Another peculiar Oscar year. Slumdog Millionaire was a great story and great movie, but it should not have dominated as it did with eight Oscar wins. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button had the most nominations, and was the least Fincher movie he has ever made – what does that tell us about what the Academy think of him? The Dark Knight was famously not nominated for Best Picture, even though they clearly liked it.
What happened instead was the rather dour The Reader – sadly the last movie that involved Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, who had recently died. By the end of this you may feel there was a lot The Reader is to be blamed for this year. My peeve is with how things turned out as a result of the movie’s late surge rather than the quality of the movie itself. Mostly.
And there were no nominations for movies like Burn After Reading, Cloverfield, Ghost Town, Hunger, or Wendy and Lucy. In my view then (and my wife will agree with me on this one), my favorite Oscar movies of the year were Slumdog Millionaire and Wall-E. I had no problems with Danny Boyle’s movie overwhelming it’s audiences and heading to the big prize. I do feel that it kind of stream-rolled through the night though, and it seemed to win nearly everything it was nominated for.
Before I scream and shout about what did not happen that year, I have to quickly get a couple of points about Best Original Song off my chest. I would not claim AR Rahman’s “Jai Ho” (Slumdog Millionaire) was not a worthy winner, but there were only three nominations in this category this year. I am not, again, too interested in the whys, but rather would ask they sort that out. Nor do I blame Peter Gabriel for being pissed off that he was only asked to sing part of his song “Down to Earth” (Wall-E), and as pat of a medley with the other two nominated songs. I suspect he felt drowned out by Slumdog Millionaire at the time – which kind of sums up how the evening went.
Personally too, although it was great to see some previous acting winners, I found the acting nominees being spoken of in such high (well written) esteem, using all the superlatives in the dictionary a little bit sickly and watered down. Needless to say, they dropped that, and brought back the nominated clips.
Best Picture – Wall-E
I will always bang the animation drum. Some, don’t get me wrong, are pretty formulaic stuff, but often they are right up there in the top tier of movie entertainment. As an audience member you don’t need to think about the man hours that go into creating a feature length animated movie, you can just sit and watch and be swept up. Wall-E has so much to say about the society and world we live – how we may end up, or the way we are now. More than that though it is a true love story. The movie never had a chance for acting nominations, and likely a small shot with Andrew Stanton making Director. That said, it had six nominations, and was well liked by many. The lack of a Best Picture nomination for this (and a few others) is not about the quality or any publicity, it is about a certain low level of respect for the genre, as well as the lack of balls.
Best Actress – Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky)
Mike Leigh deserves a lot of credit, generally. But with Happy-Go-Lucky he needs a pat on the back for two very good reasons. Firstly, being Mike Leigh, he refrains (mostly) from the bleak, though it does have an undercurrent, and dangles a central character in front of us who is full of beans. He writes and directs that character in a way so to show us someone so, well, happy-go-lucky, can take life’s heavier moments very serious when she needs to. The second reason is Sally Hawkins. So extraordinary as Poppy, a character who may well infuriate you as much as she makes you laugh, but in the end you just want what’s best for her. The acting that appears very real, based not just on lines and actions, director Leigh often lets his cast run with the script, and Hawkins here is like a gazelle – but you believe it, and are hypnotized by it from start to finish.
Best Supporting Actress – Rosemary DiWitt (Rachel Getting Married)
I watched Rachel Getting Married with the hype and praise being bestowed on Anne Hathaway fresh in my mind. And she was great in it, showy and loud, but never over the top or princessy – possibly even to this day her best work. But I could also not take my eyes of Rosemary DiWitt, who plays the Rachel of the movie’s title, and Hathaway’s sister. The movie’s key plot cogs revolves around Hathaway’s distracting and destructive nature, but it is more subtle and grounded performance by DiWitt that also deserves some recognition.
Best Actress – Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road)
I can’t remember in the history of the Academy Awards that as a result of a late attempt at category switch an actress actually bumps out herself of the race, and wins the Oscar for something else. Kate Winslet’s win for The Reader was pretty much already written, but in Supporting Actress. Though I suspect Penelope Cruz was delighted with this. Many, including myself, really fancied Winslet for the win in the Lead Actress category for Revolutionary Road. A movie that was another big contender only to be left out in the cold come nominations time. No Picture, Director, Not even Leonardo DiCaprio (again). And no Kate Winslet. Sure, she was due, and there was that feel to her eventual win. But they got the wrong movie, and in the end could not even give her a nomination.
Best Picture – The Dark Knight
Eight nominations for The Dark Knight. And two wins. In most years, with those figures, you are likely a successful runner-up at the Oscars. Not this time, even with the absolute certainty of Heath Ledger (deservedly) receiving the Supporting Actor prize, the second of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies was already a loser when the nominations were announced. No Director nomination. No Picture nomination. Those who don’t follow the awards race won’t know that The Dark Knight was saved a Picture spot by the pushing and praising by fans, critics, bloggers, awards people. It was a refreshing and exciting choice. And the voters failed to make that choice. The Reader came hurtling in at the last minute, for various reasons, other than that it was better than The Dark Knight. It most certainly was not.
Originally published 24th November 2014.