Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Winnie the Who?: Disney/Oscar Nod Related Musings

Well, the Oscar nominations were announced this morning. As I slowly came to and grabbed my iPad (no morning person am I unless next stop is a Disney park), I approached the slate of nominees with the same mix of glee (They better have done right by the ones I liked!), bewilderment (Dude...I've never even heard of that movie...), regret (my heavens, I will never see all of these movies before the awards), excitement (The thrill of competition! The anticipation of an industry's affirmation! The chance to see Emma Stone in another gorgeous gown!) and indifference (I can't get too excited because I will inevitably just be disappointed). When I nosed around a few different websites and finally found a readable list, I was overall quite happy with many of the things I saw. I figured I would share some of my Disney-adjacent thoughts with you.

Follow me, ladies. Your Oscars are this way.
First off, yay for The Help! With nominations for best picture, best actress (Viola Davis) and best supporting actress (Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain), my favorite movie of the year put in quite a strong showing. Compounded with the fact that it was one of the highest grossing movies of the year, especially if you take out all comic book movies, franchise tentpoles and sequels, the little literary adaptation that could has had a pretty spectacular year. Though I can say with almost certainty that it won't take home the top prize, the recognition is well-deserved for a movie that was a passion project from go with something to say that needed to be heard and the right people to say it. Though it's got an outside shot at a win, the nomination is the award in this instance.

Two of the best performances of the year.
Octavia Spencer should go ahead and clear off a space on her shelf next to her Golden Globe, because she's all but guaranteed the award, despite a strong, strong field, including her co-star Jessica Chastain, who was luminous if not as showy, and a rare nomination for a flat-out comedic performance by Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids. (PS, with it's convoluted anywhere-from-five-to-ten best picture nominations system, they couldn't fill the one additional allowed slot with the funniest, highest grossing, best-reviewed comedy of the year? Come on...Bridesmaids deserved a nom. At least they gave it one in the best original screenplay category.) My girl Emma Stone has gotten no awards show love at all this season for her amazing work, but I guess she'll have to make do with being Hollywood's newest it girl instead. Ah well.

No words for her brilliance.
Viola Davis is fighting a bit more of an uphill battle, despite giving what is without a doubt the best performance by an actress in a film this year. It was not over-the-top because the role of a maid in the South during the sixties doesn't call for it to be. There are no prosthetics, carefully studied accents or mimicked gestures involved. There is no hoopla and no self-indulgence. Just powerful emotional truth. I have rarely seen a more lived-in, fully inhabited performance onscreen in my life. She works in a small, handcrafted way that does not reek of technique, though it is there. We see the performance instead of the effort behind it. She also manages to shoulder the weight of doing justice to a whole population of women whose stories have been more or less ignored by mainstream America so brilliantly that we should count ourselves lucky enough to have it captured to show future generations how we can grow from our past. The award should belong to her and many predict that it will come Oscar night.

Genetically engineered for an Oscar.
Viola is, however, up against her indomitable Doubt co-star, Meryl Streep for her performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Full disclosure- I have not yet seen The Iron Lady. I also have absolutely no question that Meryl is fantastic in it. She is probably the greatest actor I will ever see in my lifetime. When I see the movie, there is the probability that I will succumb to her prowess and walk away singing her praises. But, to be honest, even she seemed a little shocked, apologetic even, that she won the award over Viola at the Golden Globes. Since I cannot yet compare the performances head to head (and don't know when I will be able to, considering I have no desire to waste time or money on what is by all reports a pretty shoddy historical film about a political figure I am not a fan of, created by the folks who brought us *gag* Mamma Mia and anchored by a great leading lady), suffice it to say that I have a huge soft spot for Viola's performance and will be more than a bit crushed if she doesn't take that little gold guy home.

One glance at what they wear tells a story.
As far as where else The Help was snubbed, I am rather surprised that it didn't get a costume nod. Despite the fact that they usually favor big costume dramas, Sharen Davis' work here was superlative, beautifully evoking a very specific time and place while really informing the characters. All of the production design was stellar, but I'm afraid it was just to subtle to compete with the big guns who tend to populate these categories. I am not entirely shocked that Tate Taylor, the dreamboat who wrote and directed the film, wasn't recognized. He has kind of stayed just out of contention all awards season. His work here is great, no doubt, just not as great as other work this year. I am also sad that Thomas Newman's lovely score, which evoked his awesome work on Fried Green Tomatoes, wasn't given more attention. It does a wonderful job of giving the audience emotional cues without resorting to the expected orchestral swells and emphatic musical themes. Once again, I think the essential understated nature of the film did him no favors come awards time.

Sing it, Mary J.
The biggest injustice, in my opinion, was the lack of a nomination for best original song for "The Living Proof", sung by Mary J. Blige over the end credits. I honestly cannot imagine the emotional impact of that last sequence without this song. Viola Davis' stunning performance underscored by Thomas Newman's gorgeous score, transitioning into this punch-in-the-gut of a song with Mary J.'s I-know-where-I've-been vocal. I am physically unable to watch the last five minutes of this movie without becoming a sobbing mess of ugly cries. The song is essential structurally, thematically supportive, beautifully written, and emotionally moving. It's a total knockout, and, especially considering that the Academy only saw fit to give two nominations for best song, it's kind of insulting its name wasn't called after being shortlisted with thirty-eight other songs.

