The Academy Awards are almost upon us once again, and this Sunday night, the entire film industry will hold its breath while a bunch of old, white men tell us what they liked this year. Here, for the discerning theatergoer, is a stage-to-screen-to-Oscar guide to the most notable nominations (from our point of view, anyway).
First up, we have the elephant in the room – or rather, the horse in the room. Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse”, adapted from the hit play by Nick Stafford and the novel by Michael Morpurgo, received six nominations, including Best Picture. The film is also nominated in the categories of Art Direction, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.
“War Horse” is a long shot for the big prize (which is a two-horse race between equestrian-free “The Artist” and “Hugo”), but seems likely to pick up at least a couple of the smaller carrots. In particular, Oscar may recognize the cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, who is one of Hollywood’s most revered artists behind the camera. His photography, with its lush evocations of classic John Ford-style war movies, is arguably the film’s best quality. The legendary John Williams, who has been nominated 47 times (and won five of those), would be a stronger bet in Original Score if he didn’t happen to be competing against himself – he’s also nominated for Spielberg’s other film, “The Adventures of Tintin”.
Though no other theatre-based film from 2011 matches “War Horse” for sheer quantity of nominations, the stage will nevertheless be well-represented at the Kodak. “Albert Nobbs”, which took years for star, producer and co-writer Glenn Close to get off the ground after headlining the 1982 off-Broadway production it’s based on, has three nominations: Best Actress for Close, Best Supporting Actress for Janet McTeer and Best Makeup. Ironically, though it’s Close’s passion project, the movie has its best chances in the other two categories. McTeer’s earned a lot of goodwill as tough, self-assured cross-dresser Hubert Page, and the actors sport so many prosthetics that the makeup (by Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnson and Matthew W. Mungle) demands our attention.
“My Week With Marilyn”, which follows the legendary screen performer (and at-the-time wife to Arthur Miller) as she clashes on a 1957 movie set with the classically trained Lawrence Olivier, has two nominations, both in the acting categories. For her pitch-perfect recreation of Monroe, Michelle Williams has the best shot at a Best Actress upset over awards-season heavyweight Meryl Streep (who’s nominated for playing Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady”), but the smart money still goes to Meryl over Marilyn. And poor Kenneth Branagh, who’s nominated in Best Supporting Actor for his depiction of Olivier, doesn’t have an Olivi-prayer against grizzled veterans Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”) and Max Von Sydow (“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”).
For transposing his own political potboiler Farragut North to the big screen as “The Ides Of March”, campaign-aide-turned-playwright-turned-screenwriter Beau Willimon has earned a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, along with co-writers Grant Heslov and some fellow named George Clooney. Ironically, though, Willimon’s tale of aggressive campaigners looks likely to fall victim to a rival aggressive campaign for the category’s front-runner: “Moneyball”. Perhaps this experience will give him fodder for a sequel?
In the Best Documentary category, Wim Wenders’ “Pina”, a joyful celebration of dance both on and off the stage, competes against far more serious message movies. Can the movers and shakers prevail over sobering accounts of an Iraq War veteran (“Hell And Back Again”), a radical environmentalist group (“If A Tree Falls”) and a miscarriage of justice in the American court system (“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory”)? Probably not, but what I wouldn’t give to see an acceptance speech performed entirely in interpretive dance.
Even “Anonymous”, that boatload of Titus Andronicus-level silliness which portrays Shakespeare as an illiterate buffoon and a fraud, is getting in on the Oscar game, with a nomination for Best Costume Design (Lisy Christl, oddly not anonymous). It might win, too, but this passionate, superbly argued take on Oxfordians from our own Tim Treanor is worth more attention than a fashionable corset, wouldn’t you say? Also nominated in the category is Michael O’Connor’s costume work from the latest reimagining of “Jane Eyre”, which has seen many stage incarnations over time.
If you’ve got lots of time in the next few days, here’s how to catch up before the ceremony. “War Horse,” “Albert Nobbs,” “My Week With Marilyn” and “Pina” are now playing in select theaters in and around the DC area, but “Marilyn” will end its one-screen run at the West End Cinema on Thursday. “The Ides Of March,” “Anonymous” and “Jane Eyre” are available on DVD and digitally via services like iTunes and Amazon.
For those with a marathoner’s spirit, the Loews in Georgetown will show all nine Best Picture nominees back to back (to back…) on Saturday the 25th starting at 11:00 AM. The bargain price of $60 allows you to experience a complete flood of awards bait, including many films that – gasp! – have nothing to do with the stage. You will emerge more than 18 hours later, bleary-eyed and sufficiently cultured, and then you will sleep right through the ceremony.
If you think you can do a better job picking the winners than those old farts at the Academy (and let’s be honest, who can’t?), head on over to The Guardian’s fantasy Oscar page and cast your vote. If only the world cared this much about the Helen Hayes Awards.
The 84th Academy Awards will be aired on ABC, Sunday, February 26, 2012 starting at 8:30pm ET, red carpet coverage begins at 7pm.