Oscar brings surprises aplenty as frontrunners miss and fairytales come true

Posted by · 6:27 am · January 10th, 2013

Well, then. That was a cold blast of water to the faces of Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow this morning. The directors of “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” respectively failed to be nominated for their films, each of which were frontrunners for a potential win in the Best Picture race leading into today’s announcement and assumed nominees for their work on the CIA thrillers. But without a Best Director nod, it’s generally a little tough to take the big prize, and so, the biggest shock of the day is their failure to get in.

They each yielded to perhaps the most surprising nominee of the day, Benh Zeitlin, director of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Talk about a big, beautiful success story. Sundance is gearing up for another run in just one week and to see this film last a whole year (it debuted at Sundance 2012 where it was picked up by Fox Searchlight) and particularly see this strong a showing (Quvenzhané Wallis was also nominated in the lead actress category, the youngest actress ever to have the honor) is just lovely. Congrats to all involved.

Speaking of Oscar records, Emmanuelle Riva picked up a nomination for Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” becoming the oldest actress ever nominated in the category. A nice bit of symmetry, that. But it didn’t stop there for Sony Classics’ Palme d’Or winner. The film landed nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and, in a first for a foreign language contender since the category was expanded beyond five, Best Picture. It clearly resonated (and boy am I glad I pulled my last second punch and ended up predicting each of those). Mark that as another big success today.

Going down the list here, Joaquin Phoenix managed to make it into the Best Actor category for his performance in “The Master,” despite being left off the SAG list. Shoved aside unceremoniously: John Hawkes in “The Sessions.” This was forecasted by BAFTA’s nominations yesterday, which coughed up nearly the same line-up. It’s a shame that Hawkes got the scoot for such a lived-in, honest, touching performance, but I am nevertheless glad Phoenix made the cut. Though it isn’t like Paul Thomas Anderson’s film found some big, unexpected windfall. Three nominations for acting and that’s it, not even an original screenplay bid for the maestro. (John Gatins made it in for “Flight” instead.)

The only real “surprise” in the acting category was Jacki Weaver showing up for “Silver Linings Playbook.” I put it in quotes because she has been all over the place this season, putting in the face time, and she delivers a good little performance that was on the periphery of possibilities. Not only that, but her bid puts David O. Russell’s film in rare territory: four actors from the film were nominated. That along with nominations for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing make it a formidable competitor for the Best Picture win on February 24.

Which brings me to the buried lead: Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” was the nominations leader with 12 tips of the hat across the board. That makes it, to my mind, the frontrunner to win the prize. The only nomination it missed that most were predicting was Best Makeup and Hairstyling (the only category I got 100% correct). But let’s not count out “Life of Pi,” which picked up a stunning 11 nominations, though none (as expected) in the acting categories. I would call it a very real spoiler possibility and Fox might want to snap out of it and see this as an opportunity. “Silver Linings Playbook” is the one lying in wait to trip both period pieces up.

And who would have thought that would be where we’re at? Such is the Oscar season, always ready to give you a bit of a start. Always primed for surprise.

There’s plenty of time between now and the Oscars to really chew on this (a whole six weeks, in fact!), but moving on with some reactions, I have to first and foremost say I’m happy “Django Unchained” made the cut for Best Picture. I had my doubts, but it slid in. I tossed in “The Intouchables” as a last-second WTF bet because a number of members loved the film (though, interestingly, not enough in the foreign film category to get it a nomination there) and were vocal about it down the stretch. But with my ranking, I got all of the other nominees, so I’ll count that as a 100% guess, too.

(And speaking of foreign film, I would say it’s safe to say “Amour” has that locked up now, but you just never can tell.)

“Argo” may have shockingly been left off the Best Director list (as I noted a few weeks ago, sometimes the directors can put actors-turned-helmers in their place — see Ron Howard and “Apollo 13”), but it was strong enough elsewhere, grabbing seven nods total, including surprising nominations in both sound categories.

Oh, speaking of which, a huge congratulations to friend-of-IC Greg P. Russell for his 16th Oscar nomination, for “Skyfall.” Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables” clearly showed weakness, failing to get nominations for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing (though it did rack up eight nods overall). Is this perhaps the year Russell finally gets it? My fingers are, as ever, crossed for him. Meanwhile, Sam Medes’s 50th anniversary effort picked up five nominations, all told, including a somewhat surprising nod for Thomas Newman (who also had “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” in play). That, combined with Russell and Roger Deakins’ predictable nominations, make this two-month-old piece all the more timely. Three vets who have never won an Oscar, combining for an 0-34 track record at the Academy Awards. Brilliant.

One thing worth mentioning is, as I had expected might happen, DreamWorks Animation’s “Rise of the Guardians” — a box office flop with average reviews — was left off the list of Best Animated Feature Film nominees. But the beneficiary wasn’t GKIDS, rather, Aardman Studios, as “The Pirate! Band of Misfits” made the cut. Intriguing. And my beloved “5 Broken Cameras” popped up in the documentary category, but the story there is Sony Classics getting two nominations. That’s somewhat rare. And they likely have the Oscar for “Searching for Sugar Man” all but sewn up.

Finally, the telecast this morning chose to announce the Best Original Song nominees live for an obvious reason: Seth McFarlane was one of the nominees! “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from “Ted” joined “Pi’s Lullaby” (“Life of Pi”), “Suddenly” (“Les Misérables”), “Skyfall” (“Skyfall”) and fellow surprising nominee, “Before My Time” (“Chasing Ice”), leaving “Brave” in the dust. I had hoped one of the “Django” tracks would get a notice. Bummer.

A last note on predictions. I went 82/107 overall. I’ll let you tell me if that’s good or not. I honestly don’t know. I missed an average of one in each category and, like I said, the only fields where I picked all the nominees were Best Picture and Best Makeup. (Sad face for “Moonrise Kingdom” on the former.) I’d love to hear how you did.

And there we are! My first blush reaction to the nominees, which were, thankfully, full of intrigue. We have a long, long way to go to the Oscars, so let’s not blow our load just yet. It’ll be a fun race to the finish, even if it seems like only three can make it. But is that really true? Could this be a year when Best Director snubs don’t hurt this or that contender? It’s not a hard and fast “rule” or anything.

We shall see.

The 85th annual Academy Awards will be held on February 24, 2013.

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