Oscar nominations’ theme in 2012? Nostalgia.
By Monica Hesse,
A moment of silence — oh, fine, a whole movie of silence — for “The Artist,” a near-wordless film (A wordless French film! A wordless black-and-white French film!) that took 10 nominations at Tuesday’s Academy Awards announcement, becoming the first silent film in 83 years to win a best picture nomination. Nods also went to Jean Dujardin for his performance in a leading role, Berenice Bejo for supporting actress and Michel Hazanavicius for directing. Fear not. Google helps you pronounce. Ah-za-na-Veeee-syoos.
Does this mean that we’re going nostalgic, going Frenchified? Does it mean that the voters of the academy long for jazzy music and leggy chorus girls (“The Artist” is about a 1920s movie star preparing for the rise of the talkie)? Does this mean that America does not want an app for that?
If there was a theme in Tuesday’s nominations, it was a fondness for old Hollywood and for comfy, familiar faces. The only picture to take more nominations than “The Artist” was “Hugo,” Martin Scorsese’s tale of an orphan living in a 1930s Paris railway station who finds comfort at the movies (now there’s a sweet box office message). With 11 nominations, including best picture, “Hugo” made appearances in many of the technical fields as well as earning Scorsese his seventh directing nomination. “Deeply honored,” Scorsese said in a statement. “Every film is a challenge, and this one — where I was working with 3D, HD and Sacha Baron Cohen for the first time — was no exception.”
“Hugo” did not, however, receive any nominations in the performance categories.
Who did? Why, a whole high school yearbook-full of your old friends. Meryl Streep was there, hoovering up her 17th performance nomination for her steely channeling of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” George Clooney swept up his third leading actor nomination in four years for his role as a cuckolded soon-to-be widower in “The Descendants,” also on the best picture list.
The leading actress nominations were rounded out by Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe (“My Week With Marilyn”), Glenn Close as a woman playing a man (“Albert Nobbs”), Viola Davis as a strong Southern maid (“The Help”) and Rooney Mara as a pierced and piercing girl with a dragon tattoo. In addition to Clooney and Dujardin, the other leading actor nominees were Brad Pitt for “Moneyball,” Demian Bichir for “A Better Life” — a bilingual father-son drama — and Gary Oldman for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”
Gary! Can this really be your first Oscar nomination? We’ve so enjoyed watching you flounce around with a wand in Harry Potter and with a mustache in Batman, but it will be nice to see you in a tuxedo again, properly decked out and ducking down a red carpet.
Many actors this year will be engaging in the ritual de-mothballing of the tuxedos. Take the supporting actor corps, a grizzled brigade of I-know-you’s from yesteryear. “Sleep is too precious at 70,” Nick Nolte said, explaining why he’d learned of his nod for “Warrior” from his publicist, rather than waking up for the 5:30 a.m. announcement. He sounded all hoarse and phlegmy and delightfully Nolte-ish. “I’ve known all those other guys for a long time.”
Those other guys included Kenneth Branagh, scoring his first acting nomination in 22 years for his role in “My Week With Marilyn”; Max von Sydow (“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”), gaining his first in 24 years; and Christopher Plummer — the “It” Canadian grandpop of the moment — receiving a nod for “Beginners,” in which his character belatedly comes out of the closet.
Memo to Jonah Hill: You are the only pseudo-beginner to be nominated in the supporting category, for “Moneyball.” Please report to Nolte and Branagh for instructions. Additionally, please arrange to be seated next to equally hilarious supporting actress nominee Melissa McCarthy. Critics loved her in “Bridesmaids.” Maybe Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer — both from “The Help,” both also nominated — will split the vote and pave McCarthy’s way.
What else? After decades of nominating a standard five films for best picture, the academy bumped the number up to 10 two years ago. This year, it was pared back to nine, which seems a much more intentional number. Restrained. Choosy. Maybe not choosy enough. “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” has only a 48 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes; many critics found the Sept. 11 picture extremely cloying and incredibly wrong. Surely, if they included “Close,” then the academy could have rearranged the branches on “The Tree of Life” and found some room for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” — the last chance for the now grown-up wizard kids? And on the subject of numbers: Most curious that only two songs (from “Rio” and “The Muppets”) are up for best original song. Maybe Elton John wouldn’t have wanted to perform his “Gnomeo and Juliet” power ballad anyway. He hosts his own Oscars party every year — he’ll probably be putting fresh hand towels in the guest bath.
But so it goes. Who doesn’t love grumbling about the snubs? Michael Fassbender’s naked tush will have no seat in the Kodak Theatre. Tilda Swinton? We Need to Talk About how “Kevin” got nary a mention. Even Ryan Gosling’s army of weeping 20-somethings was not enough to get him a nod for “Drive.” Or “Ides of March.” Or “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” This year’s Oscars will be Gosling-free.
Plenty to choose from, though. Plenty of people happy to be there. The nominees have begun campaigns of coherence and humility. A tag cloud of their reaction statements:
Honored: Hazanavicius is honored; so are Davis, Branagh, Streep, Spencer and “The Artist’s” production and set designers.
Grateful: Williams is grateful; so is Plummer; as is “Tree of Life” producer Dede Gardner.
Thrilled: Bejo is thrilled; so are “Hugo” composer Howard Shore, “The Descendants” editor Kevin Tent and Steven Spielberg, director of best picture nominee “War Horse.”
Dumbfounded: Von Sydow is dumbfounded. He is dumbfounded in a lovely, handwritten note, made into an attachment and e-mailed over by his publicist.
Also dumbfounded: Annie Mumolo, who shared a nomination with Kristen Wiig for her original screenplay for “Bridesmaids.” Mumolo didn’t use that word so much as she exemplified it. A first-time nominee whose raunchy comedy is very new Hollywood, Mumolo was so unprepared for her nomination that the only plans she’d made for the day involved household chores. “We have a leak in our bathroom window, so we have somebody coming to fix” that, she said.
It’s always about the bathroom humor with those “Bridesmaids” ladies.
Staff writers Amy Argetsinger and Jen Chaney contributed to this report.