While audiences and film fans are open to other possibilities, the generally held opinion is that the Academy voters are big softies in the final analysis. They’re spoken about like the old relatives you’ll be inviting to Thanksgiving — condescended to, and essentially written off as having any sort of validity when it comes to choosing the best.

The subject was brought up recently on Twitter as to whether or not the Academy “could handle” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or whether the film would be “too much” for their delicate sensibilities.  When did this idea come up, that the Academy had to have things soft and mushy and family-friendly?  It’s hard to know, but last year’s end game didn’t help matters.  There will always be the mind vs. heart argument and there will always be the “it’s too much for them” lament. Would you take your grandmother to see that movie? Would you take your grandmother, your teenager, your maid and your boss to see that movie? Your Oscar winner almost always fits – even when it was The Hurt Locker, even when it was something as seemingly abstract as No Country for Old Men (my pick for their best choice for Best Picture in the last twenty years).

This year more than any other the popular films aren’t necessarily “Oscar movies.”  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a crowdpleasing thriller with, gasp, actual sex scenes. Real sex scenes and a graphic rape scene (two, actually).  Believe it or not there are still some hard core thinkers in the Academy – there have to be, right?  Let’s take a look back at films that might have seemed at first glance like they weren’t “Oscar movies” and yet, they were good enough that voters decided to break out of their stereotype.

Starting from last year and working backwards – and automatically disqualified from exception would be anything by the Coens since they are beloved they always get a pass, no matter what.

Before we get started, let’s first define what an “Oscar movie” is.  It’s a film that gets good reviews, but isn’t a critics’ darling.  It’s a film that features likable, heroic characters, usually straight, with a love story at the core.  It’s usually a drama with a male lead and generally speaking, a white person’s story.  If it is a black person’s story it’s usually a whitey-guilt black person’s story.  Period pieces, nostalgia pieces, war films, movies about disabled characters, epics are all the genres of choice.   There is usually catharsis and redemption at the end. It is usually actor-driven, though on rare occasions, the film is celebrated because of the director.  However, the director is still the most important player, even if the piece is actor-driven. The King’s Speech is your ideal “Oscar movie” to utter perfection.  Movies like The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Driving Miss Daisy, My Left Foot — these are all “Oscar movies.”

The Fighter – crack den, crack whores, swearing, fucking, punching, catfight.
Black Swan – lesbian sex, bulimia, swearing, fondling, stabbing, bleeding out.
Inception – confusing storyline, obtuse mainstream Hollywood film, way out of their comfort zone.
The Social Network – non-likable heroes, some swearing, very little touchy feely emotion.

– sexual and physical abuse, teen pregnancy, lots of swearing, major drug use.
Inglourious Basterds – bloody violence and swearing Tarantino style. Outside their comfort zone except for Weinstein factor.
District 9 – sci fi.
Avatar – sci fi and 3-D motion capture

Obviously as we move out of the ten Best Picture nominees we move back into the dark ages, er, I mean when there was a lot less diversity. And even still:

Milk – swearing, some violence, gay sex.

There Will Be Blood – some blood, over the top performances, way outside the Academy’s comfort zone.
No Country for Old Men – ambiguous ending, Javier Bardem shooting people in the head with a cattle gun — WON. But it’s the Coens.

The Departed.
“Do you like little miss thing sucking on your cock?” Lots of swearing, “do you think we’re cunts?” Lots of violence, weird dildo scene, weird hooker scenes, actual sex scene with Leonardo DiCaprio and Vera Farmiga but it might be the last Best Picture that ever won that had a sex scene in it.   The Departed stood out that year for being the only true crowdpleaser and blockbuster in the bunch – runner-up was Little Miss Sunshine but it was too sweet in the end to win, plus its directors weren’t nominated.

Munich – hard core, graphic sex scene, some graphic violence and the last great film Spielberg attempted to make.  Right in the Academy wheelhouse, though, if you imagine they are actual grown people with diverse tastes.
Brokeback Mountain – fairly traditional love story but the twist was the gay sex, one sex scene in particular.  It almost won Best Picture. Alas, they couldn’t go there.

A very long long gap until

Pulp Fiction – Tarantino, pushed along by Harvey Weinstein, kicked the door down for “controversial” films — and it’s kind of staggering to think about it, really.  Anal rape, lots of swearing, lots and lots of blood and violence.


Unforgiven – sure, much about it is traditional but it’s a non-weepy, non-sappy, fairly violent film [complete with knife-sliced prostitute] with a satisfying but not happy ending.

The Silence of the Lambs – rewrote the rules about what  Best Picture could be.  This thriller was brilliantly acted, written an directed.  It couldn’t lose.

Goodfellas – Scorsese mostly carved out, like the Coens have, his own “spot” in the Oscar race.  Whenever he makes a movie it’s automatically an Oscar contender because he is just that good, and that well liked.  He’s the professor.  Many filmmakers in the Academy decided to make movies because of Marty.  Goodfellas had it all, sex, violence, lots of swearing.  Funny, original storytelling.  What a great, great movie.

Fatal Attraction – a genre thriller elevated by a great performance at the heart of it. It was also the talk of the town that year, a huge hit and couldn’t be ignored, Dan.  Lots of violence and beaucoup de sex scenes, even one in an elevator and one in the kitchen sink.

