Sell yourself short, but you’re walking so tall

1-19-2.

Something about that first number…just…doesn’t….look…right….

As I’ve reported in this space, I’ve been engaged in an ongoing bout for over twenty years, putting my best guess at the Oscar nominations in the six major categories up against those of my old movie review radio show colleague. Nineteen times, I’ve conceded defeat to him. Twice, I was able to call him up and note that we had tied, though those didn’t feel like accomplishments; they felt more like leaning across the ring with my face bloodied, asserting, “You didn’t get me down, Ray!”

Then, this morning, for the first time ever…I won. What’s more, I think it’s one of the most decisive wins in our extensive history. Usually we’re within one or two of one another, but I wound up correctly guessing 30 of the 35 nominees while he wound up with 26 correct. The major difference is that I correctly named all five Best Actress nominees and, in a coup I find entirely unexpected, all ten Best Picture nominees. Even in defeat, I used to take some amount of pride in being especially good at nailing all of the Best Picture nominees, a talent I figured was gone with the expansion to ten films. Turns out, I pulled it off in the second year of the new system. I don’t expect I’ll ever do that again.

I’m honestly a little shell-shocked by this turn of events. This must be how Boston Red Sox fans felt in 2004 when their team finally took the World Series. Yes, it’s exciting, but a major part of your personal identity has just been stripped away. When you’re defined by losing, how do you adjust to being a winner. Red Sox fans seemingly decided to adopt the Yankee fan mentality of perpetual entitlement. I’m hoping I go a different route.

Until I sort that out, here’s the handful of immediate observations I have about the nominations:

–The major snubs are Andrew Garfield in Best Supporting Actor, Mila Kunis in Best Supporting Actress and Christopher Nolan in Best Director. As I noted yesterday, Kunis being left out isn’t a huge surprise, even though she was included in the mix for all the precursors. She’s still pretty young and her prior roles and performances lack the sort of heft Oscar voters prefer, even for someone they’re citing for a breakthrough. Garfield’s omission could signal that The Social Network doesn’t have the automatic support that many have assumed in anointing the film the Best Picture front-runner, especially since The King’s Speech has the distinction of the most nominations. Nolan’s snub may be the most unkind: even though his film is most clearly, most distinctively a “director’s movie” out of all those in the Best Picture race, he doesn’t get a nominated for his efforts in that capacity, having to personally settle for a Best Screenplay nod. He’s now been nominated for the DGA Award three times with no corresponding Academy love. Amazing.

–Nothing significant shifts in the acting races. Colin Firth and Christian Bale are still locks, and Natalie Portman is as close as she could be, with only Annette Bening in her way. Bening is on her fourth nomination, which means that her supporters can start adamantly making the claim that she’s due. Still, I don’t think she can get past the adoration of Portman’s heavy actorly lifting in Black Swan. Bening has already lost against Whoopi Golberg in Ghost, Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry and Swank again in Million Dollar Baby. Every time Bening gets in, it’s against a performance that was practically an automatic winner from the moment voters first saw it. When is she going to get a weak field to compete against?

–Best Supporting Actress strikes me as the only acting category still up for grabs, but Melissa Leo’s publicists are working overtime to maintain the momentum she got from the Globes win. Mo’Nique had barely spoken her last words while helping to announce the nominees this morning before Leo was on the phone with Good Morning America breathlessly gushing about her nomination. Bonham-Carter could still easily win, especially if enough Academy members are checking the box next to The King’s Speech on the Best Picture part of their ballot. Also, don’t discount the possibility of a win for Hailee Steinfeld. It would be a token award for the Coen brothers’ hit, and performances that are arguably leads often fare pretty well in the supporting categories. Imagine what one that is inarguably a lead will do! The Academy is usually reluctant to award performances by kids, but it has been a long time since the last one.

–Though he withdrew his score from the same film from consideration, Randy Newman was nominated in the Best Song category for the fine “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3. It’s his twentieth nomination.

–Of the twenty acting nominations, fifteen of them are culled from films that factor in the Best Picture race. last year, it was nine. I wonder if this is one of directions that ten Best Picture slots will take the awards, where the acting categories wind up serving as ratification of the superiority of the Best Picture contenders. Diversity of films included in the major categories may become a thing of the past.

–For all the abstract discussion of what these nominations mean, the honor can have a clear impact on the careers of those who receive them. In the acting categories, the person most likely to get the sort of significant career boost enjoyed by Amy Ryan and Melissa Leo after their initial nominations is John Hawkes. Maybe it’s my latent Deadwood devotion (not to mention affection for Me and You and Everyone We Know), but I think that’s great.