Following the Oscar nominations, entertainment reporters and film critics, such as myself, are tasked with the burden of pointing out the surprising film titles that got nominated that many people perhaps weren't expecting. We're also pointing out the titles that despite being vastly outstanding were severely overlooked by the Oscar Academy. Those missing titles from the category lists are called snubs, good, if not great movies, that should have been nominated but weren't.
First off, the Academy Awards are known for their constant praising of serious and dark films. This year three, chilling thrillers got all the rage, making February's Oscar show Oscar-y. There was a time when the Academy regularly acknowledged romantic, uplifting and comedic films. No more! Yes, there is the occasional Little Miss Sunshine or Juno, but Oscar would these days rather depress us than make us laugh or cheer. There was a time when musicals like West Side Story or The Sound of Music were regularly put on pedestals, but those days, my friends, are sadly gone.
A few years ago, the success of Moulin Rouge and Chicago seemed to herald a return of musicals as viable commercial enterprises after decades had passed with the song-and-dance features being practically dead. It took a couple of years to build steam, but 2007 saw not one, not two, but an impressive "six" musicals hit the big screen, and most of them turn out to be quite successful.
If ever there were an opportunity for the Academy to recognize this triumphant return, in my opinion, it would have been now, but alas the Academy has failed. Just as it failed last year to nominate the best movie musical experience of 2006 Dreamgirls, so did it fail this year to place as in its Best Picture category not just one but two films that did Broadway and now cinema proud.
The Oscar nomination process would almost be convoluted, if it didn't have an actual mathematical basis, but how that process could have snubbed Sweeney Todd is still beyond me. Using a process similar to the one employed in the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary, the Academy chose Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood as its five Best Pictures of the year. The first is a scandalous British romance set to World War II. The second is a comedy about teen pregnancy and the last three are those three chilling thrillers I mentioned earlier that center on greed and murder.
Two of the five choices I agree with, and all of them are good movies that I think people should see, but I'm telling you that I would happily sacrifice them all for Sweeney Todd to be nominated for Best Picture instead. Film critic Richard Corliss of Time magazine said "it's bloody great." A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote Sweeney is "something close to a masterpiece!"
The Academy's snub came despite the fact that Sweeney Todd won two Golden Globes including Best Actor and Best Picture, trivia thanks to the WGA strike was not celebrated, and despite the fact that Johnny Depp is a highly beloved box office draw who nails this performance pitch perfectly. And despite the fact that Tim Burton is universally regarded as one of the most creative and inventive filmmakers who gloriously translates Sondheim's musical to the screen with flawless interpretation and expansive vision, the movie was only granted three Oscar nominations, two of which are so minor as to be insults. Thankfully, Johnny Depp was included in that list, but the Screen Actors Guild, which is the best predictor of who wins the top acting prize, excluded Depp from their awards show, practically dooming his fate.
Some analysts who I shun say low box office numbers for the "R" rated, bloody musical hurt its Academy Award chances, but anyone who knows how the Oscar process works knows ticket sales hardly ever influence Oscar voters. If that were the case, There Will Be Blood, which has currently only made $8 million, instead of getting the most Oscar nominations this year would have been nominated for nothing.
The problem for the dark musical was that campaigning for an Oscar isn't exactly like campaigning for president, but what Sweeney Todd lacked was really any kind of campaign.
Two years ago, Crash won Best Picture and did so only because the producers and the studio behind it launched a major Oscar campaign, probably on the level of Mitt Romney's, if not higher. Ads were posted in all the trade magazines and DVD screeners were mailed out to all 6,000 Academy members, along with other tactics that pushed its Oscar candidate hard. Sweeney Todd didn't have any of that. Apparently like Spielberg's Munich, the producers believed Sweeney Todd would be carried on its merits alone.
