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Oscars: Don’t be an R-rated film if you want to be nominated

By Scott Mendelson

For a list of the complete nominations, go HERE. As always, click on the movies with links for the original theatrical review. I write a lot about the inexplicable trend of how the various year-end awards groups only consider ‘appropriate’ movies to be considered awards-material. There is and always has been a certain disdain for populist entertainment, a trend that’s only gotten worse as the independent film movement exploded in the early 1990s and the year-end Oscar bait-calender got more jam-packed over the last five weeks of the year. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II may have received almost unanimously rave reviews (96% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), but it doesn’t count because it was a big-budget fantasy drama that is considered ‘popular’ entertainment. Bridesmaids may have been one of the most successful R-rated comedies of recent years, a well-reviewed (90% on Rotten Tomatoes) comedy that may have been a game-changer in terms of how mass-market female-driven entertainments are viewed in terms of their commercial potential. But no, it’s not a character-driven dramedy that’s one of the best films of the year, it’s just that ‘women shit in a sink’ movie, so it’s not worthy. But a drama with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock that’s gasp… about 9/11?! That’s EXACTLY the kind of film that is supposed to be among the year’s best, right? And so it is that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a film with a 48% positive ranking on Rotten Tomatoes and a 46% score on Metacritic is now considering by the Academy to be one of the nine best films of the year.

Other than that insane nomination, today’s Oscar nominations were a generally inoffensive bunch (I kinda hate Midnight In Paris, but it’s a mid-summer release that plenty of people absolutely love). The most surprising and egregious omissions were in the Original Screenplay category, where 50/50, Young Adult, and Win/Win didn’t make the cut, losing out to surprise (and worthy) contenders Margin Call and A Seperation. I would have tossed Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris script and The Artist, but that was never going to happen (alas, Allen is likely going to win). The much-discussed voting system for Best Picture, which was intended to yield between five and ten Best Picture nominees (and, in my opinion, unofficially weed out the more mainstream contenders), had an interesting and frankly not terrible effect. Since there was so much emphasis on a voter’s absolute favorite film of the year, what we ended up with are nine films that can indeed be looked at as films the respective voters are passionate about. A film like Tree of Life generally brought about a love/hate it attitude, but those that loved it were likely to consider it among their very favorites of the year, so it made the cut. Moneyball is arguably a slight surprise, but again, there was a passionate ‘this is the best film of the year’ following. Having a small niche in the Academy that loved it was more useful this year than merely being liked by everyone. Which I guess explains the nomination for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but geez (I guess I have to see it now…). At least my wild speculation last November may have been on the mark.

Unless you’re Sasha Stone of Awards Daily, you probably didn’t *love* The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, so it (rightfully) ended up honored for its one excellent element, Rooney Mara’s star turn. The Best Actress category is one of several where you could almost an entire alternate category under ‘damn-well should have been nominated’ (Charlize Theron, Kristen Wiig, Tilda Swinton, Kristen Dunst, and Elizabeth Olsen). Happy semi-surprises popped up in the Best Actor category, with Demian Bichir scoring for his terrific lead performance in A Better Life and Gary Oldman scoring his first (!) Oscar nomination for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. As a result, Michael Fassbender lost out on what seemed a surefire nod for his star turn in Shame. Less expected but still disappointing was Michael Shannon’s failure to get a nod, in fact the entire shut-out of Take Shelter. Also annoying but expected was the nomination for Jessica Chastain (that’s good) for The Help (again… Take friggin Shelter!!), meaning that The Help scored three acting noms (along with Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) along with its Best Picture nomination (for the record, I like the movie and am glad that at least one critically-acclaimed populist entertainment made the cut). In good news semi-surprises, Nick Nolte overcame Warrior’s dreadful box office to score a much-deserved Best Supporting Actor nomination. I hope he wins.