Then you have to go back to the Greatest Decade of the 1970s to find something even remotely resembling the kind of stuff we’ve seen in the Oscar race over the last ten years.  There is no question that the Academy is becoming far more daring in its choices, even considering last year’s win.

Raging Bull – lots of swearing,  “I SUCKED YOUR BROTHER’S COCK!!!!!!!”  Lots of violence, a mostly unlikable antihero, someone who fails at life in every way.  A great lament. A brilliant, brilliant film. One of the all-time greats. It was up against Ordinary People, The Elephant Man, A Coal Miner’s Daughter and Tess.  So yeah, Marty for the win.   The Elephant Man a close second. Ordinary People is a brilliant movie too, especially from an actor/writer perspective.

All That Jazz – lots of sex and drugs, not a lot of redemption, vividly directed but non-traditional narrative.
Apocalypse Now – daring for the Academy for sure – rewrote the war film for all time.  Lots of drugs, sex, violence, not a lot of redemption to be had, not very likable characters although it had a hero at its core.

The Deer Hunter -another non-traditional look at the war, lots and lots of graphic violence.
An Unmarried Woman-a very feminist film about a woman and her journey to freedom, lots of sex along the way, no man needed to make her life complete by the end. Who can forget that last shot of her, bra-less, with her nipples poking arrogantly through her shirt as she attempts to carry that giant painting through the streets of Manhattan. Oh, the daring of ending a movie like that.
Midnight Express – known for its darkness, particularly sexually but its subject matter was no walk in the park.

Star Wars – notable because it was science fiction, which, except for 2001, had gone mostly unrecognized by the Academy. It also was the beginning of “the blockbuster.”

Taxi Driver – Martin Scorsese/Paul Schrader/Robert De Niro’s masterpiece on alienation, desperation, and post traumatic stress disorder, although not called as such at the time.  Sex with an underage girl and violence so bloody many could not sit through the end.
Network – this is probably more of a traditional Oscar movie except that it featured some odd characters and seemed to dismantle our culture in ways other films hadn’t yet done. I still think it’s a daring pick for any year.

Jaws – mostly unheard of for a movie like this to be in the Best Picture race. Spielberg broke through a barrier, like George Lucas did. Although the Academy continues to have genre prejudice.
Nashville – Robert Altman was revered enough that his films were noticed.  But they were all very abstract, non traditional narratives.

The Godfather II – it’s debatable whether Godfather I and II are “Oscar movies.” In some ways, they’re the Oscar movies to which all other Oscar movies are compared. But in another way, they aren’t.  The characters aren’t redeemed or admirable, as it turns out. It’s a dark, dark story – not a tearjerker, and by the time you get to this film you are watching a movie about a cold son of a bitch.   Likable characters and redemption are what Oscar movies are made on and yet you could probably put Godfather I and II atop a list of the best best pictures of all time and no one would argue.
The Towering Inferno – blockbuster disaster movie with a little taste.
Chinatown – a dark film where the hero fails to protect the one woman he’s supposed to be protecting, attempts to solve a murder but just mucks it all up.  That’s the stuff of noir, usually, just not the stuff of Best Picture.

The Exorcist – no one should ever have to explain why this film stands apart as one of the roughest films ever made and certainly one of the most hard core films that ever got through Oscar’s doors.  Dragon Tattoo looks like child’s play by comparison.  Sure, the characters are all redeemed and the universe righted gain by the end, but there is no denying the horror of the devil inside the little girl.

Deliverance – a movie where men get captured and raped by hillbillies?  Best Picture? Pundits today would say that the movie was “too much” for Oscar.  What a great movie, and what a great moment in Oscar history.
The Godfather (see above)

A Clockwork Orange – Kubrick carved out a place by being a genius.  Very few of those. He never won a directing Oscar.  This was the weirdest of his movies that were ever nominated. Lots of sex and violence.
The Last Picture Show – great film about flawed characters, no happy ending or easy answers.  Pure masterpiece.
The French Connection – anti-heroes rule the day and the box office that year.

Five Easy Pieces – kind of your typical ambiguous 1970s movie, but Oscar paid attention.

Midnight Cowboy – here is yet another film people might say was “too much” for Oscar, but the performances were so good it couldn’t be denied. Like The French Connection, Silence of the Lambs, The Godfathers and the Deer Hunter – sometimes the roughest in the bunch ends up winning because it really stands out.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – the acting and writing drove this but truly, these characters are so strangely distorted it’s a wonder it was nominated.  Again, hats off to all who voted for this film. Redemption? Nowhere to be seen.

Dr. Strangelove – Oh Kubrick.  Here is a comedy that made the cut.  It has serious undertones because it is about the end of the world but never takes itself too seriously.

In conclusion, there really isn’t such thing as a movie that’s “too much” for the Academy. It is simply a matter of their opening their eyes to see what’s there.  Since the critics have had an epic fail of a year, to be expected after last year’s divorce from the Academy, hopefully films that aren’t traditional Oscar movies might get attention – like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, like The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, like Harry Potter.

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  • Kacey

    My favorite performance of the year is Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

  • Kacey

    My favorite performance of the year is Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

  • KJBacon

    If Silence of the Lambs wasn’t too much, then Tattoo won’t be too much.

  • J1

    @Kacey- I wouldn’t judge it just based on Traver’s review. But I’m a little surprised it’s so low on RT by Top Critics. 77% ATM.

