By Peter Knegt | Indiewire November 19, 2009 at 5:09AM
With the first wave of awards season precursors less than two weeks away, I figured I would use the very last addition of this column before an onslaught of commentary on critics awards and Spirit and Globe nominations beckons to provide some optimism in the wake of last week's list of the "most despicable Oscar snubs of the 2000s. Because as hard as it is for those prone to bitching about the Academy to admit, they don't always get it wrong. In fact, it was surprisingly easy to find twenty-five examples of where they most certainly got it right (though mind you, it was even easier finding fifty things they got wrong). So for what it's worth, here are my picks in descending order for your anticipatory pleasure. Unlike the 50 snubs, I opened to up to all categories, since, again, there wasn't quite the plethora of options.
25. Pixar's nods for best original screenplay
The collective best picture snubs of "Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille," and "WALL-E" topped last week's list, so I figured I might as well open this one with the take-what-we-can-get consolation prizes each film received in the best original screenplay category. There's still something to be said for this, as along with 1995's "Toy Story" and 2001's "Shrek," they represent the only times the Academy has taken animation screenwriting seriously. While none of the films won, the fact that all four received nominations in a six year span suggests a decently sized step for the Academy's recognition of animation.
24. Steven Soderbergh's win for best director
People assumed his impressive 2000 double nomination for "Traffic" and "Erin Brokovich" essentially meant he was doomed to cancel himself out come Oscar night. Most prognosticators saw "Gladiator"'s Ridley Scott and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"'s Ang Lee as the likely winners, but somehow Soderbergh prevailed for his work in "Traffic." I'm not sure whether voters decided amongst themselves not vote for "Brokovich" on purpose, and thus not letting Soderbergh's double nomination mess up his chances for a win, but either way, this was one of the decades biggest and most welcome surprises in a major category.
23. 8 nominations and 2 wins for "Milk"
Three years after stunning everyone with their "Brokeback" best picture snub, the Academy gave Gus Van Sant's Harvey Milk biopic just as many nominations as "Mountain" and two major wins: best actor for Sean Penn and best original screenplay for Dustin Lance Black. While some saw this a result of the film's considerable mainstream appeal, it remains that "Milk" was written and directed by gay men and dealt explicitly with a pivotal moment in the gay rights movement. The fact that it received its nominations with little of the controversy that met "Brokeback" suggested maybe things truly had progressed, even just a little, in the three years since.
22. Robert Downey Jr.'s nod for best supporting actor
Recognizing comedic roles has never been the Academy's strong suit. From Steve Martin in "All of Me" to Eddie Murphy in "The Nutty Professor" to a variety of Christopher Guest regulars, there's dozens and dozens of notable snubs over the years. Which is what made last year's recognition of Downey Jr.'s work in "Tropic Thunder" - playing a blackfaced Academy Award winning actor and lampooning Hollywood along the way, no less - such a pleasant surprise.
21. "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow"'s nod for best original song
One of the most consistently irritating categories, the Oscars got a best original song nomination very right in 2003 when it honored this song from Christopher Guest's "A Mighty Wind." Written by Michael McKean and Annette O'Toole and memorably performed at the ceremony by Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, the song sadly represented the sole recognition the Academy gave Guest's work, which makes its inclusion bittersweet. It ended up losing to that Annie Lennox song from "Lord of the Rings."
20. Catalina Sandino Moreno's nod for best actress
19. Ryan Gosling's nod for best actor
18. Melissa Leo's nod for best actress
17. Laura Linney's nods for best actress
Five performances - Moreno's in "Maria Full of Grace," Gosling's in "Half Nelson," Leo's in "Frozen River," and Linney's in both "You Can Count On Me" and "The Savages" - marked a noble wave of the Sundance Film Festival into Oscar night, with Academy voters recognizing some of the best indie performances of the decade despite their historical tendency to ignore films with such miniscule budgets. Though none of them won, the fact that they even made it is sadly something we should be very grateful for. You can take solace in the fact that Moreno, Gosling and Leo each won Independent Spirit Awards (though Linney, a nominee for "You Can Count On Me," was oddly left out for "The Savages"), and be hopeful for years to come.
