There are many things that are certain to appear at the Oscars this Sunday: a long, tedious lifetime achievement award, attempts to seem hip by referencing “Borat” and at least one joke about Britney’s hair. But equally significant is what will not appear: Thankfully, we’ll be without repetitive Jack Nicholson reaction shots and Billy Crystal, but unfortunately, as always, many of this year’s best releases failed to receive nominations in favor of far inferior work.
Undeserving: “The Queen.” In comparison to the other four nominated movies — yes, even “Little Miss Sunshine” — “The Queen” represents a small achievement. The film features an incredible impersonation by Helen Mirren in the title role and an adequate performance by Michael Sheen as an over-the-top Tony Blair. Some interesting points are made about the monarchy, celebrity and modernization, but none of them feel particularly unique, and the fictional nature of the script — which is highlighted by the integration of documentary footage and the handling of the characters of Princes William and Harry, who are denoted solely by the backs of their heads — lessens the impact of these points.
Snubbed: Several films deserved to be nominated over “The Queen” (most notably, the perfect “Little Children”), but one film that has been consistently overlooked this award season is Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette.” The film’s love-it-or-hate-it nature proved too divisive to garner up enough support for any major nominations. The film is understated, but grandiose in every way “The Queen” failed to be, and Kirsten Dunst out-queened Mirren by creating a complex and compelling character rather than relying on a straight impersonation. On top of the masterful acting, vision and direction, “Marie” is the most beautifully shot film of the year.
Undeserving: Paul Greengrass, “United 93.” It goes without saying that Stephen Frears’ direction of “The Queen” doesn’t belong here, but neither does Greengrass’ predictable work in the 9/11 drama. Greengrass sticks too closely to his “Bourne Identity” roots in look and feel, while also failing to offer much thoughtful commentary on either the human condition or 9/11 itself.
Snubbed: Pedro Almodovar, “Volver.” While it won a tremendous number of awards internationally, “Volver” has been underappreciated by American voters. Cruz’s fiery performance rendered her nomination utterly unavoidable, but the Academy’s de facto quota system meant that Almodovar — who should also have been a shoo-in — was forgotten. Despite cleverly leaving the audience in the dark on key plot points, Almodovar invites viewers from any country into the story from the opening shot. It is a serious accomplishment that his film transcends language and culture.
Undeserving: Helen Mirren (you may have been able to guess).
Snubbed: Gong Li, “Curse of the Golden Flower.” Gong Li is Exhibit B, alongside Penelope Cruz in “Volver,” demonstrating how misleading it can be to judge an actor based on performances done in a second language. The poised and proud Li in “Curse” is unrecognizable as the same actress who played an awkward temptress in “Miami Vice.” Li manages the impressive task of maintaining the audience’s focus and attention throughout the entire film, even amongst some of the most grand and colorful scenes ever to be put on film.
Best Supporting Actor
Undeserving: Eddie Murphy, “Dreamgirls.” In his follow-up to his Golden Globe-winning work in “Dreamgirls,” Murphy starred in “Norbit” as the over-the-top orphan Norbit, his over-the-top wife Rasputia and, in a masterful and versatile performance, the over-the-top father-figure Mr. Wong. The Academy clearly nominated Murphy for his range. All kidding aside, however, Murphy was overshadowed by Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx and even Beyonce in the not particularly impressive musical.
Snubbed: Adam Beach, “Flags of Our Fathers.” In Clint Eastwood’s disappointing — and, thanks to “Letters from Iwo Jima,” overshadowed — epic, only Beach’s poignant portrayal of an American Indian dealing with alcoholism and discrimination saved the film from irrelevance. Beach’s work should have elevated him into a higher tier of actors, but instead only landed him a role on “Law and Order: SVU.”
Best Supporting Actress
Undeserving: Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine.” During a recent episode on “Saturday Night Live,” Abigail Breslin (as satirized by Drew Barrymore) accurately summarizes her performance as Olive thus: “I did a funny dance.” As cute as Little Miss Breslin is — and her performance is indisputably endearing — it’s a little ridiculous to compare her one-note role to some of the amazing performances that were left out in the cold.
Snubbed: The other four nominees in this category were stellar, but several more stood out this year. Vera Farmiga, as a love-torn psychologist in “The Departed,” more than held her own against Damon, Dicaprio and Nicholson. “Volver” featured two of the strongest supporting female performances of the year: Carmen Maura was pitch-perfect as Raimunda’s mother, and Lola Duenas became an increasingly forceful presence as the film progressed. Even in the child acting category, Breslin wasn’t tops. Shareeka Epps in “Half Nelson” showed that the young ones can stand out without a goofy dance or adorable smile.