Simonson Says: 2012's Oscar snubs

The Academy released the 2012 Oscar nominations this week, and they’re mostly par for the course, with at least two notable surprises.

To be clear, though I am obsessed with movies, I don’t know that I’m a fan of Sir Oscar. Sure, I’m as intrigued as the next sucker for talky, super-serious films to see the flicks that sweep the Oscars, especially the ones that nab awards for their actors, but the Academy’s final decisions seem to get more predictable, gimmicky and biased every year. It really doesn’t say much about the Academy that I haven’t seen most of this year’s nominated films and still feel like I could take a pretty good guess at the winners. Whether I’m right or not isn’t the point so much as the fact that I feel like I’ve already seen this year’s ceremony.

Despite the overall predictability of this year’s nominations, there were some snubs that generated cries of dismay all over the world (and by that I mean the Internet). Glenn Close, Michelle Williams, Viola Davis and the eternally nominated Meryl Streep were all shoo-ins for the Best Actress nomination before their movies even came out, but there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the exclusion of usual Oscar darling Tilda Swinton in favor of relative newcomer Rooney Mara. And believe you me — some people were honestly positive that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 would be nominated for Best Picture.

In all the Oscar prediction posts and polls, Mara was more of a dark horse. The other five women in question are all previous winners or nominees, and reactions to the underdue American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo have been ambivalent. I personally haven’t seen it, but I have seen Swinton’s turn in We Need to Talk About Kevin. I’m a fan of the astoundingly written book on which it’s based, but I’m not that bitter about Swinton. Her turn in it as the helpless mother of a killer-in-waiting was heartbreaking and human, to be sure, but I’m not that passionate about it, and it was probably too subtle for the Academy. It didn’t hit on enough hot-button issues or cultural icons, Tilda.

But Mara’s dissenters can rest easy with the knowledge that she won’t win anyway. Of the nominated actresses, the only one whose performance I’ve seen is Davis in The Help. And I would love for her to win, but I can’t judge her against performances I haven’t seen, and the competition is steep. Can you believe Glenn Close has never actually won an Oscar? We all just assume she won for Fatal Attraction or, you know, something at some point, but she’s never won. And despite it being a running joke that Meryl Streep can’t order a pizza without getting nominated for an Oscar, she hasn’t actually won since 1982. With all her Oscar cred and legendary talent, people reason, it’s about time she actually won again. The consensus is that she’s jaw-dropping as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, but the film itself is dismal. Theoretically, the quality of the film shouldn’t affect the perception of her performance, but it might for the Academy. They tend to award films in spades, heaping the praise on the movies it’s considered good taste to like, and Streep certainly isn’t lacking in recognition, so I wouldn’t say she’s got it in the bag.

Actually, Williams will probably get it. As has been observed, the Academy is more eager to reward pretty young actresses in their first tour de force role than the old standbys, in contrast with their approach to the Best Actor award. I hear Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn Monroe is excellent, so I wouldn’t begrudge her for it, but then, she too could be hurt by lukewarm reception for the film itself.

The other big snub of this year was Harry Potter. Many devotees and casual viewers alike felt sure the Academy would overcome their bias against genre blockbusters to recognize 10 years of decent Harry Potter movies, especially considering the final film scored a 96 percent positive rating on critical consensus site Rotten Tomatoes, a score that equals or surpasses all of the actual nominees except this year’s favorite, The Artist (97 percent). Hugo, another big-budget film based on a popular young-adult book, was nominated, but it had the advantage of being directed by Martin Scorsese, another (deserving) teacher’s pet.

Speaking as a fanatical Harry Potter fan, though, I’m neither surprised nor bitter. Those movies always suffered from confusion regarding how to translate the source material to their best artistic advantage, and the last film was impressive but no exception. It takes a Return of the King to get the Academy to overcome their genre prejudices, and Return of the King it ain’t. (Poor Neville, your big speech was some of the worst writing to come out of this series, even compared to Ron’s and Hermione’s usual dialogue.)

I have my beefs with the Academy (Shakespeare in Love was not a masterpiece, you pretentious sheep), but these headline-making snubs are not among them. Rest easy and enjoy the show, or, better yet, just read up on the winners the next day.