Sadly, unlike when Crash was campaigning two years ago, this season had too great a number of great movies jockeying for the top spot. This season, we had tons of great movies that were like crabs in a crowded pot trying to claw their way to the top and this season each one in their own way deserved to be there. Atonement, for example, launched a fierce campaign that included well-crafted TV spots that I saw running in commercials everyday leading up to the Oscar announcement as well as cleverly-placed Internet banners.
For Michael Clayton, Warner Bros had the best marketing tool that any studio had this season, and that's George Clooney. While Johnny Depp and Tim Burton are known for their reserved and almost reclusive natures, Clooney over the past two months has been doing countless interviews and making tons of appearances at film festivals and award shows and other events, promoting his film like a maniac.
Sweeney Todd had none of that. You didn't see Depp on Letterman or at the Venice Film Festival trying to hock his film, but Clooney did, and probably because the political savvy actor realizes the importance of a good campaign and showing a little face all over the place. Clooney, who some have suggested should run for elected office, did everything short of glad-handing all his fans and going around kissing babies.
And, speaking of campaigning, Fox Searchlight, the movie studio behind the only comedic film nominated for the top Oscar Juno knows all too well about how to get a candidate nominated, probably because it successfully did so last year. Fox Searchlight managed to get its independent film Little Miss Sunshine nominated for Best Picture after it launched a juggernaut of a campaign that started in July 2006 and continued through the winter, which included a splashy use of MySpace and a gradual release of the film as well as a DVD bombardment that flooded America and had many people talking.
That film managed to maintain its momentum into Oscar time, but some say its candidacy possibly squeezed out more deserving and technically better films.
And here's another reason the Academy this year has missed the obvious resurgence of musicals in the cinema landscape, and instead of properly honoring them, has thrown them by the wayside. The much-anticipated Broadway adaptation of Hairspray was received with the warmest of welcomes. Garnering over $100 million in the box office, this past summer, it became an instant hit, one of only a few musicals in the past decade or two to do so.
According to the Rotten Tomatoes website, 92 percent of all film critics loved it. Lou Lumenick of The New York Post wrote that Hairspray is the "best and most entertaining movie adaptation of a stage musical so far this century." This is a sentiment shared by Dennis Harvey of Variety, the preeminent film criticism body, and myself, despite my infinitesimal love for Sweeney Todd.
The danceable film experience has probably the most hilarious and engaging sing-along soundtrack, irreverent humor that's still applicable to today's world, as well as a diverse, attractive and delightful cast with a positive and uplifting message that reminds me and tons of audiences why we go to the cinema. However, the Oscars completely ignored Hairspray. It didn't even bother to throw it a few crumbs in the minor categories as it did with Sweeney Todd and Dreamgirls. No. Even for obvious categories for which I thought it was outstanding, such as costumes, makeup and songwriting, Hairspray got no nominations at all. It was totally snubbed.
Many people talk about a disconnect between the Oscar Academy's choices and what's mainstream or what's popular, and in many instances, this is a good thing, and while musicals may not be the blockbusters they once were a generation ago, musicals have now become an industry trend, making a clear mark this year, and if the Academy can't see that, then maybe it shouldn't be in the business that requires sight.
For me, I think a good solution would be to hold the Oscar nominations much like we do the presidential nominations, with primaries and caucuses where the actors or maybe the directors hold debates. I would love to see George Clooney up at a podium verbally duking it out with Daniel Day-Lewis. Maybe they could have a live acting challenge like on a reality show to see who should get the nomination, or maybe Tim Burton and the Coen Brothers, who did No Country For Old Men, could field questions from an audience moderated by Anderson Cooper or Brit Hume. That might be more preferable than the process they have for nominations now.
In the non-musical movie genres, David Fincher's re-creation of the amazing true-life murder mystery called Zodiac was a tremendous piece of work released early in 2007 that is in my opinion close to a perfect movie that a filmmaker can make. Because it was released so long ago, I believe the Oscars overlooked it as well, but the film stands as a true testament that should be remembered.