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And Away We Go

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And Away We Go

Oscar nominations were announced this morning. Post your comments below. Knee-jerk responses:

The nominations I’m happiest about are Amy Adams for best supporting actress in Junebug (though costars Embeth Davidtz and Celia Weston were just as strong in less Supporting Actressy roles); Keira Knightley as best actress for Pride and Prejudice, Terrence Howard (above) for Hustle and Flow, the best adapted screenplay nods for first-timer Dan Futterman’s Capote (telling uncomfortable truths about all journalists) and Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana’s Brokeback Mountain (expected, but still gratifying; the more I think about that film, the more its screenplay seems the chief source of its virtues); and the best director, picture and adapted screenplay nods for Munich, which is so hot to the touch that I half-expected it to get totally snubbed. No Major Category Love for The New World, of course, but who’s surprised?

Paul Giamatti for Cinderella Man was a gimme, and he’ll probably win. But I was still glad he got a nomination, because it’ll ensure he stays sought-after for lead roles in smaller movies. And in the end, that’s what the Oscars are about: not establishing a durable pantheon of notable artistic achievements, but letting the world know who’s hot and who’s not, and correspondingly, who’ll get offers of interesting work during the next five years.

My annual “Whaaa???” reaction goes to Jake Gyllenhaal as best supporting actor for Brokeback Mountain. I liked him least of all the major players in Brokeback, and I understand he was pushed in that category, but really, it’s his movie as much as it’s Heath Ledger’s.

Another headscratcher: on ABC, the official Oscar network, reviewer Joel Siegel offered his predictions mere moments before the actual nominations were announced, and noted that except for the $28 million Walk the Line, all his best picture guesses (which were dead-on, except that one!) had budgets of less than $10 million. “It’s as if major studios have given up on substance and gone to the box office, and it’s the small independent movies that have substance,” he said. He capped his predictions by noting, “Ninety percent of my picks are either first or second time nominees. The torch is being passed to a new generation.”

Where to begin?

The major studios haven’t entirely given up on substance (or a better word, artistry) but to find it, you have to make the effort to look outside the venues where Entertainment Weekly tells you to look (Oscar-baiting, star-packed, good-but-far-from-amazing semi-indies like Good Night, and Good Luck). War of the Worlds is a greater but less glumly earnest movie than Capote (it’s Spielberg’s The Birds). And—huge shock—Siegel’s formulation doesn’t acknowledge foreign film’s virtual shutout from major Oscar categories. Most of the best movies I see in any given year (including 2005’s The Weeping Meadow, 2046 and Tony Takitani) tend not to get the time of day from the Academy because they’re foreign, too small, too odd, or dogged by funding and/or timing issues.

And I’m all for torch-passing, but only if the person to whom the torch is being passed has been chosen because he or she is great, as opposed to just fresh.

But I can’t get too incensed on this particular point because I don’t want to give the Oscars too much credence. Look over the Academy’s history and you’ll see that in major nominations for any given years, it’s usually been more wrong (or neglectful) than right. The Oscars’ main functions are to sell movie tickets, reshuffle the Hollywood pecking order and give people like me one more thing to talk about between now and March.

Matt Zoller Seitz is the founder of The House Next Door.