Slide show: As the Academy prepares to announce its nominees, we look at the most tragic likely snubs
Best Actress, "Easy A"
In a season, and an era, when teenage girls and young women are culturally rewarded for dressing and acting like sluts — even if they’re dissecting a lab specimen or studying for the bar exam — director Will Gluck’s hilarious inversion of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” came as an unexpected end-of-summer delight. “Easy A” was dismissed as a lightweight teen comedy by people who should have known better, so not enough of you saw motormouth redhead Emma Stone give the year’s most irresistible female performance as klutzy, charming, slightly square high-school heroine Olive Penderghast. Balanced precariously between nerdy, virginal girlhood and the terrors of late adolescence, Olive tries to have it both ways, concocting an entirely fictional yarn about a weekend of steamy sex with a college boy. If the consequences of becoming a theoretical hussy are predictable, Olive is an utterly winning creation, a husky-voiced screwball smartass who finally says no to growing up too fast.
Best Supporting Actor, "It's Kind of a Funny Story"
Another teen-oriented movie that was deprived of love, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s likable mental-hospital comedy stars Keir Gilchrist and Emma Roberts as a pair of young depressives who hook up in a Brooklyn, N.Y., psych ward. But in many ways the movie belongs to Bobby, the older fellow patient played by Zach Galifianakis, best known for his overly intense, funny-sad clown roles on TV and in “The Hangover.” Like other Galifianakis characters, Bobby exudes misplaced confidence and a weirdly old-fashioned bonhomie, but can’t comb his hair correctly. His self-appointed role as the ward’s kindly (and relatively together) godfather gradually gives way, and through a host of small gestures and moments, Galifianakis shows us a man battling a crippling depression, and possessed by bottomless self-hatred. Bobby is a funny guy confronting Hamlet’s existential dilemma, a fool who has stared into the abyss.
Best Supporting Actor, "The Ghost Writer"
No one does vague, affable and borderline sinister quite like Pierce Brosnan, and the one-time James Bond gave one of his best performances as former British Prime Minister Adam Lang, a man haunted by the past in a gray, clammy thriller that got more attention for its director than its stars. Possible parallels between the exiled and disgraced Lang and the exiled and disgraced Roman Polanski were hard to miss but mainly coincidental, since Brosnan’s character — a Scottish champagne socialist turned American lackey — is meant as a ruthless takedown of Tony Blair. As encountered by the nameless ghostwriter played by Ewan McGregor, Lang is by turns evasive, bland, charming and vicious, a career politician so used to wearing masks he’s forgotten his real face. He remains an enigma right through the film’s startling conclusion, and like so many of the suave Irishman’s characters, he appears effortless as a result of practiced nuance and prodigious technique.
Best Director, "Fish Tank"
In just two feature films — the Glaswegian erotic thriller “Red Road” and this steamy drama set in outer suburban London — British director Andrea Arnold has demonstrated a rare ability to combine grimy, street-level realism with gripping, economical, genre-based storytelling. Furthermore, not to put too fine a point on it, Arnold likes dirty, dangerous and exceptionally hot sex, and delivers an ecumenical smorgasbord of male and female unclothed geometry. This explosive coming-of-age yarn features a massively ill-advised coupling between Mia (Katie Jarvis), its 15-year-old heroine, and Connor (Michael Fassbender), a genial and prodigiously handsome Irish guy who happens to be her mom’s boyfriend. Those two are amazing, and nearly matched by Kierston Wareing as the trashiest, drunkest and all-around worst mother on the planet. Arnold’s in control of her material all the way through, pushing to the edge of teen exploitation and unbearable tragedy and then pulling back to show us the possibility of deliverance, even in a life apparently as closed-down and barren as Mia’s.
Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects, "Enter the Void"
As I wrote at the time of its United States release in September, French director Gaspar No
Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, "Let Me In"
If anything, Matt Reeves’ “Let Me In” was such a canny, careful American adaptation of the culty Swedish vampire flick “Let the Right One In” that it failed to make a splash. Fans of the original weren’t sure why the new film even existed, and “Twilight” viewers were never likely to turn up en masse for something so chilly, fringey and strange. Reeves’ transposition of this bloody and haunting fable from suburban Stockholm to mid-’80s Los Alamos, N.M., is packed with witty cultural in-jokes, and perfectly cast. As Abby, the androgynous, ageless child who moves in next door to lonely young Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), 13-year-old Chlo
Best Actor, "Carlos"
If the movie weren’t actually a five-and-a-half-hour miniseries made for French TV about a notorious international brigand most Americans have never heard of, then Venezuelan-American actor Edgar Ram
Francesca Balestra di Mottola and Antonella Cannarozzi
Best Picture, Best Production Design and Best Costume Design, "I Am Love"
Exactly the kind of decadent spectacle for which the word “sumptuous” was invented, Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s “I Am Love” draws on that nation’s cinematic heritage, especially the films of Marxist gay aristocrat Luchino Visconti, along with the Italian traditions of fashion, cuisine and landscape painting. Starring Tilda Swinton as the Russian trophy wife of a wealthy Milanese industrialist, who embarks on a passionate, Chatterley-esque affair with a younger man (Edoardo Gabbriellini), “I Am Love” cranks the sensual output to 11, as if Guadagnino is trying to create an overstimulating art cinema to compete with “Avatar” or “Inception.” Swinton, who helped produce the film, has referred to this approach as “lo-fi 3-D,” which is a brilliant turn of phrase — but there’s nothing “low” about the combination of voluptuous gowns, overdecorated houses, overheated melodrama and al-fresco sex.
Best Supporting Actress, "Greenberg"
“I’m wearing a really ugly bra,” Greta Gerwig’s massively insecure Florence says to Roger, the ’80s-haired carpenter played by Ben Stiller, during their first fumbled sexual encounter. Yes, writer-director Noah Baumbach’s “Greenberg” is one of those delicate, minor-key rom-coms about two damaged people finding each other, and it could so easily have been dominated by Stiller’s performance as a depressive, abusive, OCD loser who’s moved into his rich brother’s Hollywood Hills house for the express purpose of doing nothing. But in her first major mainstream role, former mumblecore queen Gerwig (star of Joe Swanberg’s “Nights and Weekends” and “Hannah Takes the Stairs”) matches Stiller in exquisite counterpoint, and the sweet-tempered but weak-willed Florence gives “Greenberg” its moral oxygen. Perhaps perversely, Florence finds new strength in her combative friendship-cum-romance with Roger — enough that she can finally lend him some of hers, as when she murmurs, “You like me so much better than you think you do.”
Best Supporting Actress, "Never Let Me Go"
I predicted, entirely wrongly, that director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland’s meticulous adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s devastating cloning novel would reap many rewards come Oscar time. But the fact that “Never Let Me Go” was too pretty or too English or too period or too whatever to attract an audience doesn’t change the fact that it’s a beautiful movie. Obviously Carey Mulligan’s unforgettable performance as Kathy H., the sensible but tragic heroine/narrator of this alternate-scientific-history fable, is the dramatic centerpiece. But I’m throwing my alternate-Oscar vote to the oft-maligned Keira Knightley, who uses her reputation as posh ice-queen wonderfully as Kathy’s prettier and more popular classmate Ruth, who steals Kathy’s true love (Andrew Garfield) and repents of it years later, when all three of them have reached the end of their foreshortened lives. It’s a strong performance as a greedy, needy, emotionally predatory girl who realizes too late — as we all do — that some debts we incur can never be paid back.