Steelers relish surprising role of underdogs

Ryan Clark (top), Troy Polamalu and the Pittsburg Steelers, fresh off their 24-19 win over the Jets in the AFC championship game, are 2 1/2-point Super Bowl underdogs against Green Bay, the NFC's No. 6 seed.

Matt Slocum

Each year the announcement comes, and each year the buzz erupts into hoots of approval and moans of distress, more or less in equal measure.

Which Oscar nominees truly deserve the recognition? Who was snubbed? How can you possibly compare “The Help” and “Tree of Life”? Which up-and-coming star or dark-horse film will win big?

Brad Jayne, a Charleston filmmaker, said the Academy Awards are inevitably political and controversial, but they can be helpful too, by propelling lesser-known movies into the spotlight.

“It’s an opportunity for smaller films to get a lot of attention,” Jayne said.

Most recently he produced the short documentary “The Debutante Hunters,” which was screened this week at the Sundance Film Festival.

After the nominees were announced Tuesday, Jayne noticed at least two pronounced snubs, he said. Actor Ryan Gosling, who in 2011 appeared in “Drive,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” and “The Ides of March,” went unrecognized. And Michael Fassbender’s “Shame,” a meditation on sexual obsession, was not on the Best Picture list.

Cara White, who runs Charleston-based Caramer, a film and television publicity agency, said she was surprised by a few of the choices. “Hugo,” “War Horse” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” all were nominated for Best Picture, though the critical acclaim they received seemed insufficient to warrant the distinction, she said.

White was glad to see Gary Oldman, who appeared in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” nominated for Best Actor, and thrilled that a documentary she’s been publicizing, “Hell and Back Again,” was recognized.

Ultimately, she said, Oscar results and film criticism often don’t match up, and that’s because the two things are unrelated.

“The Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) is a peer organization of actors, directors and producers looking at their colleagues’ work,” White said. “Many times these things are popularity contests.”

A critic’s job is to analyze and assess as an outsider, to judge on the basis of artistic merit.

John Bruns, director of the film studies program at the College of Charleston, said he was a little surprised that Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” garnered 11 nominations (including Best Picture) since it was adapted from a children’s book.

On the other hand, he said, it’s a film that celebrates film — specifically, the career of director George Méliès, who fell into obscurity after World War I — and in that respect must have appealed to Academy members who are self-conscious about neglected artists.

They find ways to acknowledge the talents of previously snubbed movie makers, such as granting an award for Lifetime Achievement, Bruns said. Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock, both of whom never won an Oscar for directing, eventually did receive their due late in life.

Other surprises noted by observers Tuesday include no mention of Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in “J. Edgar,” and the naming of Demian Bichir, the Mexican-born actor who plays an immigrant gardener in “A Better Life.” That performance got him a Best Actor nomination.

Richard Futch, a Charleston-based casting director, said the nomination process sometimes can be inscrutable and force voters to make a choice.

Do you favor Meryl Streep for her impersonation of former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Queen” or Viola Davis for her performance as a maid in “The Help”? Is “The Artist,” a silent film from France, better than the high-energy Hollywood sports movie “Moneyball”?

“That’s what’s so great about these awards,” he said. “You don’t get it all the time.”