I blame it all on Ernest Borgnine.
On the very same day that the seasoned actor was celebrating his 95th birthday, the nominees for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards were announced. Borgnine, you may recall, famously revealed his penchant for masturbating on FOX News — oops, sorry; wrong factoid. Borgnine, you may recall, was the Oscar poster child for the homophobic rampage that allowed the inferior Crash to upset the acclaimed Brokeback Mountain several years ago. Given that history, I can only assume that the most infuriating nomination to appear on this year's roster was again a result of Borgnine and his ilk — past-their-prime members who prefer their movies tame and tepid rather than innovative and exciting. To wit:
• The Best Picture nomination for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Congratulations to producer Scott Rudin, who now reveals himself to be almost as good at Oscar-whoring as Harvey Weinstein. How else to explain the prestigious nod for this pandering 9/11 yarn about a boy named Oskar (played by Thomas Horn) and his wacky adventures throughout New York as he mourns his lost dad (old Oscar fave Tom Hanks) and ignores his mom (new Oscar fave Sandra Bullock)? The film was dismissed by the majority of critics, scoring a dismal 48 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (by contrast, the next lowest-ranked Best Picture contender, The Help, has an acceptable 76 percent). It was completely ignored by the various guilds (including the influential Screen Actors Guild), the Golden Globe members (even those fawning fanboys and fangirls wouldn't touch this thing!) and the British Academy. And yet here it is. It's not a complete shock — the combo of relentless promoting and conservative Academy members occasionally leads to such results — but it's already a laughing stock of a nomination and will grow only more pronounced over the years.
• No Best Actor nomination for Michael Fassbender in Shame. Fassbender was flat-out superb in this dark, disturbing (and NC-17) drama, and as icing on the cake, he was also memorable in X-Men: First Class, A Dangerous Method and Jane Eyre. Yet the Academy chose to ignore him, a primary reason reportedly being that he dared expose himself in a grown-up movie that turned more crotchety members off. True, and yet Rooney Mara managed to score a Best Actress nod for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, another film that largely fits that description. Not to dwell too much on the sexual politics, but that might be the result of a largely patriarchal organization: As one astute person commented on the Awards Daily website, "I find it interesting that Shame's consensual sex and full-frontal male nudity was too much for the Academy, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's violent rape and full-frontal Mara wasn't too much to get her a nomination."
• No Best Actress nomination for Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin. As with Shame, we're talking about an internal, tortured performance in a film that wasn't all warm and fuzzy. But Swinton delivered the best female performance of 2011, lead or supporting. Nuff said.
• No Best Documentary Feature nomination for Project Nim. Admittedly, I haven't seen all five of the nominees, but I can't imagine they're all better than this terrific nonfiction film, which made my 10 Best list for last year. I was also disappointed that two other exemplary docs, Bill Cunningham New York and We Were Here, failed to make the cut.
• The field-leading 11 nominations for Hugo. It was a toss-up as to whether this or The Artist would nab the most nods. Both made my 10 Best list, but this one placed much higher, so I'm glad for the recognition.
• Nick Nolte up for Best Supporting Actor for Warrior. While it's a shame that Albert Brooks was snubbed for his mesmerizing turn in Drive (another film too raw for Ye Olde Academy), it was great to see Nolte make the roster. Warrior came and went in a flash, but critics and industry insiders kept his performance in mind these past few months, resulting in the nod.
• Bridesmaids up for Best Original Screenplay. While hip, youth-oriented comedies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and (500) Days of Summer manage to snag nominations from the Writers Guild, those very rarely translate into similar acknowledgments from the Academy. So it's great to see Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo get cited for this endearing effort. (Now, if only Wiig had been nominated for Best Actress as well ...) And while we're on the subject of Best Original Screenplay, how about that well-deserved nod for Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi's A Separation, to go along with its Best Foreign Language Film bid?
• The Best Film Editing nomination for The Descendants. For decades, it's been shown (for whatever reason) that a Best Picture nominee stands no chance of winning if it isn't also nominated in this category. So the fact that my favorite movie of 2011 got nominated here gives me hope that it's still in the running for the top prize. (For the record, the other Film Editing contenders are fellow Best Picture nominees The Artist, Hugo and Moneyball, as well as non-BP nominee The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.)
• Film composer/conductor John Williams (Star Wars, Jaws) is one of the all-time greats, but does he have to get nominated every damn time he picks up a baton? On 10 previous occasions, he's been nominated not once but twice in the same year for his scores (don't get us started on when he also has song compositions in the mix), and overall, he's racked up 45 nominations and five wins. Except for the belated Indiana Jones sequel, he's been away from the screen since 2005 (to the relief of the industry's other composers), when he earned dual nods (natch) for Munich and Memoirs of a Geisha. Well, he's back, so the Academy automatically felt inclined to give him his obligatory two nominations, this time for War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin. Unfortunately crowded out was the worthy score for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, co-written by last year's winners (for The Social Network) Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
• Williams isn't the only one shoring up his Oscar credentials. Meryl Streep extended her record number of acting nominations to 17 (for The Iron Lady), while Woody Allen earned his 22nd and 23rd nods for writing and directing Midnight in Paris.
• No one came to the rescue of this year's cinematic superheroes, as Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, X-Men: First Class and Green Lantern scored zero nominations between them. I do wish the fantastic effects in X-Men: First Class had been recognized for Best Visual Effects, bumping out the same-old same-old stuff from Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
• After two years of requiring 10 nominees for Best Picture, the Academy modified its rules so that anywhere from five to 10 films could be singled out. As a result, nine movies made the grade this year, leading me to wonder: If the old rules were still in effect, which movie would have nabbed that last slot? The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, since its five other nominations demonstrated fairly solid support? Bridesmaids, which did extremely well with the various guilds? Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which seemed to be hitting its stride at the right time? Or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2, as a way to send off that beloved series in style? Whichever film might have been chosen, it would certainly have deserved the nomination more than the one swiped by It-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
OSCAR'S 9 BEST
These were the films nominated by the Academy for Best Picture.
1. Hugo (11 nominations)
2. The Artist (10)
3. Moneyball (6)
4. War Horse (6)
5. The Descendants (5)
6. The Help (4)
7. Midnight in Paris (4)
8. The Tree of Life (3)
9. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2)
CRITICS' 5 BEST
Based on a national sampling of 770 critics, these were the films that appeared the most frequently on critics' 10 Best lists.
1. The Tree of Life
3. The Artist
5. The Descendants
BRUNSON'S 5 BEST
These were my picks for the year's best movies.
1. The Descendants
4. A Separation
5. The Guard
MOVIEGOERS' 5 BEST
These were the year's biggest moneymaking releases.
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
3. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1
4. The Hangover Part II
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
...AND THE WORST
OK, we now have a sense of which films reigned as the biggest and/or best of 2011. But what about the worst? Glad you asked. Based on cumulative scores at Rotten Tomatoes, these were the year's biggest turkeys:
1. Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star
2. The Undefeated (yes, the Sarah Palin documentary)
3. Jack and Jill
4. Passion Play
5. The Roommate
Go here for Creative Loafing's look at the Best & Worst Films of 2011.