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Studying the Snubs

What can you do in a year of such strong movies? There are bound to be casualties. Besides, what is a snub?

It was bound to happen in a year this rich with movies: snubs! Bloggers were fast to report on the so-called snubs this week from the Screen Actors Guild for the SAG Awards and the HFPA for the Golden Globes. SAG snubbed Michael Fassbender, Shailene Woodley and Albert Brooks, but favoured Demian Bichir and Armie Hammer. The HFPA liked Fassbender, Woodley and Brooks but snubbed Bichir and Hammer. Both groups snubbed Gary Oldman, Patton Oswalt, Vanessa Redgrave, Elisabeth Olsen and Matt Damon.
 
There were no Globe or SAG noms for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, The Tree Of Life or Martha Marcy May Marlene. Likewise Steven Spielberg and Tate Taylor were missed off the Globe directing list for War Horse and The Help respectively, although HFPA members might have considered Spielberg’s nomination in the animated feature category for The Adventures Of Tintin adequate compensation.
 
But what can you do in a year of such strong movies? There are bound to be casualties. Besides, what is a snub? Some reports would imply that the HFPA – the group of 90 overseas journalists writing about Hollywood in LA – has ganged up against certain titles. Having been a voting member of the HFPA for more than a decade, I can tell you it doesn’t work that way. You vote in a vacuum and most members have strong opinions about their preferences which are not swayed by any group lobbying. Many was the year I cringed at some of the films apparently “snubbed” by the HFPA but there is no collective snubbing, just a majority swing towards certain films in the balloting process.
 
One thing the HFPA does possess which many of the critics groups don’t is a mainstream sensibility. There aren’t many critics who would own up to liking The Help more than The Tree Of Life, but the HFPA is composed of older journalists with less self-consciously rarefied tastes, and they vote more emotionally. That may earn them the scorn of critics groups but it also offers a hint as to what the Academy membership, which is also an older-skewing voting body, might favour. The HFPA brought movies into the forefront which had previously been considered dark horses like Midnight In Paris and The Ides Of March, both strong films which might appeal to the middle-of-the-road heart of the Academy.
 
The Academy is a deeply conservative voting group – even more so than the HFPA – and provocative films like Shame and Young Adult could suffer from that taste differential. An awards expert suggested to me the other day, for example, that Academy members love Hugo because its story of an older artist (Georges Melies) who wants to be remembered for his work is something they can relate to.
 
Meanwhile Tinker Tailor has a chance of picking up love from BAFTA voters who will surely appreciate Tomas Alfredson’s sophisticated storytelling and very British Cold War story. Likewise British favourites like Tyrannosaur and Shame should garner more love from BAFTA than either HFPA or AMPAS. I would be stunned for example if Olivia Colman didn’t get a BAFTA nomination for best actress in Tyrannosaur or Steve McQueen for best director of Shame. And Vanessa Redgrave, so luminous as Volumnia in Coriolanus, can surely not be snubbed by BAFTA.
 
Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close hasn’t been getting much love from voters, enduring double snubs from SAG and HFPA. This handsome Scott Rudin production has only recently started screening – it was unavailable for the New York Critics Circle voting, for example – so it could gather a head of steam in the run up to Academy and BAFTA deadlines. Despite the Daldry/Rudin pedigree and the presence of Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks in supporting roles, the film ultimately challenges voters to spend 135 minutes in the company of a precocious nine year-old boy going to elaborate lengths to deal with his father’s death on 9/11. Movies told from a child’s perspective, however emotional, aren’t necessarily big winners with awards groups.
 
Another Rudin picture – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – is my favourite film of the year, but it’s a hard-hitting thriller and again thrillers don’t tend to score points come awards time, especially ones containing brutal anal rape scenes. It took two Globe nods for lead actress (drama) – Rooney Mara – and music score, but David Fincher’s bravura direction, Steven Zaillian’s expert screenplay adaptation and Daniel Craig’s assured lead performace were “snubbed”. Zaillian can take comfort with his Globe nomination for Moneyball, shared with Aaron Sorkin.
 
In the foreign language category, the Globe voters opted for three films which are ineligible for the same category at the Oscars: Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut In The Land Of Blood And Honey which is US-financed but shot in the Bosanski/Hrvatski/Srpski language, the Dardenne brothers’ latest slice of realism The Kid With A Bike from Belgium and Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In from Spain. Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation from Iran and Zhang Yimou’s The Flowers Of War from China — which are official Oscar submissions — round out the five. The Academy race meanwhile still has some great movies in play including Footnote, Le Havre, Declaration Of War, In Darkness, Miss Bala, Superclasico, Pina and Monsieur Lazhar. I can’t imagine any film beating A Separation but, in this category, you never know.
 
Despite the surprises from SAG Award and Globe voters, what do this week’s nominations offer by way of clues on the way to the Oscars? I would say that The Artist remains the favourite for best picture, with Clooney, Dujardin and Pitt running about level for best actor and Streep, Davis and Williams in the lead for best actress. As for best director, Scorsese, Payne and Spielberg are all still red hot, but for sheer originality, chutzpah and joie de vivre, I am putting Frenchman Michel Hazanavicius in the lead. Now who could have imagined that?

For all of Screen’s previous Open Season awards blog posts, click here.

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