A-List: Recent Oscar Snubs
By Sean Collier
January 5, 2009
Best Animated Feature/Best Original Song, 2003 - The Triplets of Belleville
The very young award for Best Animated Feature might as well have Pixar's name on it. A Pixar joint has taken home the gold three times in seven chances (Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Ratatouille,) and a fourth film, Spirited Away, won thanks to Pixar's US distribution and support. Now, lest I get kicked off the site faster than you can say WALL-E, most of these awards were certainly well deserved, and the one that Pixar snags this year will be just as righteous. However, while I'm a big fan of Finding Nemo, it had no business taking the 2003 trophy away from The Triplets of Belleville, quite possibly the most imaginative and innovative animated film of the decade. A film virtually free of dialogue, Triplets has more memorable sequences and brilliant artistic flourishes than a year's worth of DreamWorks Animation products. This one got robbed. Twice, actually – the film's perfect theme song, Belleville Rendez-vous, was passed over in favor of Annie Lennox's bland wailing nonsense from Return of the King. Do yourself a favor and dig the live performance of Belleville Rendez-vous up on YouTube.
Best Documentary, 2005 – Grizzly Man
Best Documentary, 2007 – The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Recent winners of the Academy Award for Best Documentary have skewed heavily in the direction of political commentary or world affairs. Five of the past six winners (excluding those irritating penguins) have been films with very relevant comments on war, the state of the third world, or American politics. This is perhaps an effort by the Academy to make up for a lack of political fiction deserving of awards. The unintended result, however, is an inability for smaller, focused documentaries to get a fair shake. Werner Herzog's gut-wrenching Grizzly Man, chronicling the gruesome death of adventurer Timothy Treadwell, couldn't even manage a nomination; nor could one of my favorite films of the decade, the indescribably compelling video game epic The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Both of these films are certainly worth your time, but you're doing yourself a great disservice if you haven't seen King of Kong; it's truly one of the most enjoyable, surprising films I've ever seen.
Best Picture, 2006 – Twelve and Holding
Best Picture, 2006 – Brick
Okay, so I'm stretching it with Twelve and Holding. My pick for the best film of 2006, Twelve and Holding was a tiny IFC Films release that grossed less than $100,000 domestically. It may well be a decidedly personal pick for me – I gravitate towards fractured domestic dramas, for some reason – but it's definitely worth a look. Directed by Michael Cuesta, the film follows several suburban children through a rough patch of their young lives. It's brutally realistic, to a fault, and features some excellent performances by a talented group of child actors – and a great supporting role by the criminally unappreciated Jeremy Renner.
The true 2006 screwjob was the snubbing that Brick received come awards season. Both the Academy and the Hollywood Foreign Press roundly ignored the pseudo-noir set in a California high school, despite the film's fanatic reception at Sundance and critical raves. Perhaps the subject matter – teens getting murdered in a drug war – was too much for mainstream recognition. If you haven't seen Brick, it should move to the top of your queue – it'll go down as one of the great forgotten movies of the 2000s.
Best Actor, 2003 – Peter Dinklage, The Station Agent
Best Actress, 2006 – Laura Dern, Inland Empire
Acting is a tough thing to quantify and rank. One need only trace the stylistic changes and shifting definitions of what makes "good" acting across time and genre to see that there's no clear way to declare what a performance on the screen is supposed to look like. Often, awards for acting go to the performer who can connect with the audience at large the most effectively; other times, the award is given for the most transformative performance, the role that looks nothing like the actor we know (or anyone else, for that matter.) When a performer gets snubbed, it's usually because the voters or the crowds can't see exactly what they're doing up there, or can't make sense of it. Peter Dinklage's performance in the 2003 drama The Station Agent is a good example; his surly railroad worker doesn't open up for most of the film, but his struggle is so big and so real that your heart will break for him if you watch carefully. For my money, however, Laura Dern's performance in David Lynch's experimental Inland Empire is one of the most impressive I've ever seen. Unlike Lynch's earlier works, there is no solution to Inland Empire; there is no way to put it all together. Laura Dern's performance was a three-hour ride on a broken roller coaster with no seatbelt, and she managed to hang on. If you can make it through Inland Empire – a film that has driven sleep away from several friends of mine – Dern is really something to see.