Slate senior editor Dan Kois joined critics Troy Patterson and Dana Stevens on our Facebook page to chat with readers about this year’s Oscar nominations. The following transcript of the discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
Dan Kois: Hey everyone. Thanks for coming to the Slate Oscar chat. Dana, Troy, and I have been writing about the nominations here.
Dana Stevens: Hey all, just arrived! Thanks for trying this with us—we've never done it (unless you all had one last year and I wasn't invited. You did, didn't you?)
Mani Mobini: Why is Hugo such an OVERRATED film? And Melancholia didn't even get one nod. Should we really take the Oscars seriously after these picks?
Dan Kois: Of course we shouldn't take the Oscars seriously as a judge of artistic merit! But when was that ever the case? The Oscars reward their kind of movies, and trying to predict that (and argue about it) is fun.
Dan Kois: And the Oscars are worth arguing about because of the publicity and box office they can bring to otherwise ignored films.
Troy Patterson: Hello! I see that Mani Mobini is disappointed in the omission of LVT's gut-punching Melancholia. I'm going to submit that Lars, being a difficult filmmaker, will only get invited to this rodeo on occasion when he expresses his Dancer in the Dark-type kitsch streak. Also, Lars, being a difficult person, got himself permanently disinvited from this party with his Nazi joke at Cannes.
Joseph Malefatto: Hugo was gorgeous but it frankly felt more like a Universal Studios feature than a coherent movie—not just because it was in 3D but because it was sooo tied in its own fakey-fakey movie world. The only part with any authentic feeling at all was, tellingly, the clips from old Méliès movies.
Dana Stevens: I agree with you point for point on Hugo, though many people I know were moved by it. I do think it's the kind of movie that will appeal to academy voters. But I don't see it winning any non-tech awards (except maybe adapted screenplay.) Then again, I'm a notoriously lousy Oscar prognosticator.
Dana Stevens: The main reason I don't see that happening for Hugo, btw, is that people will think Scorsese won too recently for The Departed, and maybe showed his hand too much in wanting it too badly.
Barbara Roden: Is best supporting actor Christopher Plummer's to lose? Or could the (generally older) academy members split their vote between him and Max von Sydow, and let someone else come up the middle?
Dana Stevens: Re: the Plummer vs. von Sydow faceoff in best supporting actor: did the horrible thought occur to anyone else that it may come down to which of the two is older and in worse shape? Both are veteran actors getting awards for a lifetime of work (neither has ever won, correct?). It may help Plummer that Beginners is a movie that's easy to love. I haven't seen Extremely Loud yet, but I hear it's kind of a disaster.
Troy Patterson: I think that Plummer is the biggest lock—a veritable double deadbolt—on offer in the acting categories.
Adam Vermillion: How did Tree of Life not get an editing nomination? I must not understand the category.
Dan Kois: Yes! That is surprising. (The editing nominees are: The Artist, The Descendants, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Moneyball.)
I'm also surprised that TINKER TAILOR didn't get an editing nod—both that and TREE OF LIFE seem almost constructed in the editing room in a way that the academy often recognizes.
Maggie Dziubek: Where are Drive and Shame?
Troy Patterson: Hi, Maggie! Drive and Shame are both sulking somewhere—not because they were snubbed but because they're the sulky type, which is why they were snubbed. Too much sex and violence and violent sex for Oscar's taste …
Trevor Baum: No Tilda Swinton, no Michael Fassbender, no Kirsten Dunst, no Lars Von Trier, no Albert Brooks, and no Ellen Barkin. Yikes.
Dan Kois: I can't say I'm really surprised at the omission of Tilda, Fassbender, or Melancholia. All three are difficult movies, at least by the standards of the academy, dealing with dark themes in artful ways. (Or at least people who love Shame think it's artful.) They're not films made for old people, which are who vote for the Oscars.
Troy Patterson: … However, you remind me that Mark Harris, who does Oscars coverage at Grantland, tweeted awhile back that he'd like to see a movie titled Drive of Shame, a feature-length staring contest between Gosling and Fassbender. Winner gets to keep Carey M.
Dana Stevens: The omission of Shame doesn't surprise me at all—the fact I thought it was a terrible movie aside, it's just not to the academy's taste—but I was sure Albert Brooks would get nominated for Drive. The surprise in that category was Jonah Hill—what endeared him to the academy all of a sudden? Just the need to shout out a newcomer?
Paul Notley: One of the more annoying things about the Oscars is that cunning people set up a narrative and suckers fall for it. For example, back for 2002, Miramax went around saying "Isn't it time a musical won best picture? By a stunning coincidence we happen to have one right here." In retrospect, The Pianist, Spirited Away, Russian Ark, and The Two Towers are much better choices.
Dan Kois: Yeah, the Oscars are ALL ABOUT narrative, and Harvey is a master at creating it. This year he's got his weight behind THE ARTIST, with its narrative of Rescuing-Cinema-in-a-Time-of-Need. My fondest hope is that HUGO's identical narrative will cancel THE ARTIST out.
