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Movie Blog: Cleaning Up The Oscar Slate

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Ryan Reynolds struggles to survive in "Buried." (credit: Lionsgate)

Ryan Reynolds struggles to survive in “Buried.” (credit: Lionsgate)

Eric Henderson Eric Henderson
Eric Henderson joined the WCCO.COM web team in June 2006 and currently...
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By Eric Henderson, CBS Minnesota

Am I the only one who thinks it’s nuts that Hailee Steinfeld was nominated for best supporting actress? Not in the slightest. Almost everyone realizes that she’s a lead if there ever was a lead. She could be in a one-woman show and still be only slightly more a lead than she is in True Grit.

But, being that she’s a 14-year-old unknown, apparently that makes it OK for the Academy to feel she can be legitimately filed away as a “supporting” performance, though there was plenty of talk in the last few weeks leading up to the Oscar nominations that she might actually break through to the leading ranks.

Switching Steinfeld from supporting to lead actress is but one of the corrections I feel compelled to make to this year’s Oscar slate. Here are a few more categories I feel could be cleaned up with just one key substitution. I’ll refrain from touching the 10-deep best picture category. The last thing I want to suggest is that there are more films that need to go into that bloated category.

BEST ACTOR
The Lame Nominee: James Franco, 127 Hours
The Replacement: Ryan Reynolds, Buried

I grant you, there is probably no actor hotter right now than James Franco. But his nomination here feels more a reward for his work ethic than the actual performance. Because if it was just the burden of carrying an entire movie on his shoulders alone that got Franco the nod, Ryan Reynolds would’ve at least been part of the Oscar conversation for his riveting work inside a coffin in the underseen Buried.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Lame Nominee: Jeremy Renner, The Town
The Replacement: Matt Damon, True Grit

Renner’s appearance here is almost certainly a consolation for not winning the Oscar last year when The Hurt Locker was sweeping up just about everything else. In contrast, Damon’s unmerited nomination last year for Invictus leads to him getting snubbed for his much superior turn sharing the spotlight with Jeff Bridges, the man who beat Renner last year? What twisted webs Oscar weaves.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Lame Nominee: Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
The Replacement: Dale Dickey, Winter’s Bone

Helena Bonham Carter’s nod is a nod for simply clocking in. She’s in the movie, she works that British accent, she reacts with visible emotion to everything her leading man does. (In most other years, I’d call her a shoe-in for the win, but this year she’s got stiff competition from Steinfeld and the Fighter pair.) The actors recognized great work in Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes. Why did they stop short of citing Dale Dickey’s memorable work?

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Lame Nominee: Simon Beaufoy & Danny Boyle, 127 Hours
The Replacement: Robert Harris & Roman Polanski, The Ghost Writer

I don’t mean to pick on 127 Hours, but of all its nominations, this is the one that makes the least sense. Aside from a few neat structural touches, the entire movie seems dependent on director Danny Boyle’s (rather incessant) rhythms, not on its tight script. It’s a real shame they couldn’t have found some room for The Ghost Writer in this, the category that once nominated The Reader. Sudden bout of illiteracy?

BEST ART DIRECTION
The Lame Nominee: Alice in Wonderland
The Replacement: Tron: Legacy

Tim Burton’s work seems to get nominations in this category out of habit, no matter how ugly. I’m no fan of Tron: Legacy, but the dark, clean, antiseptic art direction was probably its most memorable feature, especially in comparison to the horrific clutter of Wonderland.

BEST SONG
The Lame Nominee: “We Belong Together,” Toy Story 3
The Replacement: “Sticks & Stones,” How To Train Your Dragon

Randy Newman has won his Oscar now. No need to give him a slot for rehashing a template he already did infinitely better in the previous two Toy Story installments. I’ve no clue why this category was held down to just four nominations when there were a couple possibilities from Burlesque and (if they needed to stick to cartoon songs) Jonsi’s soaring contribution to the How To Train Your Dragon soundtrack.

BEST SOUND
The Lame Nominee: The King’s Speech
The Replacement: Black Swan

File this one under: “Are you kidding me?” With shades of Shakespeare in Love, the utterly underwhelming sound design of The King’s Speech only really shines in the few minutes where the sound mixers are required to reenact the early days of radio-transmitted sound. Whereas Black Swan‘s busy flutters do as much as anything to convey Natalie Portman’s fragile state of mind.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
The Lame Nominee: Iron Man 2
The Replacement: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

I heartily applaud the nomination for Hereafter‘s terrifying tsunami sequence, a fine nomination that says, for once, the people responsible for nominating movies here recognize good work even if it doesn’t overwhelm the entire film’s running time. Which it does in Iron Man 2. Wish they could’ve refrained from sequelitis in favor of Scott Pilgrim‘s humorous, imaginative setpieces.

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