I come not to complain about what will be nominated in this year's Oscar race, but rather to shed a light on some under-loved and/or undervalued examples of 2012's film line-up. Be it strong performances, sharp screenplays, and everything in between, here is just a sampling of the people and things that darn-well deserve a nomination but all-but surely won't get one. Obviously share your own in the comments section:
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Walken in Seven Psychopaths:
This Martin McDonagh gem turned out to be a splendidly brilliant and insightful riff on both violent gangster melodramas and the very nature of how we romanticize fictional doers of violence. Pretty much everyone in the large cast delivers solid work, but Christopher Walken stands out and turns in what I consider one of the finest performances of his long career. I don't want to spoil too much about his mournful and thoughtful 'psychopath', but the work is a perfect blend of 'Christopher Walken the gimmick' and 'Christopher Walken the fantastic actor'. It's witty and moving work, and it acts not only as the film's proverbial heart-and-soul but an iconic take on Walken's entire career.
Best Original Screenplay: Seth MacFarlane for Ted:
Yes, Seth MacFarlane will find his way to the Oscars this year, but only because he's been tapped to host the ceremony. In a more just world, his first feature screenplay would receive not just critical huzzahs but also awards consideration to go with its massive worldwide box office ($501 million). In brief, Ted is far more than just a collection of vulgar gags and pop-culture references. It is a thoughtful examination of how an entire generation holds on to the entertainments of their youth as a form of arrested development. Want a simple example of how smart this screenplay is? OK, just consider the choice to have pretty much everyone be completely aware of the whole 'my stuffed bear is alive' gimmick. With one bold choice, the film instantly negates endless scenes of 'Mark Wahlberg has to engage in hijinks to hide the truth about Ted' or 'Ted is almost discovered and has to play dead'. I stopped watching Family Guy years ago, but Ted is so surprisingly brilliant that I may give it another go.
Best Documentary: Side By Side:
This Keanu Reeves-produced documentary provided two things of worth: It presented a fascinating discussion of the ongoing debate, via nearly every major director you would want to see, on the relative merits of digital video versus traditional film, even as 35mm seems to be on the verge of extinction. But just as important, it served as a potent time-capsule piece on the last 25 years of cinema, viewed through the prism of its biggest would-be blockbusters. It is a magical history tour of my cinematic history, which is both a kick and somewhat depressing (seeing events you vividly remember being discussed as 'ancient history' is wont to make you feel very old). It may not be the most important story of the year or the most pressing social issues documentary of 2012, but for film geeks, it is arguably the "We Didn't Start the Fire" of our generation.
Best Actor: Frank Langella in Robot & Frank:
Director Jake Schreier and writer Christopher D. Ford's bittersweet comedy was one of the year's most unexpected pleasures. And the chief reason for its success is a career-high performance from Langella. His achingly sad yet subtle anger makes this film more than just a gimmick about an old man and a robot. I don't want to delve too much into the film's surprisingly poignancy and insight, as I'll be writing about it again later this month (hint-hint). But had this film been more of a high-profile release, we'd all be placing bets on the acting legend receiving a second Oscar nomination to go with his 2008 nod for Frost/Nixon. Unfortunately the film won't be out on DVD until February 13th of next year. Put it in your queue now.
Best Picture: Detachment:
This was the first great film I saw in 2012 and it remains among the great unloved/forgotten gems of the year. This blistering Tony Kaye melodrama shines a scornful spotlight on the state of public education and isn't content to offer easy answers (or ideologically-skewed "solutions"). Boasting a fine star turn by Adrien Brody and a cast of millions (James Caan, Lucy Liu, Christina Hendricks, and William Peterson, Blythe Danner, Tim Blake Nelson, and Marcia Gay Harden among others), this angry and openly sorrowful film asks not merely why our national educational system is such a mess but also why we are no longer shocked by it. It's not my favorite film of the year, but it's surely among the more important ones.
Best Animated Film: ParaNorman:
Consider this a preemptive strike. Despite being easily the year's best animated feature, there is still a chance that this gem might not make the final five. I may dislike Brave and Rise of the Guardians, but enough people disagree and consider them prestigious choices to get them in. Wreck It Ralph is a lock as well at this point, with an edge then going to Tim Burton's Frankenweenie (and deserved or not, it would be quite fitting for Burton to win his Oscar for a stop-motion animated feature). The fourth slot could go to a host of possibilities, be it box office smashes The Lorax or Hotel Transylvania to little-seen critical darlings like The Painting or From Up On Poppy Hill. Whatever the other four nominees happen to be this year, the fifth damn-well better be ParaNorman.
And that's it for now. Share your thoughts on 'should be-but won't be' Oscar contenders from 2012.