2011 was divisive. We knew that. There’s been a lack of consensus about what was good and what was bad that’s so strongly marked many called 2011 a shit year for films. That’s not true, but it was a year that failed to produce a masterpiece (um, most years fail to produce masterpieces). 2011 had so many films that appealed to wildly different tastes that everyone knew the Oscar nominations were going to be a mess. The last couple of months have seen plenty of bitching about The Descendants—I loved it but many think it’s overrated—and The Artist—many love it but I think it’s overrated—and Hugo and War Horse come from venerable directors but neither are either’s best work (and neither will matter in five years). There was also an abundance of excellent acting in 2011, which guaranteed that each of the four acting categories would feature prominent snubs.
Where the Oscar nominations irk me this year is in their complete lack of imagination. The Academy has certain tastes that dictate a lot of the decision making, but given how split opinions were in 2011, this would have been a good year to step outside those zones and explore more options for nominees. For instance, the actors almost always nominate hand-wavy, attention-getting performances. This is how I knew Ryan Gosling, despite throwing down an amazing performance in Drive, wouldn’t get nominated—he barely said three words together throughout the film and his biggest moments were so violent you couldn’t cut them into a sizzle reel for prime time. Ditto for The Fassbender—I thought he’d get nominated simply because he turned in four wildly diverse performances in 2011, but I did worry that Shame, his best chance at a nomination, was too contained to appeal to the people who made Tropic Thunder’s “never go full retard” joke possible.
Here’s the complete list of nominees, below is the list with my corrections for the Year In Oscar That Should Have Been. (We’ll get to handicapping winners in a few weeks, closer to the ceremony.) While there are a lot of changes I’d make, there are some much deserved, surprising nominations that almost balance out the obvious idiocy of a few of these nods. Almost, but not quite.
The Artist – I didn’t love this movie but I’ll accept that I’m in the minority and let it stand.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Not in a million years. This one was bought and paid for, there’s no other explanation.
The Help – Also a big fat NO. White Guilt: The Movie is in no way one of the best pictures of the year. Best Picture of Cheaply Absolving Hundreds of Years of Racism, sure.
Hugo – Drive
Midnight in Paris – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Moneyball – Win Win
The Tree of Life – As much as I think The Tree of Life will age better than 99% of this list, I did not think it was one of the best pictures of the year. It’s cut in favor of getting down to just 5 nominees.
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo – Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris – I’ll give him the writing but Allen’s direction is not special.
It should be: Paddy Considine, Tyrannosaur
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life – See, here’s where I leave Tree. Best Picture and Best Director don’t HAVE to go hand-in-hand. There’s nothing wrong with saying a directorial effort can be better than the final product.
Best Adapted Screenplay
John Logan, Hugo – Coriolanus
George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, The Ides of March – Are you shitting me?
It should be: Hossein Amini, Drive
Steve Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin, Moneyball – Discounted for that dumbass family subplot.
It should be: Lynne Ramsey and Rory Kinnear, We Need to Talk About Kevin
Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Best Original Screenplay
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist – I can’t give it this. It’s too obviously a mash-up of Singin’ in the Rain and Sunset Boulevard.
It should be: Tom McCarthy, Win Win
Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids – Will Reiser, 50/50
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Asghar Farhadi, A Separation – John Michael McDonagh, The Guard
Demian Bichir, A Better Life – A well deserved surprise.
George Clooney, The Descendants – He was good. He was really good. Better than he’s been in a while. But when push comes to shove…
It should be: Ryan Gosling, Drive
Jean Dujardin, The Artist – Look, I’ve let The Artist keep Best Picture/Director but really…
It should be: Peter Mullan, Tryannosaur
Brad Pitt, Moneyball – Bumping him down to Supporting because…
It should be: Michael Fassbender, Shame
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – HA!
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help – I’m going to let this ride because Davis was so good it was like she was acting in an entirely different, much more serious and sincere film.
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Just for never once telling us how ALOOF she is…
It should be: Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady – We all love Meryl but please. This was not her best. This was a cartoon.
It should be: Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
Best Supporting Actor
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – An understandably sentimental pick, but…
It should be: Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn – Once I saw this movie this nomination felt inevitable, but…
It should be: Alex Shaffer, Win Win
Jonah Hill, Moneyball – You know what? YES. Also, if I’m Sony marketing, I’m working on a new ad campaign for 21 Jump Street today.
Nick Nolte, Warrior – He was good. He was. The whole movie was better than advertised. But this is sentiment again.
