The Oscar nominations were announced last week and the lineup proves once again how traditional the voting body most often is. The past two years have yielded some impressive fare, even daring by the Academy’s standards. But this year, the voters went right back to where they’re most comfortable and an old familiar name is back in the game.
When Harvey and Bob Weinstein started The Weinstein Co. after they lost Miramax, it seemed, where Oscar was concerned, they couldn’t get arrested. But this year they roared back to life by landing Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress nods for the Stephen Daldry film, The Reader. It came as somewhat of a shock simply because The Reader had so many stumbling blocks heading into the race.
What it did have, however, were two beloved names. Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, who died last year, had produced The Reader. That has to be part of it. But the other reason is that it’s a Holocaust movie, and not just any Holocaust movie – one that attempts to sympathize with a death camp worker who was just following orders. The film nails her pretty hard in the end, though it’s impossible not to sympathize with Kate Winslet’s interpretation of her.
The real surprise, or perhaps disappoint, was that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was shut out of the top awards. The film was one of the best reviewed of the year, and certainly one of the most popular, earning $530 domestically. The Dark Knight was so popular, in fact, that fans of the film created the website, darkcampaign.com to hopefully influence the stodgy Academy to vote for the first “comic book movie” for Best Picture. Their refusal to acknowledge the year’s most popular film will cost them in more ways than just poor ratings for their annual ceremony.
The Academy is hoping to hold on to their prestige in the modern age and that can only happen if the public at large respects and admires their choices. They clearly don’t care what the public thinks but at a time when people communicate online in vast numbers, they probably should care, if it isn’t to stay relevant, it should probably be to make sure they really coming close to honoring the year’s best.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button leads the nominations with 13, including a nod for Best Actor for Brad Pitt. Pitt does his best work to date in the film, which isn’t easy to spot under those dazzling effects. The clear frontrunner, Slumdog Millionaire follows with ten. Slumdog Millionaire recently won the SAG ensemble vote in a minor upset, and it will win the DGA award this Saturday, thus cementing its inevitable slamdunk at the Oscars later this month.
Slumdog Millionaire is probably the real story of 2008, since The Dark Knight was stopped at the door. Both films will be fondly remembered from this year. The Oscar race is often about “the story” as much as it is about the film itself and no one seems able to resist the tale of Danny Boyle’s Bollywood movie that almost didn’t get released in the US, only just got a distributor at Toronto, and is only now starting to make money. The film’s story seems to mirror the character’s story, everything aligned to make it right up the Academy’s collective ally.
Gus Van Sant’s Milk and Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon make up the final five.