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Wednesday, January 25,2012

The screening room

Cheers and jeers for this year's Oscar nominations

by James Sanford

There has never been — and will never be — a flawless crop of Academy Award nominations. But this yearīs roster, which was announced Tuesday morning, has more than its share of astonishing omissions.

Let’s begin on a positive note. It’s great to see director Martin Scorsese’s marvelous “Hugo” snare 11 nominations, including nods for best director and best picture. There are also some happy surprises in the acting categories, with Nick Nolte in the running for supporting actor for the underappreciated “Warrior,” scene-stealer Melissa McCarthy getting supporting actress love for “Bridesmaids” and Rooney Mara muscling her way into the best actress race with her fierce performance in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” 

Eh, that’s enough sunshine: Let’s talk about who got snubbed.

Names that immediately come to mind include two of the year’s most prolific actors, Ryan Gosling and Michael Fassbender. Gosling could have qualified as best actor for “The Ides of March” or (even better) “Drive,” or he could have wrangled a supporting actor slot for his hilarious work in “Crazy. Stupid. Love.” He wound up empty-handed. So did Fassbender, despite his incendiary performance in “Shame” (a film that must have been too hot to handle for Oscar voters; they also ignored Carey Mulligan’s mesmerizing supporting performance) and top-notch work in “A Dangerous Method” and “Jane Eyre.”

Another unpleasant shock was the absence of Michael Shannon in the best actor race. Brad Pitt (in “Moneyball”) and George Clooney (in “The Descendants”) are very good, but Shannon’s alternately touching and terrifying characterization of a man haunted by apocalyptic visions in “Take Shelter” is absolutely heartwrenching. 

Apparently, the Elizabeth Olsen bandwagon, which seemed to be headed straight for the Oscars after “Martha Marcy May Marlene” debuted, broke down somewhere along the way. She could easily have taken the spot occupied by Glenn Close, whose work as an Irishwoman masquerading as a man in “Albert Nobbs” is convincing but not especially compelling (Janet McTeer, who got a supporting actress nomination, steals “Albert” from its star). Where’s the Academy love for former winner Tilda Swinton, who rocked it in the nerve-shredding “We Need to Talk About Kevin”?

Gosling wasn’t the only one left on the side of the road by “Drive”: Albert Brooks, who had been pegged as a supporting actor candidate for his startling portrait of a crime boss, was shafted as well.

As for best picture nominees, “The Artist,” “The Descendants,” “Hugo” and “Midnight in Paris” are all worthy contenders. “The Help” and “Moneyball” are classy crowdpleasers. “The Tree of Life” is the votersī bow to the art house (“Really? You didn’t understand it?”). “War Horse” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” — let’s figure that someone called in a whole lot of favors to get these syrupy sagas on the short list.

A few interesting slights pop up in the animated feature category. The 2006 “Happy Feet” (unjustly) won the animated feature Oscar; its stupefying sequel, “Happy Feet 2,” wasn’t even nominated. Although Steven Spielberg managed to turn “War Horse” into a show pony, his other project, “The Adventures of Tin Tin,” was ignored in the animation category. This will be one year in which you can’t automatically count on Pixar to take home the gold since “Cars 2” ran out of gas before the finish line.

And it’s unlikely the champagne fountain is running full force at Madonna’s house. Her much-maligned directorial effort, “W.E.,” didn’t even bring her a nomination for best original song for “Masterpiece,” which she won at the Golden Globes a little over a week ago. That must be music to the ears of Elton John — who slammed the superstar after the Globes — even though Johnīs songs for “Gnomeo and Juliet” didnīt get a single nomination either.

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