How Hollywood played it safe again with Oscar line-up

Rooney Mara
Rooney Mara
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I’m feeling a tad short-changed by Tuesday’s Oscar nominations. And I’m not alone.

The web is abuzz with all sorts of commentary on the odd nature of this year’s line-up with its surprise entries, glaring omissions and the overall feeling that Hollywood’s annual back-slapping exercise has come lumbering out of the closet and declared itself for all to see.

It’s become a game for pundits to predict the nominees and, eventually, the winners. It doesn’t really add up to very much, especially when the various steam trains carrying passengers of the calibre of Meryl Streep and George Clooney seem to be miles ahead of the competition.

For decades Hollywood has rewarded its own. Occasionally – and only occasionally – it looks to Europe. People like Roberto (Life is Beautiful) Benigni don’t get considered very often and all too frequently it feels like a patronising pat on the head.

It’s different for powerhouse performers like Daniel Day-Lewis, who rightly won for My Left Foot, or popular choices like Colin Firth. That’s why the smart money is – and has been – on Streep and Clooney this year.

But what of The Artist with its 10 nominations? Like Slumdog Millionaire it has accumulated support and warmth. Its only real competition as Best Picture are The Help, and The Descendants.

Yet this year the high calibre film-making talent includes Martin Scorsese, whose Hugo leads the pack with 11 nominations, Woody (Midnight in Paris) Allen, Terrence (The Tree of Life) Malick, Alexander (The Descendants) Payne and Michel (The Artist) Hazanavicius.

Call me dim but if there are nine titles up for Best Picture, shouldn’t there be a similar number of filmmakers in the Best Director category? I suggest that they go hand-in-hand.

And now to the omissions. Two names that should have been top of the list for Best Actor: Ryan Gosling for The Ides of March (or Drive; take your pick) and Michael Fassbender.

Let’s deal with Fassbender first. He plays a sex addict in Shame – hardly the most palatable of subjects for the Los Angeles elite. There are acres of bare flesh on show. It’s a modest, British film that not all of the Academy voters may have seen. But it’s still one of the most courageous, out-there, raw and brutal performances of modern times.

Gosling has been the victim of tease. Everyone seems to have been gunning for him to receive a nomination – he’s widely considered to be the best American actor of his generation – yet when it comes to Oscar, he’s been left out in the cold. The word being bandied around is “snubbed”. And I agree.

And the shock inclusion? Rooney Mara, nominated as Best Actress for her punk heroine in the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. No-one could have expected that, just as no-one could have expected Mexican star Demián Bichir to be nominated as Best Actor for A Better Life.

Wouldn’t it be a shocker if the big awards went to Mara and Bichir rather than Streep and Clooney? Or that Viola Davis, nominated for The Help, beat Streep? Or that the Best Film went to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, another outsider?

Pigs might fly, but I doubt it.