Nominations bring some surprises for Oscars 2012

Some of the Oscar nominees. From top left: The Artist / War Horse / The Help / Hugo / Moneyball / The Descendants.

The nominations are out for the 2012 Academy Awards, with Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’ and Michel Hazanavicius’s ‘The Artist’ among the favourites. Why so much love for films about filmmaking?

The votes are in. The results have been announced. At a dawn ceremony in Los Angeles yesterday, the nominees for this year’s Academy Awards were finally revealed.

For actors and filmmakers it was a moment full of suspense – a moment when months of effort and ambition might be rewarded – or painfully ignored. Hollywood heavyweights like Meryl Streep, Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg were all strong contenders, along with veterans like Christopher Plummer and Max von Sydow and up-and-coming talents like Ryan Gosling or Carey Mulligan. For a few brief moments, even such A-list stars will have been holding their breath.

The film world has no greater award than these golden statuettes awarded by the grandly named American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Commonly known as Oscars, the prizes are awarded by a vote of nearly six thousand of Hollywood’s top professionals, including the top stars. To get an Oscar is the ultimate seal of approval from America’s movie elite.

Even to have been nominated as a contender to win one of the 24 Oscars each year is regarded as a great honour. The final winners will be picked out at a glittering, star-studded party to be held at the end of February, after a second round of voting.

So which films are now in the running? Leading the field, with eleven and ten Oscar nominations respectively, are an unusual pair of films: first, Hugo, a 3D animated family film about an orphan living in the walls of a train station and, second, The Artist, a film from the opposite end of the technological spectrum that is not only black and white, but also silent. If it ends up winning the prestigious ‘Best Picture’ award, it will be the first silent film to do so since 1929.

But despite the two films’ many differences, they have something intriguing in common. The plots of both films are about the early days of the film industry itself. Indeed, both have been described as cinematic ‘love letters’ to the art of movie-making.

Self obsessed

The Oscars are the most glamorous, the most important and the most desired awards in filmmaking. In their acceptance speeches, winning actors often talk about how much it means to have had their hard work recognised by their colleagues and peers.

But there are some rebels against this cosy consensus. This year’s nominees, say some critics, perfectly demonstrate what happens when awards are given out by industry insiders: safe, unambitious, sentimental films do better than challenging ones; big names do well even when they make bad films; finally, the voters obsess over films that are about filmmaking, rather than those which tell a story about the wider world.

You Decide

  1. Do Oscars really matter and, if so, why?
  2. The world is full of films about filmmaking, plays about theatre and novels about novelists. Why? And are these interesting subjects?

Activities

  1. In groups, invent your own categories for ‘alternative Oscars’. What awards would you give, and to who?
  2. Create a story, poem, play or film script about the art of making art.

Some People Say...

“The Oscars are just like celebrities: totally self-obsessed.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I like obscure Japanese anime films. Should I care about the Oscars?
Well... They may not matter much to you. But they are a huge deal in the film industry, and they have a big effect on what sorts of films get made in future. Any film that does brilliantly at the Oscars is sure to spawn dozens of imitators – so there’s reason to hope the Oscar voters give the awards to something good!
And why the odd name?
The golden statuettes have been called ‘Oscars’ since the 1930s, but no one really knows why. Some say the name came from the husband of Bette Davis. Others that it came from King Oscar II of Norway. Either way, what was once an unnofficial nickname seems to have stuck.

Word Watch

Steven Spielberg
Perhaps the most famous director and producer in Hollywood, Steven Spielberg is responsible for smash hits like E.T., Jaws, Jurassic Park and, most recently, War Horse, which has received several Oscar nominations.
Max von Sydow
Max von Sydow has had one of the most varied careers of any actor alive today. His parts have ranged from the lead role in Ingmar Bergman’s gloomy arthouse drama The Seventh Seal, to the camp emperor ‘Ming the Merciless’ in the 1980 sci-fi B-movie Flash Gordon.
Ryan Gosling
2011 was set to be the ‘year of Ryan Gosling’ after his star turns in a series of well-reviewed films. However, Oscar voters surprised the world by ignoring him for the nominations.
Hollywood
Hollywood is an area of Los Angeles that has lent its name to the film industry as a whole. In a similar way, the US technology industry is known as Silicon Valley, the government is known as Washington, and the financial sector is called Wall Street.

Subjects

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