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Oscars: Comedy Shunned Again

Crying towels were handed out today in addition to nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards were announced.

With the plethora of critics' and guild award ceremonies of late, many of the names mentioned this morning had the air of inevitability about them, and there were no major shocks to the system in terms of omissions (as last year, when neither "The Dark Knight" nor "Wall-E" could break through into the Best Picture category).

But usually more than one dark horse enters into the race. And when the Academy announced last year that it was expanding the roster of Best Picture nominees from five to 10, to diversify the list beyond a handful of critically-approved (read: low box-office) films, it was expected that there would be room for some more crowd-pleasing titles - maybe, then-Academy president Sid Ganis offered, even a comedy!

Fat chance. There wasn't room for either of two critically-acclaimed and popular comedies, "(500) Days of Summer," and "The Hangover" (which won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical), or even "Julie & Julia," half of which was worthy of a nomination.

"Up in the Air" and "A Serious Men" don't count, either, being tragi-comedies (if comedy is a tragedy that happens to someone else, tragi-comedy is where characters are in denial).

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At least "Up" - which would be characterized as a comedy if it weren't the most emotionally moving film of the year, not to mention animated to boot - made it onto the list, only the second animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture. Since the Best Animated Film category was created several years back, some have suggested cartoons, no matter their quality, should be excluded from the Big One - as if forced to sit at the kids' table. Happily, Pixar has broken through.

Science fiction, which has usually been shunned by the Academy ("E.T." is the only real sci-fi flick to be nominated, and that lost to "Gandhi"), got two slots, the big spending/high earning "Avatar" and the scrappy "District 9." "Star Trek," however, didn't make the cut, even though Quentin Tarantino himself had described it as the best picture of the year. (His number two? "Drag Me to Hell." Nope, that didn't make it, either.)

Other high-profile films whose studios had pushed for Best Picture nominations and which came up short were the musical "Nine," Clint Eastwood's "Invictus," the film adaptation of "The Lovely Bones," and "Julie & Julia" (based on not one but two books).

Sandra Bullock made it through to the nominees' circle for "The Blind Side" (for which she just won the Screen Actors Guild Award), standing toe-to-toe against Meryl Streep, going for her third Oscar, for "Julie & Julia." Not going toe-to-toe with Streep are "The Young Victoria"'s Emily Blunt (who also played one of Streep's assistants in "The Devil Wears Prada" - Miranda Priestly rules again), "The Lovely Bones"' Saoirse Ronan, Marion Cotillard (an Oscar-winner for "La Vie en Rose") for "Nine," Tilda Swinton in "Julia," or Abbie Cornish as John Keats' love interest in "Bright Star."

There were even campaigns afoot to get Zoe Saldana a nod for her performance in "Avatar," which was created through a mixture of performance capture and computer generated graphics. The Actors branch evidently does not think it is ready to recognize such a hybrid, yet.

The Supporting Actress category, already crowded with great performances, couldn't fit in either Diane Kruger or Mélanie Laurent from "Inglourious Basterds," or Julianne Moore from "A Single Man." A pity.

The men's categories also were an embarrassment of riches. Those shut out of Best Actor Nods include Sharlto Copley of "District 9," Michael Stuhlbarg, the center of Best Picture nominee "A Serious Man," Sam Rockwell of the cult fave "Moon," Robert Downey Jr, a Golden Globe winner for "Sherlock Holmes," and Daniel Day-Lewis for "Nine."

Missing a Supporting Actor nod include "It's Complicated"'s Alec Baldwin (as co-host of the Oscar telecast, a nomination could have offered some interesting banter with sidekick Steve Martin, ah well), Christian McKay as the legendary filmmaker in "Me & Orson Welles," Anthony Mackie of "The Hurt Locker," Alfred Molina in "An Education," and Zachary Quinto, who took the reins (and ears) of the young Spock in "Star Trek."

With ten Best Picture nominees and only five Best Director nominees (huh?), somebody was going to be left out. Neill Blomkamp ("District 9"), Pete Docter ("Up"), Lone Scherfig ("An Education"), John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side"), and Joel & Ethan Coen ("A Serious Man") all have to sit on the sidelines while their producers head to the stage should their film take the top prize. (At least in the case of the Coen Brothers, they are the producers.)

There are some films which did surprisingly poor in the technical categories, showing a lack of support or at least awareness among the Academy branch's members; weak box office didn't help "Bright Star" get a cinematography nomination. And for films that did click with the Academy, "District 9" nonetheless missed a makeup nomination, despite the fact there's lots of gooey alien skin on screen, much of which explodes.

Among the high-profile films that came up entirely empty, despite (some) critical praise, and even box office? "Where the Wild Things Are," "Public Enemies," "Michael Jackson's This Is It," "The Road," and "The Informant!"

By producer David Morgan

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