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'The Artist,' 'The Help' Take Oscar Nominations


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, when you are looking for selections for your child's library or for gifts for the other little people in your life, you may have looked for books with that gold or silver sticker from the American Library Association. It's their seal of excellence, if you will. Well, their picks for best kids' books came out yesterday and we will speak with one of the winners a bit later in the program.

And if you're looking to fill the toy box, we will be talking about why toys are so often marketed to either boys or girls. And we'll talk about whether it has to be that way. That's our parenting conversation.

But first, grab your popcorn. The Academy Award nominations were announced today. Joining us to talk about which movies and actors shined and who got left on the cutting room floor is Wesley Morris. He's a film critic with the Boston Globe. Welcome back, Wesley. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

WESLEY MORRIS: Hello. How are you?

MARTIN: Well, I'm better now that I'm talking to you about this.


MARTIN: It always makes me feel bad because I'm thinking about all the films that I missed because you still won't babysit like I keep asking you. Come over so I can catch up.

MORRIS: You keep bringing that up.

MARTIN: I know.


MARTIN: Well, let's start big. Let's start big. The Martin Scorsese picture, "Hugo," had the most nominations with 11, including, of course, for Best Picture. What's so special about this film?

MORRIS: You tell me, Michel.

MARTIN: Oh, no.


MORRIS: ...because I mean - that's not fair. Martin Scorsese's movie is - it's good. You know, to the people who love this movie, they really love it. My problem with it is basically that it's about film preservation, and it's one of Martin Scorsese's pet projects. He loves that. And I think it's a beautiful thing to want us to care about. And it's an interesting way, you know, using the story of a kid and his, you know - this mysterious man that he finds working in a train station is a great vehicle for that.

It's just not a timeless movie to me. It feels very much - it's not political, but from a cinematic standpoint, it kind of is. It's sweet, but pointed, in a way. And I think that people who love this movie kind of love its kind of - its innocence. All the movies...

MARTIN: But you think it's all that? You just...

MORRIS: I don't think it is.

MARTIN: ...don't think it's all that? All right.

MORRIS: I don't. And Martin - you've seen better from our friend, Martin Scorsese.

MARTIN: Well, we'll see. And another one of the big winners was "The Artist" with 10 nominations. And I would play a clip, but it was a silent film and I...


MORRIS: We'll just not say anything.

MARTIN: We just won't say anything. But it was reported that - by The Telegraph in the U.K. - that some people walked out of the theater and requested refunds because they didn't realize it was a silent film. So tell me what you thought of it.

MORRIS: What is wrong with people? I don't understand.

MARTIN: They don't read your reviews ahead of time.

MORRIS: That would break Harvey Weinstein's heart since he's pouring a lot of money into trying to get people to see it and understand why they're there. You know, this is a movie - what's neat about these nominations to me is that there is a kind of return to some distant era. You know, Scorsese's movie is set in a train station, you know, many, many, many decades ago.

"The Artist" is set during the silent era and is itself a silent movie. And I think people - the resistance with "The Artist," I think - if people are resisting it, I think it's that they don't - they're being told it's something they should want to see without actually having had the opportunity to sort of decide whether they want to see it on their own. So, it takes on this medicinal quality that I think kind of harms it in the public's eye.

MARTIN: Well, that's interesting. That's interesting because there's one more film that we want to talk about where that criticism is being made. It's not nominated yet because it just came out, so let's hold that thought for a minute.

We're talking about the Oscar nominations that were just announced today. My guest is Wesley Morris, film critic for the Boston Globe.

All right. Well, let's talk about the women who shined on the screen. "The Help," a very controversial film. It's one of those polarizing films.


MARTIN: You've got to kind of tread lightly before you ask your friends about whether they liked it or not.

MORRIS: Did you notice that we both took a - we took a deep breath before you...

MARTIN: Took a deep breath.



MARTIN: Four nominations. Here's a clip featuring Best Actress nominee, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer, who's a nominee for Best Supporting Actress and worth mentioning that Octavia Spencer has already been honored by the Golden Globe, so here it is.


OCTAVIA SPENCER: (as Minny Jackson) Hold on. That's Miss Hilly's. She looks like the winning horse at the Kentucky Derby, all flowers and bows.

VIOLA DAVIS: (as Aibileen Clark) Got to have paprika on them.

SPENCER: (as Minny Jackson) Forgive me, Lord, but I'm going to have to kill that woman, Aibileen. Now, she gone to putting pencil marks on the toilet paper.

DAVIS: (as Aibileen Clark) Did she?

SPENCER: (as Minny Jackson) Mm-hmm. But I carry paper in from my own damn house. That fool don't know.

MARTIN: Now, OK, deep breath. This is a film that was based on the best-selling novel on the best seller list for just weeks and weeks and weeks, if it isn't still there, about sort of telling the story of African-American maids in the - kind of the civil rights era and kind of their story and how - so...

MORRIS: Yeah. I mean, look, you just played that clip and my eyes kind of welled up a little bit because what you - there's two ways to go about feeling about this movie. The one is the movie itself. And, like, what those two women do to you. And Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are really good in this movie. I think they'll both win, by the way.

But, you know, then you have this sort of meta-problem, which is what they're doing in this movie and what else you've seen Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer do this year. And this was it. These were the two biggest parts for any actress in any movie - for any black actress in any movie all year, all last year. And you kind of have to ask yourself in 2010 or 2011, 2012, why that persists. That's always been my question with this movie.

MARTIN: Yes. That's one of those deeper conversations that people either get it or they don't.

MORRIS: It is.

MARTIN: You know what I mean? It's one of those...

MORRIS: But you know what?

MARTIN: People either get it or they - worth mentioning. Jessica Chastain was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress.


MARTIN: So, you know...

MORRIS: She's really good in that movie, too. And she, amazingly enough, she could have not made the cut because she had six movies that she was eligible for last year. I mean...

MARTIN: But that tells you something, doesn't it? Whereas Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer do not. So...

MORRIS: Yeah. Michel, it's a different show.


MARTIN: There it - a long one. As for Best Actor, George Clooney nominated for "The Descendants," as expected. He also was just honored by the Golden Globes. It's this very beautiful, interesting movie out of Hawaii, but we only have a minute left. So I want to talk about Demian Bichir, who starred as an illegal immigrant in "A Better Life." It was a bit of a surprise for some people.

MORRIS: It's just - I mean, it's been a building surprise. But when the Screen Actors' Guild nominated him, you know, a couple months ago, you know, it began to make people open their eyes and say, whoa, what is going on there? What are people seeing in this movie that nobody saw? And...

MARTIN: What do you think it is? Tell me. Tell me, what is it that you think people saw? As we mentioned, it's about an illegal immigrant who's trying to figure out how to stay in this country so he can take care of his son. What (unintelligible).

MORRIS: Well, it's (unintelligible). He's a gardener in Los Angeles and this is, like, I mean - no pun intended - it's in people's backyards. And this guy is telling a story that a lot of the people who are in the Academy deal with in some way because they hire guys like this to work for them.

And he's trying to live the American dream, so to speak, and it takes a horrible turn. It's a very quiet, dignified performance. He's really good. I'm shocked they noticed it.

MARTIN: Well, we'll see. We'll see. Wesley Morris, film critic for the Boston Globe. He joined us from Boston. Wesley, thanks so much.

MORRIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.