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Oscar Looks Beyond Hollywood

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin January 25, 2011 at 6:49AM

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.
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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.

This article is related to: Journal, Film Reviews