Something strange happened when the Oscar nominations were announced a few weeks back. Between all of the surprises (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?) and generally expected outrage (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?!), a lot of people started dumping on Jonah Hill. Or should we say, Academy Award Nominee Jonah Hill.
Now, this is far from a new phenomenon, as every year there are a handful of unexpected inclusions and exclusions that draw public ire, in many cases with perfectly good reason. (Hey, we love Sean Penn too, but I Am Sam? Seriously dude?) Jonah Hill could be up on this year’s chopping block for any number of reasons – he recently lost a crap-ton of weight, we’ve seen the trailer for 21 Jump Street before every movie for the last two months, and so forth. Yet all the same, it is important to remember: He’s actually terrific in Moneyball.
It’s a decidedly understated performance, and one that both deviates from and plays with the persona that Hill’s established with his mainstream comedies. He’s the awkward guy again, sure, but here his (formerly) rotund frame serves not as the vessel for a gregarious loudmouth, but as a insular type of guy.
As Peter Brand, he starts off as a man so insubstantial that his introduction is almost unnoticeable, with his head down like a child hoping not to be seen. Yet by the film’s conclusion, he carries himself with a newfound quiet swagger that’s very much indicative of his coming-of-age. Nowhere is this nonverbal growth better demonstrated than in the scene where he’s forced to fire a star player, and Hill sells the weight of this abrupt sense of maturity with little more than a gentle sigh. There’s nothing showy about it, but like Ryan Gosling in Drive and Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, Hill manages to say more with a simple facial expression (in this case, often a befuddled one) than others do with extended monologues.
Does Jonah Hill deserve to win over Christopher Plummer? And would we have nominated him over Albert Brooks or Patton Oswalt? Not necessarily, but that also doesn’t discredit his work in anyway. Michael Fassbender and Michael Shannon both absolutely deserved Best Actor nominations, but that doesn’t make surprise nominee Demian Bichir’s performance in A Better Life any less subtly devastating.
Awards have the unfortunate effect of making subjectively qualified work binary, with everything coming down to “win or lose” or “nominated or snubbed.” And while ultimately, none of these things really matter – the ultimate proof of the Academy’s obsolescence is the fact that Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture in a year where Do the Right Thing wasn’t even nominated – they draw enough attention in the moment that in some cases, really good work unfairly winds up taking a beating.
So don’t hate on Jonah Hill if your guy didn’t get a nomination, and try to save your vitriol for the things that really do deserve it (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?!). There’s too much good work out there to throw something, or someone, under the bus due to an ultimately useless designation.