Oscar Nominations 2011 – What Does It All Mean?

All things considered, this afternoon’s 83rd Academy Awards nominations weren’t particularly surprising. Everyone knew The King’s Speech would clean up. That The Social Network would be there or thereabouts. That the critics’ love affair with Inception would continue to grow.

Okay, well there was that one surprise…


But while it’s all very good knowing who’s in the frame for next month, all the nominations announcement really did was birth a list of some names. What use is a list of names unless you’re Oscar Schindler or Father Christmas? So I decided to break down the nominations and explain what it all means – who’ll win what, who should have been on there but wasn’t, that sort of thing.

It’s also an excuse to overuse the word nod, a word that has been used in Oscars coverage today almost as much as M.Night Shyamalan has shed tears since breakfast.

As I was saying, few would be surprised that The King’s Speech cleaned up – if there’s one thing that the Academy loves more than Billy Crystal, it’s the Royals. Look at the success of The Queen in 2007 and Shakespeare in Love in 1999, which somehow gifted Gwyneth Paltrow an Oscar and the Oscar stage water damage. I’d argue Firth is more deserving – I do hope the Brit doesn’t accept his award in character though, the speeches will take ages.

Yet if The King’s Speech bagged 12 nods, The Social Network took 8, and the Best Picture award would appear to be a toss up between those two films. Both enter the face-off laden with recent plaudits; David Fincher’s film has already won a Golden Globe. The British film the top prize from the Producers Guild Of America – this very weekend in fact. Traditionally, the PGA winner stands the better chance of winning the big prize. But I’d argue there could be another contender for the prize. No, not Sex In The City 2

The Academy loves boxing drama. Rocky won in 1976. Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby in 2005, while Robert De Niro won best actor in 1980 for his role as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, despite that film missing out on the main prize to Robert Redford’s Ordinary People, a film that only my mum likes, really. What chance David O. Russell’s The Fighter – with 7 nominations, among them Best Picture – will add to that pugilistic tally? I’ll stick my neck out and say it’d be my pick.

Sticking briefly with The Fighter, I’m disappointed Mark Wahlberg lost out in the category of Best Actor. Disappointed but not surprised. Christian Bale gets a nod as Best Actor In A Supporting Role, primarily because the Academy is scared of him, but also because his performance in the film is so high octane, it’s hard to ignore the work he puts in. Wahlberg’s leading man is the straight guy to his on-screen brother’s wildness. It’s obvious you’d be drawn to firecracker Bale. As producer of the film, you’d have to hope Wahlberg is happy with the movie’s Best Picture nod.

Then there’s Inception and the biggest shock of today’s announcement, director Christopher Nolan missing out in the Best Direction category. You may recall – perhaps if you’ve visited a movie discussion forum, like, ever – that Nolan missed out in the same category in 2009, that time for The Dark Knight. This time round, Inception has been awarded 8 nominations, Best Picture included, but Nolan has got to be asking himself who he’s pissed off. Perhaps the Academy itself could award itself a special honour next month, Most Anti-Populist Voting Panel Of Awards Season. See you on the forums.

I was quite surprised not to see The Town make the cut for Best Picture, and a bit ashamed the late, great Pete Postlethwaite didn’t get a posthumous nod – if he’s good enough for BAFTA, he’s certainly good enough for some Beverly Hills residents rattling their jewelry. No nods for my favourite film of 2010, Kick-Ass either, but then there’s isn’t a category entitled Most Fun – and surely Enter The Void deserved something for making everyone who saw its heads explode?

The other big winner was True Grit with 10 nominations – despite the Coen Brothers’ latest being snubbed by the Golden Globes earlier this month. Included within those nominations is a Best Supporting Actress nod for the remarkable 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld and Best Actor In A Leading Role for Jeff Bridges, brilliant in the Western as he is rubbish in Tron Legacy. Deserved as they are, these categories confuse me: Steinfeld carries True Grit, the story is told from her perspective. Likewise, you’d struggle to argue that Bridges doesn’t play the role of Supporting Actor in it. Weird.

Speaking of Tron Legacy, its omission from the Best Visual Effects category is baffling (perhaps more so Daft Punk’s soundtrack in its field), especially considering the garish Alice In Wonderland did get a nod. Both films contain the emotional resonance of a pebble, but one looks futuristic and unique, the other like its sets were designed by someone learning to draw using a crayon wedged between their toes.

I’ll leave you to decide which is which, as well as how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is in with a shout despite it seemingly being shot in a unillumiated well. Anyway, it’s a moot point given Inception will win.

Now for some sexism: after Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the directing category last year, this time round the boys return en mass. To look at the shortlist, anyone would think Andy Gray was on the judging panel; Darren Aronofsky gets the nod for Black Swan, Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech, then it’s Fincher, O.Russell and the Coens. I think Debra Granik for Winter’s Bone and Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids Are All Right can both allow themselves to feel aggrieved at missing out in the category.

Wahlberg aside, it’s difficult to argue with the rest of the Best Actor line-up. Alongside Bridges is Javier Bardem in the brilliant Biutiful (a film that despite having a Spanish lead and being set in Barcelona the Academy has now decided is Mexican), Jesse Elsenberg in the Social Network, that man Colin Firth again and Oscars co-host James Franco in 127 Hours – who may or may not be that man with a crayon between his toes.

The only other name I’d suggest should be on there is Ryan Gosling, whose brave turn in Blue Valentine tore my heart to shreds. Congratulations to his co-star Michelle Williams for her Best Actress shout, I hope it helps shine a light on a brilliant film.

Refreshingly, this year’s nominations also paid respect to the rise and rise of modern animation, with all three films in the Best Animated Feature worthy of the shout. The Illusionist is great, How To Train Your Dragon is greater, and Toy Story 3 is so great it made the cut for Best Picture too. Last year’s Toy Story finale actually becomes only the third film ever to make the cut in that category, following Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in 1991 and fellow Pixar film Up in 2009. It’s not my absolute favourite film of the ten, but what a statement it would make if it won… and can you imagine the look on Christopher Nolan’s face!

Follow me for more Hollywood bullshit at the awards proper on February 27th, where I’ll be tweeting through the night at @jamesjammcmahon. Till then, tell me what you think should have made the grade but didn’t, what does it all mean… and what should win.