Few surprises, as Oscar nods go pretty much as expected

The Oscar nominations are out and, as you already know, the most significant mystery is predicting w

The Oscar nominations are out and, as you already know, the most significant mystery is predicting whether any movie people show up for the ceremony. Picture the plight of designers who have created exquisite gowns, only to be sabotaged by a strike.

There is little that is surprising about the field of entries, although I do wonder how many voters really saw the movies. As I feared and predicted, “Atonement” made the cut, but in a series of revealing snubs, neither the director nor the stars were nominated. Only Saoirse Ronan got a nod for best supporting actress. As I mentioned last week, “Atonement” was shut out by all the guilds (writers, producers, directors) in their voting, and it may be the most overrated film of 2007.

Of all the highly touted films, “Into the Wild” was virtually ignored. The only recognition was to Hal Holbrook, nominated for supporting actor, an honor richly deserved. With due respect to colleagues who do not hold the movie in high esteem, it’s hard to escape the notion that its omission may be linked to the distaste many Hollywood types have for Sean Penn, who directed the film.

Lack of public interest

Instead of Emile Hirsch, the movie’s star, the surprise Oscar nod for best actor went to Tommy Lee Jones, who was superb in “In the Garden of Elah,” a terrific movie that suffered from the public’s lack of interest in movies in any way related to Iraq. I must confess that as I peruse my list of the best, I also ignored and forgot about a movie I raved about in a review. It’s unfair, and perhaps a sign that we Americans just want to believe the second Iraqi invasion never happened.

Please try to rent “Eastern Promises” and see for yourself how good it is and how very special is the performance of Viggo Mortensen, who, as I hoped, was nominated for best actor. Like so many other entries this year, it’s a tough film, which leads me to a quandary I mentioned in my end-of-year comments.

For years, many of us have been asking for movies that challenge adults instead of those which cheaply entertain. So now we have “No Country for Old Men,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Michael Clayton,” smart, hard-nosed movies with some relentlessly bleak themes, although “Clayton” does have a just ending; still, its hero, played by George Clooney, remains a burnt-out-case with that recognizable Irish melancholy Clooney captures with perfection.

Movies that matter

Most of the year’s better films reflected adult tastes, including “In the Garden of Elah,” “The Savages,” “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “Gone, Baby, Gone,” probably the most unjustly ignored film of 2007. In an age of baby boomer maturity, we are getting what we asked for: movies that matter. Oops. Where are the traditional, mindless movies that audiences seem to thrive on? So here we go with film as an art form rather than as fleeting, facile entertainment. Americans especially have not been brought up to see movies as art — that is entertainment prodding us to think about some ideas or concepts as we watch human nature at work.

Even movies such as “Superbad” and “Knocked Up” were not frivolous comedies, which suggest to me that we are approaching a cultural crossroad where films designed for teens and twentysomethings are in dubious battle with movies of substance more likely to appeal to mature adults. Interestingly, some of the year’s top-grossing movies did not get significant attention, movies such as “Ratatouille” and “the perfectly awful “Transformers.”

This all leads me once more to “Juno,” the only nominated film bridging that juncture — a movie at once traditionally entertaining and thoughtful. That’s why, once more, it has a chance to take it all.

Categories: Life and Arts

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