Oscar Nominations Mixed Bag (Again)

Finding fault with the Academy Awards’ Oscar nominations is kinda like getting pissed about the even more clueless Grammy nominations — discerning “aficionados” don’t take either seriously as arbiters of what’s truly “the best” in each medium. This year’s nominations, announced earlier this morning, are another mixed bag — some nominees are deserving of nods, many others are not. —-

David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the kind of epic, star-laden fare the Academy drools over, thus its 13 nominations come as only a mild surprise. For the record, I found Fincher’s latest a curiously conventional move for a guy whose Fight Club was once called a “danger to society” and whose previous film, Zodiac, actually was one of the best films of its year (2007). Button is anything but dangerous — think a slightly less sentimental, more subtly constructed version of Forrest Gump (appropriately, Eric Roth wrote — and was nominated for — the screenplay for both). Brad Pitt owes his Best Actor nomination — and several cocktails — to the seamless work of Button’s impressive special effects and make-up departments.

The rest of the Best Actor category is filled with heavyweight performances — Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon, Sean Penn in Milk and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. All four are richly deserving, but Penn and Rourke have to be the favorites. Maybe they can fight over it.

I’m mostly cool with the female nominees — especially Melissa Leo in the under-seen Frozen River — even if many are perplexed by Kate Winslet’s nod for her role in The Reader instead of her equally strong performance in Revolutionary Road. (Could it be the Weinstein effect?) The big omission was Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky — a better film than anything up for Best Picture, and which only received an Original Screenplay nod for writer/director Mike Leigh.

The Reader for Best Picture is probably the biggest surprise of the lot. (Yes, even more than the omission of The Dark Knight; Heath Ledger did get a nod for Best Supporting Actor). The least distinguished of the five nominees (which also includes the aforementioned Benjamin Button, as well as Frost/Nixon, Milk and Slumdog Millionaire), Stephen Daldry’s latest is an uneven, often vexing drama most notable for Winslet’s affecting, surprisingly restrained lead performance. I guess its mondo-egoed producer, Harvey Weinstein, still has the ear (and probably more) of someone at the Academy.

Doubt is a mediocre film, thus its three acting nods (Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman) weren’t enough to garner a Best Picture nomination.

I was happy to see Gus Van Sant’s Milk get some love — eight nominations — even if it’s not as good as his other film (Paranoid Park) this year.

And Slumdog Millionaire — Danny Boyle’s deftly constructed, slightly overrated feel-good contraption — just keeps on chugging, picking up 10 nominations, almost all of which are on the technical side.