Yeah, yeah, the ceremony’s over, and there’s not much point wondering what could have gone differently. But given all the moaning about how predictable and moribund this year’s Academy Awards were, here are ten performances and films that, had they been nominated, could have forced members of the Academy to make a clearer choice between nostalgia for movies’ past, and excitement for their vital future.
1. Contagion, for Best Picture and Jennifer Ehle for Best Supporting Actress: Stephen Soderbergh’s near-future nightmare of a world where hundreds of millions are killed by a fast-spreading plague was eerily familiar, a crisis managed and influenced by well-intentioned but limited bureaucrats, bloggers and vaccine deniers, and cured by a serene scientist willing to take an absolutely insane risk. And it was anchored by terrific performances, from Jude Law as a repellent hawker of a miracle cure to Jennifer Ehle as that scientist. Ehle takes a small role and makes it shine, gives us a whole, and highly unique, person out of the few scenes she has.
2. Michael Fassbender, Shame, for Best Actor: I tend to think Shame is somewhat overrated. But if a handsome white dude was going to get nominated for going to an emotionally risky, soul-bearing place, that handsome white dude should have been Fassbender for his portrait of self-loathing, rather than Clooney, composed and noble in grief.
3. Miss Bala, for Best Foreign Language Film: I don’t remotely begrudge A Separation its win, especially given the resulting acceptance speech. But just as I’m glad Demian Bichir’s surprise nomination for Best Actor got more people to see Chris Weitz’s extraordinary immigration movie A Better Life, I’d have liked to see Miss Bala, about why people might want to leave Mexico, get a similar bump.
4. Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus, Best Supporting Actress: All words feel too poor to do proper honor to Redgrave’s turn as a war leader’s mother in Ralph Fiennes’ passion-project adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. But in a movie full of strong performances, Redgrave is magnificent. It’s a huge disappointment that this movie’s December qualifying run means it can’t get the consideration it deserves for next year’s awards ceremonies.
5. Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, For…Something: If the Academy can find a way to give an award to Oprah, who sure needs it as her OWN network struggles, surely they should have found a way to recognize Serkis and the folks he worked with to create one of the most indelible characters of the year. Matt Zoller Seitz even laid out a way they could do it. And having Serkis in the mix would have been a particularly good thing on a night when the Academy seemed to fetishize its past while expressing some real contempt for the consumers and tastes that will shape its future.
6. Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt, Young Adult, for Best Actress and/or Best Supporting Actor: Another pair of extremely un-vain, vulnerable performances that cleverly reveal the rot at the heart of our fantasies. The Academy found Theron’s transgressiveness when she played a lesbian serial killer compelling, but seems to have been discomfited by this movie, a direct attack on a culture of looks.
7. The Trip, Best Picture: I realize this is kind of a wild card, but if the Oscars wanted to go international and to go with movies that reflect on show business, why not take a flyer on this totally charming, cutting British movie about friends in show business and the diminishing rewards of fame? Oh wait: because a true comedy (not counting Crash, people) hasn’t won since Annie Hall.
8. Dee Rees, Pariah, and Steve McQueen, Shame, for Original Screenplay or Best Director: Sooo many white dudes in those categories. It would have been interesting to see how the Academy responded to a situation where there were a lot more people of color in the mix. This year, they appear to have picked one, Octavia Spencer.