Friday, February 28, 2014

And the GOUN responded


The day before the Oscar nominations were out, weary already of the same safe names popping up in each category for most awards shows, I made a plea that the God of Unexpected Nominations (GOUN) prevail this year. That we see some unusual, unexpected, brave names pop up on the list of nominations.

You should be careful what you ask for. For the GOUN responded in force. But with one exception, the unexpected names were not a happy surprise for me!

Christian Bale pulled a surprise Best Lead Actor, Male nod for American Hustle that came out of the left field. Listen, I will defend Bale as the best in class amongst his generation of actors; see his quietly devastating turn in Into the Furnace this year itself to find a definition for brilliance in acting. But his work in American Hustle is mostly underwhelming, his presence in the film remembered more for his physicality than any real opportunity to dazzle either overtly or with quiet resonance. It is just not a memorable performance, and it irks all the more, because Bale's nomination kicked out Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) or Robert Redford (All Is Lost) for arguably career-high acts. It is obvious Christian Bale's nomination swept in with the groundswell support for American Hustle which peaked right around the time of the nominations announcement. But even then it is hard to make an objective case for how Bale possibly measures up to the grounded, devastating turns from both Hanks and Redford.

Tom Hanks, not nominated
for Captain Phillips
And with the growing support for American Hustle, Amy Adams pushed her way into the party too. Considering the magnificence of the Best Lead Actor, Female roster this year (with more than ten names that could rightfully earn a spot), Adams' pick particularly galls. Because her nomination came at the expense of pushing out the likes of Adele Exachopoulos (Blue Is The Warmest Color), Julia Louis Dreyfus (Enough Said), Julie Delpy (Before Midnight) and Brie Larson (Short Term 12). There were many who were impressed by Adams' showy performance in American Hustle, but I am not amongst them. Especially considering how the Academy had an opportunity of recognizing newer, fresher, riskier performances and they instead settled for the obvious.

Robert Redford, not nominated
for All Is Lost
But no surprise nomination galls me as much as the one for Jonah Hill for Best Supporting Actor, Male for The Wolf Of Wall Street. What were the voters thinking; are there people who actually believe that there was any wit, any authenticity, any humanity to Hill's repetitive one-note deranged sidekick character in that film? To equate Jonah Hill to Joe Pesci's achievement in similar Scorsese films from a decade ago (Goodfellas, Casino) is a considerable insult to Pesci. Worse, my reaction approaches something close to nausea at the thought that we will soon be seeing trailers for 22 Jump Street with the words "starring two time Oscar nominee, Jonah Hill". My brain cannot come to terms with the evident reality that Jonah Hill now has two Oscar nominations (his other being for Moneyball in the same category last year) when the likes of Ryan Gosling or Ewan McGregor have had zero Oscar nominations to date. It is a cruel world.

Sally Hawkins, nominated for Blue Jasmine
The only surprise nomination that I am grateful to the GOUNs for is for Sally Hawkins' nod in the Best Supporting Actor, Female category for Blue Jasmine. After Hawkins' egregious omission in the lead actor category nominations a few years ago for Happy Go Lucky, it is gratifying to know that voters have finally recognized the value of her consistent, high-quality work in film after film.

Speaking of long-overdue recognition, we ought to truly celebrate Michael Fassbender finally (finally!) getting his first Oscar nomination for 12 Years A Slave (Best Supporting Actor, Male). Easily one of the best regarded actors working today, it was getting to be an embarrassment that Fassbender hadn't even been nominated to date, let alone win an acting accolade. After being passed over year after year (Shame, Fish Tank, Hunger), it is good to know that we can now stop talking in hushed tones about the unfathomable lack of recognition of Fassbender's work by the Academy.

Michael Fassbender, nominated
for 12 Years A Slave
Other than those, most nominations, particularly in the acting categories were expectedly mainstream. If the Academy voters are going to be adventurous and look outside of the box, it is not going to be this year, which came up with another safe lineup.

So a lost opportunity for not recognizing Daniel Bruhl's wonderfully complex work in Rush. And likewise a failure to recognize the unfussy, lived-in and intelligent performance from James Gandolfini in Enough Said, and honor him posthumously. No repeat this year of Oscar's few instances of best acting nominations coming from foreign films as Blue Is The Warmest Color went unrecognized altogether. And most troublesome of all, no acting nominations for Scarlett Johansson, who just might be MVP this year amongst actors for her contributions to Don Jon and particularly, Her.

I know I have visited this already, but honestly, what to make of the runway train that is American Hustle, which has been charging through the awards season deflecting in its path. It is evident now that David O. Russell has, bar none, the best publicity machinery in town. He has now pulled three best picture nominations in the last four years. And even more impressively garnered a whopping 11 acting nominations in the same four years (2 for Jennifer Lawrence, 2 for Amy Adams, 2 for Bradley Cooper, 2 for Christian Bale, 1 for Melissa Leo, 1 for Robert DeNiro, and 1 for Jacki Weaver)! No wonder these actors keep coming back to him film after film. But as much as I was an ardent supporter of Silver Linings Playbook and an admirer of The Fighter, American Hustle is just not as good a film. It is entertaining yes, and proficiently made, but it is by no means an example of excellence in cinema for the year. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler called it "explosion at the wig factory" at the Golden Globe awards, and they were not terribly off the mark. I like to call it "walking in slow motion toward the camera", because it would seem that is all it took for the actors to nab nominations. Should American Hustle pull a surprise win for best film at the Oscars, it will be an embarrassment that future movie goers will not look upon kindly. So at this point, I will be ecstatitc if 12 Years A Slave picks the top prize. But if Academy voters have a problem with the subject matter of that film (don't even get me started on that), and find it too nakedly Oscar-bait, consider me signed up to stand behind Gravity to nab the top prize. Anything, but the film with its actors working in slow motion toward the camera.

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