Cinema Autopsy on the 81st Academy Awards Nominees

Kate Winslet as Hanna Schmitz  in The Reader
Kate Winslet as Hanna Schmitz in The Reader

The nominees for the 81st Academy Awards have recently been released and like most critics and film buffs that I know I am far more interested and excited by the outcome than I like to admit. The Academy Awards are notoriously political, conservative and populist, and are rarely a barometer of good quality filmmaking. In just the past ten years two extremely average films (Shakespeare in Love and Crash) and four popular good-but-not-that-great films (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Chicago and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) have won the Best Motion Picture of the Year award. But then again, American Beauty very much deserved its win and I was also pleased when Million Dollar Baby won. The last two years have actually seen awards go to deserving recipients across the board and giving the top prize to The Departed and No Country for Old Men made me think that the standards have lifted at the Academy.

I’ll post another piece closer to the time with my notoriously inaccurate predictions about who will win and who I think should win, but for now I thought I’d share my thoughts about the actual nominations.

Dev Patel as Jamal Malik and Anil Kapoor as Prem Kumar from Slumdog Millionaire
Dev Patel as Jamal Malik and Freida Pinto as Latika from Slumdog Millionaire

Of the five films nominated for the Best Motion Picture of the Year award and a host of other awards, only one doesn’t really belong there and that’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It’s a good film but not as good as other films nominated and not as good as many films not nominated. Frost/Nixon, Milk and The Reader are all predictable choices but welcome ones. The big surprise is Slumdog Millionaire as it is not a conventional Academy Award nominee, but has nevertheless been doing well on the award circuit. It is good to see director Danny Boyle finally getting this level of recognition even though many of his previous efforts (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later… and Millions) are better films.

Despite getting nominations in predominantly the acting categories, The Wrestler, Changeling and Rachel Getting Married have been otherwise overlooked. In my ideal scenario these three films and their directors would be up for the Best Motion Picture of the Year and the Best Achievement in Directing awards along with Milk and The Reader.

Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight

It is good to see that both WALL·E and The Dark Knight have received recognition in the various design, sound, editing and cinematography categories and with any luck they’ll share most of those awards between them. The Academy Awards tends to frustratingly award films that reproduce the past over films that create entirely original worlds but hopefully that won’t happen again this year.

The only film that appears in the various categories that really shouldn’t be there is Doubt. While the Supporting Role nominations are deserved, the Leading Role nominations and nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published are highly ironic considering that Doubt is so poorly adapted for the screen and contains such over-the-top stage acting from its leads.

Overall the films that have been nominated this year are deserving films and I’ll be happy if Milk, The Reader, The Wrestler, Rachel Getting Married, Changeling, WALL·E and even The Dark Knight get a share of the awards that they are up for.

You can view the full list of the nomination on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website and I’ll post another piece with my predictions before the award ceremony on 22 February 2009.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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Cinema Autopsy’s predictions for the 81st Academy Awards

Cinema Autopsy on the 81st Academy Awards ceremony and winners


  1. Actually, I’d be very upset if The Curious Case of Benjamin Button didn’t take home the statue – out of the nominees I only really see Milk as competition. This year has pretty much been a joke when it came down to nominations – Angelina Jolie for Changeling but no Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky? Shunning Leonardo DiCaprio’s wonderful performance in Revolutionary Road in favour of Brad Pitt’s less-than-convincing southern accent? Don’t get me wrong, they delivered great performances. I just don’t see how they convinced themselves these were so much better than the rest.

    Whilst I have not seen either films, I have heard a lot of anger towards the Academy for choosing to favour the not-so-critically-acclaimed The Reader over the almost unanimously loved The Wrestler for the Best Picture and Best Director categories. Also, it’s a bit disappointing to see Eastwood shunned for both Best Actor and Best Director.

    But, in I think the biggest snub of the year due to technicalities, Let The Right One In, the swedish vampire film, has been completely shut out of the foreign film category. I completely agree with the rest of the nominations, but come on, it was both a critical success AND was popular in the American box office. A bit stupid if you ask me.

  2. Interesting comments. Remember that the Academy Awards are chosen by a group that consists of mostly old men who are heavily lobbied in the trade press by the big studios. The outcomes rarely have much to do with commercial success and even less to do with critical success. However, I do think that compared to many previous years, the nominations this year have been OK.

    The Reader is excellent so it deserves recognition. But it is also the type of film that the Academy loves so that’s why it is included to such an extent while The Wrestler, not a typical Academy film, is absent from several key categories. Let the Right One In has been hugely popular the world over but do you really think that a Swedish vampire film is going to go down well with the same people who thought Forrest Gump was a better film than Pulp Fiction?

    I also think it is a pity that Leonardo DiCaprio got overlooked for the best actor award. However, Richard Jenkins, Frank Langella, Sean Pen, Mickey Rourke and I think even Brad Pitt are also worthy candidates.

    Very good call on the absence of Sally Hawkins from the best actress category. I do think that Angelina Jolie deserves to be nominated, along with Kate Winslet and Anne Hathaway, but excluding Hawkins over Melissa Leo and Meryl Streep is very poor.

    As for Eastwood – perhaps that by having two films eligible they both cancelled each other out? I don’t know. I’m not too upset as the guy has already won 4 Academy Awards for previous films. Also, he’s a living legend and honestly doesn’t need the endorsement of the Academy for people to recognise his greatness. He’s above all that.

  3. I guess I just assumed that they would include a couple of the more popular films in the major categories as they have tended to do in the past, if only for ratings. It’s not good for them if they lose a lot of viewers.

    Don’t think that I don’t find the other Best Actor candidates worthy – I honestly think that if Rourke wasn’t getting all this buzz it would be VERY hard to pick from this year’s candidates. Very good year for male performances.

    But you make an interesting point about Eastwood – however there’s been some speculation that he may actually retire soon, this being one of his last films, or possibly even his final one, so I thought they might take that as an opportunity to say “we love you, please don’t leave”.

  4. The story doing the rounds was that Eastwood had said that Gran Torino would be his final film as an actor. But I’ve since heard that this was based on a statement that was taken out of context. From what I can tell Eastwood is not actively seeking acting roles any more but if something suitable comes his way then he will take it, which is what happened with Gran Torino. Apparently after Unforgiven there were similar stories floating around about him retiring and that certainly didn’t happen.

    Anyway, it doesn’t look like he is going to stop directing films and his Nelson Mandela film should hit the cinemas at the end of this year.

    Since next week is going to be such a slow week for new releases, I’m hoping to do a overview piece on Eastwood’s career so look out for that next Wednesday or Thursday.

  5. Oh, cool, I’ll check it out. I should really see more of Eastwood’s films (as in ones he’s directed rather than starred in). I can only remember seeing Million Dollar Baby which I quite enjoyed. I’ll probably see Changeling when it’s released here in Australia, but I’m not sure about Gran Torino. I don’t usually find racist jokes funny.

  6. I’m in Australia too and we’re getting Changeling this Thursday (5 February). My review for that goes up tomorrow and my piece on Eastwood will go up the day after so check that out for my recommendations of other films of his to see.

    Changeling is the better film over Gran Torino but I still recommend you see it. The humour lies in the fact that Eastwood’s character is a bigot who says outrageous things. So while he makes racist jokes, you aren’t supposed to laugh along with him. Instead you are laughing at how ridiculously conservative he is.

    Anyway, the core of the film is about friendship, community, overcoming differences, sacrifice and redemption. I recommend it.

  7. I think I may wait until it comes out on DVD – I’m a little short on cash at the moment and I’m absolutely dying to see Milk and, coming in a few weeks, Rachel Getting Married, so I’m being tight on what I see in the theatre. I’ll definitely see it at some stage though.

  8. Definitely save your money for Milk as it is fantastic.

    Rachel Getting Married is the best films I’ve seen in ages so make sure you don’t miss that (I’ll post my review next week).

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