Right off the bat, it would have been one of the bigger shocks if Heath Ledger wasn't nominated for his great performance in The Dark Knight, but he was (to no one's surprise). Same could be said for the nominations of Sean Penn and Frank Langella, Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep (God...again?) for the Best Actor/Actress categories. The Academy loves safe picks, especially for those in films that had the transparent ambition and studio guidance to win movie awards. Unfortunately, just like what happens in annual book awards, not all of the worthy get nominated. For Director, the safe bets were Gus Van Sant and Ron Howard. Luckily, for many of us, the great expectations for great film were realized: WALL-E was nominated for Animated Feature Film. It was good enough to have gotten a Best Picture nomination, too, but the Academy is too stogy to give one to something animated. So, I have to give the Academy some credit for at least recognizing one of my favorites.
In this category, the surprises can be either positive or negative...and sometimes, both. Mickey Roarke (even though he won the Golden Globes) was a good surprise--and one I thought the conservative Academy would blow. He is extraordinary in the film (and his comeback). Although, the French have long admired him, for some reason... Same would go for his co-star Marisa Tomei. In Bruges did at least get a nod with its Writing (Original Screenplay), but little else. Long time character actor, Richard Jenkins, was recognized for his worthy actor role in The Visitor (a favorite among many critics who were among the few that took it in). Unfortunately, I feel that his nomination also took the slot that I hoped would have gone to Clint Eastwood for Gran Torino. To be upfront, I'll proudly stipulate that he's a favorite of mine, and a underrated actor (but no longer underrated as a director, though). And his movie could have picked up a Original Screenplay, but was totally snubbed. I knew I'd get to taking back whatever credit I gave the Academy! Anyway, at least Viola Davis was nominated. She had the least amount of screen time compared with the other nominees from the movie Doubt, but she's easily the best thing in it (and still shows up the vaunted Ms. Streep in the few screen minutes awarded her).
"What Were They Thinking?"
And, speaking about Doubt... It received way too many nominations (I'm just glad they didn't award it nods for Picture and Director--or sainthood). I hear it's a great play, but playwright John Patrick Shanley shouldn't have directed his own written work. It comes off too much as an adapted play and is way too stage-bound (negating the strengths of this medium). A good film director easily avoids this trap (see Ron Howard and his direction of the Frost/Nixon play). Next, we have The Curious Case of Benjamin
Gump er...Button. I'm not the only one to slip and note this concerning the year's movie darling (13 frakking nominations for Forrest Button!). Way too many for this film--and one of the most blatant in its campaign for a Best Picture nomination. Too long, and too padded (criminy, the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story is only 32 pages in paperback!). That would have been bad enough except the blessed Academy choose to ignore one of the best films ever in crime fiction just because it had a comic superhero/villain as its protagonist/antagonist! Easily one of the most successful and realized (not just for its genre) films in movie history, The Dark Knight should have gotten Best Picture and Director nominations (the Producers and Directors were at least bright enough to note this for their award nods). Sheesh...