The nominees for the 85th annual Academy Awards have been announced. We yelped ("Beasts"!), we gaped (Affleck!), we yelled "SHUT UP" at Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone a LOT. I did pretty okay in our predictions. Nailed Best Actor and Best Visual Effects 5/5. Biffed royally on Best Director and Best Original Song. On average, I went 4/5 in all the major categories and 3/5 in all the techs. Coulda been worse!
So who were the morning's biggest surprise winners? Whose morning could have gone better? Read on...
Twelve total nominations to lead the field. And with major contenders "Argo," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Les Miserables" all falling short of expectations (no Best Director nominations for any of them), the path to a Best Picture win has been cleared out significantly. It's a longer than usual interval between nominations and the Oscar ceremony, however, and voters hate getting bored. It'll be interesting to see if it can survive.
The Sundance hit managed to survive a drought in the precursor season to land nominations in all four major categories it was gunning for: Best Picture, Best Actress for Quvenzhane Wallis, Best Adapted Screenplay, and a shocker of a Best Director nomination for Benh Zeitlin. As I said in my Best Director roundup, you have to go back to John Singleton for "Boyz N the Hood" for the last time the Academy went for a young, indie upstart director like this.
Eight total nominations was well more than was expected, but David O. Russell has now gotten two straight Best Director and Best Picture nominations, after having scored with 2010's "The Fighter." Also, with Jacki Weaver's shocker of a nomination in Best Supporting Actress, "SLP" becomes just the 14th film to be nominated in all four acting categories, and the first since "Reds" in 1981. All of a sudden, the movie whose release strategy had it looking anemic at the box office and weak in the precursors looks like it's a legitimate dark horse in the Best Picture race. Don't look now, but Harvey Weinstein smells blood in the water.
With eleven nominations, Ang Lee's film is second only to "Lincoln" in the total nomination tally. Not bad for a movie that most people had running a solid 5th or 6th place among the top contenders. While it's not unprecedented for films with that many nominations to walk away empty-handed (hey there, "The Color Purple" and "The Turning Point"), you have to figure this puts "Pi" in line to win a few of the "below the line" awards (Visual Effects? Score?).
And the "Secret of Kells" Award for Most Obscure Nominated Feature-Length Film of the day goes to "Chasing Ice," a documentary about climate change and melting polar ice that scored a nomination for Best Original Song for "Before My Time." The BEST news, however, is that the song was performed in the film by Scarlett Johansson, which means, yes, we might get ScarJo to perform a song at the Academy Awards FINALLY.
"Zero Dark Thirty" walked into nomination morning as one of the front-runners and walked out feeling the chill of an Academy cold shoulder. I normally try not to read animus into a so-called "snub," mostly because for all we know the non-nominee finished a close sixth. But after all the controversy and debate that Bigelow's film has gone through, it's tough not to take this surprise omission as a rejection. Which, by the way, it's probably not. ZDT still made the Best Picture list, and Jessica Chastain is still a major contender for Best Actress.
Best Director was a Wild West show this morning, with expected nominees Bigelow, Tom Hooper and Ben Affleck all getting left off the list. The Affleck miss really puts a crimp in a beautiful career-arc story, wherein the former upstart, then tabloid laughing stock, then second-act director was poised to once again be on top of the Hollywood heap. Close but not close enough. And here I was about to predict an "Argo" march to a Best Picture win. Oops! This better not mean that Affleck won't show up to the Oscars, though. He's got a Best Picture nominee to support! And a beautiful and talented wife in Jennifer Garner who needs to walk that red carpet and remind America that she should be in way more movies!
Also check out: The Oscars' Best Original Song Nominees: What Could Have Been
John Hawkes, Marion Cotillard, Helen Mirren and Nicole Kidman
Generally, getting nominated by both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild is an incredibly reliable indicator for future Oscar success. That theory had more than a few holes poked in it this year, as all four of these performers saw their SAG/Globe double fizzle out on Oscar nomination morning. Mirren was kind of expected to fade, and Lord knows I never had much faith that Kidman would survive her garbage dump of a movie to see a nomination. But Cotillard seemed like she had all the momentum in the world for "Rust and Bone." Maybe the Oscars just aren't big enough for two performances by French-language actresses, and Emmanuelle Riva hogged all the Francophile votes. Meanwhile, somebody had to be left out in the cold for Best Actor, and ultimately, Joaquin Phoenix's anti-campaigning proved more effective than Hawkes's sweet performance as a man with polio. Better renounce the whole system next time, John.
What did I tell you about the Oscars and action films? While many saw the rising tide in the precursor awards as proof that "Skyfall" could crash major categories like Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor, it was not to be. Still, the worst did not occur. Adele's Best Song nomination held strong, marking the first time in a while that an actual hit has a chance to bring home that award.
You know, how snubbed can a film be when it scores nominations in three of the four acting categories? Still, early critical praise for the movie had a lot of people thinking Best Picture/Best Director thoughts for Paul Thomas Anderson. Ultimately, it couldn't even scrounge up a fourth Screenplay nomination for PTA.
Any Supporting Actor Who Hasn't Already Won
For the first time ever in an acting category, all five nominees have previously won an Oscar. With Tommy Lee Jones, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alan Arkin and Robert De Niro all somewhat entrenched, the question was whether the fifth nominee would complete the all-winners lineup, and Christoph Waltz did. Which is too bad, because I was all ready to start trumpeting the chances of a lone non-winner's chances to triumph this year. So sorry to Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, Eddie Redmayne or anybody else hoping to go the Adrien Brody route.
What a travesty that Seth MacFarlane/Emma Stone presentation was. It's 8:30 in the morning on the East coast, 5:30 AM out in California, and we do NOT need a side serving of shtick to go with our nominees! Just tell us who got nominated! Also, this whole idea of "shaking things up" by not reading the names in alphabetical order is basically a war crime. 99% of people don't pay attention to the order in which these names are read, so your audacious flaunting of the alphabet will win you no points with them. And the 1% who DO care (um, hi) are EXTREMELY traditional and OCD about this whole thing, and you are DRIVING THEM CRAZY by not reading the nominees in alphabetical order. Why. WHY? What possible benefit? Also, while we're at it, what was wrong with the old grid of video screens that used to stand behind the nominee-announcers? Was that tradition keeping the kids away too? Not everything needs to be jazzed up! Harrumph and sassafras!