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State of the Union – Oscar Style

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Oscar-winning actress Mo'Nique (left) and Academy president Tom Sherak announced the nominees for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards in the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater. (Photo by: Todd Wawrychuk /©A.M.P.A.S.)

So if it’s late January, that must mean Oscar nominations are announced, around the same time the latest futile attempts at coherent policy are being officially speechified in annual form in Washington.

Watching the nominations and reading them like tea leaves, when warranted, is also something that recurs annually, though the readers of this space know, most of the actual hubbub is reserved for the above-the-line noms – and this year, specifically, most of that hubbub is centered on the Academy parting ways with the DGA and swapping Christopher Nolan’s helming nod for Inception with one for the Brothers Coen, and True Grit.

But there was an equally surprising omission in the below-the-line half of the nominations as well, about which, more in a sec. During morning coverage of what the nominations “mean” (which may indicate how starved for actual meaning we are as a culture) Richard Roeper wrote,  in the Chicago Sun-Times, that  “for now it’s a safe bet to assume the telecast will be far too long, at least one actress will wear a dress she’ll regret forever, and once again the ratings will dip because they insist on including categories that result in people we’ve never heard of winning awards, we don’t care about and thanking a bunch of other people we’ve never heard of — and you just can’t make compelling TV out of that.”

And while he’s not wrong about telecast length, the categories he’s talking about are the ones you work in – the ones that bring you to this very website. As Oscar seeks to keep retooling itself in a Twittery, blasted attention-span era (do we move the awards to make them first!?), one wonders if an “Emmy solution” – holding the BTL side of the awards separately, in non-televised fashion – is eventually in the cards.  On the other hand, maybe some cable TV outlet will pick up that “half” of the awards, and you’ll have more than 20 seconds to thank people. Plus you can swear. You can be like Ricky Gervais.

But we get ahead of ourselves.

As for imbroglios and brouhahas, perhaps the most interesting was in the visual effects category, where presumed front-runner Tron and visual effects supervisor Eric Barba (who’d previously won for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) were left off the list, replaced, it would seem, by the redoubtable Michael Owens’ work for Clint Eastwood in Hereafter. This clears the way for Inception as a heavy favorite, though Iron Man 2 was nominated, along with the latest Harry Potter installment.

In addition, Disney’s other non-Pixar tent-pole picture Alice in Wonderland was nominated in the same category, about which, VFX supe Ken Ralston said “the nomination is wonderful because working on Alice was one of the best creative experiences of my entire career. Tim Burton trusted us with his vision and the work on the screen is the result of an amazing collaboration with hundreds of brilliant artists, including my fellow nominees and a great team on set. You hope to have an experience like this at least once in career and I am so happy that our peers recognized the extraordinary complexity, detail and accomplishment that the visual effects Alice in Wonderland represents.”

Indeed, the film came with a pretty strong Oscar pedigree, as costume designer  Colleen Atwood – a previous winner for Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha, also received a nod, using a particularly apt tea-party like metaphor for her delight, saying “Alice was a labor of love for all of us, and to be recognized for the work is really the frosting on the cake.”

BTLers also claimed nomination glory for films otherwise left out of the reckoning, such as Mark Stoeckinger’s sound editing work on Unstoppable, the entire Makeup category (Barney’s Version, The Way Back and The WolfmanAdrian Morot, Eduoard F. Henriques and colleagues, and Rick Baker and Dave Elsey, respectively) and Atwood’s colleague Sandy Powell for the also Disney-released (via Touchstone) Julie Taymor-directed version of The Tempest.

Other categories went exactly where the smart betting thought they would, such as cinematography, with Roger Deakins’ work on True Grit, Matthew Libatique’s in Black Swan, Wally Pfister’s in Inception, Jeff Cronenweth’s in The Social Network, and Danny Cohen’s for The King’s Speech all getting nods.

The King’s Speech and The Social Network also proved to be the 800-pound gorillas of this year’s nomination, also according to the smart guesses. Eve Stewart grabbed an art direction nod for The King’s Speech and said  “I am elated that all the hard work by my department put in on The King’s Speech has resulted in such a treat. Working with director Tom Hooper is challenging, exacting and inspiring. He is a real friend. He pushes everybody to do their best work. My fellow nominees are brilliant.  I’m just so honored to be considered among them. This seems so unreal when I’m over here on a rainy English day in my Wellington boots. It’s hard to believe this is happening.”

She’s not up against Social Network in that category, though the films will be competing in the Editing category as well. Social Network’s two editors, Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter said  “Wow. We are honored and blessed to have had the opportunity to work on a film with this level of creativity and collaboration. David (Fincher’s) direction, Aaron (Sorkin’s) script, and performances by an amazing group of actors created the perfect storm for making a great film. Thanks to the producing team, everyone at Sony, and to the Academy for the gracious nomination. We are incredibly excited and honored!”

Not all storms get to be perfect ones, in times like these – so enjoy the weather, folks.

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