  • Kacey

    @Bacon- Silence of the Lambs was a great film. Dragon Tattoo is a good, albeit not great. Why should the Academy reward it? I’m glad most critic’s are on board with how unnecessary and overdone this film happens to be.

    @JJ- I wasn’t just going by Traver’s review. I singled him out because he’s one of my favorite critics. You are correct, the film is at 77% top critics. That says something. It may be a blockbuster, but it’s not Planet of the Apes level blockbuster. Refreshing and amazing.

  • KJBacon

    @Kacey – I was just addressing the “handle it” question. I haven’t seen Fincher’s take on the story. Note: I am one of those who wasn’t in any way bowled over by Social Network. I can barely recall any of it. Flame on! 🙂

  • John

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a fantastic adaptation and a very good film. It’s actually one of my favorites, and why not? The Academy screenings have been successful and the reviews are mostly positive. By the way, it’s massively better than the trashy Swedish version.

  • murtaza

    since when THE FIGHTER had fucking???????????
    Munich had a sex scene which by all means was not GRAPHIC please sasha!!!!
    The Departed had a sex scene which was not an issue at all and if it was where the hell is AMERICAN BEAUTY and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE in your list sasha, you need to redefine the meaning of sex in films.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    OK, once again we are talking about my favourite film of the 90’s. That is – The Silence of the Lambs.

    “Rewrote the rules about what Best Picture could be.”

    I agree. Academy is ready for VERY dark pictures. Before this, they only hinted at that direction.

    “This thriller was brilliantly acted, written and directed. It couldn’t lose.”

    True, true and true, but it was never the frontrunner. Bugsy was, and some had hopes on films like Thelma & Louise. Silence was the critics’ darling, but next to no-one thought it could win at the Oscars. The film broke the rules. If we had a film of this caliber this year – we would KNOW that it IS the winner. if we had a film of this caliber ANY year, we would know it’s gonna be hard to beat.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    And – of course – compared with Silence, Dragon Tattoo is PG-13.

  • Dan Conley

    I don’t really buy the argument that all of a sudden the Academy sucks and picks safe films. Up until The King’s Speech last year, the Academy was on a pretty good roll … The Departed, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker … compare that to the crap they rewarded in the 80s. Ordinary People? Chariots of Fire? Gandhi? Driving Miss Daisy? One terrible choice after another. They rebounded a bit in the 90s, fell back into a slump in the early 00s, came back a bit recently, until blowing it last year. It’s cyclical. Last year might just be a one-off mistake in an otherwise decent era for Oscar. I think the real story is how boring the critics awards have become. They were far more interesting when David Lynch movies or (in the 70s) foreign films won top honors. Now they seem to take their Oscar first-cut status far too seriously.

  • Bryan

    The Academy couldn’t handle Thelma & Louise that year, left it out from the final 5. Looking back, I’d say it’s a way more liberating and daring piece than Silence of the Lambs.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Oh shit, what on Earth was I thinking? I know. I was thinking about Ridley Scott getting in as a “woman” instead of Barbra Streisand. They switched those – for safety.

  • I think the bottom line is that VIOLENCE is no obstacle for AMPAS. We hear this every year “oh there’s too much violence”, but take a look at this list of winners:

    The Hurt Locker
    No Country for Old Men
    The Departed
    Return of the King
    Silence of the Lambs

    all the way back to the days of The Godfather and The French Connection. The Academy is a man’s club for the most part, so they’ll go for something accessible but with a bit of shooting and slashing to get the blood rushing if need be. Which is why it’s considered all the more surprising when they pick a Driving Miss Daisy or Shakespeare in Love over war films.

    What they can’t handle is stuff that makes then uncomfortable: sex, homosexualiaty, anything too abstract or intellectual etc…

  • Movies that should have been nom’d for Best Picture, but were too much: Trainspotting, In the Loop, Mulholland Drive, Fight Club, The Matrix, Crash (Cronenberg’s!!!), Chasing Amy, Shortbus, Hedwig & the Angry Inch, American Psycho… Well should, in my opinion, of course.

    … And South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut. What an outstanding musical! 🙂

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Yeah… The Hurt Locker, No Country for Old Men, The Departed.

    That’s recently when times have been good.

    But before that violent movies were pretty much only allowed if they were war epics or something. Those are your Return of the King (not that violent), Gladiator (almost “cartoon-like”-violence) and Braveheart (very violent). Then you have that Silence as a one-off. Unforgiven is not particularly violent ON-screen, just the thought of it. Mystic River is darker than Unforgiven.

    Academy has always picked R-rated films as nominees. Last time that all films were PG or PG-13? Well, you have to go all the way back to mid-70’s to find that year.

    I love the Academy today – those old farts are dying out (Chicago was their last misstep). Those who embraced the glorious 70’s are now active older members. The King’s Speech I can get, cause it’s not a bad movie. It was just not the best either. Academy almost never chooses the BEST.

  • Mik

    Not sure we’ll ever get as good an anti-Oscar year as 2007 again.

    Big awards contended for by No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Atonement (in a way a typical Oscar film, yet in a way completely not), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Into the Wild, Eastern Promises, Gone Baby Gone, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Persepolis.

    Yet they still crowbarred Juno and Michael Clayton in the best picture race.

  • Chase Horton

    The story is DaVinchi Code with the ideal, faux-feminist heroine. I guess it’s a good movie, but it feels so…blah. Like it was phoned in or something, which I’m sure it probably wasn’t.

