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Oscar Talking Points

From Academy afterglow to festival prestige, Tribeca's Oscar blogger highlights the keys to this year's nominees.

Oscar Statuettes


With 24 official Academy Awards categories and somewhere over 108 nominations announced each year (a few less publicized categories vary in number of nominees from year to year), there is always a lot to parse out on Oscar nomination day. Tuesday, January 25, 2011 was no exception as Mo’Nique, last year’s supporting actress winner for Precious, read out the nominees bright and early in that inimitable voice of hers.


You can see the full list of nominees at the Academy’s official site. With so much to discuss, it’s necessary to break it down into manageable talking points.


Five Things The New Oscar Nominations Tell Us:


Inception- Warner Bros.


5. Genre Bias Remains


Black Swan opened to sensational reviews, huge precursor favor and robust box office in December. The film even had to ramp up its expansion plans to capitalize on demand. In the end, it was still a horror films of sorts, in which a ballerina sprouts wings and loses her mind. On Oscar nomination morning, it missed in key categories in which most people expected it to show up (Supporting Actress, Costume Design, Art Direction, Sound).


Inception opened to fanatical reviews and gargantuan box office, ending the year as the only member of the year’s top ten box office hits to be aimed at adults. In the end, it was still a sci-film of sorts in which people get lost in dream layers, perhaps never to return. It missed in key categories in which most people expected it to show up (Direction, Editing).


jeff bridges


4. Afterglow is Real


Momentum means a great deal in Oscar competitions. If people are nominated consecutively or near consecutively for at least a few years, they generally end up winning. This year we have three acting nominees repeating from last year. The industry just didn’t get enough of Colin Firth (A Single Man), Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) or Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) last year, so they’re back again with The King’s Speech, True Grit and The Town, respectively. In Firth’s case, last year’s loss gives him an unstoppable advantage this time. There is no way he is losing in consecutive years when he easily could have won last year, had it not been time for Crazy Heart’s last minute release and Bridges' long-time-coming coronation.


This comfort of familiarity and connective tissue from one year to the next makes Oscar a bit correlative to the Emmys, who also tend to latch onto things they love, unwilling to let go even in years where their pets are less than deserving. Jeff Bridges is great fun in True Grit, but is he really better than snubbed Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine? That’s hard to understand.



The afterglow effect might also explain that inexplicable nomination for Stuart Craig for Art Direction in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. On the surface of it, you might be saying, “Of course he’s nominated! The Potter films have brilliant art direction.” And on this point we can all agree. But how many times can you nominate someone for work they’ve essentially already been rewarded for? This is Craig’s third nomination for the Harry Potter series. A third honor seems redundant when you know he’ll be back for a fourth for the finale (and will probably win a ‘thank you for this series’ Oscar a year from now). What’s more, it’s extravagantly silly when you remember that the key new set this year is a tent! A tent!




To make room for Hermione’s enormous tent they had to snub Nina Sayers creepy Manhattan apartment in Black Swan with all those mirrors, weird paintings, music boxes and pink stuffed animals. They also had to ditch the telling theatrical artifice and gothic dank stylings of Shutter Island. Perhaps it’s better not to dwell on this. My apologies.

Winter's Bone: Jennifer Lawrence as Ree

3. Festival Magic


Despite the prestige of the Cannes Film Festival, Toronto is generally regarded as the festival to use as the Oscar launch pad. That’s partially due to its high profile and partially due to its timing in September. Once the fall arrives, serious-minded fare is allowed back at the multiplex, since the superheroes of summer have already horded their box office gold.


But maybe the key festival is actually Sundance… at least, curiously, for female driven dramas: 2009’s wintry fest launched two sensations (Precious and An Education) that survived a whole year of buzz to land in the Best Picture, Actress and Screenplay races; 2010's wintry fest managed the same trick, pushing the gay dramedy The Kids Are All Right and the gritty indie Winter’s Bone towards great reviews, solid box office and, as it turns out, the same key nominations. Perhaps this year’s festival, which wraps up this weekend, has two more female sensations in store for next year’s big night?


2010 Oscar Doc Shortlist


2. You Can’t Win If You Aren’t Nominated


Precursor season, which roughly begins each year in the first week of December, goes on for so long before nominations (nearly two months!) that one can always be fooled into thinking someone’s got a particular competition all wrapped up before nominations are even announced. That’s an easy assumption trap—"trap" because sometimes the presumed frontrunner doesn’t even win a nomination.


The winner of “Most Shocking Snub” this year is not Christopher Nolan’s Inception direction (which, after all, never had a chance to win), but the education documentary Waiting For ‘Superman,’ which had won many precursor awards and seemed like the frontrunner. Banksy’s irreverent street art doc Exit Through The Gift Shop was its most high-profile competitor, but also tough to gauge in terms of Oscar voters, who often like their documentaries more traditionally sober. Perhaps Waiting For ‘Superman’ rabidly anti-union approach to its important subject matter (the failure of the American education system) did it in with Oscar voters, who are often proud guild or union members themselves? Or maybe people feel it was too scattered in its approach.


The other documentary about education that had made the finalist list, The Lottery, was much more focused, though it lacked ‘Superman’s pizzazz. Maybe they split the “let’s talk about education” vote?

the king's speech

1. They Really, Really Liked The King’s Speech


One sign of a movie’s Oscar strength is in its complete nomination tally. When a movie shows up on nomination morning with honors that few pundits expected (Hello, Sound Mixing!), then the film in question is demonstrating deep support across all branches. We saw this just last year, when The Hurt Locker was nominated for Best Original Score. That score was brilliant, but it wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a typically nominatable score.


The King’s Speech is only the 25th film in 83 years of Oscar history to win 12 or more nominations. Of those 25, 15 went on the win the Oscar. A 60% statistical history is nothing to bet the house on, not with a film as strong as The Social Network as its main competition, but it’s still really something. The Social Network, once way out front in the race, suddenly has an archrival running alongside it.


Who do you think will win?


Nathaniel Rogers blogs on The Film Experience. He is also a bit of an Oscar savant.


More in Tribeca's 2011 Oscar watch:
The Winner's Speech
Wizards of Oscars
Ballots Are Out and the Heat Is On
Is Oscar Age-ist Re: Best Actress
12 Hungry Films; Only Room for 10
The Spirits vs. The Oscars
Too Many Screeners, Not Enough Turkey
Awards Season Begins

2010 Oscar Doc Shortlist: 15 Films


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