Yeah. I have a huge crush on Jim Parsons.
The best song category is a bit of a mystery. Only two nominees? Really? One is a song from Rio, which I haven't seen and the other is "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets, which is completely deserved while, sadly, it's only nomination. Personally, I think that the Muppets should have hosted the ceremony this year instead of *yawn* Billy Crystal and I also figured that "Life's a Happy Song" would be a more obvious pick, but that shows you how much I know. I don't pretend to understand how their jacked-up voting process works, but how do you only nominate two songs when the field has room for five? This seems unnecessarily cruel to me, especially when you have other eligible songs from The Muppets, Gnomio & Juliet, Albert Nobbs, and, especially Winnie the Pooh ( Not even Zooey Deschanel's great song?!? Come on!) that were outstanding and deserved nominations. I'm calling foul, Oscar gods! This is almost as dumb as when "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" won over Dolly Parton's amazing song from Transamerica. Almost...

Since we brought up Pooh, we should address the pink Backson in the middle of the room, which is the other pertinent race to this blog- best animated feature. (Best animated short is filled with what seem like interesting, non-Disney entries, aside from "La Luna" which will be released alongside Pixar's upcoming Brave, but since this category is often more apt to feature more experimental pieces, it makes sense.) This is the first time since the award's inception in 2001 that there hasn't been a Disney film represented in the category (that is if you include Pixar and Studio Ghibli). Now this wouldn't bother me so much if the studio's only offering this year was the shiny but empty Cars 2, because, frankly, I don't think Pixar should be awarded just for being Pixar when they produce output that's on the subpar side of mediocre. Cars 2 is Pixar's worst offering by far and it is appropriate that it should break the winning streak that the studio has been on, winning the award every year since 2007 with Ratatouille. Sorry bout it.

If you guys are in search of your Oscar,
you're out of luck.
What really gets my goat is the fact the Winnie the Pooh has been shut out. Again. I know that it snuck into theaters over the summer with little fanfare and was completely overshadowed by the final Harry Potter movie (which also deserved better than it got in the noms). It was not a blockbuster, but was one of the best reviewed films of the year. It was beautifully done and really showcased what is special and timeless about Disney hand-drawn animation. Somehow, though pretty well-represented at the Annie Awards, none of the larger awards have been following suit, leading up to a big, fat goose egg in Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. I don't know whether the studio wasn't behind it enough, it was too small and sweet to stand out, or people didn't take it seriously and assumed it was only for toddlers, but its failure to be acknowledged as the artistic triumph that it is irks me to no end.

As it stands, we have one franchise movie (Puss In Boots), one sequel (Kung Fu Panda 2), one movie about a reptile given Hollywood cred by Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski (Rango), and two foreign films that look lovely, and may very well be wonderful films, but that I've never heard of (A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita, which was distributed by Disney in Spain). This is the first time I've ever not seen even one of the nominees in the category. (I'm not a critic remember. Just a bear of limited funds and many opinions.) Though I'm sure that these films have merit, I genuinely feel that Winnie the Pooh has gotten robbed this season and I have no idea how it happened.

Just cuz it's awesome.
These are just a few thoughts that barreled through my brain as the nominees unfurled. Otherwise, I must say that the list came with few major surprises and overall I am neither terribly surprised, disappointed or excited about any of the other categories. But just like pretty much everybody else, I'll be tuning in the night of the awards, either jumping for joy, screaming angrily at my TV while wondering why I subject myself to this every year, or being completely bored. Just another year at the races, y'all!

What did you guys think of the nominations this year? Is your rear end as chapped as mine about the complete shut-out of Winnie the Pooh? Did you feel like Cars 2 deserved a place in the ranks? How about the non-animated categories? Did you expect more of The Muppets? Are you as stoked about all of the recognition for The Help as I am? Any major snubs or glaring WTF moments that I missed? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. I didn't see Pooh, so I have no opinion on it. I hated Cars 2 as well as the first one, so I don't think it deserved to get a nom (Pixar or not). I really enjoyed the Muppets and think that they picked a lame song from the actual movie (c'mon Camilla and the other chickens clucking "Forget You" was hilarious)

    I saw Kung Fu Panda 2 on a plane and it was cute. It wasn't bad. Is it worthy of the best animated film title? Probably not. I also saw Rio (not nominated for BAF) and it was equally cute. I'm a disney girl at heart so I can tell when something is of Disney quality and when it's Dreamworks born.

    I also saw Rango. I couldn't have hated it more. I thought it was an ugly film, being set in the dirt. All the characters lacked color (again, the desert) and was about a drought/not having water, therefore there was literally no color palette other than gray, brown, tan, ecru, etc.

    I loved the Help (saw it on a plane as well) and LOVED the book. I thought they did a stellar job of bringing the story to life from the pages. I absolutely loved Celia Foote in both the book and the film, Minnie was great, etc.

    I would love to see Melissa McCartney win for Bridesmaids as well (though there can only be one winner) as I found her performance delightful. How fearless she was, not afraid to enter this man's world and just lay all the unlady like mannerisms on the table.

  2. See. Pooh. Now! It is soooo very good! It's hands down the best animated film of the year.

    BTW I finally saw The Artist last night. I thought it was very sweet and I enjoyed it, but it certainly was not the second coming that some have made it out to be.