An Oscar is the highest honour for anyone involved in the film industry. It validates filmmakers, actors, actresses, writers, and so on, as the best at their craft. Last week, the Oscar nominations came out for 2011’s body of film—a year that had some real bombs, but also produced some of the most celebrated and extraordinary films in a long time.
Opinions are subjective, of course, but many can agree that some of the year’s best films and especially some of the best performances were completely robbed of an Academy Award nomination. If the Academy Awards are supposed to recognize the best of the best, how is it that the best of the best were left out? As highly regarded as the Oscars are, it’s a true shame that the Academy can’t always see who is worthy and who is not.
Get ready to punch a wall as The Medium takes a look at some of the most upsetting omissions from this year’s Academy Award nominations.
Michael Fassbender for Shame
In the role of Brandon, a man conflicted by his sex addiction and inconveniently visited by his attention-seeking younger sister (played by Carey Mulligan), Fassbender’s portrayal is so deeply real that even without any words, he expresses Brandon’s emptiness and desire to make a meaningful connection. As a very controversial role in a polarizing film, this is not the kind of stuff that Academy members enjoy watching, and that was probably the main reason for this shameful snub. Shame garnered zero nominations (Mulligan also gave an incredible performance that was overlooked), which says more about the Academy’s unwillingness to embrace artsier and riskier films than about the film’s quality. If the Academy were not so straight-laced, Shame would have been nominated several times over.
Tilda Swinton for We Need To Talk About Kevin
Swinton’s performance had to have been the most talked-about omission from the nominations last Tuesday morning. Her portrayal of Eva Khatchadourian as a mother who literally has the devil for a son is devastating and real. The screenplay has little dialogue, yet Swinton gives so much depth to Eva with the subtlest of expressions. She embodies a woman who has been through so much and has lost everything in her life, including her own sense of self-worth.
Swinton was nominated for every single award leading up to the Oscar nominations, from the BFCA (Broadcast Film Critic’s Association) to the SAGs (Screen Actor’s Guild Awards), and even the Golden Globes. While We Need to Talk About Kevin may be too dark a movie for the average audience, let alone an Academy filled with older members that seem to favour lighter films and cringe at darker material, the story and the way it unfolds is incredibly captivating and should have been recognized.
Kirsten Dunst for Melancholia & Elizabeth Olsen for Martha Marcy May Marlene
Two of the strongest performances by an actress this year came from two brilliant films that were also completely overlooked. These portrayals of women who are lost, confused, and torn apart by what their family wants for them and what they want for themselves were barely recognized anywhere this year (Kirsten Dunst found little recognition even after winning Best Actress at Cannes, while Elizabeth Olsen gained some critics’ nominations prior to the Oscars) but their films, both of them dark yet stunning, were also denied accolades for the work put into them.
Lars von Trier, the director of Melancholia, has never been popular with the Academy, as his films are not for the light of heart in any way. Melancholia, with its exploration of depression juxtaposed with the end of the world, is his “lightest” film yet by a considerable amount. It is not surprising that the film was shunned, but it is unfair. Martha Marcy May Marlene, an astounding debut feature from Sean Durkin, explores the life of a young girl who is pulled in by a cult and how even after she escapes, she can never really leave. Elizabeth Olsen’s performance, highly praised and deserving of so much more recognition than it got, instantly confirmed Olsen as a promising new actress who can get by on pure talent.
Although it’s not the kind of film that will appeal to everyone, on account of its dark, dry humour, Young Adult is easily one of the sharpest films of the past year, and the complete disregard for this film is baffling. Jason Reitman’s expert direction and the smart and sharp writing of Diablo Cody were top-quality and deserving of recognition (Reitman has been popular with the Academy in the past, and Cody won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Juno back in 2008). This film is much darker and deeper than the previous collaboration of Reitman and Cody; the characters are very real and Cody’s writing is not afraid to go to extreme depths. Juno was a huge hit at the 2008 Oscars, garnering a Best Picture nomination in a field of five, while Young Adult received no consideration in a possible field of 10.
Even worse were the snubs in acting. This was a very strong year for Leading Actress and there’s lots of competition, but all the same, Charlize Theron’s turn as Mavis Gary was perfection. She plays a supposedly mentally ill bitch. She has no sympathy, no filter, and no care for anything or anyone that gets her in way. Yet at the same time, Theron allows Mavis to be sympathetic, making it possible for you hate her and love her at the same time. There is so much below the surface of Mavis Gary that it would be hard to imagine any other actress nailing the way Theron has done.
Theron had some tough competition this year, but Patton Oswalt’s omission is disgusting when considering who did receive nominations for Best Supporting Actor. Jonah Hill getting a nomination for his performance in Moneyball is a joke, and though he did a decent job portraying a very quiet and frankly forgettable character, it is nothing in comparison to the emotion put in by Oswalt as the unlikely friend, Matt Freehauf. Leaving this movie out of this year’s awards is appalling—to put it lightly.
One of the most praised films of the whole year, Drive was given one Sound Editing nomination. A Sound Editing nomination! Why even bother? Clearly the Academy could not handle any sort of violence this year, though past winners and nominees (cough cough, The Godfather, anyone?) have been successful. When did the Academy become such children? Inspired by heist movies but still radiating originality, the direction was impeccable and even won Nicolas Winding Refn the Best Director award at Cannes. Furthermore, Ryan Gosling’s character, the driver, will become iconic—his performance is perfect. Gosling has proven an extremely versatile actor, maybe even the best of his generation, but the Academy has ignored his efforts yet again (his performance in last year’s Blue Valentine should have been in contention for the win, but he wasn’t even nominated). Albert Brooks, who was neck and neck with Christopher Plummer for the Best Supporting Actor award at almost every other awards ceremony, also missed out here. Drive’s lack of love from the Academy is not just disappointing, it’s a crime.
One of the most disappointing of all the films that were snubbed is the indie classic in the making, Take Shelter. It’s an unlikely manifestation of the “mental illness” film; the fear of a storm that threatens to ravish a small town makes it an engrossing thrill ride that has you on the edge of your seat. Michael Shannon’s depiction of mental illness has won him a nomination before, for 2008’s Revolutionary Road, in a performance that had barely 10 minutes of screen time. Here, he is front and centre and drives the film almost singlehandedly, though he is given amazing support by the breakout actress of the year, Jessica Chastain. Chastain was nominated for her work in The Help, and she is equally deserving in this film. These two performances received a lot of buzz all throughout awards season, and many had hoped that Shannon would be recognized, but Take Shelter was completely shut out in spite of deserving recognition for acting, screenplay, and direction.
These performances and films are just the beginning in terms of what missed out this year, and it goes to show how many quality films were ignored for the likes of bigger, flashier, and more mainstream fare. Big names got in over brilliant performances, and just seeing the likes of these films being shut out makes it difficult to respect the Academy, who are supposed to reward the very best of the year, not the most famous. The Academy has made some bold choices in the past, so it’s puzzling that they played it so safe this year. Right now, the upcoming awards on February 26 look really predictable and boring, and it’s unfortunate that these films did not even get the slightest recognition. A note to the Academy members for next year: please stop being such babies and make some bolder moves. Maybe then you will deserve your prestige.