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Jason Wallis The annual airing of Oscar grievances

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 8:05 am

Technical complications at the “Haywire” screening I attempted to attend have left me without a film to review this week (we’ll catch up with that one next time, along with the Liam Neeson survival thriller “The Grey”). But this is just as well, I suppose, considering that the recent Oscar nominations have inspired more controversy than I’ve ever seen associated with the Academy Awards, and of course I have some choice thoughts about that.

Predictions will be reserved for my Lodi Living cover article set to run the weekend of the Oscars (Sunday, Feb. 26), so this column will be primarily comprised of weeping and gnashing of teeth as I, with the aid of bullet points, lament those films and performances that were overlooked amidst the sick political gamesmanship of Academy voting. Do enjoy.

I went 28 for 34 in my nomination predictions, and I would be more proud of that 82 percent success rate if the surprise nominees didn’t fill me with so much blind rage. The most talked-about category, naturally, has been the best picture race, in which five of the nine honorees are “The Descendants,” “Moneyball,” “The Help,” “Warhorse” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Now, I recognize that Academy voters are rather old-fashioned in their tastes, and are likely to be confused and frightened by films that engage in actual artistic creativity rather than regurgitate familiar themes without devoting much thought to things like film aesthetics or narrative momentum. Believe me, I get it.

But there comes a point where you have to question if Hollywood is concerned with artistic endeavor on any level at all. Now, I’m not suggesting that Oscar voters should have nominated little-seen masterworks like “I Saw the Devil” or “13 Assassins” or anything so rash (although that would be awesome, no?), but I’m trying to imagine a reasonable scenario in which someone who loves the art of cinema can watch films like “Drive” or “Melancholia” or “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” or “Margin Call” and deem them inferior to some of the movies that landed a best picture nod, and I’m coming up with nothing. The fact of the matter is that if you admire “The Help” more than “Drive,” then I’m sorry but you suck at movies, and your opinion belies a fundamental misunderstanding of what film is and what it can do. Again, it’s no surprise to see Hollywood display blatant contempt for the creative process, but this situation is, I think, a tad extreme, even by industry standards.

I don’t think I’ve ever done a more alarmed WTF? double-take than I did when the best actress nominees were announced and Tilda Swinton’s devastating turn in “We Need to Talk Kevin” (the single most impressive piece of acting I saw all year) was nowhere to be found. It’s one thing for voters to exercise poor judgment in their overall film tastes, but the raw power of Swinton’s performance — in an incredibly difficult role to pull off, I might add — should not and cannot be denied. By giving her slot to Rooney Mara for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (a fine performance in its own right, don’t get me wrong), voters seem to be placing a higher premium on “role” rather than “performance,” preferring to honor the woman who “brought Lisbeth Salander to life” rather than the one who crafted her own complete persona from a less-showy role. At this point, I cannot adequately convey the depths of my disgust with mere words, so I guess we’ll move on.

Much has been said about the snubbing of Albert Brooks for his against-type turn as a methodical mobster in “Drive,” and I’m not sure I have much to add: It was a striking role in an incredible film, and caused me to somewhat reconsider my opinion of Brooks and the extent of his acting talent. One would think that such an achievement warrants recognition from one’s peers, but in modern Hollywood apparently that’s too much to ask for. (As a consolation prize, I guess, Brooks can enjoy the lion’s share of critics’ awards he claimed.) But amid all the fire and brimstone raining down thanks to my fellow “Drive” enthusiasts, another neglected performance has fallen by the wayside: Charlie Day in “Horrible Bosses.” The Academy saw fit to (rightfully) nominate Melissa McCarthy for her bold work in the R-rated comedy “Bridesmaids,” but then decided that one comedic performance was enough to fill their quota and turned their backs on Day, who delivered the year’s funniest performance following years of delivering the funniest performance on television in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Did I ever for one second think he’d actually land a spot? Of course not — and certainly not with acting titan Jonah Hill in the mix. But as long as we’re airing grievances …

In a dual slam against the Academy and equally clueless studio execs, I’d like to point out that, if voters could have opened their hearts a little to honor a film that actually matters, the highly acclaimed Iranian drama “A Separation” could have been the 10th best picture nominee and gained wider distribution. I have not seen the film, but would very much like to without having to travel 100-300 miles round-trip, as it has been unanimously heralded as a modern classic that will be celebrated and studied 50 years hence. This was the perfect opportunity to do something great for an apparently deserving film, and in the process make a grand gesture to the people of Iran, who have managed to maintain a respectable film voice even while living under the most oppressive government regime imaginable. But evidently there’s no room for art and justice when you’re scrambling to find a way to honor 9/11-based emotional pornography starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.

I was going to round things out with my cases against “The Descendants,” “Moneyball” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” as major awards contenders, but it appears this column has gotten away from me a bit. To be continued, if not next week then soon thereafter.

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