Oscar nominations were announced this morning. At first glance, I have to admit that this year’s batch seems uncommonly competent.
The 10 Best Picture nominees are all worthwhile in one way or another, and four of them actually made my top 10 of 2010: The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone. See, I told you they were competent.
Yet that doesn’t mean the Academy has completely transcended its staid, old-school ways —The King’s Speech, a solid yet thoroughly conventional film in terms of content, style and setting, led the way with 12 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Direction (Tom Hooper), Best Actor (Colin Firth) and Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler).
After an almost across-the-board snubbing from various critics lists and awards entities (including being shut out of the Golden Globes), True Gritdeservedly grabbed 10 nominations, including Best Direction (the Coen brothers), Best Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Hailee Steinfeld) and Best Adapted Screenplay (the Coens). Curiously, it's probably the most straightforward and heartfelt film in the Coens' now-robust filmography. I wouldn't be surprised to see it win them a second Best Picture in four years (following No Country for Old Men).
The Coens responded to the bounty with their typical lack of self-importance: “Ten seems like an awful lot. We don’t want to take anyone else’s.”
The year’s unquestioned critical darling, The Social Network, garnered eight nominations, including Best Direction (David Fincher), Best Actor (Jesse Eisenberg) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin). (For the record, I still think it's the likely Best Picture winner.) One of 2010’s biggest box-office hits, Inception, also earned eight nominations —though, curiously, a Best Direction nod for Christopher Nolan wasn’t one of them, which is a shame because his skillful handling of that film’s convoluted narrative and technical hurdles was its greatest asset. (I'd slide him in there over The King's Speech's Tom Hooper.)
The only real surprise for me among the Best Picture nominees is Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik’s excellent backwoods-set thriller about a 17-year-old girl (Jennifer Lawrence, who was also deservedly nominated) fighting to save her family from oblivion. I interviewed Granik when the film opened in Cincinnati last summer, and I can confirm that the nomination will no doubt come as something of a shock for a filmmaker and a film that has little in common with typical Hollywood fare.