With great fanfare the nominees for the 84th annual Academy Awards were announced early yesterday morning…and then the E! Channel commentators started discussing the more urgent matter of nominee Jonah Hill’s hair. But we have more substantive topics to discuss in the run up to the big show on Feb. 26. Feel free to join us.

Best Picture

The Artist

The Descendants


The Help

Midnight in Paris


War Horse

The Tree of Life

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Oscarwatch: Out of nine nominees only a handful have shown any traction with audiences, so look for host Billy Crystal, unlocked from cryofreeze, to revive his “Who are these people?” schtick from the 1997 ceremony. On the other hand, does an audience that made nine sequels and a comic book movie the Top Ten boxoffice attractions of 2011 really deserve to be catered to?

The Tree of Life love was unexpected. Other than its blah, Vampire Diaries-level lead I had no huge problems with War Horse, which fixes some of the story problems I had with the admittedly more extraordinary play. And The Help must be breathing easier, as according to the tweets and updates and blogs the critical hate bounced off it and zeroed in on the nomination for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which–groan–I’m now obliged to see. I felt the same obligation toward the steadily declining Stephen Daldry’s last Oscar-winning thumbsucker, The Reader, and it was excruciating. Beyond excruciating. Stephen, return to the theater, follow Billy Elliot on tour, do some fuckin’ thing, as Dennis Farina told an underling in Midnight Run.

I’ve made my peace with The Artist winning BP, the first mostly silent movie to do since the dawn of Oscar time in 1929 (Wings, the first Best Picture, is now on Blu-ray by the way), the first black-and-white one since Schindler’s List in 1993 (and before that Tom Jones, 30 years earlier). It’s nostalgic to the hilt (obviously!), as charming as a panda’s embrace…and not nearly as sharp or as funny as it could have been, nor making much noise at the boxoffice, which Harvey Weinstein will surely attend to. (Look for Uggie to have his own reality show.) It’ll be the fluffiest Best Picture since, what, Shakespeare in Love in 1998? The Sting in 1973? But comedy so often goes unrecognized I’m OK with it…except that there was presumably a tenth slot available, and the superior Bridesmaids isn’t filling it. Just saying.

Best Actor

George Clooney, The Descendants

Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Demian Bichir, A Better Life

Oscarwatch: Bichir had the SAG wind at his back, and, as importantly, Oscar screeners. I had one (via my membership in the Online Film Critics Society) and let me tell you, they help. But he and Oldman, a truly gratifying first-time nomination for a great talent, are out of it.

Is anyone else a little sick of George Clooney? I love him, too, but I didn’t love The Descendants–did you? It leaves you hanging. I’m much more partial to Brad Pitt in Moneyball, a serenely good star performance there…in another movie that many are just kind of meh about. (The missing Michael Fassbender? He has Oscar gold between his legs, baby.) That leaves Dujardin, who sounds (so to speak!) like a winner to me, a delightful performance that isn’t just part of the movie, it is the movie. If he wins it’ll  be the first comic male performance to win since Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful (or, going way back to a comic male performance in a movie that’s issue-free and not morose, Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl in 1977)…and if you don’t like it, well, when’s the last time you’ve heard anything about Benigni?

Best Actress

Viola Davis, The Help

Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs

Oscarwatch: The two most fabulous female performances in a movie last year? Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia and Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids. They’re not here. These are the usual–impersonation, artifice, suffering. Unexciting. (Tilda Swinton wasn’t going anywhere with her dour entry.) Davis is a contender but I think the totality of Streep will put her over the top for the first time since Sophie’s Choice (1982), after 12 (12!) nominations in between. (The five years between 1990’s Postcards from the Edge and 1995’s The Bridges of Madison County were her driest stretch.)

Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Oscarwatch: I’d love to see Plummer and von Sydow, both 82 (and adversaries in 1984’s Dreamscape), funnel salacious gossip to TMZ and Gawker in an effort to unseat each other from Oscar’s throne. Hey, von Sydow has grounds to be pissed–the Canadian Plummer stole his quintessentially Swedish part in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Not gonna happen. (Right?) But it’s an interesting contest. Careerwise they both have a lot of paycheck crap on their resumes–but von Sydow (the exorcist himself, for God’s sake, and an elderly part he played convincingly at age 43) will always pull ahead, thanks to his astonishing run with Ingmar Bergman (and, ahem, Flash Gordon. Brilliant.) Plummer, however, has been working the room since spring with the otherwise twee Beginners. It helps.

