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Oscar Looks Beyond Hollywood

by Leonard Maltin
January 25, 2011 6:49 AM
9 Comments
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Considering that the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is comprised of people who work in the mainstream movie industry, it’s encouraging to see that they refuse to follow the company line and repeatedly honor good work from the independent film world and foreign countries. Some major players lobbied hard, and spent untold thousands of dollars, to attract Academy interest this year, but the voting members opted for actors like Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michelle Williams and films like Winter’s Bone, Blue Valentine, and Rabbit Hole instead.

This flies in the face of those droning voices who claim that the Academy is out of touch or easily swayed by promotional campaigns.

It also positions the Oscars well outside the realm of box-office returns. Relatively few moviegoers have seen

Winter’s Bone (which is already available on DVD), yet it scored four significant nominations including Best Picture, and is deserving of that recognition. I’m happy for the long-underrated John Hawkes, who earned a Supporting Actor nod, and Best Actress nominee Jennifer Lawrence, who is one of two young people to catch the brass ring today. (She’s 20, while True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld, in the Supporting field, is just 14.)

The members of the animation branch chose Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist over such home-grown features as Despicable Me and Tangled. Voters in the documentary division overlooked Waiting for Superman, which won a number of critics’ awards and had a pretty loud drumbeat over the past few months.

My biggest disappointment is that Ben Affleck’s The Town, one of my favorite films of 2010, was shut out, except for Jeremy Renner’s well-deserved nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Perhaps because it was too much like a genre piece (a heist thriller) and didn’t have any pretensions (like, say, Inception), it apparently lacked the Importance that always attracts Oscar attention.

On the other hand, the Academy has once again shown its willingness—if not downright eagerness—to reward newcomers in every field, especially acting, whether they’re kids like Lawrence and Steinfeld or veterans who have just come onto the radar, like Australia’s Jacki Weaver, honored for Animal Kingdom. Even Tom Hooper, a veteran of British television, is new to the roster of A-list directors, but after The King’s Speech, he’s clearly made the grade.

Today’s nomination must be especially sweet for The King’s Speech screenwriter David Seidler, who has eked out a writing career for decades—and sat on the story of King George VI and his speech therapist until the death of the Queen mother—to finally reap the reward of Oscar recognition at the age of 73. He’s got other stories to tell, and I hope the success of this film will enable him to get those movies made.

As today’s nominations affirm, neither youth nor seniority is any barrier on the road to an Academy Award.

For more thoughts on each of the ten Best Picture nominees click HERE.

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9 Comments

  • Jason | January 27, 2011 8:29 AMReply

    That is kinda strange that there's now 10 nominations for best picture but only the usual 5 for everything else. FM's got a point that the winners DO tend to be of the better ones....I'm still pissed that Hailee Steinfeld got booted from the LEAD actress category simply because Paramount thought she's have a better shot i the supporting category. That's pretty insulting, not just to her but the other actresses in that category. It's like it doesn't matter WHY someone wins just as long as they DO win...

  • alan aperlo | January 27, 2011 2:59 AMReply

    The films have been not to good this year. The 10 looks not to good.

  • FM | January 26, 2011 11:40 AMReply

    I will say that the Oscars have been pretty consistent at awarding films that were at least above-average if not great. I think the "out of touch" complaints led to the awful decision to dilute the nominations by adding another 5 slots. 2008 was a great (fluke) year for movies and every film that was nominated deserved to be there. Unfortunately, people complained because The Dark Knight was not nominated and now we have the watered-down 10 slots for nominees, which is just to include commercially successful films that have no real chance of winning.

  • Jim Reinecke | January 26, 2011 10:20 AMReply

    "Short term memory-itis" is still the Academy's most sevvere illness. Release your film early in the year and that guarantees oversight by the Academy. The cutoff date for inclusion in Leonard's annual Movie Guide seems to be on or around June 1 and it always seems that when the nominations are announced in January none of the films (or performances) honored are included in that indispensable tome. Case in point: How could the Academy, in good conscience (oops, there's an incongruity!) overlook Dakota Fanning's sizzling turn as Cherie Currie in "The Runaways"? Oh, yeah, the movie was released back in March and the Academy members have the collective attention span of a lobotomized gnat!

  • Jason | January 26, 2011 1:53 AMReply

    Oh and why isn't Mesrine up for foreign language film? I thought aside from a few surprise nods that this list of nominations was predictable if not down-right disappointing. One of the worst in a long time.

  • Jason | January 26, 2011 1:49 AMReply

    Okay why is Hailee Steinfeld up for SUPPORTING actress for True Grit? She played the main character!

  • Brian | January 26, 2011 12:41 AMReply

    I'm not that sure that Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter will win, I believe it will be Christian Bale and Melissa Leo but I do agree that Colin Firth will win.

  • Brian | January 25, 2011 11:52 AMReply

    Jennifer Lawrence was born August 15, 1990 that means she is 20 years old.

  • Brandt | January 25, 2011 8:17 AMReply

    No surprises here really- I thought The Social Network was severely overrated and got most of its attention due to the subject matter rather than the movie as a whole. I'm a big David Fincher fan and he's never let me down. Good movie but it didn't make my Top Ten. I thought Howl was by far the best movie of the year with its combination of animation, acting (James Franco as Allen Ginsberg), and cinematography. You can check out my list on my artist's blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2010/12/top-10-movie-picks-of-2010.html

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