And they're off once again!!!
Dear readers, while many of you may find yourselves salivating over the latest sports draft picks, I, your friendly neighborhood film enthusiast, always finds himself salivating over the annual nominations for the Academy Awards! Even after all of these years, and combined with the knowledge of how political and just downright silly these proceedings actually happen to be, I cannot help myself but to get swept away with the grandeur, the spectacle and most importantly, an event, when at its best, is a celebration of the art and artistry of the movies.
All of that being said, I do have to say that my initial reaction to the nominations was more muted, and at times incredulous to a highly negative degree more than actually ever feeling elated. While I am not 100% certain, it seemed as if David O. Russell's "American Hustle," a film I felt to be an enormously sloppy, severely underwritten, poorly directed, ill conceived and purposeless disaster, conned its way into the hearts of the academy by being the clear victor, as far as nominations are concerned. Somehow this film found itself nominated for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Editing (what?!?! ), Best Supporting Actor for Bradley Cooper, Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Lawrence, Best Actress for Amy Adams, Best Actor for Christian Bale and for the love of Pete...Best Picture as well?!?!?! To the full breadth of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, you have been seriously conned to think that what you witnessed upon the silver screen with "American Hustle" is award worthy to this degree, which makes me unable to help but think that the politics of the proceedings have taken center stage for this year and depressingly so.
How else but to explain that Meryl Streep was nominated once again for her work in "August: Osage County," a film that has not been terribly critically acclaimed and has actually been criticized for watering down what is otherwise an excellent stage play. Streep's almost annual inclusion in the Best Actress category shows exactly just how far being Hollywood royalty will take you...accolades and coronations solely for showing up, the overall quality of the work be damned. Which is shameful as this year had several other leading female performances that could have easily taken Streep's place. I am thinking of Julie Delpy's work in "Before Midnight." Or Julia Louis-Dreyfuss' warm, rich and layered work in "Enough Said." Or how about Oprah Winfrey's terrific and completely naturalistic work in "The Butler" (more on that film in a bit)? And the hell with whatever the regulations are, Scarlett Johansson delivered one of the finest performances of the entire year as the voice of the computer operating system in Spike Jonze's "Her." Any one of those women would have been a more welcome sight than the overly predictable and just plain tired sight of Streep's recognition one more blasted time.
And once again, we are faced with the sheer stupidity of the Academy recognizing only five Best Director nominees but then going ahead and nominating nine films for Best Picture, as if those other four films directed themselves! These are several of the instances where I wonder why I even get excited about this event any more. But this year, I have found something even more troubling...
Returning to "The Butler," I was stunned to see it completely shut out of the nominations, especially as the film was a box office smash, did receive some critical acclaim and boasted an unflinchingly astounding performance from Forest Whitaker in the leading role. Now, there did happen to be a variety of critics who complained during the film's initial release that it was nothing more than "Oscar bait," a derisive complaint I felt to be more than a little unfair. But, the entire dismissal of "The Butler" from the running almost felt to be made out of spite or some needless desire to prove to critics that the Academy would to be so easily swayed (but again, please do explain the lavish love for "American Hustle"), or more disturbingly, was it through some sense of racial shortsightedness. Now, I am no conspiracy theorist but I do find it terribly saddening that in a cinematic year that housed "The Butler," "12 Years A Slave" and "Fruitvale Station," a year that potentially could have seen up to three Black males (Forest Whitaker, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael B. Jordan) up in the running for Best Actor, we are only allowed to have one.
While the more than deserving Ejifor, whose work in "12 Years A Slave" was supremely haunting and harrowing, it would have really been something to, at least, have seen Whitaker alongside him as his work in "The Butler" was a complete transformation and unlike any of the other nominated performances in that category. Don't get me wrong. The inclusion of Leonardo DiCaprio was thrilling for me as his performance in "The Wolf Of Wall Street" has got to be one of his greatest performances if not the very greatest. I guess the inclusion of Bruce Dern for "Nebraska" was not unexpected as well as Matthew McConaughey's highly celebrated work for "Dallas Buyer's Club." To have had Forest Whitaker included would have been phenomenal, for the sight of seeing more than one Black male represented certainly, but for the actual work in which Whitaker metamorphosed himself from the inside out and completely disappeared, leaving the only man on screen the character of this butler. Academy, you sometimes depress me so...
Were there any nominations I was happy to see? Well, of course. Having "Her" nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and even for Best Film Score was very pleasing to me as was Jonah Hill's inclusion in the Best Supporting Actor category for his explosive turn in "The Wolf On Wall Street." I was thrilled that "Before Midnight" was represented at all in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. And well...frankly, not much else as it all seemed to be as predictable and as unimaginative as many of the films released in 2013.
As for the Best Picture nominees, out of the nine films, I have only seen six as "Dallas Buyer's Club" arrived and exited my city fairly quickly, I have had no interest whatsoever in "Philomena" and as for "Captain Phillips," I just hate Director Paul Greengrass' over-utilization of the dreaded "shaky-cam" so tremendously that I will wait to see that one on DVD. Even so, and while I am happy that four of my top five favorite films of 2013 are represented, I wish that I could wrestle "American Hustle" out of that bunch as I could think of perhaps fifteen other films I saw in 2013 that would be enormously more deserving of recognition than that piece of incoherent..."Oscar bait."
But, let's see what transpires on Sunday, March 2nd and hope that the real cinematic heroes of 2013 prove to be victorious.