Clearly, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is still trying to find a way to ensure that the right number of Best Picture nominees are selected. In 2008, five films were nominated for Best Picture, none of them were The Dark Knight, The Wrestler, WALL-E (maybe the best Pixar film of all-time!), Doubt or super-dark horse Synecdoche, New York.
Yet, somehow, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button received a nomination!
The winning film that year was Slumdog Millionaire, one of the weaker winners of last decade, which featured The Departed, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Million Dollar Baby and No Country For Old Men. It also featured one of the worst winners of all time, Crash.
Nevertheless, in 2009, the Academy tried to rectify the egregious snubs of the prior year by going back to 10 Best Picture nominees, which was how it was from 1932-1943.
It became clear a year later, when The Kids are Alright secured a nomination, 10 nominees is probably too many!
This year, a picture must get a certain number of votes to qualify to be a nominee for Best Picture. This seems like the best solution yet to make sure movies that deserve to be recognized are, yet there is no need to hit a certain number.
Nine movies qualified for 2011; The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life and War Horse.
Without any further ado; here are my rankings:
Better than Crash
9. War Horse never really got the momentum going that it needed to be a great film. Despite beautiful cinematography and a few lively battle scenes, for the most part the film was moved forward by seemingly random coincidences that failed to register with film-goers. Frankly, I’m surprised that War Horse was even nominated, but Steven Speilberg’s connection to the project surely motivated some Oscar voters. Not a great movie and not a bad movie, War Horse, by my estimation the worst Oscar nominee, is representative of a mostly ho-hum year in the world of film.
8. Moneyball tried to accomplish the same nearly impossible feat as 2010 nominee, The Social Network: Making something boring (computer programming for the latter, evaluating baseball players for the former) seem breathtaking. Where The Social Network succeeded wildly, Moneyball did not. Not really a sports film, nor a strong character-driven drama, Moneyball mostly languishes in that in-between territory, unsure of what it wants to be. I don’t mind the nomination, but like the 2002 Oakland A’s featured in the film, Moneyball has made it to the playoffs, but it shouldn’t win the championship.
7. The Help aims to be an inspiring film about social change and, for the most part, it succeeds. Yet I am guessing I am not the only person who wishes we could move beyond these films about acceptance (I mean Driving Miss Daisy is more than 20 years old!) and live in a world of actual acceptance of different races, belief systems and other differences. Nevertheless, this film was enjoyable (unlike War Horse) and mostly character driven (unlike Moneyball). The light moments balanced the dark ones, and triumph was in the hands of the righteous. There is a lot to like here, but like racism, I wish the time for films like this had come and gone.
6. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close bravely sends one of the most annoying archetypal characters, the precocious child, into the streets of New York City. The pacing of the story is on point, but the movie hasn’t resonated with viewers in the way the filmmakers hoped, proven by flimsy box office returns. For me, Extremely Loud… failed because although it has the capacity to move the viewer, it only will if he or she wants to be moved.
Read my review here: Direct Geek–Movie Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Heartbreak & Romance
5. The Descendants followed in the tradition of indie family dramadies like Juno or Little Miss Sunshine, whose ridiculous characters distract from thin parts in the plot. Still, I liked both of those movies more than this one, which plodded along in places and neutered its biggest, most interesting plot point halfway through the film. Ultimately, The Descendants is another in a long line of films whose sole point seems to be that being an adult can be tough, but it can also be rewarding. Not exactly the stuff of movie greatness or immortality.
4. Midnight in Paris marks another Best Picture nomination for Woody Allen. The film works excellently as a message movie about love, art and self. Who knows if that is what Mr. Allen was going for, but it worked. Though certain parts of the film may seem unbelievable to some film-goers, the ultimate product is an excellent production that is at times exciting, breathless and moving. Perhaps Woody is just preaching to his choir at this point, but even today, every once in a while, he does it in an effective, masterful way.
Movie Magic is Still Alive
3. Hugo exceeded my every expectation. The film is, in turns, heartwarming, magical and exciting. Quickly, the audience is sucked into Hugo’s world, and though he is a young boy like Extremely Loud‘s Oskar, he is not nearly as much of a know-it-all. To me, Hugo did exactly what great cinema is supposed to, to transport the view to another place, draw them into a story with characters they care about, surprise, charm and ultimately, let them leave with the residue of tears on their cheeks and a smile on their lips. I would not be surprised if this film won Best Picture, it is sheer splendor!
2. The Tree of Life is destined to be misunderstood. The narrative is liquid, often unconnected and easily confusing. Yet, the film is MUCH greater than the sum of its parts. The beauty of what Terrance Malick presents on screen is equal to the beauty of whispered wishes and prayers of the ephemeral characters. This film first brought me to tears, then stuck with me for days, which may be the greatest aspiration of any filmmaker. I don’t think The Tree of Life stands a chance to become Best Picture, but I am so grateful that it was made!
My Favorite Film of 2011
1. The Artist didn’t just look back to a different time period in history, it recalled the specific way that stories were told in that period and what emerged was a lovely, graceful homage that also works as an excellent, timeless story. Surely the this black and white, silent picture has scared audiences away in droves, but it is that braveness, that vision that also makes it the best film that I’ve seen this year. Too often, we spend all our time looking forward, it is so nice to look back and see something so true and beautiful. I hope The Artist wins on Oscar Sunday, perhaps it will renew interest in America’s great legacy of filmmaking.
Read my review here: Direct Geek–Movie Review: The Artist