Dianna Walters: It would be nice to see some new people win instead of Clooney and Streep every year. They are great but let's give someone else a chance.
Dana Stevens: She actually hasn't won best actress since Sophie's Choice in 1983! She's been nominated 17 times! I actually think her winning would be an exciting novelty. I think that category is basically between her and Viola Davis.
Troy Patterson: Dianna says that she's bored of seeing Clooney and Streep every year. Me too. Thing is, they keep doing very good work. And they ARE nice to look at. What if we disqualified them, but made them permanent hosts?
Dan Kois: Dana, I think Streep is a shoo-in, and isn't it moronic that THIS is the movie she will win for? Not ADAPTATION or PRADA or POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE or even JULIE AND JULIA, which was bad but a million times funner than THE IRON LADY?
Matt Singer: Are these the worst Oscar nominees ever or am I just a bitter TAKE SHELTER fan? Please don't answer that.
Matt Singer: A serious question: how does a movie as polarizing as EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE get nominated? Is it that beloved by Academy voters? Does Scott Rudin have blackmail material on all of them?
Dan Kois: Matt! Hi. I really think it's that crazy first-place-on-the-ballot thing. It doesn't seem impossible to me that ELIC could rack up 500 first-place votes—even if those were the only votes it got.
Troy Patterson: If I'm doing the math correctly, a movie scarcely needs 300 first-place votes to get in the game.
Jay Arntson: What do you think of the Jonah Hill supporting actor nomination? Apparently there were gasps by journalists when his name was announced ...
Dan Kois Not as many as when ELIC was announced for best picture! Jonah wasn't a surprise, in that he appeared in precursors, but he IS a surprise in that he gave a very restrained, subtle performance. In fact, MONEYBALL, for all its flaws, is exemplary as an example of naturalistic acting, which is particularly impressive given that the actors had to get their mouths around all that Sorkinese. That's why I'm surprised by Pitt's nomination too: neither one of those were showy roles, and I'm happy the academy recognized them—even if there were other unshowy roles I liked better.
Jay Arntson: Yes, for all of Moneyball's flaws, the performances grew on me as the year went on. Best animated feature seems like a toss-up to me. Thoughts?
Dana Stevens: I haven't seen enough of the animated nominees to speak to that, but this trailer for the surprise on the list, A Cat in Paris, makes it look pretty rad.
Jay Arntson: Wow, very cool! A Cat in Paris is the only animated feature I haven't seen but the video makes it seem very intriguing as a narrative.
Joseph Malefatto: I was really disappointed with movies in general in 2011; my favorite BY FAR was Hanna (which was completely ignored, as my favorite movies usually are).
Troy Patterson: Wasn't Cate Blanchett wicked awesome in Hanna? Maybe if the movie were identified as an action flick, it would easy to imagine her getting a nomination.
Joseph Troy: YES, although to be fair, she was also completely ridiculous. I love her in pretty much everything though. I liked Drive, but it's clearly in inferior Euro-action movie of the year.
Gary Goldman: Hi Dana, Dan, and Troy! I know we're chatting about the Oscars, but who gets your vote for the Razzies (let's limit it to worst film and worst actor/actress)? I personally think Jack & Jill should take home all three.
Dana Stevens: You asked that Razzie question in the right place. As it happens, Dan was on the Razzie beat and is attending the awards ceremony in a tuxedo! Dan, when do they happen?
Dan Kois: Haha, the Razzies! Read more at RazzieWatch.
Dan Kois: The short answer is that nominations are pushed back this year to Feb. 25, the awards are given out April 1, and JACK AND JILL will win everything.
Troy Patterson: What does it mean that no one involved with this chat can be bothered to cheer or to boo Midnight in Paris?
Dan Kois: Troy, it means that movie neither ruled nor sucked. It fades into the night air like a dream of the past.
Dana Stevens: Won't someone for the love of God think of Midnight in Paris … and the children?
Erik Stadnik: Maybe Midnight in Paris is getting over-recognized in a misguided attempt by the cinematic community at positive reinforcement. “We'll over-praise this charming but slight movie—just don't make another Curse of the Jade Scorpion.”
Dan Kois: Is there no one willing to go to bat for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS????
Dana Stevens: The over-recognition of Midnight in Paris was one of 2011's many small annoyances. And I say that as someone who gave the movie a generally good review. Everyone is grading Woody on a massive curve, I feel.
Steve Katz: I feel the same way you do about Midnight, but actually about Hugo with Scorsese.
Jay Arntson: My .02 cents on Midnight in Paris: Everyone I've talked with has really enjoyed that film and this comes from friends with very different tastes in films. Maybe it has a lot of crossover appeal?
Dan Kois: It's very likeable! It's just when I compare it to the other movies Woody's made in the 25 years since his last BP nomination that I feel sort of bad. Like, it's not as funny as BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, for cripes' sake.