In somewhat refreshing news, Clint Eastwood’s lukewarm J. Edgar was completely shut-out, due to the fact that no one really liked it (The Iron Lady, which is even worse, should have suffered the same fate). In a somewhat surprising turn, two animated films that no one has ever heard of, A Cat In Paris and Chico and Rita, took the two Best Animated Film slots that were supposed to be reserved for Pixar’s Cars 2 and Steven Spielberg’s motion-capture adventure The Adventures of Tintin. I didn’t like either film, but the omission of the popular Tintin again shows the Academy’s issues with motion-capture both as a tool for animation and a form of acting (it’s both, people…). In other words, Andy Serkis’s performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes never had a shot. Still, War Horse’s deserved Best Picture nomination hopefully made up for Tintin’s theoretical slight. On the plus side, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots snuck in alongside presumptive favorite Rango. Weirdly, the original song category had only two nominations. “Real In Rio” (from Rio) and the now-presumptive favorite “Man or Muppet” (from The Muppets). Ironically, in a year filled with films centered around nostalgia, the two that viewed nostalgia the most critically, The Muppets and Young Adult, were both mostly shut-out (and the most unchallenging of the bunch, The Artist, is probably going to win).

There were five nominees for Best Visual Effects, and I was heartened to see the terrific special effects for Transformers: Dark of the Moon sneak in despite the general (and somewhat justified) critical distaste for the franchise. Somewhat surprising was the inclusion of Real Steel, with its surprisingly low-key robot-boxing effects work. Along with presumptive favorite Rise of the Planet of the Apes, two of the five nominees were films that cost under $100 million. The other two were Hugo (which led all films with 11 nominations, including Best Picture, arguably all deserved) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II (the latter of which only scored the usual three technical nods, along with Best Make-Up and Best Art Direction).

Overall, the biggest disappointment was the lack of much outside-the-box thinking. There was no Alan Rickman Best Supporting Actor nomination, no Kristen Wiig Best Actress nomination, no love for art-house darlings like Take Shelter or Martha Marcy May Marlene, a complete shut-out for Young Adult, and no real momentum for critically-acclaimed populist entertainment like the aforementioned Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II or Bridesmaids. Heck, with as much respect as possible for Melissa McCarthy (who did her job and got laughs), her nomination as the biggest representation of the film is almost a slap against it, as a film filled with realistic and three-dimensional female characters received its only major acting nomination for its most over-the-top and least realistic character. If you want to see McCarthy ace a more three-dimensional role that doesn’t base most of its humor around her unconventional (for Hollywood) appearance, track down The Nines.

And while I have no love for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it’s exclusion along with Bridesmaids and Young Adult from the Best Picture category sends a clear ‘only one token girl movie allowed’ message. You’re going to read a lot of essays over the next week about how the Academy embraced a bunch of uplifting ‘feel-good’ movies over darker fare. And frankly that’s bunk, based on the misconception that The Help and War Horse are actually feel-good movies, rather than the pessimistic downers that they are (but then, there are people who actually think Precious has a happy ending too…). What is clear is that the Academy basically ignored R-rated movies, as The Descendants was the only R-rated Best Picture nominee this year. And if you look at those that theoretically could have made the cut (Young Adult, Bridesmaids, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Margin Call, Take Shelter, The Ides of March, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II, etc) nearly every single one of them was R-rated.

In a year when the once-dreaded MPAA rating made somewhat of a comeback, it is disheartening to see that ‘adult films’ pretty much got shut out not just in the Best Picture category but in many of the major categories as well. Scrolling down the big six categories, only Albert Noobs (2 acting nods), Beginners (1 acting nod for Christopher Plummer), Margin Call (1 screenplay nod), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (1 acting nomination), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1 acting and 1 screenplay nod), Bridesmaids (1 acting and 1 screenplay nod), and The Descendants (4 nominations) were R-rated films, with a total of 13 out of a possible 44 nomination slots. It would seem that the lesson this year is that if you want a shot at Oscar glory, make sure your film is rated PG-13 or PG… Anyway, for my own personal year-in-review lists, go here. As always, share your thoughts below. What was the happiest surprise nod, and the most depressing omission?

To read more go to Mendelson’s Memo

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  • Myles
    January 26, 2012 | Permalink |

    How can you say Bridesmaids biggest representation was Sup Actress when it got a best screenplay nomination???

  • James
    February 8, 2012 | Permalink |

    So am I the only person on the face of the earth who didn’t think Bridesmaids was as good as everyone says it is? To me, it’s basically a by-the-book, better-than-Norbit-fare, comedy, directed at women. The characters are so annoying and forced, and Kristen Wiig’s character’s decisions were not organic, but seemed merely there to push the plot along. It’s a mediocre movie that for some reason critics are adoring. I don’t get it.

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