Hope you all enjoyed my top 10 list last week, and gleaned some useful recommendations. This week I’ll take a very quick look at “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” which made my “most promising films I didn’t see” list but ended up being one of the most spirit-crushing disappointments of the year. I honestly don’t have much to say about such an empty film, so I suppose I might as well squeeze in my predictions for the Oscar nominations, set to be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 24, at which point you will surely marvel at my peerless prognosticative abilities.
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is based on the classic novel of the same name by John le Carre, which is widely considered to be the greatest spy story ever told. It is the sophomore directorial effort of Tomas Alfredson, who gave us the beautifully realized “Let the Right One In” just a few years ago. It boasts one of the most impressive casts of any movie last year, including Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, John Hurt, Toby Jones and Tom Hardy. And it’s a gorgeous film visually, perfectly capturing the look, feel and all-encompassing paranoia of the Cold War at its apex.
But in adapting this story (previously the subject of a noted seven-hour miniseries starring Alec Guinness) into a profoundly confusing two-hour film, all these positive points are rendered irrelevant. It’s as if there was so much expository information to convey in this tale of a mole hunt within a covert British intelligence agency that the screenwriters sort of just gave up. Key plot points are outlined with the artistry and finesse of a grocery list, and nothing ever seems to happen. It’s an endlessly dreary affair that often qualifies as flat-out boring, so unless you’re enraptured by the sight of Gary Oldman staring thoughtfully at chess pieces with people’s faces on them, you would do well to ignore the hype and see “Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol” again instead. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take low-brow thrills over suffocatingly inert high-brow fare any day.
Off to the races
This is an extraordinarily difficult category to call, if for no other reason than the lack of a set number of honorees. Anywhere from five to 10 films could be nominated this year, and if it’s five I guess “The Descendants,” “The Artist,” “Midnight in Paris,” “The Help” and “The Tree of Life” would be the front-runners. If they go with six, they’ll have to make room for the critical favorite “Hugo,” and a seventh slot would allow the Academy to honor “Moneyball” (for reasons I cannot even begin to comprehend). But I’m betting on an eight-horse race, with “Warhorse” sneaking in over the less Academy-friendly “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
Perhaps the most crowded and competitive race, with George Clooney and Brad Pitt leading the pack for their lauded turns in “The Descendants” and “Moneyball,” respectively (although it should be noted that, in a sane world, Pitt would instead be a contender for his vastly superior work in “The Tree of Life”). Jean Dujardin is also a lock for his Cannes award-winning performance in “The Artist,” while actors ranging from Ryan Gosling (a nod for “The Ides of March” is more likely than “Drive”), Michael Shannon (“Take Shelter”) or Demian Bichir (“A Better Life,” for which he received an out-of-nowhere Screen Actors Guild nomination) could take the last two spots. More likely, though: Leonardo DiCaprio for “J. Edgar” and Michael Fassbender for the NC-17 rated but highly acclaimed sex drama “Shame.”
I’m pretty sure I’ll go five for five on this one, as the category is predictably weak given Hollywood’s deep-seated sexism and apparent refusal to foster quality roles for women. It will be a close contest between Michelle Williams (“My Week with Marilyn”) and vet Glenn Close (“Albert Nobbs,” which may suffer from the fact that absolutely nobody will see it) for the win, while Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”) will likely have to settle for another token nomination. The final two spots: Tilda Swinton (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”) and Viola Davis (“The Help”), in a walk.
The Academy loves to reward impressive bodies of work assembled by veteran actors, and they’ll have a heyday in this category. Locks include Christopher Plummer (as a senior citizen realizing and embracing his homosexual nature in “Beginners”) and Kenneth Branagh (as Laurence Olivier in “My Week with Marilyn”). Albert Brooks, for an against-type turn in “Drive,” and Nick Nolte, as a regretful father in “Warrior,” can also count on being recognized, at least in part, for their career achievements. The last spot could go to SAG contenders Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”) or Armie Hammer (who was even more impressive than DiCaprio in “J. Edgar”), but I’m betting on Max von Sydow for “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” The movie’s been raked through the coals, but this is probably his last shot.
Another easy race to call, headed by Jessica Chastain, who could be honored for any of her high-profile turns last year — but most likely for “The Help.” Octavia Spencer, also of “The Help,“ and Berenice Bejo, of “The Artist,” are also virtual shoe-ins, and the young Shailene Woodley is a strong candidate for “The Descendants” despite her SAG snub. That leaves just one spot, which will probably be claimed by Melissa McCarthy for her broadly comic performance in the beloved “Bridesmaids,” which everyone has seen, over Janet McTeer for “Albert Nobbs,” which, again, will be voluntarily watched by nobody.
The most predictable category next to the best actress race, with Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”), Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”), Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”) and Martin Scorsese (“Hugo”) all guaranteed spots on the Academy’s list to go along with their Directors Guild nominations. David Fincher was the fifth DGA nominee, but I suspect he’ll be shafted this year for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and his slot will instead go to Terrence Malick for “The Tree of Life,” which enjoyed great acclaim within Hollywood’s directorial community. Steven Spielberg and “Warhorse,” I think, will have to sit this one out.
Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.