Oscar Surprises? No Chance!

This year's top awards are a done deal

As Saturday’s Kermode awards made transparently clear, this year’s Oscar nominations contain more than their usual quota of omissions.

Is the gulf between British and American movie tastes so wide, or were some of the films that shoulda been contenders simply too left field for Academy tastes?  In recent years, it’s shown a growing sympathy towards lower budget, indie films and, while there are some in this year’s batch (The Artist, for one!), they are otherwise few and far between.

I’ve already had my five penneth on Tilda Swinton’s omission from the Best Actress category and the total absence of We Need To Talk About Kevin.  But where is double BAFTA winner Senna on the shortlist for Best Documentary?  And what about Shame’s Michael Fassbender for Best Actor?  BAFTA winner The Skin I Live In for Best Foreign Language Film? It would be all too easy to continue with that list, but I’ll resist.

There is a gap between British and US tastes – that can’t be denied – but that’s not the reason why our showing in the nominations is lean to say the least: we had a good run last year with The King’s Speech, and a couple of years before with Slumdog Millionaire, but this time we’re a lot thinner on the ground.

It’s not because we haven’t produced good movies – it’s just that the Academy hasn’t recognised them.  Tinker Tailor receives three nominations, including one for Gary Oldman in the Best Actor category, while Kenneth Branagh is on the list for Best Supporting Actor and Janet McTeer is in the running for Best Supporting Actress.  Harry Potter is up for the same number, but they’re technical awards – Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects and Best Make Up.  After that, there’s a nod for Best Costume for Jane Eyre and that’s our lot.  As for any winners – I have my doubts.

So why the cold shoulder?  It’s very simple.  This year the Academy has chosen to go for the feel-good factor, topped with a good dollop of old-fashioned sentiment.  How else do you explain the Best Picture nomination for Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close?  Maybe it’s an effort to cheer everybody up during an economic downturn.  Whatever the reason, films of a more serious or challenging nature don’t get much of a look-in this year.  C’mon, guys, we’re grown ups …..!!

The front runners for the main awards are so far ahead of the pack that we’re in for a very predictable ceremony, so I’m not going to predict the likely winners of the little gold men.  There’s no point.  The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer all have their names on the trophies for the big six awards.  It would take a braver person than me to predict otherwise.

So where do we look for possible upsets?  Let me dream for a moment of Best Original Screenplay going to J C Chandor for his debut, Margin Call, a tight piece of writing that brilliantly conveys a sense of gathering doom.  OK, fantasy over.  I’m back down to earth now.  It would cause a big – and welcome – upset if he won, but a better bet would be Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, winner of the Writers Guild Award at the weekend. The Best Adapted Screenplay award could go a number of ways.   Moneyball would be a worthy winner, with Aaron Sorkin’s usual brisk dialogue, but it’s more likely to go to Alexander Payne for The Descendants, if only as a consolation prize for missing out on Best Director.

After that, it’s the technical awards and I still anticipate The Artist adding to its collection.  The ceremony won’t even be lightened by an appearance from Uggie: all the rumours, apparently, were untrue.  It seems that the holder of both the Palme Dog and the Golden Collar Award didn’t even receive an invitation, making him yet another top performer to be snubbed by the Academy.

I would love to see a big upset, if only because it’s some time since there’s been one.  We have to go back to 2006 when Crash inexplicably swiped the Best Picture Oscar from under the nose of the favourite – and vastly superior – Brokeback Mountain.  The most recent surprise winner in an acting category was three years before, when comparative newcomer Adrien Brody in The Pianist upstaged Academy favourites Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis – and then did it again by enthusiastically snogging award presenter Halle Berry on stage!

The surprise element this year will be seeing films classed as comedies win big.  Historically, the Academy has looked down its nose at them and, while the most recent one to win Best Film was Shakespeare in Love in 1999, it’s over 30 years since they did really well.  1978, in fact.  The year of Annie Hall, when Woody Allen’s classic took Best Film, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.  And, for good measure, Richard Dreyfuss in another comedy, The Goodbye Girl, was the unexpected winner of Best Actor, beating another much-fancied Richard – Burton.

Since then, it’s been the occasional musical or satire, but mainly war movies, epics, westerns and dramas or thrillers, all serious and often examining serious issues.  That won’t happen this year.

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