Steve Katz: Also, I liked Midnight in Paris quite a bit, but Owen Wilson just did not mesh well. Seemed like the wrong kind of actor for the part.
Heather MacDonald: I'll go to bat. MIP reminded me (yet again) there's no one writing relationships like Allen. Sure, his dialogue can be creaky, but the ambivalence, misanthropy, projections, and self-delusion within couples is unmatched on the screen. That alone is worth a nod. Plus, I love the idea of Gertrude Stein as matchmaker.
Dan Kois: But Heather, I feel like any argument about how truthful the relationships in MiP are is undercut by the fact that Rachel McAdams' character was a shrill, horrible harpy.
Boris Kossmehl I find this the most dispiriting list of best picture nominees I've seen in a long time, especially as there have been a few good films out this year. More nominations in this case only seems to mean more mediocre films. The Tree of Life is the only slightly edgy film. The only surprise inclusion was the shock of seeing the mawkish Extremely Loud ..., which would have been instantly forgotten had it been released half a year ago. Wasn't the whole point of having more nominations to give more marginal films a chance "People keep going on about Fassbender and Shame. I think he would have deserved a nomination for X-Men rather than for Shame, not a great film, but he was fantastic. My contender for best male performance of the year never had a chance: Tom Cullen in Weekend: far too subtle and truthful.
Dan Kois: You're preaching to the choir about Tom Cullen in WEEKEND, my favorite movie of the year. But no, it never had a chance.
Troy Patterson: Actually, the idea was to give blockbusters a chance, funnily enough. On a different topic, he continues, "I think [Fassbender] would have deserved a nomination for X-Men rather than for Shame." WHUH?????
Dana Stevens: I'm afraid getting dispirited by the Oscars' lack of edginess, or failure to recognize performances like Tom Cullen's in Weekend (which I also adored) is a dangerous path to go down. I'm writing about this a bit in my post in Dan's, Troy's & my Oscar discussion.
Eduardo Garza Santos: Dana, do you not think Michelle Williams has a chance? I'm all for Meryl Streep, but just because she keeps getting nominated doesn't necessarily mean she should get a "finally" or "she deserves it after so many nominations" award for it. I think Michelle Williams did a fantastic job in My Week With Marilyn. I still think she should've won for last year's Blue Valentine.
I had this conversation with somebody about Meryl Streep vs. Michelle Williams. Meryl Streep, as of late, anyway, has been great at mimicking personas and their subtleties (Julia, Miranda Priestly, Thatcher). On the other hand, Michelle Williams can go beyond that and exude a whole other set of emotions that hide behind her eyes and her look that give the character some depth.
One a side note: Can someone please tell me why My Week With Marilyn was under the "Comedy or Musical" category at the Golden Globes?
Dan Kois: Michelle does have a chance, sure. She gave a good speech at the Globes, she is well-liked, she was good in the role even though the movie was lousy. And at the Globes, it was classified as Comedy/Musical because that's how its producers classified it, in a delightful case of category fraud that was rewarded when she won the Globe.
Dana Stevens: I share your love for Michelle Williams, but I think she has zero chance of winning for Marilyn. Too minor of a film, and it's not her time.
Troy Patterson: Will someone explain to me how Harvey Weinstein will orchestrate campaigns for both Streep and Michelle Williams?
Jaclyn Mosher: I know it’s a less flashy category, but I'm really upset that Tinker Tailor Solider Spy didn't get nominated for art direction. What a fantastic job they did on the bleak, bunker-like, alternatively sparse and cluttered period-perfect sets. Costumes were also top-notch.
Dan Kois: Jaclyn: I think that's one of the 5 stupidest non-nominations of the year, in fact!
Dana Stevens: Tinker Tailor not getting a production design nod is a diss indeed. What's that about? The Bakelite phones alone should win an award.
Dan Kois: Achievement in Phones.
Dan Kois: Also, Gary Oldman's glasses should win Achievement in Glasses.
Jay Arntson: I'm interested in the critics vs. lay-audiences debate about The Tree of Life. How does this conflict play out come Oscars night?
Troy Patterson: I don't think it does come out. I think the movie is too far out to win anything except the editing prize.
Dana Stevens: But Troy, wasn't Tree of Life not even nommed for editing? Quelle scandale. OK, now I'm really out. Goodbye & thanks!
Dan Kois: Thanks everyone for your great questions! Sorry we couldn't get to them all!
Dan Kois: Don't forget to submit your ideas for how to make the Oscars better in our Hive.
Troy Patterson: Dana is correct. I meant to say cinematography, perhaps demonstrating my unfitness for the medium of Facebook chatting. I'm off to practice! Thanks, gang!
Jay Arntson: Thanks everyone! :-)
Erik Stadnik: Thanks all—oodles of fun! Way more fun that the awards. :-)