Emptywas finally coming into alignment with their own tastes.
That the so-called fifth slot went to the Weinstein Co.'s "The Reader," the Stephen Daldry film whose themes and sensibility haven't resonated that way with younger filmgoers, compounded the befuddlement. It was as if John McCain had, against all odds, come out of nowhere to defeat Obama.
I happen to like "Dark Knight" and thought it would have been a respectable choice. But I also don't share my contemporaries' sense of outrage about its omission (and at the same time happen to admire the clean storytelling and moral ambiguities that fill "The Reader").
Yet the indignation is telling. The Academy for years has been talking about getting in tune with a new generation, and its determination to go so classic when something so young-skewing was sitting right there would seem to indicate a return to traditionalism.
Or did it?
Probably the only thing more traditional for the Academy than a post-Holocaust movie like "The Reader" is a Clint Eastwood nomination. Three of the past four pictures he directed were nominated, and this year was supposed to be his swan song as an actor. (As a former politician, he has his own share of similarities to McCain.) And yet, "Gran Torino" got nada.
As one awards consultant said, "There's a cult of Harvey and a cult of Clint, but only one was worshipped today."
Other Academy choices were not exactly traditional either. Two of its acting spots went to Melissa Leo and Richard Jenkins, Hollywood outsiders starring in word-of-mouth festival films. As it happens, even the five noms for "Reader" — including a best actress slot for Kate Winslet in a category Harvey wasn't even pushing for — might have been fueled by something other than tradition.
Part of the reason voters went for "The Reader" is no doubt their love for the movie's intimacies as well as its European sense of structure. Part of it might be an affection for its two late producers, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella. And part of it might be its backstory, which like a good political ad at least drew attention to a movie that might have been lost in the crowd.
First the film's original star, Nicole Kidman, fell out. Then two of its champions and producers, Minghella and Pollack, died before the movie was completed. And to top things off, Weinstein and producer Scott Rudin were fighting as recently as October over whether the movie would even be released this year, a situation that resulted in Rudin taking his name off the film and which Weinstein on Thursday colorfully dismissed as "the harking and barking" of the fall. (The movie's producer credits are listed by the Academy as TBD, but that's about whether a fourth credit for line producer/producer Red Morris will be allowed to accompany Pollack, Minghella and Donna Gigliotti, who stepped in during the summer.)
Weinstein was back to his awards-season brio Thursday. "If people watch 'The Reader' again, it's a wide-open race," he said. "I know what the common wisdom is, but I knew what the common wisdom was 24 hours ago: 'The Dark Knight.' "
As he and a host of miffed young men are finding out, when it comes to the Academy, sometimes the wisdom is uncommon. There is, after all, no popular vote.