    The passion you guys feel for this thing is as confusing for me as the Twilight phenomenon. I mean, the writing is on the same level of trashy wish fulfillment and the story structure is just about as lousy.

    Please, help me out. What’s the big deal with this thing?

  • david lindsey

    Why no Fargo on this list? To me, it is one of the greatest non-traditional Oscar nominees ever. Basically a film blue without the femme fatale; in her place we got the brilliant Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson.

  • Chase Horton

    And to answer the question: Yes, the Academy can handle the movie, but do they have enough a reason to actually give two shits about it?

  • david lindsey

    Um….film noir it should say….

  • Rashad

    Dragon Tattoo is better than Lambs and miles ahead of The Departed.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    We don’t talk about Fargo, cause it lost to some motherfucking patient from a country that is not USA. We have not survived from that. THAT was a lot bigger shock of UK/USA -mistake than what the The Social Network had to suffer from. Even Shakespeare/Ryan is more understandable.

  • Adam Lewis

    What a well thought out article, Sasha!

    Makes me wish you and the moviegasm podcast people would do your year by year discussions again – thought they were fab!

  • evelyn garver

    I think the list, especially some recent winners shows what a difficult task it is to get inside the minds of Academy voters. Even as far back as my early childhood, this group was rewarding films like MARTY and ON THE WATERFRONT. For everything you can say about the timid and safe Academy, you can find find examples that counter that argument. For me, their acceptance of THERE WILL BE BLOOD was proof they’re not all close-minded.

  • Dan Conley

    If the critics had done their job in 1996 and voted FARGO all of the major critics awards, it might have stood a chance vs. THE ENGLISH PATIENT. But the National Board of Review went with SHINE and the LA Critics chose SECRETS AND LIES. The Golden Globes finished off FARGO by picking EVITA in the Best Comedy or Musical category. With awards split all over the place, you can’t blame the Academy for going with the lush, romantic movie, which is always their default choice.

  • Mac

    I just saw Dragon Tattoo this afternoon and I didn’t think it was anything special. Rooney Mara’s Salander is interesting, but overall the movie is somewhat weak. I don’t think it will get a Best Picture nod.

    I do agree that graphic sex is used sparingly nowadays, when back in the 80’s, it seemed to be too prevalent and in so many movies.

  • Mac

    What about Traffic? Wasn’t that nominated?

  • Jerry

    So yes there is plenty of proof that the Academy will nominate movies with darkness, graphic violence and graphic sex. Which means if they don’t nominate THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO it’s because they didn’t fall in love with it. Can we all accept that basic premise? It’s entirely possible to love sex and violence in movies and NOT like dragon tattoo. It was good but far from great or a masterpiece. Everyone has seen Rooney Mara’s A-cup pierced breasts on movie posters without having a heart attack, nudity in film wasn’t invented by David Fincher. I just sense a TSN v. TKS 2.0 coming on with The Artist/The Descendants v. dragon tattoo on this site.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    “I do agree that graphic sex is used sparingly nowadays, when back in the 80′s, it seemed to be too prevalent and in so many movies.”

    In America sex is taken out and violence is being increased. In general, Europe is doing the opposite.

  • CarsonT

    All that is required for me to stop and read a post is for you to upload a screen shot from The Godfather Part II… I’m glad I read this regardless though.

    I saw Dragon Tattoo last night, and I was very impressed. Definitely in my Top 3 of the Year (so far…) It is deserving of many nominations and I hope it gets the credit that it is due. If Rooney Mara doesn’t get her nod then I don’t know what movie these people were watching.

  • Cole ANsier

    Sasha, can you explain what you mean when you say “the critics had an epic fail of a year”?

  • That big gap, Sasha – what about Gangs of New York, Traffic, American Beauty, L.A. Confidential, Braveheart?

    And I missed any graphic sex in Munich. Steven Spielberg’s probably never even had graphic sex.

  • Cole Ansier

    By the way, Rooney Mara was fantastic in Girl, and overall Fincher’s work on the piece was excellent. But it did get bogged down in procedural detail at times, and the source material is ultimately just not that strong. The relationship between Salander and Blomkvist was better developed in the Swedish version.

  • CarsonT

    Also, just one more thing to add. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” seemed to bear a lot of subject matter similarities to those presented in “The Silence of the Lambs.” I feel if a film like “The Silence of the Lambs” can sweep in all major categories, who is to say “Dragon Tattoo” won’t get a shot?

    I understand that there is a certain level of sexual content that was not in “Lambs,” but where there was no sex, you had a man eating people and using another’s skin for a bloody flesh mask. That’s gotta count for something.

    All in all: Fincher made another fantastic film that deserves recognition. In my mind, (SPOILER) the scene where Blomkvist is held captive in the basement is the best filmed scene of the year. But Fincher is probably right.

    “Too much anal rape”

  • Sam

    The Academy is hit or miss, most of the time. Sasha provided an accurate list of the films they took chances on. I’m glad she notably didn’t include most of the films nominated in the 1980s. You look at that list, man there were some sentimental crap during that decade.

    The two films that still boggle my mind that they were even touched were A Clockwork Orange and The Exorcist. I can’t really see either one of those getting PICTURE/DIRECTOR nominations.

  • R

    Tattoo is just not good enough, it is an above average genre thriller with an award worthy acting role. But sasha has been shilling for it for months.

  • Sam

    Sorry, I meant ACO and TE getting those nominations now.

