Nine Oscar Nominations That Should Have Been

Maya Rudolph in Away We Go

Last week the Oscar nominations for 2009 films were announced. Despite the Academy's decision to widen the Best Picture pack to ten movies (for the first time since they narrowed it down to five in 1944), there were few surprises in that and in any other category. As usual. I am happy to see the less populist films like The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and The White Ribbon get the credit that they deserve, but here are nine nominations - some likely, some unlikely - that would have made me even happier to see.

  1. Best Costume Design: Jenny Beavan, SHERLOCK HOLMES. It's not like this movie was ignored by the Academy: it picked up noms for its score and its art direction. But 8-time nominee Beavan's hip Victorian garb was one of the best things about it. Beavan's contemporary, Colleen Atwood, shouldn't have been nominated for her curiously unexciting costumes for Nine.
  2. Best Actress: Maya Rudolph, AWAY WE GO. Sam Mendes' dramedy about a pregnant couple was not a huge hit - indeed, some critics hated it, based perhaps on its occasionally twee dialogue. I thought it was okay, but former Saturday Night Live star Rudolph's work was a revelation: funny, deep and genuine. Any one of 2009's actual Best Actress nominees should have been pushed out to make room for Rudolph.
  3. Best Actor: Tom Hardy, BRONSON. For many years, I felt that Jeremy Renner was a great star unjustly overlooked by both audiences and awards shows. So it's nice to see him nominated for The Hurt Locker. British actor Tom Hardy falls into the same category, though it was impossible that he would've been nominated for this obscure performance art-ish biopic about England's most violent criminal. Still, it's spellbinding work, better than George Clooney's in Up in the Air.
  4. Best Visual Effects: MOON. In this day and age, it's silly that the Academy continues to limit the nominees for Best Visual Effects to three films. I can't argue against the inclusion of Avatar, Star Trek, and District 9 in this category, but it would have been cool if the cult sci fi flick Moon was recognized for its clever model work and compositing - expertly done, especially considering the film's low budget.
  5. Best Original Score: Marvin Hamlisch, THE INFORMANT! This Matt Damon psychotic corporate comedy was an unusual movie, and director Steven Soderbergh's choice to have '70s composer Hamlisch provide a zany, jazzy score was most daring. The music stood out like a sore thumb and yet worked wonderfully. It should have been nominated instead of James Horner's cheesy Avatar score, for sure.
  6. Best Costume Design: Casey Storm, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. I was not a huge fan of Spike Jonze's manic-depressive adaptation of Maurice Sendak's children's book, but visually it was a marvel, and it's something of a shock that it was completely shut out of the Oscar race. Cinematography and production design were both outstanding, but the costumes were the real triumph. Perhaps Academy voters couldn't tell where the costumes ended and the visual effects began. Or perhaps Academy voters just have little imagination when it comes to this category.
  7. Best Art Direction: Scott Chambliss, STAR TREK. The summer blockbuster was remembered come Oscar time for the usual sci fi stuff - visual effects, sound editing, etc. But its reimagining of the Enterprise interiors alone was worth a nomination, and its inventive sets far outclassed those of Nine, which I felt got more nominations than it deserved. (Only Marion Cotillard's work deserved to be recognized, and it wasn't.)
  8. Best Makeup: DISTRICT 9. It was cheering to see this terrific film nab four key nominations, including Best Picture. So why not for its incredible makeup work? Is this another case of voters not understanding what is makeup and what is a digital effect? Probably. But if the obscure Italian film Il Divo could get a makeup nom, then why couldn't District 9?
  9. Best Original Screenplay: Lynn Shelton, HUMPDAY. As a writer, I find it a little depressing that, because the Academy lists their nominated categories in alphabetical order, the writers always end up at the bottom. It's as if they're less important than the sound mixers. But I'll follow suit by ending this list with the screenplay category. Like Tom Hardy in Bronson, no one could have realistic expectations that Shelton's no-budget, little-seen slacker comedy of manners, Humpday, would ever be nominated for an Oscar. But it's a great script, honest and funny and timely, and the dialogue's not nearly as ad-libbed as it seems. Better than the scripts for The Hurt Locker and Up, certainly.