Snobbery robbery and rubbery snubbery

Wednesday, 1 February 2006 — 11:45pm | Film, Oscars

I have a few remarks to make about this year’s Oscar nominations.

First off, all the number-crunchers out there lambasting 2005 as a slump year couldn’t be more wrong. This year’s nomination field for Best Picture is, overall, the strongest and most balanced I’ve seen for quite some time. The one of the five I have not seen is Crash, which everybody keeps saying is Paul Haggis’ directorial debut for some reason when his real debut, the quite excellent (and very obscure) Canadian production Red Hot, was a full thirteen years ago. I can’t comment on that one, but I was very impressed with the other four. The big story is that the five contenders are all serious, intelligent dramatic films and, to varying extents, independent productions.

Now, at this point, Brokeback Mountain is practically guaranteed to take home the top prize based on other awards events and the all-important guilds, though my personal pick remains Munich. But all four of the five that I sat through are films of such a high calibre that they’d make a serious and deserving bid for the win in almost any other year. And beyond that, it still feels like some of the best movies I saw this year are not on the shortlist, though I have no idea what they would replace. Among them are King Kong, The Constant Gardener, Wallace & Gromit, and maybe A History of Violence, which is growing on me the more I think about it. Make no mistake: 2005 was a very good year. That is, unless your film was computer animated. We’ll get to that.

The single most atrocious absence is Revenge of the Sith in the Visual Effects category. Narnia? Are you kidding? The awards establishment has been progressively (or rather, regressively) less kind to the Star Wars saga over the years, but I never thought it would go quite this far. Now, I think this is King Kong‘s award to win, but to ignore Episode III completely is just bizarre.

For the second year running, my favourite musical score of the year was ignored. Last year it was Michael Giacchino’s work on The Incredibles. This year, it’s James Newton Howard for King Kong. That isn’t to say I don’t admire the music in the five films that were nominated for the award. The piano cues in Pride & Prejudice were arguably the prettiest thing about a very pretty film, Brokeback Mountain sports one of the better scores in its style not written and played by Clint Eastwood, and The Constant Gardener felt very complete as a production in part thanks to its underscore. Munich was tense with percussion and Geisha was lush with exotic colour, but neither of them strike me as that magical sixth win for John Williams alongside Fiddler on the Roof (adapted), Jaws, Star Wars, E.T. and Schindler’s List. In fact, they don’t come even close. Williams has lost with much better scores in much weaker years.

The point remains that while I wonder how things would have turned out had Howard Shore stayed aboard King Kong or James Newton Howard been hired from the get-go, the end product was great film music in the footsteps of a grand tradition that began with the likes of Max Steiner (whose music to the original King Kong is incorporated into the Jackson film’s “Eighth Wonder of the World” sequence). Corpse Bride, one of the high points of that vintage Danny Elfman sound, is also conspicuously missing. So is Revenge of the Sith, but it looks like John Williams already has his hands full of accolades.

The Original Song award has not had any legitimate reason to exist in at least a decade. This year, it did, thanks to Corpse Bride and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – both of which were left out. It’s seriously high time to scrap this junk filler category if significant in-film showtunes are going to go completely unrecognized.

I’m very pleased to see that the Animated Feature award is earning its keep. All three of this year’s nominees are movies I would buy on DVD and treasure over and over again. I suspected CG would get snubbed entirely, though I wasn’t sure Howl’s Moving Castle was high-profile enough to take the third slot over actual (albeit limited) moneymakers like Madagascar, Robots and Chicken Little. But to my relief, it was; and when awards recognize films that are worth awarding, nobody gets hurt.

Speaking of animation, this is another year where like Boundin’ and Geri’s Game, a Pixar short is cruising to the Oscars before being released to the general public. The one in question is One Man Band, which I assume will be playing in front of Cars. Will it win? I don’t know – I haven’t seen it.

And as for Supporting Actor, it’s about time they nominated Paul Giamatti for something. He should have made the cut last year for Sideways, and he should have won the damned thing for American Splendor. It appears that boxing movies make for compelling sidemen.

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