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Jordan Zakarin

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Oscar Nominations Ignore a New Generation of Filmmakers and Stars

Posted: 01/24/2012 12:31 pm

I'm going to make an outrageous Oscars prediction, and it has nothing to do with the winners. When the 89th annual Academy Awards air in Feb. 26, the most coveted viewership demographic will be watching anything but the Hollywood awards show.

The membership of Academy of Motion Picture Sciences, the organization that votes for these awards, is far older, whiter, male-dominated and more conservative than the general public. Though undeniable in quality, the top names and films they chose clearly reflect that skew: Hugo, Martin Scorsese's movie about film preservation, paced all nominees with 11 nods, while the likely Best Picture winner and recipient of 10 nominations, The Artist, is a black and white silent film set in the 1920s and stars a largely unknown French cast.

Meanwhile, George Clooney, who will likely win Best Actor, is a true star and charmer, but he's up for The Descendants, in which he plays a beleaguered father, not a charming con-man or any other sort of dynamic character he's played in the past. Meryl Streep, who seems to have Best Actress on lockdown, plays in The Iron Lady an elderly former British prime minister who was the darling of conservatives in the 1980s.

If you're looking for young blood in the nominations list, it's slim pickings. Rooney Mara got a bid for Best Actress, but her edgy film The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was left off a list of nine Best Picture nominees. Instead, the wildly polarizing post-9/11 film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and the family friendly YA adaptation about a British boy and his equine best friend, War Horse, got chosen.

Sparkling films aimed at Millennials and 30-somethings were left completely off the list. No love for Joseph Gordon-Levitt's courageous performance as a young man dealing with the physical, social and philosophical ramifications of a sudden cancer diagnosis. Seth Rogen, one of his generation's biggest stars, co-starred in the film, 50/50, as did Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard; they all put in stellar performances for a brave script based on the experiences of writer Will Reiser, who was shut out of Best Original Screenplay.

The Diablo Cody-written dark comedy about a struggling, alcoholic writer who heads to her hometown to chase old high school dreams, Young Adult, was also left out. Charlize Theron got a golden Globe nomination for her work, but was ignored by the Academy, as was her fantastic co-star Patton Oswalt Was it because she cursed and drank? Bridesmaids got a Best Original Screenplay nom, a supporting actress nod for Melissa McCarthy, but no Best Picture love. Yes, it was about a serious topic, but was Extremely Loud really a better movie?

The year's two breakout actors were also left out. Wildly talented and a human Internet meme, Ryan Gosling received two Golden Globe nominations, and while his part in Crazy, Stupid, Love. of course didn't warrant an Oscar nod, turns in The Ides of March and Drive were certainly contenders. He received a Globe nod for the former, and wildly enthusiastic reviews for the latter. Playing an enigmatic, soft-spoken but hard-living stunt driver, he stunned with a mix of violence and smoldering charm that made the neo-noir Drive one of the year's most-loved films.

The other big breakout actor, Michael Fassbender, was in four movies this year, including Shame, in which he went full frontal nude in a turn as an emotionally distant sex addict. It was a difficult role that earned him a Globe nomination and plenty of buzz -- including a shout out from Clooney while the Descendants star was accepting his trophy -- and it was a shock when he was left out of the field. Was it too risque for the Academy, who went with Gary Oldman and Demián Bichir instead? Oldman, of course, has long deserved an Oscar nomination, but the awards shouldn't -- and this is wishful thinking -- be lifetime achievement recognitions that settle scores for past snubs.

Yes, Jessica Chastain and Jonah Hill were nominated for their supporting roles in The Help and Moneyball, respectively, and while those films were two of the year's best, they also had target audiences that are more likely to have kids who watched Harry Potter, than to have gone to seen that film themselves. Which brings to mind another snub: seven films and not one Best Picture or acting nod for the critically acclaimed, highest earning film franchise of all time? One nod for Alan Rickman for his take on Snape or Daniel Radcliffe for his turn as Potter would have immediately given the awards more relevance and viewers.

This isn't to criticize the people who were nominated -- congrats to them, all of the nods were hard earned and deserved recognition of impressive, important work. But if the Academy wants anyone to actually watch their award show, or care who wins, it better start thinking about making it more relevant for the movie-going public as a whole. No, blockbusters like Transformers should not be nominated, but there are plenty of great films by and starring a new generation that are being ignored in a way that renders the Oscars a niche competition, not the authoritative arbiter of film greatness that the Academy likes to pretend it is.