a theatre, film & pop culture review
Missing: Blue Valentine, Greenberg
The fact that this award will go to the worst-written nominee should tell you a little something about this year’s competition, as well as the Academy. Considering the unspoken rule of awarding the nominee with the most previous nominations and least wins, one would assume Mike Leigh would be going home with a little gold guy for Another Year. And he should, as his work is above and beyond the accomplishments of the other nominees. Leigh — also the sensitive, yet invasive director of the film — quietly unfolds the tangle of relationships built around class, meritocracy, and happiness (or the lack thereof). By introducing us to the effortless and contented and truly modest joy of one couple only to subtly contrast it with the inexplicably luckless lives of two of their languishing friends, Leigh questions the very idea of happiness and why some have it always and other never do, no matter how hard they try. A complex and nuanced exploration of ideas and relationships and ideas of relationships, Another Year is one of the saddest, un-showiest, most thoughtful films of the year. The fact that this category contains its sole nomination is shameful, and that it will go away from the night without even this token of its merit is just plain depressing.
Also depressing is the absence of Blue Valentine, the wrenching dissolution of a relationship that (d)evolves over a span of years through cross-cuttings between the tummy-butterfly beginning and the shockingly indifferent ending. Was its exclusion because of the improvisational nature of the piece (if so, Another Year should be missing as well)? As we know, the Academy largely considers dialogue when voting, not structure, and BV relies heavily on the latter. And while Noah Baumbach’s films always heavily rely on (overly self-aware, highly intelligent) dialogue, clearly I was alone in hoping for a nomination for Greenberg.
The four remaining nominees are underwhelming, most especially the clear winner. While The King’s Speech maintains a clear trajectory (overcoming a disability! the king speaks!) and is chockfull of pithy, “clever” exchanges, the only character development that occurs on screen is thanks to the effortful performances of the first-rate cast. Unfortunately for Christopher Nolan, Inception is all high-concept with little follow-through, and while on the surface the film is highly imaginative, the writing is not, and one of the most “mind-blowing” endings of the year actually became one of the most disappointing. The Fighter, much like The King’s Speech, is a winner due to its cast, not its overly-familiar boxing narrative. If it wins (it won’t), it would be because the Academy loves it some true stories (but it loves it some true historical stories more). If by some miracle The King’s Speech goes away empty-handed, and Mike Leigh is once again snubbed, the winner should be The Kids Are All Right. The lesbian-couple-raising-kids-with-the-help-of-an-anonymous-sperm-donor has a narrative novelty that can’t be overlooked, but it’s also, underneath its American-family-comedy surface, surprisingly insightful and emotionally complex. It’s the evening’s dark horse that actually has a shot at overcoming B-B-Bertie’s big Speech.