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is, yes, better than The Social Network. Fincher improved on the Swedish version. But if it is ignored, it wouldn’t surprise me. The Academy basically ignored Seven and Zodiac, Fincher’s two best films.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    I know I participated in this, but we should now stop comparing one of the best American products EVER (Silence) with something that we see every year (Dragon Tattoo).

    We will all feel better.

  • steve50

    “And I missed any graphic sex in Munich.”

    And I’ve never been back there since.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    The sex scene in Munich might feel graphic cause it intercuts with violent scenes. The sex itself is not shown. Spielberg doesn’t show sex. In Schindler’s List you see boobs and you’re like: “this is a Spielberg film?”

  • R

    Chase horton – very good comparison to the da vinci code. It has that cheap best seller quality to it. It certainly tried to be more than its source material, but for most of us failed.

  • That sex scene in Munich was one of the oddest scenes I’ve ever seen. The flashbacks were so well shot, but the sex was so tragically bad. In the end, I ended up resenting the scene, and it was due to Spielberg’s mishandling of sex. He’s often considered the ultimate American director, and perhaps few elements of his filmmaking better typify American sensibilities than his apparent fear of sexuality in his films.

  • R

    Agree, tero, silence of the lambs never steers wrong. While I can think of many eye rolling and stupid moments in tattoo, and lapses in logic/believability.

  • roberto

    i think sasha is biased against the artist because it is attached to Weinstein (and she is still bitter about last year). has anyone else noticed that she seems to always slight it in some way when writing about it? in particular, i remember she wrote something about it lacking “gravitas”, and then i think she went on to define gravitas in the comments or something. very strange. i think her tendency to hold a grudge detracts from her writing. too bad.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Sasha knows that The Artist is almost a winner already, but this movie she actually liked. The King’s Speech – not so much. I think she can live with The Artist winning. That would be good, cause it’s… WINNING. She knows the Dragon Tattoo is not winning, a nomination would be its prize.

  • Rashad

    How was the sex bad? Bana’s reactions maybe, but he’s not focused on the sex, nor was Spielberg in that scene, and that’s the point.

  • Cool list, and one that makes me think of another: What are the overtly Oscar-baity movies that are actually really good a la Schindler’s List?

    I think a slightly iffy critical reaction will hamper “Dragon Tattoo” more than the subject matter. The Departed was in the 90s on both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes while “Dragon Tattoo” was, at my last check, in the lower 70’s on Metacritic. With something closer to universal praise, it could make an impact in a weaker year, but something like Moneyball has a better overall standing with critics without the graphic subject matter. It’s too bad, because I think “Dragon Tattoo” is the one film out this year that will still look great in 20 years (although Moneyball’s very good as well).

    Also: 1971 was a hell of a year. I’d probably go with The Last Picture Show but man…

  • Buzz

    If we were really to compare the violence between Dragon Tattoo and Silence of The Lambs, even though the villain and the subject matter of Lambs is more terrifying, Dragon Tattoo was more graphic.
    most of Demme’s violence is essentially shown off screen. The beating of the cop by Lecter is shown from Lecter’s angle and only blood is splashed. The shooting of Buffalo Bill shown from Clarice’s angle. The shot of the cop who’s race was ripped off was away from the camera. Even the disembowled cop, the camera panned out and the violence in that scene was never shown. In face not many violent acts were actually shown just the after images which were just as terrifying. Dragon Tattoo does have the violence shown and although it’s not as graphic, Fincher didn’t shy away from it. (the closest to him shy-ing away from it is when Lisbeth gets her revenge. ) I liked Dragon Tattoo ALOT and Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth should be up there in risk-taking as much as Hopkins was in Silence but it’s not. I also think people aren’t really talking about this movie too much, even though it is exceptionally good and I think the conversation is what propelled silence at the box office and also to oscar gold.

  • I saw Silence of the Lambs for the 1st time last year and although I enjoyed it and thought all the elements were quite strong, it just didn’t knock me on my ass (“knock me on my ass” being a very measurable quality within film criticism.) “Dragon Tattoo” actually moved me by the last scene with the jacket, and to bring this rather touching sweetness into Lisbeth and Mikael’s dynamic made for a powerful and slightly bizarre conclusion that really brought the film into “A” range for me. Silence of the Lambs stayed more in the “A-” range because it was deliciously (pun intended) creepy but didn’t quite pull me in.

  • Sasha Stone

    i think sasha is biased against the artist because it is attached to Weinstein (and she is still bitter about last year). has anyone else noticed that she seems to always slight it in some way when writing about it?

    On the contrary, I’ve been defending the Artist right and left, believe me, when others have been trying to harpoon it. Every frontrunner is treated that way. It doesn’t matter what the movie is. Try as I might I can’t hate the Artist. I think it is a wonderful wonderful film in every way. I don’t want it to win Best Picture because I would prefer an American production to get the prize after losing last year. But if it wins believe me I won’t care. It’s very very good.

  • Sasha Stone

    Sasha, can you explain what you mean when you say “the critics had an epic fail of a year”?

    This year they’ve dropped the ball – bad reviews for great films, rave reviews for bad films – just off in every respect this year. Probably because they were all in agreement last year and now they’re overthinking everything. When Mission Impossible, War Horse and Bridesmaids have better reviews than Dragon Tattoo or Rise of the Planet of the Apes you know something is wrong.

