they likely can’t win in another. BRIDESMAIDS is another surprise nomination for the highest grossing R-rated female comedy of all time, and a welcome sign that the Academy members are loosening up a bit since the days where Woody Allen was one of the few comedy writers with a pass to attend the Oscars (not that he ever used it). MARGIN CALL?  Okay.  That leaves THE ARTIST as the top contender in a surprisingly diverse list of nominees, and here is where the film’s 10 nominations give it the muscle to grab an “easy” Oscar away from the pack.

The 84th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Billy Crystal, will air on ABC Sunday, February 26th at 7pm ET / 4pm PT.


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