For what is supposedly the most prestigious and authoritative celebration of cinematic excellence on the planet, the frequency with which the Oscars gets it wrong is startling and not a little depressing. This isn’t exactly a new problem – in 1942, How Green Was My Valley beat Citizen Kane for Best Picture, while in his long and brilliant career, Hitchcock never won Best Director (though the Academy subsequently realised their mistake and attempted to cover their tracks with a conciliatory memorial award in 1967) – yet it still persists to this day. In 1995, Oscar deemed Forrest Gump to be superior to both Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption while in 2006 the heavy-handed Crash was favoured over the braver and subtler Brokeback Mountain. Indeed, while smaller ceremonies such as the BAFTAs are far more discerning in their decisions – as seen in the recent sweeping victory of The Hurt Locker over Avatar [working title: Smurfahontas] – it’s a rare thing indeed for the Academy to get it right, with last year’s victory of Slumdog Millionaire being an unexpected and extremely welcome surprise. Yet although the nominations this year haven’t been too disastrous, there were some gaping and unforgivable omissions from the shortlists. Some of the best of 2009 were forgotten by the Academy, so this is a chance to sit the Oscars in the chair, clamp open its eyelids and force it to acknowledge its mistakes. Preferably to Beethoven’s Ninth.
One of the finest British comedies of the decade, In The Loop, was rightly nominated for its screenplay, but it was Peter Capaldi’s blistering and surprisingly heartfelt performance which was the film’s sweary centrepiece. His absence from the Best Supporting Actor category is conspicuous and worrying, “like a big hairy rapist at a coach station,” to quote the man himself.
On a purely aesthetic level, the cinematography of the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s supposedly unfilmable novel The Road were astounding, as it brilliantly and beautifully evoked a slowly dying world. But the film also showcased two heart-wrenching performances courtesy of Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the Man and Boy respectively. The film owes much of its success to these two actors, yet the Academy has ignored both.
While the merits of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll can be debated, what cannot is the powerhouse performance of Andy Serkis as the late, great Ian Dury. Perhaps the CGI ghosts of Gollum and King Kong still haunt him, but whatever the reason, he was denied a deserved Oscar nod.
Staying with acting, Moon is a film that succeeds or fails with the central actor’s performance, and fortunately Sam Rockwell knocks it out of the park in a part written specifically for him. His portrayal of the lonely Sam Bell is fragile and affecting, and so, predictably, he was denied a nomination. Indeed, the film itself has been entirely ignored by the Academy, despite being a superior sci-fi to District 9, which received a somewhat bizarre Best Picture nom. Fortunately, its director, Duncan Jones, was given due recognition at the BAFTAs, yet this ingenious little film deserves so much more.
This selection barely breaks the surface of the under-appreciated films of 2009, yet the Academy seems insistent to keep its mainstream blinkers firmly on. It might be the biggest event in the film calendar, but it seems that as an arbitrator of excellence, this ungainly leviathan cannot be trusted. Not one little bit.