  • Sasha Stone

    All that is required for me to stop and read a post is for you to upload a screen shot from The Godfather Part II

    It’s such a great movie. I wish that was the movie every year.

  • Manohla’s review of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, from NYT:

    read it and weep

  • I basically agree. We’ll see what happens, but they’ve been in line with the critical taste moreso recently. Even The King’s Speech was very well reviewed. So I’m not sure why people have looked so much to the Oscar bait type of films. It seems to me that people overreacted to last year in projecting this year.

  • Sasha Stone

    So yes there is plenty of proof that the Academy will nominate movies with darkness, graphic violence and graphic sex. Which means if they don’t nominate THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO it’s because they didn’t fall in love with it. Can we all accept that basic premise?

    Absolutely. I don’t really expect to fall in love with it but I dislike it when people say it will be “too much” for the Academy. Clearly, they can handle it.

  • Matthew

    Re: ELAEC review

    Put it to the NYT for writing such a well polished and eloquent trashing of a film.

    Time’s Corliss gives it thumbs up, while AV Club doles out a rare F.

  • Julia

    Silence had Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, both beloved acting veterans at this point, chewing scenery up and spitting out universal critical and commercial appeal. Even if Tattoo was hypothetically as objectively good as Silence, Craig still isn’t even mentioned in half of the reviews (that’s how unremarkable his performance is) and Mara still has a CV that contains critically bombing every other lead role she ever had.

    And Silence had a tremendous and fairly immediate impact on pop culture. By the time the votes were counted half of the voters probably had a heard that Chianti and Fava beans line a hundred times. It wasn’t an inevitable winner but it had a lot good things going for it that had nothing to do with its genre. And Tattoo doesn’t have these things despite sharing the genre. Copying Silence’s Oscar strategy or logic is no-go. And with that the comparison is unfair.

  • Fascinating article and study, Sasha. Good food for thought. I do think the tide is turning–not enough to nominate SHAME for Best Picture but possibly to slip DRAGON TATTOO in there.

    Just a few more non-AMPAS-fare films that received Best Pic noms that you didn’t mention: TRAFFIC, KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN, COMING HOME (cunnilingus is not exactly Oscar-friendly) and possibly the most daring and bizarre Best Picture nomination in the history of the Oscars: CRIES AND WHISPERS–not because it wasn’t brilliant but because it was a wrist-slittingly depressing Swedish film that featured, among other horrors, vaginal mutilation.

  • Cole Ansier

    Okay, I agree with you there, Sasha. I’m particularly disappointed by the negative reviews for Shame, an imperfect but brave and completely provocative film.

  • THE ELEPHANT MAN was on HBO all the time when I was a kid and it used to freak me out because I thought the elephant raped his mom. Was I supposed to think that? lol

    Anyhoo, looking over this list and thinking about anal rape I think with this subject and the Academy, and really with all the bad things and the Academy, it matters if it’s “justified”. Let me put it this way, if in PULP FICTION Butch had been the one who got raped, it would be a totally difference story. Marcellus “deserved it” in that he was a pimp/drug dealer/general evildoer and he was going to kill our protagonist. They wouldn’t have gone for it had “innocent” Butch been the one to get raped, and probably neither would audiences. The same thing kinda with DELIVERANCE. In a way, our band of city folk adventure seekers had so little respect for the people and place that they were going to that maybe they “deserved it” just a little bit. But if you have anal rape of an oppressed person or an innocent I think that may damage the fairness center of the Academy’s brain and they can’t go along with it even if they can process it.

    I think a lot of what the Academy chooses has to send some kind of message. At least the winner does. So “racism is bad” is the message more members of the Academy want to send instead of “it’s okay to be gay”. Or “find your inner voice” is better than “steal someone else’s idea and make a bunch of money”. Or how about “we want slum kids to stop being so sad and just dance”? Something like PRECIOUS imo said too many wrong things. You can’t say that there are actually bad parents in the system. They can only be victimized not victimizers. You have to always show black families as the Huxtables. I’m sure that film short-circuited a few nice liberal white people’s brains.

    I’m rambling but what I mean to say is if the story has not necessarily a happy ending but a righteous ending, then they can go for it. But what is righteous is going to depend on the make up of the Academy at the time.

  • Aaron

    I have to agree, American Beauty was a pretty ballsy and (deserving) choice for best picture, especially after a string of period best picture films (Braveheart, The English Patient, Titanic, Shakespeare in Love, etc.)…

  • @Antoinette: Your Elephant Man comment cracked me up. Totally understandable, too.

    @Aaron: Yeah, American Beauty WAS ballsy. And I was only 9 when it came out so I’m not looking at it with nostalgic eyes. It’s aged well and it’s the best film from 1999 that I’ve seen.

  • CarsonT

    Obviously, Sasha is inferring that “Dragon Tattoo” getting the nomination would be the reward it’s be looking for. Out of all those films listed above, only 9 of them actually won (No Country for Old Men, The Departed, Unforgiven, The Silence of the Lambs, The Deer Hunter, The Godfather I & II, The French Connection, and Midnight Cowboy).

    A nomination should be a win enough for this movie. Look at all the great movies above that didn’t win the whole enchilada. Last year added just another movie to the list of the Best that Never Were, and there is definitely no shame in that.