It should be: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Best Supporting Actress
Berenice Bejo, The Artist – Olivia Colman, Tyrannosaur
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids – If you’re okay going back in time to give Zach Galifianakis an Oscar nod for The Hangover, then fine. Otherwise…
It should be: Amy Ryan, Win Win
Jessica Chastain, The Help – The Tree of Life
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Guillame Schiffman, The Artist
Jeff Cronenweth, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Robert Richardson, Hugo
Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life
Janusz Kaminski, War Horse – Spielberg & Co. will have Lincoln in 2012, and by all accounts, even mid-production it’s already better than War Horse.
It should be: Hoyte van Hoytema, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Best Film Editing
Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist – Matthew Newman, Drive
Kevin Tent, The Descendants – Here’s a prime example of Oscar groupthink. The Descendants is well made, yes, and one of the best of the year, yes, but it’s editing was not extraordinary. But because it gets the big noms, it gets the little ones by default, too.
It should be: Dino Jonsater, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Thelma Schoonmaker, Hugo – Mark Day, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2
Christopher Tellefsen, Moneyball – GROUPTHINK. And yes, I’m going here, because this movie by rights should have been a mess but it was actually very well edited…
It should be: Paul Hirsch, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Best Art Direction
Laurence Bennett and Robert Gould, The Artist
Stuart Craig and Stephenie McMillan, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2
Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo, Hugo
Anne Seibel and Helene Dubreuil, Midnight in Paris – Rachael Ferrera, Like Crazy
Rick Carter and Lee Sandales, War Horse – Tom Brown and ZsuZsa Kismarty-Lechner, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Best Costume Design
Lisy Christl, Anonymous
Mark Bridges, The Artist
Sandy Powell, Hugo
Michael O’Connor, Jane Eyre
Arianne Phillips, W.E. – Madonna’s movie blows so bad not even costumes can save it. Plus, half the movie is contemporary and look at this list. Contemporary doesn’t cut it.
It should be: Anna B. Sheppard, Captain America: The First Avenger
Martial Cornville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew Mungle, Albert Nobbs
Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight and Lisa Tomblin, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2
Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland, The Iron Lady
Addition: Helen Barrett and Paul Boyce, Captain America: The First Avenger – Deserved for the Red Skull alone.
Best Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2
Real Steel – Traditionally a category where you see bad movies, this is pushing it even by those standards. The robot boxing scenes were messy and headache-inducing.
It should be: Captain America: The First Avenger
Rise of the Planet of the Apes – And this is as close as you’re getting, Serkis.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon – An example of a bad movie with stellar effects. Don’t take out our Michael-Bay-rage on the below the line technicians, who did stellar work.
Best Original Score
John Williams, The Adventures of TinTin – 2011 was an off year for Williams, who usually churns out top score after top score.
It should be: Alexandre Desplat, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2
Ludovic Bource, The Artist
Howard Shore, Hugo – More Oscar groupthink.
It should be: The Chemical Brothers, Hanna
Alberto Iglesias, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy
John Williams, War Horse – Oh my god did I ever hate this score.
It should be: Cliff Martinez, Drive
Best Original Song
“Real in Rio” by Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown and Siedah Garrett, Rio
Addition: “Life is a Happy Song” by Bret McKenzie, The Muppets
Addition: “The Star Spangled Man with a Plan” by Alan Menken and David Zippel, Captain America: The First Avenger – Poor Cap really suffered from Superhero Slight this year. It should’ve picked up a host of technical nominations and got snubbed across the board, but this is the worst one. This song is everything that Best Song is about—it’s a good piece of music that fits seamlessly into the film.
Best Sound Editing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Except for the fact that Sound Editing and Sound Mixing should be one category called Sound Design, I have no complaint with any of these nominees, except…
Best Sound Mixing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Moneyball – Captain America: The First Avenger
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Best Foreign Language Film
Bullhead (Belgium) — The Last Circus (Spain)
In Darkness (Poland)
Monsieur Lazhar (Canada) – French-Canadian isn’t a real language because Canada isn’t a real country.
It should be: The Skin I Live In (Spain)
A Separation (Iran)
Best Animated Feature Film
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fun Panda 2
Puss in Boots
Best Documentary (Feature)
Hell and Back Again – I have nothing against this movie but I’ve never heard of it and there was a major oversight in this category.
It should be: Buck
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Undefeated – Cave of Forgotten Dreams
This whole category is bullshit because three of the best docs of 2011 (Senna, The Interrupters, Into the Abyss) were disqualified through weird myopic Academy rules.
Best Documentary (Short Subject)
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
God is the Bigger Elvis
Incident in New Baghdad
Best Live Action Short
Best Animated Short
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
A Morning Stroll
If you say so.