16. 10 nominations and 4 awards for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
While it remains quite saddening that in the end, "Gladiator" ended up taking away the Academy's first realistic opportunity at awarding a foreign film in it's top category, never have we seen such a deserving foreign film break through with Oscar like "Dragon." And it's four wins - for cinematography (Peter Pau), art direction (Timmy Yip), original score (Tan Dun), and foreign language film - did make it one of the most honored foreign language films in Oscar history, which in large part helped the film gross over $128 million in the U.S. alone, bringing it to audiences that otherwise might never have noticed.
15. Pedro Almodovar's nod for best director
14. Mike Leigh's nod for best director
13. Paul Greengrass's nod for best director
12. David Lynch's nod for best director
Back in the days when there were only five best picture nominees, the Academy's director's branch tended to offer one of its best director slots to a film that was not honored in the top race. And four times they most definitely used this "lone director slot" wisely by deciding to reward four very challenging films - "Talk To Her," "Vera Drake," "United 93" and "Mulholland Drive" - from four very deserving directors. It's curious to consider if it will ever be possible for a director to again manage a nod without a best picture contender, but then again I question whether "Mulholland Drive" or "Talk To Her" would have made even a top ten list.
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11. 4 nominations for "City of God"
A fifth commendable lone director slot came with Fernando Meirelles's nomination for "City of God," which warrants its own commentary in that it came with three additional nods - cinematography (César Charlone), editing (Daniel Rezende) and screenplay (Bráulio Mantovani). The year prior, the film was submitted as Brazil's entry to the foreign language film category, and didn't even get a nomination (as noted at #22 of the snubs list), making these four nominations read like a classy apology from the Academy for their foreign language committee's idiocy.
10. "The Fog of War"'s win for best documentary
After snubbing him completely for 1988's doc classic "The Thin Blue Line" (and arguing that it wasn't actually a documentary), as well as 1997's "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control" and 1999's "Mr. Death," the Academy came to their senses in 2003 and honored Errol Morris for "The Fog of War." The film - which documents former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara - challenged mainstream assumptions of war, and in the Academy rewarding it, challenging our assumptions that they were incapable of rewarding great documentaries.
9. Roman Polanski's win for for best director
It's such a strange thing to think back to that night when Polanski shocked everyone by winning the best director Oscar over favorites Martin Scoscese ("Gangs of New York") and Rob Marshall ("Chicago"). Though personally I question whether his work in "The Pianist" was the year's best (Todd Haynes' work in "Far From Heaven" would have had my vote, but then again he wasn't nominated), you have to admire the Academy's ability to separate the man from his art. Can you imagine him winning today and an Academy audience cheering it on (watch the standing ovation when he wins here)? While I obviously don't agree with what Polanski did, it's hard to argue that the man didn't deserve this honor for his career efforts (he'd never won) if not for "The Pianist" itself.
8. The animated feature winners
Since it's inception in 2002, the animated feature category - while maddeningly keeping animated films out of the best picture race - has consistently rewarded deserving, innovative work here, from the four Pixar titles mentioned earlier (and thankfully, not a fifth in "Cars"), to Nick Park and Steve Box's "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away." "Away" even managed to deservedly nab the award against heavyweight studio fare like "Ice Age," "Lilo & Stitch," and "Treasure Planet." While the overall nominees have been somewhat puzzling in this category ("Surfs Up" over "The Simpsons Movie"? "Bolt" over "Waltz With Bashir"?), the winners have pretty much all been on the mark.
7. 6 nominations and 3 wins for "Pan's Labyrinth"
Though it lost out on the foreign language film Oscar (to "The Lives of Others," which was quite deserving in itself), Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" still managed to defy Academy tastes by taking the second most wins of any film in 2006 (after "The Departed") and third most nominations despite being a very dark, foreign-language fantasy film. The Academy deserves a pat on the back for rewarding its cinematography (Guillermo Navarro), makeup (David Martí and Montse Ribé), and art direction (Eugenio Caballero and Pilar Revuelta) over more favored Hollywood fare.
