The Oscar nominations are out, and they are both predictable and surprising-bordering-on-shocking. With the possibilities of up to 10 pictures getting a Best Picture nod, the suspense in that category is related more to “how many?” than who gets in. No real surprises there, except for the French-language film from Austria, Amour, which is a lock for best Foreign-Language film. Some are surprised by the nomination of indie success Beasts of the Southern Wild, but this is either the mark of the broadening of Oscar’s interests or a cynical “we are the world” moment. In any event, a flexible number of nominees in that category tends to leave the shock value out of any who make the list.
What is most shocking is found—or to be more accurate, not found—in the Best Director category. Ben Affleck has been a presumed nominee here since Argo opened. He’s won and been nominated for several best director awards for it, and he was universally applauded. It was also thought to be, after Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town, “his time.” No nomination. Then there Kathy Bigelow (full disclosure—I went to film school with her; fuller disclosure: I knew her a little, but she’d never remember me), whom many presumed was going to win her second Best Director Oscar for this as the end of the year came and Zero Dark Thirty started raking in the awards (she has won for The Hurt Locker, becoming the first woman to receive the award). Only slightly less confusing was the omission of Tom Hooper, director of Les Misérables, which was clearly a film that was lovingly and intelligently re-thought and directed for the screen. I’m assuming that since Hooper won for The King’s Speech two years ago, and wasn’t going to win it for Les Miz, the group think was to bypass him now. The only bigger omission would have been leaving out Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, but that was never going to happen.
The voters often tend to think in terms of slots, so they gave those two directing slots away to first-timer Behn Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild and to Amour’s Michael Henake, neither of whom has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. There will be lots of analyzing, grousing and finger-pointing. As the King of Siam said, “it’s a puzzlement.”
There are some good choices here. It’s encouraging to see the three main performances in The Master recognized. Philip Seymour Hoffman, even in a “supporting” role, dominated The Master in a way that supporting-actress nominee Anne Hathaway could only dream of doing in Les Miz. Amy Adams was recognizable only physically in that film; she was a revelation. And professional grump Joaquin Phoenix gave an expressionist performance for the ages; you can put him right in there with the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari performers of 1919. It was daring, brilliant, scary and worthy of attention and study. His public dissing of the awards process happily didn’t hurt him here, and since Daniel Day-Lewis is a lock for Lincoln, Phoenix was never going to win anyway. But it’s good to see all three nominated.
Best Actor has two questionable choices. Denzel Washington is an Academy favorite, sometimes embarrassingly so, but his reviews were among the best of his career. And everyone likes Hugh Jackman, who arguably gave the performance of his career here. This is a happy way of saying how much we all appreciate him. Again, DDL is the man this year, so the nominations are just a tip of the hat.
Best Actress is going to be interesting. It’s really between Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook and Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty. Both have been nominated before (Jennifer for actress, Jessica for supporting). Jessica is older and has a bit more a career, so she is the likely choice, but Jennifer is popular and her film is more widely admired and….liked. However, Jennifer is just 22 and has a huge career ahead of her, so that might turn some folks to Jessica. Emmanuelle Riva for Amour is a late honor to a acting legend, and little Quvenzhané Wallis’ nomination is the award for being fresh, young and genuinely talented. Naomi Watts was near-perfect in The Impossible, but it’s a lesser film and lacks financial success and buzz.
Every supporting actor nominee already has an Oscar, so that has taken some of the stuffing out of that race. Happily, Robert DeNiro is back in form after too many years of seeming to have lost his edge; that may be rewarded. Lincoln’s heft might bring the gold to Tommy Lee Jones. Hoffman deserves it for The Master, but the film is both small and controversial, not the best combination for an award. Alan Arkin and Chrstophe Waltz have both won in the same category recently, and to make matters worse for Waltz, this year’s performance is not that dissimilar than his award-winning one, both of which were directed by Quentin Tarantino. All too similar for Waltz, though he’s excellent.
Anna Hathaway will win for supporting actress unless there is an out-of-the-blue backlash against the film that’s so bad that it colors her. But that’s unlikely, and her likeability would probably overcome all but the worst scandal. She’s the only sure thing of the evening.
The only other comment is how glad I was to see Roger Deakins nominated for his outstanding work in Skyfall, the first Oscar nomination for Bond film in 30 years. Janusz Kaminski’s work in Lincoln was beautiful, and he is likely to win on the coattails of that film. But Deakins has been nominated so many times for such good work, it would be a delight to see him win an Oscar at a long last—and for a Bond film, no less! Not likely, but I can dream a dream, can’t I?