2012’s Oscar nominations: the snubbing of Drive, and the cementing of the usual formula

This year's Oscar nominees, inevitably, caused much grumbling. But has the Academy picked its weakest line up of Best Picture nominees in years? Analysis here...

Drive

In much the same way that the Eurovision Song Contest is no barometer of the musical talents of Europe, once again, the Oscar nominations have proven an unreliable indicator of what’s strong and what isn’t in the world of films. Just look at this year’s nominations for proof.

What’s disappointing, though, is that, even after all these years, the same tricks clearly work. Even though article after article has been written on the overt tactics used to snag Oscar nominations, undeserving films still get put forward for what remains, also undeservedly, the top prize in film.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, for instance, is a film that’s clear Oscar bait. Does anyone really think that it’s a better all-round film than the scandalously snubbed Drive? Well, yes. Lots of people, clearly, and they all have access to an Academy ballot form. Drive’s omission from the Best Picture line-up is staggering (although, sigh, entirely predictable, given its moments of violence), though, and already, Twitter is wondering just what happened to the likes of Shame and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. And Senna, which, along with Shame, was snubbed altogether.

The answer? They didn’t fit the long-established formula. And we all know it.

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Steven Spielberg knows the game, and that’s why his War Horse was pretty much a shoo-in from the moment it was announced. The Help was always a fair bet. And thus we find ourselves in the annual round of criticising films, mainly because they’ve been given exposure and credit they don’t really deserve.

Remember Tom Hooper, the Oscar-winning director of The King’s Speech? He got criticised last year, unfairly, because a bunch of people with ballot papers and pencils thought he did a better job than David Fincher. Any real film fan could tell you otherwise, but that’s hardly Hooper’s fault.

Often, it seems, we turn our ire on the films receiving award attention, rather than on those bestowing the gongs in the first place. Based on some of the nominees, I wouldn’t let some Academy voters hold the remote to my TV, yet alone vote in awards that can make tens of millions of dollars of difference to a film’s bottom line.

Because, let’s face it, in many areas, those people bestowing have not had a good year.

The best picture line-up, arguably, is as weak as it’s been for years, all the more surprising given the number of strong candidates out there. Tyrannosaur, Drive, Shame, Young Adult, We Need To Talk About Kevin and Tinker Tailor head a list of films snubbed, but then it’s good to see recognition for The Artist, The Descendants, Moneyball (did you ever think you’d see Jonah Hill with an Oscar nomination, our of interest?) and Midnight In Paris. The Tree Of Life is inevitably a bit more divisive, but I’d happily take it over some of the more traditional nominees.

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It’s not just the best picture category this year where the Oscar nominations have strayed further away from reason than usual. Whatever you think of Shame, Michael Fassbender’s extraordinary performance surely at least warranted a nomination. Did he get snubbed because he had an erection or something?

Likewise, Brendon Gleeson, for The Guard, warranted a shout (he did have pants on, after all), and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50 must have run it close. In best actress, Charlize Theron is a glaring omission for Young Adult, too. I’m happy that Gary Oldman and Rooney Mara got due recognition, though.

The Hugo love is a bit strange. Leading the nominations with eleven, Hugo is a movie with its fair share of admirers, certainly, but that many? I’d not be in the least bit surprised to see it fail to walk away with a single statue. Personally, I’d not be grumbling about that either.

The best animated feature category, meanwhile, sees fit to reward something like the middling, safe, and unspectacular Puss In Boots, rather than Arthur Christmas. That’s bizarre. Disney’s Winnie The Pooh, even, would have been a better film to fill in the numbers. At least, with Tintin not put forward, Rango has a chance at the prize, although the strength of Chico And Rita is a far worthier opponent. No Pixar film this year, either. Rightly so, too.

Still, it’s the usual argument. Film taste is subjective, and the Oscars are the gongs that went to Titanic over L.A. Confidential, Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas, and so on.

And let’s be honest: a piece about the bizarre choices of the Oscars could and should be scheduled each and every year, and you can only hope that common sense prevails when the prizes themselves come to be given out. For all the furore, there are still a lot of solid nominations here, and The Artist, The Descendants and Midnight In Paris all deserve, to varying degrees, a good night.

If, however, come the end of Oscar night, the trophy cabinet for Hugo, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and War Horse is bulging, then you can be safe in the knowledge that the usual rules still apply.

Either way, any true film fan is all too aware that the Oscars are never a reliable indicator of what’s best. They’re more a cross section of what happens to be at least quite good, and what happens to be popular. 2012’s nominees? They’ve adhered firmly to that formula. Words can’t describe, for me, just what a ridiculous snub the omission of Drive is in a contest that proclaims it’s rewarding the ‘best’ (not favourite) film, but it’s not the first to be overlooked, and it won’t be the last.

Same time next year, then?