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Those Pathetic Oscar Nominations, Continued

Everyone should read Chris' post on the terrible Oscar nominations out today. David Carr, astonishingly, claims that the nominations represent a case of "quality" emerging "triumphant," mainly because Richard Jenkins and Melissa Leo were nominated for films that very few people saw (Jenkins, for what it's worth, was terrific in The Visitor). But really, what a disaster! Chris is right that Kate Winslet and Kristin Scott Thomas were much more deserving than Angelina Jolie, and he's also correct that the Academy was smart to nominate Michael Shannon for his small part in Revolutionary Road, and Penelope Cruz for her hilarious performance in Vicky Christina Barcelona. I disagree with Chris about the merits of The Dark Knight (no film with a last hour as mediocre as TDK's has any right to be nominated), but it is indeed too bad that Wall-E was not chosen (especially considering the alternatives).

Still, the real disgrace here is that Benjamin Button, an unwatchably boring and bad film, was given 13 nominations. The movie's lone accomplishment--using special effects to make Brad Pitt look as young as he did in Thelma & Louise--has the unfortunate side effect of alerting us to the disappointing reality that the man can act only when given a role where he is allowed to sparkle and be funny (Snatch, Fight Club, Twelve Monkeys, Oceans 11). When he plays it straight--as he does in Benjamin Button--he can practically put an audience to sleep (see his performances in Meet Joe Black, Seven Years in Tibet, and, alas, Se7en, David Fincher's brilliant serial-killer drama in which Pitt is unconvinving). Perhaps in honor of Cate Blanchett's awful, awful performance in The Aviator (Blanchett is in Benjamin Button, too), the Academy has once again chosen to nominate someone (Blanchett actually won!) for a performance in which they were not even good, let alone great.

Finally, as both Chris and Ross Douthat note, the Academy nominated a bunch of middlebrow movies that in Ross' words "check" all the right "boxes" but are not particularly entertaining or interesting. One problem this year was that all the middlebrow films (Doubt, Frost/Nixon, Milk, Benjamin Button) were not very good (Gran Torino being the exception, in my opinion). In other years, the middlebrow movies have been just fine (check out the nominated films during almost any year between 1990 and 2002--the middlebrow entertainments were much, much better). This leaves movie buffs with only one course of action, and that is to root for Slumdog Millionaire. Fair enough, you might say, but only because the other choices are so poor.

--Isaac Chotiner