Just a few hours before I sat down to write this, the nominations for the 84th Academy Awards were announced. As usual, I settled in to enjoy this annual rite in all my finery: an old bathrobe and slippers, and with a hot cup of strong coffee. Also as usual, the Academy has delivered a largely unsurprising roster of bold faced (if deserving) names: Clooney, Streep, Pitt, Nolte. Wait a minute. Nick Nolte?
It's true. The weathered actor, best known recently for an unfortunate mug shot following an arrest for DUI, garnered a nod for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Paddy Conlon in Warrior, a little-seen film about a down-and-out ex-boxer training his son for a big fight. Directed by Gavin O'Connor—he was behind the lens for Miracle, about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team—Warrior is a niche film (mixed martial arts) in an already niche genre (sports films). If you think that seems like an unfair categorization, I'd agree with you—which is exactly why Nolte's nomination is a great reminder of the good the Oscars can do.
Consider the Best Picture category, where The Artist picked up a nomination. Though I have sung its praises here before, a silent movie from a French director (did I mention it's also in black and white?) is not the easiest sell to a pair of wrung-out parents trying to have a date night. Seeing some of its magic on Oscar night might change that. Also up this year is The Tree of Life, which has flown under the radar despite having star power (Brad Pitt) and a highly regarded if sometimes hard-to-comprehend director (Terrence Malick, The Thin Red Line). Nominations alone can help remind us of what we might have overlooked, or perhaps hadn't heard of at all.
I'd be remiss, too, if I didn't mention the joyful surprise of hearing Melissa McCarthy's name in the mix. Nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Bridesmaids, McCarthy's inclusion is a perfect reminder that roles needn't be "serious" to be serious acting. Her Megan—an enthusiastic if awkward optimist and future sister-in-law—was as fully formed a character as I saw onscreen in all of last year. She was hilarious, but it was so much more than just being funny—when Megan leaves a well-to-do shower with nine puppies in her van (they were the party favors), it's a great comic moment; but the real payoff comes later, when we realize she has rearranged her life to accommodate them. Academy voters did well to recognize her performance; if you haven't seen it, do.
Also this week: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close screens at Hadley's Cinemark Theaters. A lyrical and melancholy tale of a post-9/11 life, it focuses on young Oskar (Thomas Horn), a boy whose father (Tom Hanks) was lost in the World Trade Center attacks. To sort through his grief, Oskar undertakes a massive scavenger hunt to find a lock that will fit a mysterious key left behind by his father. Directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) and based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, the film's focus is more on healing than on loss.
And finally this week, Northampton's Pleasant Street Theater continues its midnight movie series this Friday with Tremors, the 1990 comedic horror flick about giant prehistoric worms that terrorize little Perfection, Nevada (population 14). Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward star as Val and Earl, two work-starved handymen who are about to strike out for the big city when the worms decide to surface. Rallying the townspeople—an unlikely bunch that includes Reba McEntire and Michael Gross (Family Ties)—gives the boys something to do at last. If you're looking for something to do too, the fun starts at midnight on Friday.
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.