The internet is already abuzz with fanboys bemoaning the lack of The
Dark Knight
in the Best Picture nominees. Somehow the film being the
second highest grossing picture of all time is not enough validation –
they want a gold statue to prove to everybody that their interest in
superheroes is not childish. It’s a boring and predictable bit of
whining from a group whose only interest in the Oscars comes when it
makes them feel good, as opposed to being excited about the award’s
ability to bring a lot of attention to interesting, smart and underseen
films that need the help.



So The Dark Knight isn’t the biggest story for me. The biggest story
for me is The Reader getting Best Picture and Best Director noms. The
movie, quite frankly, is not that good. It’s not particularly well
reviewed, it hasn’t been all that well received by audiences and it
didn’t go anywhere (except Winslet) at the Golden Globes or most of the
major critic awards. The film was seen as dead in the water,
Oscar-wise, so the surge of love for it is shocking. A half dozen years
ago I wouldn’t have batted an eye – this is a Weinstein film, and the
Weinsteins were the biggest, baddest pimps in Oscarland. But the last
few years have not been kind to Harvey and Bob; their mystical award
summoning powers have been on the wane and the Weinstein Company itself
seems to be on shaky ground. I know people with pictures set to be
released by Weinstein or Dimension later this year who are wondering if
the company will still exist at the next Oscar season, and who don’t
expect to see much money being put into selling their films.



There are, I believe, a couple of answers to the question ‘What the
fuck?’ and the biggest one may be that Academy voters simply didn’t see
the movie. The Holocaust subject matter and a series of serious,
respectable people involved may have carried the film above The Dark
Knight
and The Wrestler (which I never thought was getting a Picture
nod anyway). There were a number of Holocaust pictures this year (The
Unborn
got shut out! Actually, it’s eligible for next year), but The
Reader
was the most prestigious and famous people-filled of all of
them.



But is there more? The film was notoriously troubled, and producer
Scott Rudin took his name off the movie before it was released. Did the
Weinsteins spend a fortune pushing this film in their old ways just to
heave a mighty, gold-plated ‘Fuck you’ at Rudin? It’s hard to imagine
the Academy members taking Weinstein’s side over Rudin’s, but then
again I don’t really know the psychology of these people.



What little I do know of their psychology leads me to believe that
these noms may be a combination of the subject matter and two specific
names on the credits: Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, both now
dead. While I thought that Heath Ledger would be the only person
getting a corpse bump, but producers Minghella and Pollack both dying
seems to have given this mediocre at best film a preternatural bit of
momentum. Minghella and Pollack were BELOVED by the Hollywood
community, so it’s quite possible that these nominations are simply
ways of honoring the two dead guys.



In the end I think this is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Slumdog Millionaire is the film to beat in Picture and Director, and
phase two of the Oscar season – the post nomination politicking – will
see lots of publicists trying to take that sucker down. You’ll hear all
about how it’s overpraised, got all the love it deserves, isn’t as good
as everybody thinks, etc etc etc. But in the end it’s still the leader
of the pack, and The Reader has already gotten its recognition with
these baffling noms.