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Oscars in context

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Feb. 26th, 2012 | 02:37 pm
music: Hurting You Kind - Chris Velan

The most compelling observation I’ve read in advance of tonight's Academy Awards came this week from Vulture, NYMag’s daily culture briefing:

“How ironic. This competition boils down to one between a group of mostly French filmmakers who made a loving and elaborate recreation of Hollywood during the silent film era [The Artist], and a group of mostly Hollywood filmmakers who made a loving and elaborate recreation of Paris during the silent film era [Hugo].”

Vulture was talking specifically about front-runners for the Art Direction Oscar. But the coincidence is even richer if you consider that also Oscar-nominated in this category, and also competing with the front-runners for Best Picture, Best Director, and the Best Screenplay awards, is Woody Allen’s most successful movie, Midnight in Paris, in which he too takes us back to silent-era Paris ... mostly to meet iconic writers and artists and musicians, but also to remind us of some important things about love (and charm).

“What a great story!” ... Is there a more enticing recommendation for a movie? Acting awards get way more attention than writing awards, but acting awards tend to honor emotional extremes — tours de force in films that often challenge one’s tolerance for misery ... while writing awards tend to honor the core pleasures of narrative craft.

So if widespread appreciation of the screenplay is, as I believe, the most reliable predictor of movie enjoyment, you might be surprised by my list of the year’s Most Promising Films (based on the number of critics associations and industry groups that credited a film with the best screenplay):

1. The Descendants (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash) (12)
2. Moneyball (Steve Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin) (10)
3. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen) (8)
4. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, Iran ) (6)
5. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, France) (5)
6. 50/50 (Will Reiser) (4.5)
7. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan (4)
8. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran) (3)

* * * * *

If Midnight in Paris wins Woody Allen an Oscar tonight, it will be only the third of his 42 movies to do so. (Who knows how much this has to do with the virtual certainty that he won’t be at the ceremony to accept it.)

But last Sunday his keenest rivals, the members of the Writers Guild of America, gave him the award for the year’s Best Original Screenplay, as they had done in previous years for Crimes and Misdemeanors, Hannah and Her Sisters, Broadway Danny Rose, and Annie Hall. (He has Oscars only for Hannah and Annie, though the latter film also won for his directing and earned him his only Best Actor nomination.)

The Writers had also nominated him in the same category for Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Mighty Aphrodite, for Alice and Radio Days, for Bullets Over Broadway and Husbands and Wives, and for The Purple Rose of Cairo ... and prior to 1985 (when Comedy was integrated with Drama) they nominated his Interiors for Best Original Drama ... and Zelig, Stardust Memories, Manhattan, Sleeper, Bananas, Take the Money and Run, and What’s New Pussycat for Best Original Comedy... .

That leaves 22 Woody Allen movies for which the Guild did NOT nominate his writing, but for a couple of these — Match Point and Deconstructing Henry — the Academy DID.

Both outfits must be in awe of his discipline ... and jealous of his freedom. What writer has to go less far to win the approval of his director?!

* * * * *

John Williams, who has his 46th and 47th nominations for original score this year (for Stephen Spielberg's The Adventures of TinTin and for Spielberg's War Horse), must be the only nominee to have been disappointed more often than Woody Allen, having won only five: for Schindler’s List, E.T., Star Wars IV, Jaws, and uh ... Fiddler on the Roof.

His three rivals this year have their own director champions: Howard Shore, who has scored David Cronenberg movies for 33 years, turned three nominations into three wins for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, and is now nominated for Martin Scorsese's Hugo. Alberto Iglesias is Pedro Almodovar's go-to composer, but has won his three nominations for Swiss director Marc Forster's The Kite Runner, and adaptations of John Le Carré novels by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles' (The Constant Gardener) and Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (this year's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). And front-runner Ludovic Bource is a first-time nominee for composing almost everything we hear in The Artist, his second score for writer-director Michel Hazanavicius.

Meanwhile, Trent ‘Nine Inch Nails’ Reznor and Atticus Ross won the British Academy Award for scoring the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; they teamed up to win an Oscar last year for The Social Network by the same director (David Fincher), but failed to be nominated this time out.

Small world: According to Amy Verner in the Globe, Reznor and Bource have something in common — their agent is Amos Newman, son of Randy, who has two Oscars and 18 other song and score nominations to his credit.

And while we’re thinking about music: Why are only two songs nominated this year? Entertainment Weekly has the most compelling explanation for this unprecedented Academy anomaly:

“After several years of weak and obscure song nominees, the Academy’s music branch introduced a rule change in 2009 demanding that tunes receive an average score of 8.25 or higher (out of 10) from branch members to earn a nod. And if just one song hits the 8.25 mark, the track with the next-highest score gets a nomination. This year, it’s entirely possible that musicians in the Academy thought only one song was good enough for recognition....”

That song, though, isn't the song that won the Golden Globe last month: It turns out that Madonna’s “Masterpiece,” from her movie W.E., was not submitted because “it appears too late in the film’s final credits to be eligible.”

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