  • Sasha Stone

    Okay, I agree with you there, Sasha. I’m particularly disappointed by the negative reviews for Shame, an imperfect but brave and completely provocative film.
    Those stupid LA Weekly critics naming The Artist and Shame some of the worst? And not even calling out, for instance, War Horse? It’s unbelievable, really.

  • Sasha Stone

    I have to agree, American Beauty was a pretty ballsy

    Absolutely it was. But it was also fairly traditional in terms of the protagonist and redemption and all of that.

  • steve50

    I don’t think anything is “too much” for the academy, it just depends on which way the wind is blowing that year. Midnight Cowboy would have a tough time now, as would No Country for Old Men (and it has been just a couple of years). The puritanical breeze comes and goes.

  • Sasha Stone

    Manohla’s review of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, from NYT:

    Means nothing to me since she’s been praising War Horse. How do I take her opinion seriously anymore? This film is every bit as flawed as War Horse and the two follow similarly in terms of being very moving, very flawed films. And yet she gives War Horse a total pass and not this one?

  • steve50

    You’re right. I haven’t seen any consistency in most of the critics I follow this year. While I don’t agree with them all the time (how boring would that be?), my jaw has dropped at some of the reviews this year. They couldn’t possible have seen the same movie.

  • tombeet

    I think you forgot to mention The Crying Game in 1992 race. When I saw that film for the first time my first reaction was: it’s too indie and how brave the Oscar honoring it. I don’t agree with some names of your list, basically because I think they’re still Oscar dazzling movies. (like Brokeback Mountain, the Hurt Locker, Goodfellas… they are brave films but still very much Oscar films imho.
    Those films I think are not typical Oscar movies:
    -Black Swan (2010)
    -Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000): a wuxia movie that had 10 Oscar nominations, anyone?
    -Pulp Fiction (1994)
    -The Crying Game (1992)
    -The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
    -Fatal Attraction (1987)
    -Taxi Driver (1976)
    -Jaws (1975)
    -The Exorcist (1973)
    -A Clockwork Orange (1971)
    -The Last Picture Show (1971)
    -Midnight Cowboy (1969)
    I won’t go further.

    Actually, in the Best Director race, The Academy bravely pick many “hard to swallow” films: Mulholland Drive (2001), United 93(2006), The Sweet Hereafter (1997).

    Those names I think really challenge Oscar’s taste this year are: The Girl with Dragon tattoo, The Tree of Life, Drive, Shame, Melancholia. We will see how they deal with those titles.

    @Mik: I also loved the 2007’s line-up, loved every single one of them, and I don’t think they “crowbarred” when nominating Juno and Michael Clayton.

  • steve50

    “And yet she gives War Horse a total pass and not this one?”

    pick one:
    1. She likes horses more than Tom Hanks
    2. She’s trying to balance out the praise she gave War Horse
    3. Emotional manipulation feels a little different when the subject matter is closer to home

  • Let me clarify:

    LA Weekly asked 95 critics from across the country to participate in the poll. Not very many of them wanted to sink so low to vote for Worst Film.

    In fact, to be voted Worst Film required only 5 snarky critics wielding whatever ax they had to grind.

    There are only 3 Stupid Critics who thought The Artist was worst film. There are only 2 Stupid Critics who thought Shame was the worst film.

    Shame got 83 votes for Best Film
    The Artist got 85 votes for Best Film.

    All these numbers are available at glance from the LA Weekly Poll.

    When I post poll results and critics Top 10 lists, I don’t grab the whole article. We don’t import another site’s work in its entirety.

    I just port over the highlights and bare lists. Then we always link to the original source so that readers can click to find more details. All these numbers are easy to see on the pages of LA Weekly.

    Hope this helps explain how movies like Shame and The Artist can appear on both the Best and Worst lists.

  • Dan

    I agree about No Country for Old Men, Sasha.

  • I honestly can no longer stand reading Dargis. Her tastes are whacked and the EXTREMELY LOUD review is a great example of circuitous writing. She tries way to hard to be clever and cool…just comes off as condescending and annoying. And I don’t feel a true love of film from her. I do from Scott–even when I’m vehemently disagreeing with him.

  • Jun

    SHAME for Best Picture, Director and Actor. That’s all I’m going to say.
    In all seriousness, though, it’s most likely not going to happen, but a guy can dream, right? *Sigh*

  • Craig Z

    I’m gonna stay out of the rest of the discussion on this thread. Too whiny for me. Sasha in particular seems to be having a bad day and is whinier than normal but I gotta agree with whoever said that sex scene in Munich was just horrible…

    I hate how they intercut it to make it feel like he is having flashback when he wasn’t even fuckin there! Also there is only so much sweating thrusting slow mo Eric Bana closeups I can handle.

    Fantastic movie otherwise and probably the best of the nominees but they sure tried to kill it with that scene.

  • steve50

    “Hope this helps explain how movies like Shame and The Artist can appear on both the Best and Worst lists”

    Although I don’t agree that critic’s should spend time creating “worst” lists, which is counter-productive and generally just nasty, it does focus a light on those movies that are creating a dialog. In this case, Shame and the Artist can benefit.

    If everyone likes a film, the conversation tends towards reliving favorite moments, wasn’t so-and-so wonderful, z-z-z-z-z-z. For Shame and the Artist, in this case, you can get a real discussion happening. Obviously people feel strongly about indiscriminant bonking and silent films made in France. Who would’ve thought?