This is Branagh’s fifth nomination in five different categories and his lame interpretation of Laurence Olivier won’t stick, either. (I suspect he got this one for directing Thor to the top ten grossers list. It’s an industry town.) Nolte continues to gun for an honorary Oscar. The missing Albert Brooks? He’s terrific in Drive, as he was in his nominated performance in Broadcast News, but writing is his true craft…and writers get no respect. (If they did, Lost in America would have been nominated, and won, in 1985.)

Hill has his nice haircut as consolation.

Best Supporting Actress

Berenice Bejo, The Artist

Jessica Chastain, The Help

Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

Octavia Spencer, The Help

Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

Oscarwatch: Toothiest nominee: Bejo, carried aloft by The Artist’s updraft. Hardest-working: Chastain, with six movies last year, another five in the can, and her Broadway debut this fall in a revival of The Heiress. But I see Spencer cancelling her out and not the other way around.

Tweet: “The Best Supporting Actress race is between the actress who pooped in a sink and the actress who pooped in a pie.

Best Director

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Alexander Payne, The Descendants

Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Oscarwatch: No one can pronounce his name, or spell it, but The Artist guy feels like a shoo-in despite strong competition. No one can spell “Scorsese,” either (a second “c” often slips in), but I can say that he keeps as many balls up in the air in Hugo without dropping any. (The second half of The Artist slips a gear.) Will the surprise addition of Malick, the rugged individualist, somehow change the race? Maybe…but I can’t see him gathering the necessary red carpet skills to chat about Jonah Hill’s hair on E!.

Best Original Screenplay

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Asghar Farhadi, A Separation

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo, Bridesmaids

J.C. Chandor, Margin Call

Oscarwatch: Margin Call is another movie that benefited from Oscar screeners (it should have benefited more.) A Separation is a gem, and it’s good to see a foreign-language script take a slot–but my heart is with Bridesmaids, which may very well be one if The Artist or Allen (who won’t even show up) surge in this category. You go, girls!

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne and Jim Rash, The Descendants

Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, Moneyball

John Logan, Hugo

George Clooney and Grant Heslov, The Ides of March

Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Oscarwatch: This is where The Descendants and Moneyball have a chance to shine–but Tinker Tailor is a wondrous streamlining and repurposing of complex source material. Is anyone else a little sick of George Clooney?

Best Animated Feature

A Cat in Paris

Kung Fu Panda 2

Puss in Boots


Chico & Rita

Oscarwatch: I like the bouncy previews for Chico & Rita but that’s all I’ve seen, previews–it and the Cat cartoon (the other cat cartoon) are unknown quantities. And Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots are too familiar, which opens the field for the funny Rango. Motion capture animation hate killed the worthy Adventures of Tintin. My daughter and I vote for the charming Winnie the Pooh–too slight?

Best Foreign Film

A Separation (Iran)

Footnote (Israel)

In Darkness (Poland)

Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)

Bullhead (Belgium)

Oscarwatch: It must be A Separation–but this category has a dismal history of sloppily sentimental dreck winning. Departures anyone?


In an Oscar pool? Pick The Artist to win in the technical categories, knowing in your heart that Hugo (which, ha, has one more nomination) has greater craft. (See what the ASC has to say on Feb. 12 before committing to cinematography.)

Original Score? With two more nominations this year John Williams brings his total to a stunning 47eat your heart out, Meryl Streep. Tintin is the better of the two–but Tinker Tailor is the best. (And poor Kim Novak, who said she was “raped” by the use of a Vertigo theme in The Artist’s score, must feel like she’s in another remake of I Spit on Your Grave now that it’s in contention.)

Original Song? Yeah, I don’t get it, either. Albert Nobbs has a pretty Sinead O’ Connor song, Drive had some good tunes, Elton John and Madonna could have carried over their Golden Globes feud to the Oscars. “Soundtrack Saturdays” colleague Kelly Stitzel says the category is all tied up in a point system that frowns on songs used exclusively in credits sequences. No excuse for excluding the standout number in Captain America: The First Avenger then.

Visual Effects? Welcome to your category, Andy (“Mr. Mo Cap”) Serkis. You’re never going to leave.

Documentary? With their Paradise Lost films Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky stuck with the West Memphis Three for twenty years. They deserve an Oscar for tenacity alone.

Makeup? The Muggles mugged Harry Potter one last time as the series failed to ascend into the above-the-line categories on its last try. What we have left is dueling transformations. If The Iron Lady wins look for Streep to follow (but Close, a future honorary Oscar recipient, won’t get the same bounce.)

Best Hair? Jonah Hill.


About the Author

Bob Cashill

An Editorial Board Member of Cineaste magazine, Bob is also a member of the Drama Desk theatrical critics society in New York. See what he's watching on Letterboxd and read more from him at New York Theater News.

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