It stinks that The Dark Knight got snubbed in the major categories and it stinks that The Reader seems to have exemplified the worst of the Academy's tastes (it's badly reviewed and barely seen by audiences... oh, but it's a Harvey Weinstein production about Nazis and The Holocaust!!). It stinks that the long overdue Kate Winslet will likely win Best Actress for a supporting role that allegedly ranks as one of her lesser performances. It stinks that Bruce Springsteen didn't get a Best Song nomination in a category that only has three entries this year.
Wall-E made 162 ten-best lists on the official Movie City News scoreboard.
The Dark Knight made 134 lists.
The Reader made 22.
This isn't just about The Dark Knight getting snubbed, or Wall-E getting denied. This is about a series of inexplicable and/or artistically indefensible calls that, on one hand is a cry of refusal to acknowledge that mainstream cinema can be art, while on the other hand engaging in the kind of apparent 'star-fucking' that is usually attributed to the Golden Globes.
To wit -- The Academy has passed over The Dark Knight and/or Wall-E, films that 94% and 97% of the nations critics at least really liked, over The Reader, a film that few have seen and that has amassed a barely-fresh 60% on Rotten Tomatoes (for comparison, Snakes On A Plane currently sits at 70%).
Once again, nearly all of the major nominees came from official 'Oscar bait' films; films that were held until the very end of the year, often screened at the last minute so that the quality of said film wouldn't cancel out the hype. We wonder year after year why so many studio releases are pitched to the lowest-common denominator, and then we watch as every allegedly high quality film that the studios dare to make all come out in the same 60 day period. In snubbing The Dark Knight and Wall-E, the Academy seems to be saying A) don't bother with quality genre pictures, because we're just going to ignore them and B) don't bother releasing good films before November, because we have no long term memory and we'll forget them.
On the other hand, the Academy made sure to nominate Angelina Jolie for The Changeling (instead of Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky) and Brad Pitt for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button; performances that were neither acclaimed nor particularly challenging (to be fair, Jolie and Pitt were much better in such films as A Mighty Heart and Burn After Reading). Why do I get the feeling that they would have nominated Jennifer Aniston as Best Actress for Marley & Me if they could have found a way to justify it?
As for Bruce Springsteen's shocking omission from the Best Original Song category (for The Wrestler), it may have fallen prey to the rule concerning original songs (no songs that are just over the end credits). I don't recall exactly how the song plays out at the end of The Wrestler, but maybe they should have done what Pixar did, and have some kind of story being told during the end credits like in Wall-E (Thomas Newman and Peter Gabriel's catchy 'Down To Earth' was nominated).
I could go on and on about the dumb calls that were made (Bolt over Waltz With Bashir in the Best Animated Film category), but I'm well aware that it's merely an exercise in futility and simply a case of substituting my own judgment for the Academy.
I could discuss my unease with Robert Downey Jr. getting an Oscar nomination for a gimmick rather than a sterling lead role in a popcorn entertainment. I didn't even like Iron Man, but he single-handedly convinced the world that a merely 'ok' movie was a truly great one. But I'll give the Academy the benefit of the doubt and hope that they nominated the performance that Downey Jr. gave in Tropic Thunder as method actor Kirk Lazarus (however overrated it was) rather than nominating the concept of a white actor playing a black guy. I'll concede my possible oversensitivity and let it pass. But I will certainly wonder out loud why Danny Boyle was the sole-nominated director for Slumdog Millionaire when it was in fact co-directed by Loveleen Tandan.
But, in the end, aside from the fact that Oscar nominations matter little in the grand scheme of things, I can take comfort in the calls that the MPAA got right. They nominated Richard Jenkins for The Visitor. They nominated Viola Davis for Doubt (her one scene is one of the best scenes in any movie of 2008). They didn't just nominate Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn, but also their equally good costars, Marisa Tomei and Josh Brolin (proving that they actually watched The Wrestler and Milk). The original screenplay category has a few outside the box choices (Happy Go Lucky, Wall-E, Frozen River).
And, of course, I can take pleasure that, as of this moment, Melissa Leo is now an Academy Award-nominated actress. Yes, ladies and gents, Melissa Leo, Sgt Kay Howard, who has struggled to find decent roles in ten years since she was booted off of Homicide: Life On The Street for not being pretty enough and for the bad press drummed up by her stalker ex boyfriend John Heard (the unequivocal 'jump the shark' moment for that beloved show)... she now has an Oscar nomination. So, if I may take a moment to extend a token and long overdue middle finger to NBC and John Heard respectively, Melissa Leo will now and forever more be labeled as 'Academy Award nominee'.
Follow Scott Mendelson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ScottMendelson