The Long Shot: A salute to the non-contenders
Right, 'tis the night before Oscar Nomination Day, and plenty of creatures are still stirring. Many pundits are still feverishly tweaking their prediction lists, cross-referencing precursor lists and previous years' editions for clues, but like my HitFix colleagues, I've let mine go. These, for better or (probably) worse, are my final guesses -- some pragmatic, some playful -- and I don't much feel like shuffling them any further.
Nor, really, do I feel like talking about them much further. I could use this column to explain the method (minimal) behind my eight-nominee Best Picture lineup or the madness (maximal) behind predicting a Best Original Song nod for "The Sambola!," but any such rationalizations reach their sell-by date in just a few hours' time. I could look ahead to the next stage of the race, and the contenders likeliest to win it, but thanks to the Academy's reconfigured calendar, we still have over six weeks left in which to exhaust that topic. (Thank heavens we have some festivals in the interim to break up the conversation.)
Rather, in the vague spirit of this column's title, I'd prefer to use this Nomination Eve edition to raise a glass to the worthy films and individuals that won't be receiving the blessed phone call bright and early tomorrow morning. Except I don't mean the lovable million-to-one shots and on-the-bubble underdogs for which we only need cross our fingers a few hours longer before the Academy, in all probability, shatters their dreams (and ours).
I'm referring to the ones that are already, officially, out of the running. I may know as well as you do that Anna Kendrick isn't going to nab a Best Actress nod for "Pitch Perfect," and that my #6 film of the year, "Sister," has no propects beyond a Best Foreign Language Film nomination it'll do well to get. But at least they're on the formal list of possibilities -- which is to say, the list of 282 titles deemed eligible for main-category consideration in this year's Academy Awards. And that's more than can be said for a number of 2012's best theatrical releases.
If I were a member of the Academy's cinematographers' branch, for example, I wouldn't have any hesitation in jotting down Robbie Ryan's name at the top of my ballot, for his breathtaking visual sorcery on the Yorkshire moors in Andrea Arnold's imposing redesign of "Wuthering Heights." But wait a minute, I wouldn't be able to -- despite a limited but legitimate release in the autumn, the Oscilloscope property hasn't jumped through the administrative hoops required to secure a place on the longlist of hopefuls.
Arnold's film is in good company on the bleachers. Shattering Australian true-crime drama "The Snowtown Murders," whose non-pro discovery Louise Harris would probably win my personal Best Supporting Actress award for 2012, can't be nominated either. Ditto a host of outstanding foreign-language features, from my own top film of 2012, "Tabu," through to "Miss Bala," "Elena" and Cannes-crowned critics' favorites "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" and "The Kid With a Bike."
It's not just acclaimed independent fare from outside North America that is out of the race (or, if you prefer, was never in the race to begin with). "Sound of My Voice," which recently netted two major Independent Spirit nods, isn't on the list; neither are "Gayby," "The Color Wheel" or "Hello I Must Be Going," with its roundly praised lead turn by Melanie Lynskey.
Perhaps the most prominent absentee from the list is David Cronenberg's star-studded Cannes title "Cosmopolis," which has landed on several major year-end critics' lists; I probably wouldn't go so far as to vote for the calculatedly blank Robert Pattinson as Best Actor, but it'd be nice to have the option. (Cronenberg, who recently spoke of his disregard for awards season, is unlikely to be bothered.)
Any stray R.Pattz fans in the Academy may be crushed to learn that they can't vote for "Bel Ami" either -- if nothing else, the film boasted the year's most baitily corset-astic costumes until "Anna Karenina" flounced along.They can take comfort -- as can fans of all the aforementioned ineligibles -- in knowing that they're free to vote for "The Twight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2" in all categories. Or "That's My Boy," for that matter.
None of this is especially anyone's fault: the Academy has defined eligibility criteria, and it just so happens that the necessities of independent and arthouse distribution don't always abide my them: some of these films may not have played the required Los Angeles theatrical run, or may have disqualified themselves with a prior release in a non-theatrical format, or may simply not have been entered in the first place. Granted, almost all these titles would likely be ignored by voters even if they were eligible.
Either way, I'm pointing this out not to chide the Oscars, but to remind observers that these awards -- or indeed any others -- can't factor in everything that's going on in the bustling US and world cinema scenes. It'd help, of course, if the Academy would venture a little further even within their practical boundaries -- which is why the prospect of top nominations tomorrow for a foreign film like "Amour" (or even, much as I personally dislike the film, "The Intouchables") would be encouraging news.
As models of film production and distribution continue to expand beyond old-school theatrical formats, and as globalization muddies the definitions of Hollywood and mainstream cinema, the Oscars in their present shape may seem an increasingly antiquated institution, but it wouldn't be the worst thing if audiences came to recognize that even the shiniest film awards are far from all-encompassing -- and that 282 films make for a mere drop in the ocean of the global film industry.
On the next page, then, you'll find my ideal-world Oscar ballot, including many films not eligible for recognition tomorrow morning -- though all of them were US theatrical releases in 2012. (Consider this a truncated version of my annual two-part My Dream Ballot feature -- as much as I'd have liked to stick to the old format, time simply ran out.) Take a look, and share your own thoughts and favorites -- on or off the eligibility list -- below. See you bright and early tomorrow.