2011 Oscar Nominations Go More or Less as Expected

With the speed of a lumbering engine powered by critical hubris and self-importance, the 84th Academy Awards nominations dropped into our newsfeeds this morning with predictable result. Did you know that people liked The Descendants this year, The Artist as well? Brad Pitt and George Clooney scored the requisite Hollywood heartthrob acting votes (they will lose to the no-name French guy who doesn’t talk), while Meryl Streep got her due for sticking around. Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese were also nominated, just like they always are. It’s another Oscar ceremony, y’all!

But not to sound cynical or anything. It’s somewhat surprising, though definitely nice, to see Terrence Malick get official recognition for The Tree of Life, even if there’s almost no way the hype-happy Academy will give their highest awards to a movie with more than a handful of inscrutably artsy scenes. Equally surprising on the other end is the inclusion of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a movie that no one seemed to like but not for any inscrutably artsy reasons, simply because it’s kind of schmaltzy and not very good. Why not give the spot to something innocuous like Bridesmaids or even the last Harry Potter movie, if they’re trying to go commercial? Madness, it’s all madness. (I won’t even get started on Albert Brooks’ snub for Drive.) You can look at the important nominees below, or go to the Academy’s website for the full list.

Best Picture
The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Actor in a Leading Role
Demian Bichir – A Better Life, George Clooney – The Descendants, Jean Dujardian – The Artist, Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Brad Pitt – Moneyball

Actress in a Leading Role
Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs, Viola Davis – The Help, Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady, Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn

Directing
Michael Hazanavicius – The Artist, Alexander Payne – The Descendants, Martin Scorsese – Hugo, Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris, Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life

Actor in a Supporting Role
Kenneth Branaugh – My Week with Marilyn, Jonah Hill – Moneyball, Nick Nolte – Warrior, Christopher Plummer – Beginners, Max von Sydow – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Actress in a Supporting Role
Berenice Bejo – The Artist, Jessica Chastain – The Help, Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids, Janet McTeer – Albert Nobbs, Octavia Spencer – The Help

‘War Horse’ Tony Wins Make Movie Version an Early Oscar Favorite

The Tony Awards are rarely viewed as a prognosticator for Oscar glory. (That honor usually goes to film festivals and other film-centric awards ceremonies.) But at last night’s Tony’s, the near-sweep by War Horse, a play about a horse’s travails in a Europe devastated by World War One, might signal big-screen success when the film version comes out in December. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Steven Spielberg is the director.

War Horse, based on the 1982 book of the same name by Michael Morpurgo, picked up five awards, including Best Play, and has been racking up similar prizes since its 2007 UK debut. Already, Spielberg’s film, which stars newcomer Jeremy Irvine as the young man who searches the charred ruins of war-torn France for his beloved horse, is a lock to pick up a Best Picture nomination — it’s Steven Spielberg and war, after all — but yesterday’s win makes the film an odds-on favorite.

Despite all the adulation, War Horse is still an undiscovered property for many audiences, but some believe Spielberg’s take on it will make the story a cultural phenomenon. For us, the opening 27 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, when the allied troops storm the beaches at Normandy, remains some of the most visceral and brutally realistic filmmaking we’ve ever seen. There’s a part in War Horse where the title character finds himself in so-called No Man’s Land, that hellish purgatory between the enemy trenches on the WWI battlefields, and we’re jonesing to see what he can do with that kind of terror. Anyway, let the Oscar forecasting begin!

Steven Spielberg Chooses Horses Over Rabbits

There’s been no shortage of speculation as to what Steven Spielberg’s next project as director might be. For a long time, it looked to be a remake of Harvey, the beloved 1950 James Stewart starrer about a man and his imaginary rabbit. For an even longer time, there was talk of Spielberg finally pulling the trigger on an Abe Lincoln bio-pic, with Liam Neeson ostensibly set to star as the great emancipator. There was also a sci-fi, wormhole-themed project courtesy of screenwriter John Nolan (brother of director Chris) and a number of smaller projects that were also in contention. But now, after months of mulling, Deadline Hollywood has it that Spielberg is finally ready to commit.

According to Disney, Spielberg’s next effort will be War Horse, an adaptation of the Michael Morpugo novel which Dreamworks has already acquired and handed off to screenwriter Lee Hall to adapt. Spielberg saw a stage version of the piece in London this past March, and presumably that’s what sold him on it. Like, say, Jack London’s Call of the Wild, the protagonist here is an animal—in this case the eponymous bay red foal—who narrates his adventures on the western front ca. 1914. Scarred by the crucible of battle, he longs to return home to the farm of his upbringing, and the young man who once took such good care of him.

It’s a little tricky predicting what this might look like. The book is certified young adult fiction, and the success of the play (rumored to be en route to Broadway) seems to rest on the spectacular horse puppets used in the production. Have a gander.