The Oscars Versus The Cinema Junkie Awards
Oscar Nominations Announced Thursday But Here Are Some Alternative Choices
he 87th Academy Awards nominations were announced this morning. Birdman and the Grand Budapest Hotel topped the list with 9 nominations each. The Lego Movie got snubbed in the best animated film category but ironically got a nomination for its song Everything is Awesome. Meanwhile, Marvel could only be found in the effects categories where its box office hits Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy got a trio of nominations. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando was not entirely happy with the Academy's choices so she has decided to give out the Cinema Junkie awards to what she thought was the best of 2014.
The benefit of being a film critic is that when all the nominations and awards come out, I have a public outlet for channeling all my anger.
I have always loved movies. Ever since my dad introduced me to King Kong and the Marx Brothers, I’ve been in love with cinema. For many years I’d eagerly look forward to the Academy Awards, what Hollywood promotes as the industry honoring its own. But around 1972, when the Oscars overlooked Al Pacino’s towering performance as Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” in favor of Joel Grey’s work in “Cabaret,” I started to grow disillusioned. Then as I saw more and more films each year, I grew downright angry at not just what was overlooked but also what won.
There’s no coming back from giving “Chicago,” “Forrest Gump” and “Crash” top honors at the Oscars. Let’s also remember that actors such as Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole and directors such as Alfred Hitchcock never took home an Oscar. (O’Toole did get an honorary one and Hitchcock received the Irving Thalberg Award.) But Sally Field, Hilary Swank and Tom Hanks have two a piece! Oscar also has the audacity to try to cover up its oversights. Take the tribute to Bond at the 2013 Oscars where Shirley Bassey came out to sing Goldfinger. WTF! The Academy didn’t even nominate that song, and now it was trying to pretend that it recognized the brilliance of that song all along. Well, Hollywood is the land of illusions and delusions.
So, as the dreaded day of the Oscar nominations arrives, I braced myself for the oversights and snapping up of Oscar-bait. I know this is all personal opinion but that’s all there is when it comes to how we feel about films. It’s like anchovies on pizza, some of us love them and others can’t stand them. You can explain all you want about how delicious it tastes or it’s possible benefits but it really doesn’t matter. Your taste is your own and all we can do is argue about our differences, hopefully with a sense of humor.
I wouldn’t be so angry if these little gold statues didn’t mean life or death to smaller films. A nomination for a foreign film or documentary can mean the difference between a distribution deal and oblivion, and a win can make the difference between a profitable DVD release and one that barely makes a ripple. Mainstream America, distributors, and theaters place a high value on awards in general and the Oscars in particular.
But the Oscars have always been flawed. They can’t help it. They are awards given by the industry to itself so of course there is favoritism and bias. Oscar makes his home in Hollywood and West Coast industry folks have always been favored over East Coast and foreign artists. That’s why New York-based director of photography Gordon Willis never won an Oscar, and why the genius of Japan’s Akira Kurosawa could only be acknowledged with an honorary one. An honorary Oscar is the way the Academy corrects its oversights, so when an actor or director is about to croak and they have no Oscar on their mantle but heaps of praise from everyone else, the Academy goes “whoops, this is embarrassing and hands them an honorary award.”
I know, these are generalizations and New Yorkers Martin Scorsese and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker have Oscars, and Sophia Loren won a Best Actress Oscar for the Italian film “Two Women.” These are the exceptions that prove the rule.
This year one of the things that makes me rant is that with a dearth of strong female roles the two best actresses will be completely ignored. Tilda Swinton’s work in “Only Lovers Left Alive” won’t make the cut because it’s a small independent film and no screeners were sent to awards groups so there was no momentum coming into the Oscar voting and no screener to remind people of her fine work. Meanwhile, Essie Davis’ richly nuanced performance in “The Babadook” has been deemed ineligible because it did not open first in theaters in LA; it came out on VOD first.
Academy rules state: “Films that, in any version, receive their first public exhibition or distribution in any manner other than as a theatrical motion picture release will not be eligible for Academy Awards in any category. Nontheatrical public exhibition or distribution includes but is not limited to: Broadcast and cable television; PPV/VOD; DVD distribution; and Internet transmission.”
This is especially frustrating in a year that served up so few strong female roles. It also raises questions about whether the Academy will respond to new viewing trends and consider altering this rule because distribution platforms are changing and people want to see films in new ways. Streaming online is one of those newfangled technologies that will need to be addressed in the future.
Also ineligible this year is Antonio Sanchez's jazzily discordant score for “Birdman.” Seems there was some incidental classical music and the music branch decided the score could not be deemed “original." That’s total BS. Recently, “The King’s Speech” and “Saving Mr. Banks” relied heavily on pre-existing music and still managed the music branch’s approval. But then they were very “traditional” scores and the music branch is notorious for disqualifying music that pushed the envelope such as Jonny Greenwood’s work on “There Will Be Blood” and Cliff Martintez’s work on “Drive.”
Which brings me to my main gripe about most awards and the Oscars in particular: they tend to reward mediocrity, conventionality, and artistic blandness. It’s not that a film like Robert Redford’s “Ordinary People,” which won Best Picture in 1980, is a bad film, it’s not. But when you compare it to Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull,” which was also nominated, it pales by comparison. Scorsese’s film pushed the creative envelope and is better remembered now than Redford’s film. But “Ordinary People” was the safer choice back in 1980.
And awards should not go to the “safe” choice but rather to the daring, audacious one. In “Whiplash,” J.K. Simmons plays a teacher who pushes his students to demand more of themselves (OK, to be fair he’s an R. Lee Ermey drill sergeant of a music teacher). At one point he says the two worst words you can say to someone is “good job.” But that’s essentially what the Academy does 90 percent of the time. (I concede that deserving winners do manage to sneak in.) They say “good job” to the nice folks who are coloring within the lines and delivering what’s expected. And by awarding those doing a good job rather than those breaking the rules and innovating means that Hollywood and its employees are more likely to play it safe than take risks and that’s sad.
