One of the worst Oscar rosters in recent memory

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.

Best Picture

The Artist – I didn’t love this movie but I’ll accept that I’m in the minority and let it stand.

The Descendants

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.


Midnight in ParisTinker Tailor Soldier Spy

MoneyballWin 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.

War Horse

Best Director

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

Alexander Payne and Nate Faxon & Jim Rash, The Descendants – You guys, the Dean got a nomination!

John Logan, HugoCoriolanus

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

Best Actor

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!

Best Actress

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 LadyWe 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

Christopher Plummer, Beginners

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 HelpThe Tree of Life

Octavia Spencer, The Help

Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

Best Cinematography

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

Best Makeup

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

“Man or Muppet” by Bret McKenzie, The Muppets – One half of Flight of the Conchords is now an Oscar nominee.

“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

War Horse

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

War Horse

Best Foreign Language Film

Bullhead (Belgium)The Last Circus (Spain)

Footnote (Israel)

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

Okay, sure.

Best Live Action Short



The Shore

Time Freak

Tuba Atlantic

Yeah, fine.

Best Animated Short


The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

La Luna

A Morning Stroll

Wild Life

If you say so.

20 thoughts on “One of the worst Oscar rosters in recent memory

  1. Justin

    Agree with some of your swaps and powerfully disagree with others. (For one, Monsieur Lazhar is a great film…) HOWEVER, the actual screenplay for Drive is ATROCIOUS. Nicolas Winding Refn is a genius for turning a dialogue-y script into a brilliant, brilliant movie.

  2. Sarah

    Interesting commentary on what I’m sure will prove to be a boring Oscars.

    Thanks also for not loving all over The Help. I was beginning to think I was the only one who disliked the movie/book. So many of my girlfriends – smart, amazing, educated women – were so won over by both the book and the movie and so I’m glad I’m not the only one who found it incredibly problematic. I’m actually so happy to see that it didn’t get nominated for Best Adapted screenplay.

  3. I have a lot of thoughts, and there were a lot of changes, so I’ll likely come back to make more comments throughout the week.

    – It doesn’t look like you would have changed any Harry Potter noms except for editing. Nothing for adapted screenplay? Direction?

    – I think Jessica Chastain was better in any other movie over Tree of Life.

    – Is it really worth seeing Dragon Tattoo? I’ve seen the Swedish versions. This is what I like to call the “Bale” nomination. You mutilate your body, you get an Oscar nomination.

    – I TOTALLY Agree with 50/50. WTF!?!? I also still think JGL should have gotten a supporting actor nod, but I guess 50/50 isn’t Oscar fodder.

    1. Midnight Cowboy won BP and it was released with an X rating. And Marlon Brando was nominated for Best Actor for Last Tango in Paris, I think, which was also X.

  4. Elle

    I can’t help but think you would have been more into The Artist if there hadn’t been so much hype around it. It’s a really charming movie. Masterpiece? No. But still intelligent and inventive and overall lovely.

    I agree about a lot of your corrections, my only other complaint is that I really wish Alan Rickman would have been nominated. Love love love his Snape. Bet it’ll become iconic.

  5. Honestly, at this point I think it’s pretty well established that the Oscars are going to overlook handfuls of artists who truly deserve recognition each and every year. Not only that, but it’s also an exceedingly subjective discussion in the first place. The snubs are obviously here like Swinton, Fassbender, Brooks, and even Serkis to an extent, but it’s the Oscars and I will always watch them.

  6. Anyone remember the year 301 Mafia one Best Original Song for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”. That was awesome. What was even better was Jon Stewart’s comment after the win: “310 Mafia: one. Scorsese: zero.”

  7. Nikki

    Interesting post. I liked some of your changes and disagreed with others.

    If I could change anything, I would put the Fassbender in for Shame and Gosling in for Drive. That being said, the academy doesn’t seem to love the less showy performances so I should just be happy that Oldman and Bichir are there and stop wishing for more. I would change Jessica Chastain’s nomination to one for Tree of Life and also Brad Pitt’s work in that film should be recognized. I would drop Mara Rooney and insert Dunst for her amazing work in Melancholia.

    As to my WTF nominees, basically I don’t get the amount of love for Clooney. I mean a writing nod for Clooney for Ides??? I liked that movie but that nomination is bullshit.

    I also disliked the Help. I thought Viola was wonderful but I really disliked everything that movie and that book tried to say.

    Sarah, I have a stupid question. When great performances get overlooked, is it because academy voters don’t really want to make risky choices or is it because a lot of these performances in smaller films (Tyrannosaur) are not as widely seen? Or is it a combination of both?

    1. In Tyrannosaur’s case, no one saw it, it didn’t campaign, etc. That was a concern for Shame, too, that not enough people would see it. But there’s also an element of–actors don’t often vote for these contained performances. They like the big transformations and moments. Sucks either way.

  8. Jessa

    I’m so glad you called out the wretched score for War Horse. Every time that main theme swelled I wanted to shoot someone. Couldn’t believe it when I saw the credits and it was John Williams. I mean, I don’t remember ever hating a score more than I hated that one. So sentimental. Ugh. Totally agree that Alexandre Desplat should have got some love for his HP score. Really delicate and beautiful. But he’s probably my favorite movie composer right now – more of his scores are on my ipod than any other composer’s.

  9. Angela Harrington

    Yeah, I’m with EMJ on that one.

    Beyond the Quebecois smack-talk, I agreed with a lot of your arguments. I would prefer to see Pitt win over Clooney. Mostly because I’m tired of seeing Clooney win and after reading The Last Psychiatrist’s take on the Descendants, I can’t get behind it.

  10. anirose

    Sarah I really confused about the campaigning thing. Shouldn’t the academy award the best instead of who campaigned the best? At this point I would rather anyone other than pitt or clooney to win cos am tired of them opening there mouth. They seem so desperate.
    Really disapointed neither the Gos nor fassbender was nominated. There performance was better than those aforementioned actors.

  11. marie

    to be honest, the moment i saw the Dean’s name, everything was forgiven…i hope he finds a way to mention Greendale in his speech when he wins

  12. kayden

    I cant believe the chemical brothers didn’t get nominated for the soundtrack in Hanna! Great list, although you’re coming down a bit hard on Monsieur Lazhar, it was a great movie (the language jab was a real low blow by the way).

    I kind of liked warhorse, I thought it was a good movie, but you’re right, it really wasn’t spectacular so really shouldn’t have been nominated so much.

    most of the best picture choices are really over rated.

  13. [“Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris”]

    I thought that “MIDNIGHT IN PARIS” was a boring piece of shit and in no way deserved an Oscar nomination or the Original Screenplay award.

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