Oscar’s hits and misses: Our critic puts the Academy Award nominees in their place

Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais did a masterful job of “having a go” at the Hollywood Foreign Press this year … but who really cares about them, anyway? It’s much more fun to take shots at the Academy. Every year, they nominate some duds and overlook some gems. As you’re making preparations for your Oscar party, consider this rundown of what they got wrong (and some credit where it’s due).

Best Picture: I’ll start off being my own worst critic: I listed Black Swan in my top ten, but the more I think about it, the less impressed I am. It was really pretty, but it was really pretty repetitive, too. How many times do we need to see Natalie Portman’s reflection in the mirror taking on a life of its own? Director Darren Aronofsky still needs to work on effectively building suspense, and he could learn a thing or two from The American — which should’ve gotten some love this awards season. It may not be as flashy as Black Swan, but director Anton Corbijn knows how to pace a taut psychological thriller. Somebody else who knows? Mr. Martin Scorsese, whose underappreciated Shutter Island was doomed to the dungeon of early-year releases.


Best Actor: I’m thrilled about Javier Bardem’s “surprise” nomination for Biutiful, the film that should have taken the place of The Kids Are All Right in the best picture race. Every year, there’s a “quirky little indie” that critics fall all over themselves to praise. Enough already with the Little Miss Sunshine-style alternative family and their hip, modern problems. Biutiful is a movie that speaks truthfully, without affectation, about the heartache of familial bonds, and Bardem’s performance is utterly haunting. Colin Firth will probably win, deservedly, for The King’s Speech, but there’s another tongue-tied nominee who should be sitting this one out. Jeff Bridges laid it on way too thick in True Grit, and he already has an Oscar for playing a crusty old drunk.


Best Actress: No complaints here. I’m especially glad to see Michelle Williams nominated for Best Actress. She was great in Blue Valentine, but I still can’t get her performance in Shutter Island out of my mind. Her few minutes on screen are frighteningly good, and I’m hoping the Academy continues to pay attention to her.


Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale won me over. For the first half of The Fighter, his strung-out brawler seemed too mannered to be believable. But he kept the mannerisms consistent while deftly dialing them up and down, depending on his state of drugginess. Jeremy Renner, on the other hand, was way too stilted throughout The Town, so the battle of the Massachusetts slumdogs goes to Bale. Mark Ruffalo deserved a nomination, but not for The Kids Are All Right. He took a role in Shutter Island that could have been hokey in the hands of a lesser actor, but he struck the perfect tone.


Best Supporting Actress: A word about Amy Adams. She’s usually way too self-conscious, looking like she’s trying to impress everyone with her performance. But The Fighter was the first time I’ve seen Adams disappear into the character, and it turns out she can be quite compelling. So kudos to the Academy for recognizing the maturity of her performance. Now if only she’d stop posing so stiffly on the red carpet.


Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu should be in here for Biutiful. It’s visually and structurally complex, and he makes so many great, small choices with his camera work that enhance the emotional impact of the story. And speaking of great camera work, what about Inception? Chris Nolan dreamed big with that movie, which is more than can be said for Joel and Ethan Coen this year. They retread familiar ground in more ways than one, going back to their milieu of dark-hearted westerns. It’s a shame that Nolan’s innovation didn’t trump their oddball style.


The 83rd Academy Awards

Sun, Feb 27

Live 7pm CT on ABC


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