87th Annual Academy Award Nominations
So this brings us to the nominations of the 87th Annual Academy Awards, and it could be worse. It could also be better, but at least Jennifer Aniston and her greasy hair did not fool the Academy into giving her a nomination for "Cake," nor did it fall for the hollow charm of "Into the Woods" and "Interstellar" as best pictures. It was also good to see recognition for "Ida," "Whiplash," "Birdman," "Mr. Turner," "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "The Imitation Game."
On the negative side, the Academy licked its chops and fell for the Oscar bait of Steve Carell's fake nose and dour demeanor in "Foxcatcher" and Eddie Redmayne's smiling performance as Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything," awarding them best acting nods. Similarly, the Academy fell for pretty actresses taking off their make up and going plain, hence the nominations for Reese Witherspoon in "Wild," Rosamund Pike in "Gone Girl" and Julianne Moore in "Still Alice." But at least these performers showed skill beyond just not looking glamorous. And while Oscar loves to applaud straight actors who play gay, it doesn't seem as impressed by gay actors who play straight even when the actor is also hosting the Oscar show, so no recognition for Neil Patrick Harris in "Gone Girl." Too bad.
My biggest disappointments include the bevy of nominations for Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper." The film was like a remake of "Sergeant York," only it fails to acknowledge the moral complexity that now comes with looking at war, and its naive simplicity is annoying. But I think if Eastwood directed someone reading the phone book the Academy would nominate him. It has become a knee-jerk reaction, like nominating Meryl Streep. And oh, look! There she is in the supporting actress category for "Into the Woods." I'm also mad that "Jodorowsky's Dune" and "The Visitors" came up empty in the documentary ranks, and actress Tilda Swinton was nowhere to be found.
And the only place to find Marvel was under visual effects. Shame on you, Academy. You expand the best picture nominations proclaiming this will encourage diversity and make room for indies and blockbusters, and now that you have financial hits that are actually great fun and well made — "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Winter Soldier" — you snub them. I will console myself with the fact that at least "Guardian" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" received visual effects nominations for the best character CGI work to date. I finally am convinced that in the right hands, a CGI-created character can be as believable as a live actor.
To find out who wins the coveted gold statues, tune in to ABC on Feb. 22 at 4 p.m. for the 87th Academy Awards with host Neil Patrick Harris (I'm hopeful I'll at least be happy with him). You can find a complete list of the nominees and a printable ballot for your own Oscar party at the Academy's website.
Now, for the good part, where I get to rave about what I loved most in 2014 (and yes, just a little ranting about some of the worst):
Ten best films:
“Only Lovers Left Alive”
“Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
“A Girl Walks Home Alone”
“The Imitation Game”
Best director: Pawel Pawlikowski, "Ida"
Runners up: David Fincher, "Gone Girl," Jim Jarsmusch, "Only Lovers Left Alive," and Mike Leigh, "Mr. Turner"
Special mention to first time feature directors who show great promise: Jennifer Kent, "The Babadook," and Jon Stewart, "Rosewater"
Best actor: James McAvoy, “Filth”
Runners up: Tom Hardy, “Locke,” Jude Law, “Dom Hemingway,” and Steve Coogan, “Alan Partridge. ” OK, those are all Brits so I’ll throw in Michael Keaton in “Birdman” and Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler”
Best actress: Essie Davis, “The Babadook”
Runners up: Tilda Swinton, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Nymphomaniac”
Best supporting actor: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”
Runners up: Noah Wiseman, “The Babadook,” Bradley Cooper, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Riz Ahmed, "Nightcrawler," and Michael Parks, “Tusk”
Best supporting actress: Tilda Swinton, “Snowpiercer”
Runners up: Alison Pill, “Snowpiercer,” and Emma Stone, “Birdman”
Best foreign language film: “Ida”
Runners up: “Borgman,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone,” and “Force Majeure”
Best documentary: “Jodorowsky’s Dune”
Runners up: “The Visitors” and “Finding Vivian Maier”
Best editing: Kirk Baxter, “Gone Girl”
Runners up: Leslie Jones, “Inherent Vice,” and Barney Pilling, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Best cinematography: Dick Pope, “Mr. Turner”
Runners up: Ryszard Lenczewski/Lukasz Zal, “Ida” and Jeff Cronenweth, “Gone Girl”
Best music: Antonio Sanchez, “Birdman”
Runners up: Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross, “Gone Girl,” and Jonny Greenwood, “Inherent Vice”
Best visual effects: Caesar in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” and Rocket Raccoon in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” for proving that CGI in the right hands can be as effective as anything real
Most ambitious idea that led to a formulaic indie film: “Boyhood” (shooting its lead actor over 12 years but gaining no insights through the process)
Best unintentional promotional stunt: “The Interview”
Most forgotten films of 2014:
Most overhyped and overpraised:
“The Theory of Everything”
“Into the Woods”
The Gaining Weight Is Not Acting Award: Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper” (Taking sexy Cooper and making him look like Zach Galifianakis is just an Oscar-bait gimmick; Robert DeNiro toning up and then ballooning to play fighter Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull” was just one tool the actor used to play the part not a gimmick.)
The Taking Off Your Make Up Is Not Acting Award: Jennifer Aniston, “Cake” (You could lay this performance over the one she gave in “Leprechaun” and find that her acting style hasn’t changed and she relies on the same looks and mannerism then as now. Only thing that’s changed is her nose.)
The Not Being Funny Is Not The Same As Being Serious Award: Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”