You have to be skeptical about any awards group that gives ten nominations to the artistically abysmal miniseries The Kennedys. But despite that howler, the Emmy nominations announced today got a few things wonderfully right, highlighting the strength of made-for-television movies. It was a terrific year for auteurist television, a term that long ago stopped being an oxymoron.
The Outstanding Miniseries or Movie Category includes one of the best films of the year, on any size screen: Todd Haynes’ Mildred Pierce, with Kate Winslet the closest thing there can be to a lock on the Best Actress prize in that category. But close behind Mildred are two wildly different, exceptional works: Cinema Verite, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s drama about the behind-the-scenes making of the classic doc An American Family, and the sumptuous, elegantly dramatic and witty period piece Downton Abbey. (Yes, it’s Masterpiece on PBS; no, it is not just for your granny.) The contemporary drama about the recent economic meltdown, Too Big to Fail, made its way in too: a good film but no competition for these top three.
Of course, the movie and mini category also includes The Pillars of the Earth, to which I can only say: Huh? Starz channel, set in 12th century England, didn’t see it and suspect I didn’t miss much. But I did see The Kennedys, and if there’s a Purgatory I get time off for sitting through it. Forget the flap about its history; except for Greg Kinnear and Tom Wilkinson’s performances, the miniseries was a major failure purely on dramatic terms.
And that’s where we see that the whole awards business – parceling things into categories, filling them up with whatever’s around – is a silly game. Important to the industry, but silly to the rest of us. In the Drama Series category you have HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the Martin-Scorsese-produced, Terrence Winter-created saga of Atlantic City corruption in the 20’s – call it a series, call it a miniseries, whatever, it was simply one of the best things on television in any category this year. Put that against Mildred Pierce, and even Mildred would lose my vote.
The dramas Boardwalk is going against are pretty good too, including AMC’s Mad Men and CBS’s The Good Wife, which is probably the most socially relevant series on TV. (A mainstream network can do a great series, but The Good Wife is such an aberration!)
Of course awards shows are all about seeing stars. On Access Hollywood Live this morning, Billy Bush said that the Emmys messed up by not nominating Katie Holmes for The Kennedys – wouldn’t she have arrived with Tom Cruise, instant star power on the Red Carpet? That’s a craven but not a stupid point. So while I’m very happy to see that Steve Buscemi was nominated for Boardwalk Empire and Matt LeBlanc for Episodes, let’s not take this too seriously. However good the auteurs nominated, awards are never really about art.
You can watch the video of the announcements as they were made by Melissa McCarthy and Joshua Jackson here.