It’s that time of the year when those of us interested in the entertainment industry begin to spend a lot of time thinking about the Oscars. Perhaps speculating would be the better term. We have our opinions about what will win the big awards, we consider what was nominated, and wonder about what wasn’t even considered. Many nominations and eventual outcomes for that mater are no-brainers, but more often than not it seems the bigger question is why something or someone has been nominated while another is completely overlooked.
I have never considered myself much of a barometer for the whims of the Academy. After all my track record for selecting Oscar picks was far more accurate before I joined the industry. However, I do believe I have a good eye for films and performances that are bound to become classics, and it makes me sad when such achievements are not appreciated in their own day and age. I am the first person to argue that greatness often requires the passage of time to determine its true value, but still, come on. Good is good, and current popularity tends to be forgotten over time if there is nothing of weight to sustain it.
Case in point: Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”. Bridges is undoubtedly a great actor who himself spent many years providing superb performances that went unnoticed. It was a long time coming when he finally received a Best Actor Oscar for his role in “Crazy Heart”. That aside, his work in the Coen Brothers’ remake of a John Wayne classic falls short of his previous endeavors, which makes me feel that this nomination is really the result of becoming a recent Academy darling and not a reflection on the quality of his acting. It was a strong choice Bridges made in the characterization of Rooster Cogburn, but most of the time I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Add you couldn’t tell a thing by his expressions because his face was nearly hidden by an eye patch and full beard. The performance just wasn’t there for me and I don’t think the Academy should have honored it with what I consider to be a “make up” nomination for all the times he should have received one in the past.
And why is Geoffrey Rush nominated for Best Supporting Actor instead of Best Actor? His role was just as dominate and impressive as Colin Firths in “The King’s Speech”, maybe even more so. And that’s probably the reason why. It’s the producers of films themselves that submit recommendations for Academy consideration, and most producers have learned it’s a bad idea to place two actors from a single movie in the same category of competition – it splits the vote. Submitting equally billed actors in separate categories avoids this possibility and provides the chance that they both might win. After all it looks far better in ad campaigns and pulls in far more money if a production can boast two Oscar winners rather than just two nominees. Seems a shame though to cheat Rush out of the opportunity to win as Best Actor. But seeing as he already has a golden statue for acting (“Shine”), and he’s one of the Executive Producers, he probably doesn’t mind.
And then there are the performances that have gone completely unnoticed by industry honors. Lesley Manville is absolutely magnificent in Mike Leigh’s latest film, “Another Year”. At least the script for this look into one year in the life of a happy middle-aged couple and their tight knit circle has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Those familiar with the work of Mike Leigh know that improve amongst the actors in rehearsals has a tremendous impact upon the final product. That act in itself merits a second look at the actors’ performances. And Manville as Mary is achingly real as a pathetic middle-aged creature that has yet to come to terms with the effects of the passage of time. She slowly begins to realize her life has changed irrevocably through the way her closest friends have changed toward her, and that her little world was never quite what she thought it was, and never will be. Mary starts out as a peripheral character but comes to dominate the story through what can only be described as a nuanced yet powerful performance by a very skilled actor who deserved to be recognized with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Manville is far more deserving than say Helena Bonham Carter who was very good in the “King’s Speech”, but whose screen time was hardly worthy of such enviable recognition.
Of course the 2011 Academy Awards are no different than any other year and its unlikely the 2012 will be either, or the year after that, or the year after that. It’s impossible to say if the nominees for any given category will ever truly be the most deserving, let alone the eventual winners. However, I hope that the many speculations of such designations will prompt audiences to find out for themselves what the arguments are all about. Agree or disagree with the critics in the end, it is my hope that in the process people will have seen a whole bunch of worthy performances they might not have discovered otherwise. And that in the long run is far more important to any creative artist than the number of statues on their mantle. At least I hope so.