Meryl Streep

Best Actress presents a Meryl Streep conundrum

Originally posted as part of Road to the Gold, an Oscar blog on For original, please refer to: Best Actress presents a Meryl Streep conundrum – Los Angeles Loyolan : Road To The Gold.

Meryl Streep

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

For the first time in over 20 years, it looks like Meryl Streep might finally win an Oscar. The 62-year-old actress, whom so many hail as the best living actress, has been nominated a record 17 times but hasn’t won since 1983 for “Sophie’s Choice.” Despite several close races – most recently losing to Sandra Bullock for “The Blind Side” in 2010 – Streep has been defeated in every Oscar race since.

This year, Streep is nominated for “The Iron Lady,” a biopic about British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that required the actress to adopt not one but two accents, in addition to physically transforming herself as the character aged. She is benefitting from a massive tide of good will, particularly because this is the fourth performance of hers in just six years (since “The Devil Wears Prada” in 2006) to get nominated. Most pundits have boiled down the race to a two-woman contest between Streep and her close friend and former co-star (in “Doubt”) Viola Davis.

Davis is nominated for “The Help,” in which she portrayed Aibleen, a maid working for a wealthy white family in the Civil Rights South who agrees to help a young journalist tell the help’s story. She has won the Critics’ Choice Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for the performance, while Streep has won the Golden Globe and several individual critics’ prizes for her own performance. The others in the race, including Michelle Williams for “My Week with Marilyn” and Glenn Close for “Albert Nobbs,” are considered also-rans who have no chance in the face of the Davis-Streep battle.

However, the race is once again taking the turn it always does: leaning towards an unrewarded candidate because of Streep’s extensive history with Oscar. It’s difficult for voters to consider Streep under-rewarded when she’s received so much acclaim and so many nominations over the course of her career. As a result, despite her early promise in every race since 2006, she’s wound up being defeated by another actress. Some races were close calls: Helen Mirren in “The Queen” was quite good, after all. And some races just weren’t: Bullock probably should have placed fourth in her year.

Davis is certainly worthy of the acclaim – her work in “The Help,” while not her best, is still a strong performance informed by the same dignity and power she brought to her work in “Doubt.” The issue lies with Streep’s inability to generate ‘win heat’ for her performances because she seems so heavily awarded already. It’s still possible she could pull out a win come Feb. 26, but I won’t be surprised if it’s Davis who takes the gold on Oscar night.

Road to the Gold: The Best Picture nine

Originally posted as part of Road to the Gold, an Oscar blog on For original, please refer to: The Best Picture nine – Road To The Gold.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is a strange beast. It is like the Cerberus of awards-voting bodies: lots of heads with completely separate ideas but ultimately just one set of trophies to award. (Not that Cerberus handed out a lot of trophies – though I’m sure his ceremonies would have been a kick.)

With 6,000 voting members that include actors, directors, writers and editors, among others, it’s often impossible to figure out exactly how AMPAS will vote come Oscar-nomination time. Dozens of prognosticators online and in print attempt to predict exactly how AMPAS will act. This year, it seems as though Cerberus was just too confused, made some very strange decisions and prognosticators were thrown for a loop.

Throughout the Oscar season, I’ll be your guide through the various categories, doing my best to explain why certain nominees were given the nod, who will win in the high profile categories and fun facts behind the Oscars that you may not have known before.

For this inaugural post, let’s break down the Best Picture category. This year, a rule change in the Best Picture selection process allowed for anywhere between five and 10 nominees to be chosen – all dependent on how deep the films’ support was reflected in voting percentages. The new rule was created as a response to those who weren’t fond of the 10-nominee rule – which, in turn, was created when too many populist films were shut out of the race under the ancient five-nominee rule. Ultimately, nine films garnered a nod, and boy is it a strange group.

The greatest theme of this year’s Best Picture crop is nostalgia. Four of the nine films are specifically set in a long-past period, including the ‘30s (“The Artist”), World War II (“War Horse”), and the Civil Rights South (“The Help”). You’ve even got a film all about nostalgia and the double-edged nature of it in “Midnight in Paris.”

Other films among the nominees take on the big issues – be it the reinvention of how baseball was played in “Moneyball” or 9/11 in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Terrence Malick even attempted to explain how the universe came into being in “The Tree of Life.”

The anomalies are the films that perhaps are best suited for the Best Picture race on paper: “The Descendants” and “Hugo.” Both movies were directed by revered filmmakers and set in desirable locales. The similarities stop there. “The Descendants” is a humanist comedy/drama hybrid with moral ambiguity. “Hugo” is a children’s film set in 3-D that serves as a cautionary tale about film preservation. Both films are passion projects, but both are also extremely different from their Best Picture compatriots.

While “The Artist,” “Hugo,” “Midnight in Paris,” “The Help,” “Moneyball” and “The Descendants” were long considered locks for nominations, Academy voters clearly let the waves of sentimentality wash over them when filling out their ballots. How else does one explain the inclusion of “War Horse,” a film that plays like a Steven Spielberg parody that Spielberg himself didn’t realize he was making? Or the inclusion of the emotionally manipulative “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” which had little to no precursor award support?

