There’s always something to grouse about with the Oscars when it comes to who didn’t get nominated. Somehow the performances and behind-the-scenes work that we may have loved a month ago in the theater don’t quite seem award-worthy once they’re officially dubbed nominees. Then again, sometimes the people who seem to make every awards show the same every year, can dumbfound you for the good.

A hint of the scatological in the supporting categories

I’m the first one to say Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer each strongly deserved their nominations in Bridesmaids and The Help, respectively. But, that doesn’t mean, I’m still not a little pleasantly perplexed about them getting so much attention for Best Supporting Actress. A high class event like the Academy Awards demands a certain amount of fastidiousness, and more than a few worthy movies have been overlooked in the past for being too low-brow. Yet, somehow, both of them have overcome the usual prejudice about bathroom humor. In this case, the phrase is absolutely literal. A bout with food poisoning was one of the highlights of the comedy hit of the summer, but the image of McCarthy shitting in a sink is one none of us will ever be able to forget.

As for Spencer, three little words about a very special serving of pie instantly brought guilty grins to our faces, and made us feel sorry for Bryce Dallas Howard’s Hilly being on the receiving end of that exchange. It’s not just lewd moments in the particular movie that can ruin the chances for awards. Remember a few years back, when a horny teenager regaled his best friend about his unexplainable desire at a young age to draw thousands upon thousands of illustrations of penises? The screenplay from Superbad certainly wasn’t going to take home any laurels, but its star now finds himself in the running for one of Hollywood’s biggest honors. After plenty of movies that involved him playing a man-child with a filthy mouth, Jonah Hill turns a new page on his career with his nomination as the Brad Pitt’s math-minded assistant in Moneyball, who helps turn the sport of baseball upside down via statistical strategies. If Jamie Foxx can move on from Booty Call to Ray, there must be hope for everybody…

Just glad they made it

Sometimes the films up for the big awards like Best Picture don’t have many additional nominations among the categories. That’s hardly an issue this year, with many films like Hugo, The Descendants and The Artist, dominating across the board in acting, writing, music and more. Despite all the praise heaped on David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, — with which I must admit, I did not concur — the recognition from the Academy mostly came in the form of nominations in cinematography and sound editing and mixing. The biggest thumbs up at least went to the person who deserved it most: Rooney Mara, for her utter immersion into the role of cyber geek Lisbeth Salander. Giving one of the few performances this year that simply can’t be overhyped, she stands out from the rest of the women of the Best Actress set for more reasons than the obviousness of her bleached and pierced eyebrows, and the fact that she’s the first goth girl character to crack the category and will likely be the only one in history.

Alternately, the big shocker of the Best Actor race is Demián Bichir, as the struggling illegal immigrant father of A Better Life. The excellent film that saw little audience attention during its theatrical run didn’t manage to scrape up any other nominations, but even so, Bichir’s flawless showing makes him a contender against some much more famous names representing movies that have cast their nets over more nominations.

Write on!

There are hardly any surprises to be found among the Best Adapted Screenplay candidates, except maybe The Ides of March, the retooling of the political play “Farragut North” by George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon. The five slots for Original Screenplay are more often the ones that get some oddballs, and this year is more varied than most in recent memory.

Where to start? As long as we’re talking about features loosely based on true events, let’s mention the movie that Stephen King said was what Ides should have been. Margin Call, the detailing of the harbinger of doom leading up to the 2008 economic crisis, got much less attention than Clooney’s film but deserved just as much, if not more, with scribe J.C. Chandon showing us stock market rats deserting a sinking ship with no regard for the rest of the nation.

Moving away from the USA, the Foreign Language Film nominees don’t crack the Screenplay categories that often. Nevertheless, the Iranian drama A Separation walked away with a well merited pat on the back for Asghar Farhadi. On the lighter side, Saturday Night Live star Kristen Wiig and writing partner Annie Mumolo brought us plenty of laughs with the blend of sweet and crude in the Bridesmaids script, but its nomination still came out of left field. Many people may have been rooting for The Hangover — the first, not the sequel — to take such an honor, but the female version of what happens leading up to a wedding is far superior.

Old pros back on top

With 20-some nominations spanning the course of his career, it’s no big whoop that Woody Allen’s script for Midnight in Paris got a gold star for the story of a writer living out his fantasy of seeing the City of Lights in the Roaring Twenties, even if it is the first one Allen’s received since 2005’s Match Point. More impressive is his first Best Director nom since 1994’s Bullets Over Broadway, and, going even further back, the first of his movies to achieve Best Picture status since 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters. Maybe he’ll actually show up at the ceremony this year…

Also heading back to the familiar territory of Best Director/Best Picture is Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life. 1998’s The Thin Red Line marked his return to movies after a 20-year absence, but Tree feels much more like a heralding of a master back to work. Experimental to say the least, the leisurely paced film about the origins of the universe and everything in it may be imperfect, but honoring the weird, flawed movies is just as crucial as handing out awards to the mainstream favorites. Isn’t that kind of the point of the Oscars? Anyway, the next time you read something from me, it’ll be my picks for the likely winners, or to be more politically correct — my picks for whom “the Oscar goes to.”

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