Every year, the Oscar nominations are a smattering of disappointments, well-deserved kudos, and outrageous oversights. Those of us devoted to this stuff can sniff out when voters were paying attention and when they were just being lazy. It’s the difference between sensing that a few dedicated people actually trudged out to every movie—whether or not they could find a date—while others just watched the screeners sent to them in a fancy box and skipped everything else. When the list is announced, I mentally filter a few of the most outstanding hits and misses into the following categories:
Michael Shannon was the only part of Revolutionary Road that made me feel like I was watching something other than an overlong, not particularly great episode of Mad Men.
The Guy They Nominated Just Because They Thought They Were Supposed To
Brad Pitt ( The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
When I saw Brad’s name on the list of nominees, I could actually picture voters just checking his name off on their ballot before throwing their recycling into the regular garbage and continuing on with the other tasks in their thoughtless, color-by-numbers lives. As my friend pointed out, much of the first half of this very, very long movie simply feels like we’re just waiting for Button to reverse age from “old Brad” into “hot Brad.” Aside from wondering when he would take his shirt off (about an hour and a half in), I never felt like I was getting a sense of his character’s interior life. Given that it took me three days to finish watching this movie, I wanted more from him. For my money, Pitt swiped this spot from Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire, who was so compellingly believable as the game show contestant with whom an entire country falls in love. (Is he gonna get together with Latika in real life? This is my prayer.)
The Guy They Should Have Nominated and Actually Did!
Michael Shannon ( Revolutionary Road)
Like Button, Revolutionary Road arrived in theaters with a steaming side order of Oscar buzz, most of it centered around the “long-awaited” reunion of Kate and Leo (were we really waiting?). How absolutely frigging amazing, then, that voters had the wherewithal to look past the somewhat overhyped two lead performances (well, one was overhyped—I won’t say which) and nominate the incredible Michael Shannon for Best Supporting Actor. His turn as a mentally ill young man who walks into the DiCaprio-Winslet living room and in just a matter of minutes turns their lives upside down was the only part of this film that made me feel like I was watching something other than an overlong, not particularly great episode of Mad Men.
The Chick They Absolutely Should Have Nominated and for Some Unearthly Ridiculous, Possibly Drug-Related Reason Did Not
Sally Hawkins ( Happy-Go-Lucky)
I am obsessed with Happy-Go-Lucky, and I am even more obsessed with Sally Hawkins’ performance as Poppy, a schoolteacher filled with a buoyant optimism that’s more hard-won than it first appears. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw someone create such a fully imagined, totally unique person. She deservedly won the Golden Globe, so I can’t understand how she got passed over for even a nomination. Actually, that’s a lie. I can. I’m guessing it had something to do with the fact that her slot was wrongly given away to Angelina Jolie (à la her hus-friend Pitt in category number one). To be fair, and slightly ashamed of myself, I did not watch Changeling. Okay? I’m admitting it. Maybe she’s amazing. But am I wrong to assume that this movie was 90 minutes of Jolie looking worried in a cloche hat? Let me know. At least I can promise you this: If I were an Academy voter, I definitely would have seen it.
Jessi Klein is a writer and comedian who has frequently appeared on Comedy Central, CNN, VH1, and the Today show. She is currently writing a screenplay for Universal Studios, as well as occasionally drawing animals for her best friend's letterpress card company. She also likes to think she has value as a human being aside from her numerous credits in the entertainment industry.