The Oscars: your Stage to Screen Cheat Sheet

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).

(l-r) My Week with Marilyn, The Ides of March, Albert Nobbs, War Horse, Anonymous, Pina

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.

Andrew Lapin About Andrew Lapin

Andrew graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English -- always the telltale sign of a life steeped in the arts. An editorial fellow at Government Executive magazine, he also writes film criticism for NPR and a sports column for The A.V. Club. Though a native of metro Detroit, he now resides in Washington D.C. and continues to devote an unhealthy portion of his brain to esoteric film trivia.


  1. Sylvain Cornevaux says:

    The Rise of an Actor Who Revitalized French Cinema

    Next week Jean Dujardin has the opportunity to win the Oscar for Best Actor, an award that has never been bestowed upon a French actor, which is even more incredible when we look at the evolution of the career of this free spirited actor.

    Jean Dujardin first showed his face on the tv screens in French homes in 1999 in the episodes of “Un gars, Une fille.” He played the super masculine character of a young husband, “loulou,” across from his real life partner Alexandra Lamy, who had the role of his feminine counterpart, “chouchou,” in a series of lively, 7-minute vignettes. Featuring an everyday couple who can’t stop arguing about anything, Jean Dujardin was as grumpy a seducer as any Frenchman could be. The concept for the show originated in Québec and was later exported to many other countries, gaining over 5 million daily viewers in France who couldn’t resist tuning into the adventures of their inner “loulou” and “chouchou.”

    Dujardin’s next big move was his performance as Brice in the comedy “Brice de Nice,” in which he played a blond surfer from Nice (where the sea is calm) endlessly waiting for the perfect wave to surf. This box office success targeted for a teenage audience relied on a succession of gags and expressions, some of which remain famous even today like: “alors ça farte,” surfer slang for “what’s up, dude” (which has also been taken as a mock slogan for the new poster of Nicloas Sarkozy campaign). As Brice, Dujardin took a simple minded character to the extreme, throwing around seemingly funny insults and demonstrating his natural qualities as a show man. From Brice’s emancipation emerged an engaging failure in his character, whereby the public affection will have room to grow and will never be deceived.

    In OSS 117, a James Bond movie “made in France and in Technicolor,” JDJ is the secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath whose own clumsiness and charm ultimately help him to resolve absurd and exotic cases. In this two part comedy, Dujardin perfectly embodies this improbable detective, hired by the French government, whose subtle persona of unconscious and distracted hero doesn’t deter him from his resilient pursuit of his beliefs. With OSS 117 Dujardin caught the attention of foreign audiences, who discovered a charismatic actor with a remarkable scenic energy and a humor “qui fait mouche.”

    Now with the character of George Valentin in “The Artist” directed by Michel Hazanavicius (who was also the director of OSS 117) Dujardin’s career has unquestionably reached a new level with no turning back. Already a fantastic success story, receiving the Best Actor award at the last Cannes Festival, three Golden Globes and seven BAFTA’s (British Academy of Film and Television Art), this love letter to Hollywood’s silent film era has benefited from the risky challenge of its unique format, the ultra efficient distribution of the film in the U.S. by the Weinstein Company and, last but not least, from the consecration of its leading actor, who is at the summit of his art.

    Since the beginning of his – only so far – short career, Dujardin has already been recognized as a relatable actor for millions of common individuals. He transformed the simple naivety of his characters into lessons of generosity, reinvented hilarious punch lines, and found new resources in his body language (see his tap dancer performance in “The Artist”) in such a talented manner that the public couldn’t deny the true talent in his unsophisticated but assumed roles.

    Slowly but surely, Jean Dujardin’s character has developed along a coherent and tranquil path to project the image of a genuine actor or the perfect friend that we would dream of having.

    Dujardin has finally brought freshness, if not a first degree of authenticity, to a French cinema that has been more widely recognized for its tranquil coffee talks, static intrigues and heavy plots than its stunts, sense of rhythm or the celebration of its own derision.

    This is why, aside from his brilliant performance in “The Artist,” – and even if he doesn’t get the Oscar for Best Actor, jettisoning him into a realm occupied by such legends as George Clooney or Brad Pitt – what Dujardin has already accomplished is bringing a new breathe of vitality to the French cinema industry and incarnating a new way of acting which hasn’t been seen since the golden ages of Jean Paul Belmondo in the 80s. This is more than notable.

    Sylvain Cornevaux
    Cultural Director



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