Thursday, January 10, 2013

Oscar Nomination Surprises!

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had some surprises up its golden sleeves this morning, with no Oscar love for the guy in the iron lung in The Sessions and a whole lot of topsy turvy in the Best Director race.

There are nine nominees for Best Picture, with only Moonrise Kingdom left out from prognosticators' lists of likely nominees if it went that deep. Big favorite Lincoln is there, along with Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty. Along with Moonrise Kingdom, dark horses Skyfall and The Master didn't make the cut.

Best Director was supposed to be a horse race between Steven Spielberg and actor-turned-director Ben Affleck, but Affleck, whose Argo got a Best Picture nod, is out in the cold, as are expected nominees Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty and Tom Hooper for Les Miz. Only Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and Spielberg repeat from the Directors Guild nominations announced on Tuesday.

It's not that uncommon for the DGA to pick a different winner than the one who takes the prize on Oscar night, but the two groups sharing only two nominees out of five is a bit surprising. Michael Haneke, who directed Amour, Benh Zeitlin, from Beasts of the Southern Wild, and David O. Russell, who has appeared on a lot of Best of the Year lists for Silver Linings Playbook, benefited from the absence of Affleck, Bigelo and Hooper on the final slate.

The Best Actor competition comes down to Daniel Day-Lewis, who played Lincoln in Lincoln, Bradley Cooper as a bipolar man who moves back in with Mom and Dad in Silver Linings Playbook, Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, Denzel Washington as a heroic but flawed pilot in Flight, and Joaquin Phoenix as an unstable man who falls in with a cult in The Master. Because Phoenix took a swipe at awards season and the campaigning involved, many thought the Academy voters would snub him, but there he is. And John Hawkes, widely expected to be a contender for his role as a man in an iron lung who hires a sex therapist in The Sessions, is nowhere to be found.

Frontrunners Jessica Chastain (a CIA operative going after Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty) and Jennifer Lawrence (the quirky love interest who dances with Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook) are front and center in the Best Actress category, where they are joined by 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, who played a girl named Hushpuppy taking a journey to the end of the world in Beasts of the Southern Wild and 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva, who played a retired music teacher whose health is failing in the French film Amour. Wallis and Riva represent the youngest and oldest nominees ever in the Best Actress category. Naomi Watts, a mother trying to find her son during a tsunami in The Impossible, rounds out the list of nominees. A likely contender left out was Marion Cotillard, whose performance as a whale trainer in Rust and Bone was overlooked. Let's give credit to IndieWire's Peter Knegt, who called this category perfectly.

The real Thaddeus Stevens (L) and Tommy Lee Jones in the role.
Supporting Actors nominated include veteran Alan Arkin for his work as a wily movie producer in Argo, Robert DeNiro as Bradley Cooper's OCD dad in Silver Linings Playbook, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charismatic cult leader in The Master, Tommy Lee Jones as a fiery abolitionist in Lincoln, and Christoph Waltz as a bounty hunter* in Django Unchained.

Nominee Jacki Weaver
And the Supporting Actresses who got the call this morning are Amy Adams and Sally Field, playing wives to the title characters in The Master and Lincoln, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, arguably the most miserable character in Les Misérables, Helen Hunt as the helpful sex therapist in The Sessions, and  Australian actress Jacki Weaver, the mom in Silver Linings Playbook. There were a whole lot of names bandied about for that fifth spot, with actresses like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Nicole Kidman considered more likely than Weaver. But her presence as the most stable member of the Silver Linings family won the day, giving Weaver an out-of-nowhere nomination.

If you'd like to see the complete list of Oscar nominations, head here to read 'em and weep. Or cheer. Lincoln leads in nominations overall with 12, with Life of Pi right behind with 11 and Silver Linings Playbook with 8. That's a bit better than experts predicted for Pi, so congrats to director Ang Lee, whose University of Illinois connection (he got a BFA there in 1980) makes him rootable in my book.

*I've corrected what I called the character in response to a comment, in case anyone wonders why he is suddenly a bounty hunter.


  1. Good post, but I have one correction. Christoph Waltz does not play a slave owner in Django Unchained. He plays a bounty hunter. One thing about his performance that is never mentioned is that he is one of the leads in the movie. His part is not supporting. In fact, I would be willing to bet that he has more screen time than Jamie Fox has. He certainly has more lines. Either way - it is a good performance.

  2. I was referring to the fact that he buys Django from Leonardo DiCaprio's character, thereby making him the "owner." But I see your point. Roger Ebert referred to his character as the wizard in the piece, as well as the deus ex machina.

    For me... Tarantino's level of violence isn't appealing, and I think at some point his over-the-top exploitation of exploitation movies glorifies the very things he's trying to condemn. If he's trying to condemn anything. Which I'm not sure of. I'm just sorry that Tarantino movies are what the Academy chooses to honor.

  3. There are fewer first-time acting nominees this year than in most years: only 4 out of 20 haven't been nominated before.

  4. I don't think that Tarantino is trying to condemn anything in any of his films. I think his movies are really just him paying tribute to the b-movies of the 1970's that he loves so much. Nothing more.

    Django Unchained is a bad movie made very well. His uncanny recreation and combination of both the spaghetti western and the blaxploitation film is really fun for those of us that grew up at the drive-in movies with the films of Roger Corman.

    And to add to the fun was the fact that the movie was filled with long forgotten b-movie stars like Don Stroud, Bruce Dern, Robert Caradine, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, Michael Parks and slew of others whose faces I know, but the names escape me.

    I think that Moonrise Kingdom deserved the nomination more, but for what it is, Django Unchained is certainly a conversation piece.

  5. Leonard Maltin has a good piece about the nominations today: