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.
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.
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.