It wouldn’t be Oscar season without a gripe or two about a favorite candidate being overlooked. Why wasn’t Christopher Nolan nominated for his dream of a thriller “Inception”? Why wasn’t Mark Wahlberg allowed to share in the love for “The Fighter,” a movie he willed into existence? Why wasn’t Julianne Moore tapped for her endearingly loony performance in “The Kids Are Alright”?
These omissions, however, pale in comparison to the shellacking Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” took at the hands of Academy members. The conspiracy thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan wasn’t just overlooked in the best picture and director categories, it was overlooked across the board. For best adapted screenplay, best score, best supporting actor (a category Brosnan should have owned). Nothing. Zero. Zilch.
How is this possible? It was one of the best reviewed films of 2010 and, by near consensus, Polanski’s most accomplished feature since “Chinatown,” back in 1974.
There was certainly more than elbow room in the best-picture category. Kick out the morbidly over-the-top “Black Swan” or the animated “Toy Story 3” and ‒ voila! ‒ a place of honor opens up.
Obviously a closer look is in order. Might Polanski, who fled Hollywood in 1978 to avoid a statutory rape sentence, have been penalized because:
√ “The Ghost Writer,” a mid-February release, opened too early and the Academy has a notoriously short memory. This being the case, studios vie for fall-winter slots: “Milk” opened in October; “Slumdog Millionaire” and “No Country for Old Men” opened in November; “Chicago,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “Million Dollar Baby” all arrived in December.
Dropping back to spring-summer: “Crash” and “Moulin Rouge!” opened in May; “Winter’s Bone” went into limited release in June; “Saving Private Ryan” arrived in July; “Inglorious Basterds” and Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” were August releases.
The closest I could come up with to Polanski’s lousy berth: “Marty,” which opened in April 1955 and went on to win four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor.
√ The Academy shuns conspiracy thrillers. It certainly did “The Paralax View” (1974), with Warren Beatty sniffing out an assassination plot. But that was the exception. Oscar has smiled on numerous conspiracy thrillers, including “Z,” “All the President’s Men” and, most recently, “Syriana.”
√ The Academy hates Polanski. Hardly. Besides winning for best director in 2002 for “The Pianist,” the filmmaker was nominated for “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Tess” and “Chinatown.” All told, these four films racked up 26 nominations, with eight wins.
√ The Academy hated the publicity generated by Polanski’s recent arrest in Switzerland stemming from that outstanding warrant. For three months, as the battle over his extradition raged, the “Academy Award-winning filmmaker” was international news. This sounds closer to it. Oscar is fanatical when it comes to safeguarding its shiny reputation and, as far as the board of governors is concerned, the filmmaker has dragged their hallowed name through the mud.
Drum roll and sentence: Polanski and “The Ghost Writer” are locked out of this year’s awards.
Collateral damage: Brosnan, once a shoo-in for his Tony Blair-inspired former prime minister.