6. "Lose Yourself"'s win for best song
I remember being certain that with mediocre songs from the "Chicago" team, U2 (from "Gangs of New York"), and Paul Simon (from "The Wild Thornberrys Movie") in the running, Eminem's anthem from "8 Mile" did not stand a chance. But when Barbara Streisand of all people read his name at the 75th Oscars, it was one of most pleasant surprises in recent Oscar history. The first hip-hop song ever nominated, let alone a winner (though Three 6 Mafia joined that wee club three years later), "Lose Yourself" started a six year trend of the Academy expanding their tastes in this category after a decade of limiting themselves to either musical numbers from animated films with the occasional "My Heart Will Go On."
5. 4 nominations for "Far From Heaven"
Let's just get this out of the way: "Far From Heaven"'s snubs for best picture, director, supporting actor and actress, costume design, and art direction are all woeful shames. But in another take-what-we-can-get inclusion on this list, let's half-heartedly commend the Academy for not completely screwing it up and giving the film nominations for four of its greatest achievements: Julianne Moore's performance, Todd Haynes's screenplay, Edward Lachman's cinematography, and Elmer Bernstein's score.
4. Indies and foreign films in the screenplay categories
Formerly mentioned screenplays for "City of God," "Pan's Labyrinth," and "Far From Heaven" included, the screenplay categories have shockingly done way more good than bad over the past decade. Just look at this list of nominees: "You Can Count On Me," "Ghost World," "Memento," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Y Tu Mama Tambien," "The Barbarian Invasions," "American Splendor," "Vera Drake," "Before Sunset," "The Squid and the Whale," "The Savages," "Away From Her," "Frozen River." While none of these deserving films could manage a best picture nomination, at least we got to see them recognized as screenplay nominees.
3. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"'s win for best original screenplay
2. "Talk To Her"'s win for best original screenplay
An extension of the previous entry, these two wins - for Charlie Kaufman in 2004 and Pedro Almodovar in 2002 - marked my two of my favorites of the 2000s, giving Oscars to two of the greatest cinematic storytellers of our time. Up against heavyweight best picture nominees like "The Aviator" and "Gangs of New York," the Academy opted to reward the truly deserving instead (watch Kaufman's speech here)
1. 2007 in general
If you're wondering why a lot of obvious awards and nominations from the 80th Oscars, which recognized the best of 2007, have yet to get much mention, here's the deal: There were probably more examples from this year when I drew up an initial list than all of the other years combined. While it's certainly not perfection - I could have done without Diablo Cody's screenplay win, not to mention this was also the year "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" and "Persepolis" didn't make the foreign language shortlist - 2007 has a lot going for it. First off, the acting winners - Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Javier Bardem and Tilda Swinton - are the classiest and most deserving bunch of winners an Oscar night may have ever seen (it could have been even more so had Julie Christie won, but maybe that's just me). Then there's "The Bourne Ultimatum"s deserving sweep of the techincal categories, Robert Elswit's cinematography win for "There Will Be Blood," outside-the-box nominees like Sarah Polley's screenplay nod for "Away From Her" and Viggo Mortensen's actor nod for "Eastern Promises," and the three Oscars the Coen brothers took home for writing, directing and producing "No Country For Old Men." And then, of course, after almost being disqualified because of the endlessly silly category rules, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's win for best original song for their "Falling Slowly" from "Once" (watch their performance and win here). Call me crazy, but I think this is probably the closest we're going to ever come to an Oscars that truly rewarded the year's best, and thus the entire year deserved top billing on this list.
"For Your Consideration" is a weekly column by indieWIRE Associate Editor Peter Knegt. Check out his previous editions:
For Your Consideration: The 50 Most Despicable Oscar Snubs of the 2000s
For Your Consideration: Assessing The Major Oscar Categories
For Your Consideration: Oscar's Gay Tendencies
For Your Consideration: 11 Underdog Performances
For Your Consideration: History Repeats as Major Foreign Films Left Off Academy List
For Your Consideration: 10 Things The Fall Fests Told Us About Awards Season