If you need a reminder at just how far Ben Affleck fell down the Hollywood ladder, look no further than his exclusion from the Best Director category at the Oscars. Sure, he’s on the Best Picture list as a producer, alongside George Clooney, but his solo effort was ignored in favor of a first-time director (Benh Zeitlin) whose movie I liked a great deal less than Argo. It’s gotta sting, Ben, but don’t worry. Your day will come. Just not yet. You’re not done paying for Bennifer or Reindeer Games yet (and you still owe me $10 for sitting through that shit pile).
The Oscar nominations were announced this morning (you can see the full list here) and it’s a fairly surprising list, notable for the many oversights committed by the Academy, as per usual., but this year the feeling is more “highly competitive award season yields surprising results” than “the Academy has their thumbs up their asses”. Although I wonder if voters really saw Django Unchained or if they responded more to “Quentin Tarantino made a new movie” and just threw it in on reflex. Because if anyone had actually seen Django, Samuel L. Jackson would have gotten that supporting actor nod, not Christoph Waltz (though Waltz is a perfectly deserving nominee, Jackson had a late-career benchmark moment, not unlike Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln).
Also we need to talk about Jamie Foxx’s exclusion, the one I’m not hearing much about this morning. He was exceptional in Django, easily one of the three best performances of the year—I’d put him right next to Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix and over Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman and Denzel Washington, any one of whom I’d trade for a Foxx nomination. That said, I am glad that Jackman’s dedication to Les Miserables paid off, and you know Bradley Cooper cried so hard the first chance he got when he heard the news. Aww, Bradley. You’re so weepy.
At least one of the original songs in Django should have gotten picked up, too—most likely John Legend’s tremendous “Who Did That To You?” The song category has been fucked up for a long time—they should either axe it entirely or outsource it to the Internet as the one “fan vote” category—but this is a really egregious omission, even worse than passing over Captain America’s “Star Spangled Man with a Plan” (seriously, please show me a better recent example of an original song integrated into a film than that, which is the whole point of the category). But Django was loaded with top-notch original music (“100 Black Coffins” is another standout) and that not one song got nominated makes me wonder how many voters actually saw it.
Django aside, while I’ve certainly noted some rather serious omissions (no Avengers for sound, really?), mostly I’m reacting with positive surprise to how many right calls the Academy made. Michael Haneke’s superb Amour got a Best Picture nod, not just Foreign Language. And Amour star Emmanuelle Riva was singled out, as was Haneke for direction. It won’t win anything but Best Foreign Language Film, but at least the Academy acknowledged it on the same level as the English language work this year. And The Pirates! Band of Misfits pulled down a Best Animated Feature, which is shocking as 1) it did not perform well here and 2) it failed to garner either Golden Globe or even home-turf BAFTA consideration. Thank God the Academy got that one right.
More stuff the Academy got right includes Roger Deakins’ millionth nomination for his beautiful digital cinematography for Skyfall—and Skyfall picked up FIVE nominations! It did end up proving too lightweight for the big awards, but they got well-deserved technical nominations, including one for Adele’s theme. I’m also happy to see Seamus McGarvey on the board for lensing Anna Karenina, because looking at that movie was about the only joy I derived from watching it. And The Invisible War, one of the most powerful documentaries of 2012, and also one of the most utterly infuriating to watch (it’s about cases of rape in the military) got a Best Documentary nod, which surprised me a little. I thought the theme would be too difficult and off-putting for the Palm Springs set and they’d go with the schadenfraude of The Queen of Versailles instead.
And now for a word on film editing. This is the category people ask me to explain the most, because people usually expect to see action movies or quickly-paced work in this category and then end up baffled when something like Silver Linings Playbook ends up nominated. The editor is the unsung hero of filmmaking, the director’s right hand, the second-most important person involved in the making of a movie. When editing is good, you should not notice it. If you see a movie and think to yourself, “Gee, that was really well edited,” it means that the director dropped the ball somewhere. Silver Linings is a perfect example of a talented director and a talented editor—in this case, David O. Russell, also nominated, and the editing team of Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers—working in lock-step to make a film in which directing and editing are undetectable as separate from one another.
Oscar-level editing means the editor and the director should be nominated together. If the director gets nominated and not the editor, like Benh Zeitlin did for Beasts of the Southern Wild, they’re rewarding vision and perspective more than technical proficiency. And if the editor gets nominated and not the director, as in the case of Argo’s William Goldenberg, then they don’t trust that the finished product had as much to do with the director’s abilities as it did with the editor’s sense of pace and rhythm. So the Academy thought that Argo, and also Zero Dark Thirty, owed more to their editors than their directors for how they turned out. In Affleck’s case it’s easy to see why—they still aren’t sure he’s really This Guy, This Guy Who Can Make These Movies (and I don’t blame them for that).
But Kathryn Bigelow I’m not as understanding of. Her exclusion owes more, I think, to the dislike of her producing partner, Mark Boal, who is not popular with their peers, as evidenced by this hit piece in The Hollywood Reporter. But there’s a second problem with the THR report—it kind of makes it sound like Boal runs roughshod over Bigelow on set and in the development process. It could have voters second guessing how in control she really is, and since they picked up the editors for a nomination I do tend to think they doubt her directorial control. That’s total bullshit of course—Bigelow is a tightly controlled director—but she is pretty retiring in meetings and interviews. She often lets Boal speak for her, so I do see where this coming from, it’s just not fair that a dislike for him is poisoning the well for her.
So there you have it, the 2013 Oscar nominees. It’s going to be an interesting race.
Update: Mark Boal did get an Original Screenplay nomination, even though someone out there CLEARLY doesn’t like him. So I’m really not sure what’s up with the Bigelow exclusion, except they really might be doubting her authority as a director. Frowny face.