Richard Roeper Blog

And the nominees are…

What, no love for “What Happens in Vegas”?

With the usual, hopelessly outdated, underwhelming pre-dawn ceremony in Los Angeles, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences unveiled the list of nominees for the Oscars–a list with just a few surprises, one giant comeback and a handful of idiotic choices.

Big love for “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” snubs for Clint Eastwood and Kristin Scott-Thomas and “The Dark Knight”–and more riches for perennials such as Meryl Streep and Sean Penn. A nomination for Mickey Rourke, which would have sounded like the basis for a “Saturday Night Live” skit just a year or two ago.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” led the way with 13 nominations, followed by 10 for “Slumdog Millionaire.” Over the last few weeks, “Slumdog” has gone from underdog to perhaps the favorite to win Best Picture–especially because the other nominees are all well-liked and admired, but not necessarily loved. A lot of people, and I’m one of them, LOVE “Slumdog.”

It’s incredible that “Slumdog Millionaire” garnered 10 nominations–and more than a little odd that none of the actors was nominated. Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor and Freida Pinto were complete unknowns to America before this movie was released, so there’s more of a suspension of disbelief when we watch their performances. When we see familiar faces such as Penn and Streep tearing it up onscreen, we say, “Now THAT’S acting.” When we see unknowns, it’s easier to sink into the story and get lost in the performances–which can actually work against our appreciation of the work when it’s awards time.

As a fan, I was most disappointed to see my prediction come true about Kristin Scott-Thomas. Her devastatingly effective performance in “I’ve Loved You So Long” was overlooked by the Academy–perhaps because she speaks French for virtually the entire performance, perhaps because not enough voters took the time to even watch the film. (Although those very same factors didn’t stop Marion Cotillard last year.) What a shame. It’s one of the seminal acting displays of this decade.

On the flip side, kudos to the Academy for recognizing Melissa Leo’s powerful work in “Frozen River,” Robert Downey Jr.’s brave and hilarious turn in “Tropic Thunder” and Richard Jenkins’ career-crowning performance in “The Visitor.” Hopefully this will translate to increased DVD sales for the smaller two films.

Also disappointing was the lack of recognition for “The Dark Knight,” surely one of the five best pictures of the year. Apparently the Academy isn’t ready to recognize that a “comic book movie” can be just as dramatically compelling, just as thematically rich, just as “important,” as old-fashioned stories such as “The Reader.” (OVERRATED!)

Another curiosity: Kate Winslet, who had been slated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Reader” for other awards, was nominated here for “The Reader”–but in a lead role, which makes more sense. (Who was she supporting in the film?) The expectation was that Winslet would get the Best Actress nod for “Revolutionary Road.” In fact, a number of news organizations incorrectly reported that Winslet HAD been nominated for “RR” and not “The Reader.”

As expected, the late Heath Ledger was nominated for Supporting Actor for his creepy and funny and brilliant turn in “The Dark Knight.” His name will be announced as the winner on 2-22-09. The only category that’s even more of a sure thing: Best Animated Feature,  where the nominees are “Bolt,” “Kung-Fu Panda” and “Wall-E.” If they released vote totals, “Wall-E” would enjoy the largest margin of victory of any nominee in any category.

Overall, I’d give the Academy a grade of B for their picks. Safe, solid, occasionally bold, at times infuriating.

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