The true anomaly, however, is “The Tree of Life,” a film beloved by critics. Most prognosticators (including one of the film’s producers!) thought the love wouldn’t carry over into the Academy, but both the movie and director Terrence Malick were recognized on nomination morning.

While several films had major critical support (including “Drive” and “Shame,” two films of which I am personally a massive fan), the two biggest snubs according to the precursors were “Bridesmaids” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” both of which had massive support among the voting associations like the Producers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild. Both films also had major critical support, too, so their snubs were especially surprising.

While I can understand “Bridesmaids” not quite making it (while it was one of my favorite films, it just doesn’t seem like a traditional Academy movie), passing up “Dragon Tattoo” is especially bizarre, considering the “Girl” herself, Rooney Mara, was nominated for Best Actress. Then again, these are the same voters who rewarded stodgy, traditional fare like “The King’s Speech” over daring auteur-driven work like “The Social Network,” “Black Swan” and “The Fighter” last year, so maybe voters’ tastes are far more traditional than we’d assume (or hope).

As far as win potential, look no further than “The Artist.” It’s a silent film, it’s black-and-white, it’s incredibly well done with stellar performances, it’s French and it is genuinely entertaining. It’s a rarity that we should have a film that manages to be such a crowd-pleaser while also being truly marvelous.

It’s possible “Hugo” or “The Descendants” could surprise, but I wouldn’t put any stock in that idea. I think “The Artist” is the best film of the bunch and will win – despite those two things almost never occurring simultaneously. That in and of itself is enough to forgive a mediocre crop of Best Picture nominees – the end justifies the means.


Oscar nominations yield surprises and disappointments

Originally posted as part of Road to the Gold, an Oscar blog on For original, please refer to: Oscar nominations yield surprises and disappointments – Los Angeles Loyolan.


Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Every year, Academy Award prognosticators (those who attempt to predict the awards) eagerly await the morning of the nominations and what surprises they might bring. For the past years, surprises have not come. All the dark horse candidates remain at the fringe, and the usual suspects are nominated.

This year’s nominations, announced Tuesday morning, brought something different to the table. There were shocks aplenty and snubs across the board, from the craft categories all the way to Best Picture. Some front-runners were shut out of their races. It was Christmas morning for wannabe Oscar psychics, but for some, all that awaited them was a lump of coal.

Despite the strength of silent French film “The Artist,” Martin Scorsese’s 3-D epic “Hugo” actually led the overall nomination count thanks to its high tallies in the technical and craft categories. “Hugo” was nominated for Best Picture and Scorsese for Best Director, but it was shut out of the acting categories. “The Artist,” however, saw nominations in both Best Picture and Best Director and also won plaudits for stars Jean Dujardin in Best Actor and Bérénice Bejo in Best Supporting Actress.

There was much speculation coming into this year’s announcement of how many films would be nominated for Best Picture thanks to a new rule that permits anywhere between five and 10 films to be nominated based on voting percentages. Most severely underestimated the range of the new rule – while some predicted somewhere between six and eight films to be nominated, there were nine titles read, including critical darlings like “The Tree of Life” and traditional tearjerkers “War Horse” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”

The acting categories were not without shocks. While frontrunners Brad Pitt for “Moneyball,” George Clooney for “The Descendants” and “The Artist” star Dujardin were included in the Best Actor field, Leonardo DiCaprio was not shortlisted for his impressive work in an otherwise mediocre movie, “J. Edgar.” In Best Actress, voters preferred “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” star Rooney Mara to precursor award favorite Tilda Swinton from “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

The Best Supporting Actor race, which many Oscar prognosticators saw as a two-man race between Christopher Plummer for “Beginners” and Albert Brooks for “Drive,” got a little bit smaller today as Brooks was left out of the nominations altogether. It was only Best Supporting Actress that went exactly as most predicted, though some might consider “Bridesmaids” star Melissa McCarthy managing a nomination for such a broad comedy a massive shock in and of itself.

Personally, I always see the Oscar nominations as something of a game rather than an actual honor. The Academy so regularly snubs the films most worthy of nominations (it was heartbreaking to see Michael Fassbender and his film “Shame” snubbed, as well as the lack of recognition for Charlize Theron’s “Young Adult” performance), so it’s not worth sweating over what does and doesn’t make it.

Think, instead, of the strategy behind it all. Who are the phantom members behind the Academy and why do they vote the way they do? Will they stand by the classic directors like Steven Spielberg for “War Horse,” or will they be ambitious and nominate an up-and-coming auteur Nicolas Winding Refn for “Drive”? Ultimately, the awards don’t matter – they’re just fun to think about and follow, kind of like sports for the arts and entertainment nerd inside everyone. The show itself is always a blast, too – even at its worst, it’s certainly not the worst way you can spend a Sunday night.

So follow along this Oscar season and hear everyone bicker over what film deserves what honor. Fight for “Moneyball” if the Brad Pitt-starring baseball drama captured your imagination. Argue that Octavia Spencer was vastly better than Jessica Chastain in “The Help.” When all is said and done, you still have the movies you love and the actors you appreciate. No Academy can take that away from you.

The Oscars will air on Feb. 26th at 4 PM ET.