Looking back over the past decade in Academy Award history, I've been trying to come up with what I think is the best film that did not receive a single Oscar nomination, and I believe I have come to my conclusion. It's Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino. This is a film I've seen four times, and it becomes a richer experience with each viewing. In the past ten years, especially behind the camera, Eastwood's expertise have risen to a new level, and Gran Torino does exactly that. It takes his character from Dirty Harry and Unforgiven and introduces him to new emotional heights.
Eastwood directed this film from a script by Nick Shenck, and he plays a Korean War veteran named Walt Kowalski. Walt's wife has just passed away and his relationship with his family has become virtually nonexistent. With the exception of his dog, Walt lives alone in a beat-up Detroit neighborhood in which a Hmong family has moved next door. He spends his days mowing his lawn, drinking his beer, and polishing his 1972 Gran Torino.
This Eastwood performance is sensational, but trying to compare it to his roles in Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby is an unthinkable chore. All you need to know is that it could very well be considered career-best work, and the fact that he didn't receive an Oscar nomination doesn't only make my stomach turn from disgust, but also from bewilderment. This is a role that Eastwood publicly stated might be his last, and one would think that the Academy would jump at the opportunity to nominate this screen legend in his farewell performance. Instead, they decided to nominate Brad Pitt, a fantastic actor with decades ahead of him, for one of his more forgettable performances in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Gran Torino did receive a Golden Globe nomination. Clint, his son Kyle, Jamie Cullum, and Michael Stevens were all nominated in the Best Original Song category for the painfully gorgeous "Gran Torino." In one of the strangest Oscar decisions in years, the Academy elected to nominate only three original songs, not only leaving out "Gran Torino," but also Bruce Springsteen's "The Wrestler." Rather than giving well-deserved nominations to two of the biggest icons in their respective artistic mediums, the Academy inexplicably decided to cut the category to three nominees. Any theories?
What separates Gran Torino from the Harry Callahan films of the past is that Eastwood has developed a brilliant storytelling ability in his directing years. He knows how to move an audience without using the tricks of the trade. His films are as technically simple as they come. For a man of his status, he works with modest budgets, and he always finishes shooting ahead of schedule. He's a machinist behind the camera who knows how to get authenticity from his actors. While this film is comprised largely of unknown performers across the board, Eastwood still finds a way to tap into our emotions. Like his performance in Million Dollar Baby, there are equal moments of irresistible intensity, and aching poignancy. The emotional impact of the film really took me by surprise.
The past ten years has featured dozens of terrific films that were completely shut out by the Academy, but what makes Gran Torino stand out in my mind, besides the brilliance of it, is the nominations it what shut out for, and the unfathomable logic that was behind those decisions. You only need to look at Gran Torino's box office success to realize the power of Eastwood's fan base. It will surely live on as one of his most memorable, enjoyable films.
Be sure to give justice to all of the other snubbed films by sharing your personal picks in the comments section below.