  • julian the emperor

    To make a worst films of the year list that consists of Shame and The Artist when they received 2 and 3 votes (as Ryan informs us) is just plain stupid and misleading. What’s the point? I just don’t see it.

  • Sasha Stone

    To make a worst films of the year list that consists of Shame and The Artist when they received 2 and 3 votes (as Ryan informs us) is just plain stupid and misleading. What’s the point? I just don’t see it.

    The point is that they are reacting, in hugely childish way, to the awards buzz for The Artist and the festival buzz for Shame. They hate it that these films had folks out there who loved them enough to write about them. Human behavior really never changes. It’s annoying to see it out there like that – all of the crappy movies that came and went this year and those are the two they picked as worst? Jesus. Seriously, even if it was only 2 or 3 I wouldn’t either of those people anywhere near a movie — they should lose their license to review films.

  • Jay

    Unconventional Oscar nominees:
    Black Swan
    A Serious Man
    No Country for Old Men
    The Departed
    In the Bedroom
    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    The Sixth Sense
    The Full Monty
    Secrets and Lies
    Il Postino
    Four Weddings and a Funeral
    The Fugitive
    The Crying Game
    The Silence of the Lambs
    Beauty and the Beast
    Fatal Attraction
    Kiss of the Spider Woman

  • m1

    How is Milk unconventional? Biopics almost always get nominated.

    Anyway, I agree that Oscar can swallow up anything with violence. They have just tended not to for many years.

    Your descriptions of some of the 2010 nominees honestly made me laugh. It just shows how conservative the Academy can be.

  • Arnian

    American Beauty is by no means Oscarfare, and it has a graphic/hilarious sex scene…..

    The Return of the King was a change for the Academy as well. Sure they picked the first two as nominees but who would have thought that a Lord of the Rings movie would actually win Best Picture back in Nov of 2001?

    Sideways had a lot of nudity in it as well, plus some awkward sex…

    There are others but I certainly would say it’s not as large a gap as you have above

  • Oh Sasha, you have made my day. I agree – it’s fair enough to not respond to The Artist, Shame, or any other good piece of filmmaking, but to nominate it as the worst film of the year is pathetic. If I knew who these critics were, I’d boycott their reviews, every one of them. Professionals making these kinds of decisions…EUGH. Demote them to trolling the boards at IMDb, I say.

  • CarsonT

    There’s been some chatter about the sex scene in “Munich,” which cracks me up because that was the moment I always felt that “Munich” and Spielberg jumped the shark. The whole scene I was just thinking, “Does this have real purpose? Or are they just trying really hard?” I think we all know the answer to that one…

  • I thought MUNICH was a perfect film, which just made CRASH’s win that much worse. I didn’t really judge the sex scene either way. It was just there. People have sex. I thought that was kinda the point.

    But I gotta agree on the worst lists. I don’t get them. The only time I’ll really go off on a movie is if I think it’s just a cash grab or it has some other negative impact on the world. Like CRASH lol. But during awards season I think it’s definitely the time to critique and discuss films. It’s a great time for movie fans actually. But to just piss on someone’s movie because you can says more about you than the film. What I hate the most, during this time of year, is when someone gets on the internet after nominations are released and comments “Yes! So-and-So didn’t get nominated. There is a God!” Crap like that really unnerves me, because instead of being happy for something you like, you decide to be happy at someone else being unhappy. Especially around fans. It’s just mean.

    and p.s. reading through these comments I realize that I don’t remember AMERICAN BEAUTY at all. I’ve been like “what sex scene?” lol Old age.

  • Once a year I murmur under my breath, “In the notorious battle between Crash and Brokeback Mountain, Munich was my personal choice for Best Picture of 2005.”

  • Chris138

    I’d consider The Thin Red Line one of the odder choices to be nominated for Best Picture by the Academy, and I mean that in the best way possible. Yeah, it was a WWII combat movie, but they had Saving Private Ryan that year to cover for that category (and was much more popular with critics and audiences) so it’s still kind of surprising they actually nominated it. Especially for 7 Oscars when the film got no love from the SAG or HFPA.

    But yeah, I agree with just about everything else mentioned on this list, especially No Country For Old Men and The Silence of the Lambs.

  • “Would you take your grandmother, your teenager, your maid and your boss to see that movie?” …what kind of a DICK has a maid?
    It’s nice to have an early cue to stop reading an article that is guaranteed to offer no substance. The Oscars have been a joke since Oliver. The best films are acknowledged elsewhere.

  • Byron Gray

    I’m a former film critic and longtime Oscar observer and what I’m amazed at is the contempt that many of you feel for AMPAS. In my day, we may have been critical of some of the academy’s choiices but we had a deep respect for the organization and cherished the Oscars. In my mind, it is still the world’s greatest entertainment award. But then, of course, many of you would consider me a geezer.

  • Tom

    Raging Bull – lots of swearing, ”I SUCKED YOUR BROTHER’S COCK!!!!!!!” Lots of violence, a mostly unlikable antihero, someone who fails at life in every way. A great lament. A brilliant, brilliant film. One of the all-time greats. It was up against Ordinary People, The Elephant Man, A Coal Miner’s Daughter and Tess. So yeah, Marty for the win. The Elephant Man a close second. Ordinary People is a brilliant movie too, especially from an actor/writer perspective.

    Marty for the win??? Come on, Ordinary People won BP!!! Many people had this as a surprise later on as RB were on many Best Pic of the 80’s list.

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