The 2012 Oscar Nominees: Your Shocks, Surprises, and Snubs

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If there’s one thing you hear a lot in the run-up to the Academy Award nominations (aside from the inevitable “The Oscars don’t really matter!” business, which is both true and false), it’s that they’re predictable — that the industry’s “Oscar bait” films are clearly labeled and marketed as such, and the Year End Lists and Oscar Prognosticators make the actual announcement of the nominees an all but foregone conclusion. So maybe it’s just because there was such an embarrassment of cinematic riches in 2012 that there were so many genuine surprises and shocking snubs when Seth MacFarlane (making us feel something we never imagined we were capable of: nostalgia for Billy Crystal) and Emma Stone announced the Academy Award nominees early this morning. Let’s take a look at the list, and its surprising inclusions and exclusions, shall we?

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Flight (John Gatins) Zero Dark Thirty (Mark Boal) Django (Quentin Tarantino) Amour (Michael Haneke) Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola)

THE PLEASANT SURPRISE: This is the only nomination for our beloved Moonrise Kingdom (seriously, not even a nod for cinematography), but we’re happy it at least got something. THE HEAD-SCRATCHER: Flight, a cliché-ridden, stunningly simplistic roundup of every trite “falling off the wagon” melodrama you’ve ever seen, with a healthy dose of pseudo-religious claptrap on top. Nominating Denzel for it is one thing — that was a genuinely heartfelt and powerful piece of work. But that’s in spite of this script, not because of it. THE SNUBS: All three of his actors were nominated, but Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master screenplay got the cold shoulder (as did his direction). Though it may have been a bit of a long shot, if there was any place for the Academy to acknowledge the electrifying Looper, it was here. And with Holy Motors shut out of the Best Foreign Film category (more on that later), we suppose we were kidding ourselves to hope it would see some love here?

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY Argo (Chris Terrio) Beasts of the Southern Wild (Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin) Lincoln (Tony Kushner) Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell) Life of Pi (David Magee)

THE PLEASANT SURPRISE: This was the first nomination announced for Beasts of the Southern Wild, a Sundance favorite whose tiny budget, summer release, and exclusion from some of the bellwether awards had its fans scared that the Academy would overlook it. They needn’t have worried. THE HEAD-SCRATCHER: None, really, in this category; all five scripts were bandied about as possible nominees, and fairly deserving. THE SNUBS: We weren’t as wild as everyone else for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but plenty of prognosticators were predicting writer/director Stephen Chbosky (who wrote the original novel) would pick up a nomination here. And if a Les Miserables sweep was in the cards, it would’ve gotten a nod here. It wasn’t, and it didn’t.

BEST ANIMATED FILM Frankeneweenie The Pirates! Band of Misfits Wreck-It Ralph Paranorman Brave

THE PLEASANT SURPRISE: The high-spirited treats of the Aardman folks are too often ignored or taken for granted, so we were happy to see The Pirates get some recognition. THE HEAD-SCRATCHER: Look, I’m sorry, I know Brave is a Pixar movie. It is also a bad one. They felt no obligation to nominate Cars 2 last year; was this any better? THE SNUBS: Rise of the Guardians is decently reviewed and seems to be connecting with audiences; we’re a little surprised it didn’t make the cut.

BEST FOREIGN FILM Amour No War Witch A Royal Affair Kon-Tiki

THE PLEASANT SURPRISE: Erm, we should have seen more of these. THE HEAD-SCRATCHER: See above. THE SNUBS: You know what might be the stinkiest story of the year? France submitted The Intouchables as their official entry into the race—over both Holy Motors and Rust and Bone. AND THEN THE INTOUCHABLES DIDN’T EVEN GET NOMINATED.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Alan Arkin, Argo Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

THE PLEASANT SURPRISE/HEAD-SCRATCHER: None of either. As Emma Stone wryly noted after each of their names were announced, “He has won before.” THE SNUBS: Matthew McConaughey, and Matthew McConaguhey, and Matthew McConaughey, and Matthew McConaughey. The gregarious Texan, whom we’d written off as the perpetually shirtless star of terrible romantic comedies, was great in four movies this year: Killer Joe, Magic Mike, Bernie, and even the truly terrible The Paperboy. And he didn’t get nominated for one of them. Also great in a ton of movies this year: John Goodman. And while some have claimed Leonardo DiCaprio was snubbed for Django, we maintain that Samuel L. Jackson’s performance was daring, complex, and totally Oscar-worthy. But mostly: Matthew McConaughey.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sally Field, Lincoln Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook Helen Hunt, The Sessions Amy Adams, The Master

THE PLEASANT SURPRISE: The Master’s pre-nomination buzz had deadened to such a whisper that we honestly weren’t expecting a nom for Amy Adams, whose tricky realization of an enigmatic character was really quite remarkable. THE HEAD-SCRATCHER: Look, Oscars, you had your chance to give Jacki Weaver her Oscar back when she was up for Animal Kingdom, and you blew it. Don’t go trying to make it right now! THE SNUBS: This year’s potential Oscar feel-good story was that of Ann Dowd, the venerable character actress (twenty-plus years in the biz) who ended up paying out of her own pocket to send screeners of the remarkable Compliance to Academy voters. And then (sigh) she didn’t get nominated. Neither did Judi Dench, an Oscar fave whose years of dignified work in the Bond franchise resulted in genuinely meaty role in Skyfall; nor did Nicole Kidman, whose bold and brazen performance couldn’t escape the general clusterfuckery around The Paperboy.

BEST ACTOR Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables Joaquin Phoenix, The Master Denzel Washington, Flight

THE PLEASANT SURPRISE: Again, the mixed reception for The Master — as well as Mr. Phoenix’s general prickliness and indifference to awards schmoozing — made his nomination anything but a lock. THE HEAD-SCRATCHER: None, really; all of these were pretty predictable. Some of them, painfully predictable. THE SNUBS: Okay, last time banging the drum for Holy Motors, but seriously: did you see Denis Lavant in that movie? Also puzzling: with a flood of nominations for Amour, somehow Jean-Louis Trintignant gets left out. But the biggest surprise exclusion here was the great John Hawkes (nominated a couple of years back, for his chilling — and very different — turn in Winter’s Bone), who had been generating Best Actor chatter for a full year, following the premiere of The Sessions at Sundance.

BEST ACTRESS Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook Emmanuelle Riva, Amour Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild Naomi Watts, The Impossible

THE PLEASANT SURPRISE: As noted during the announcements, Wallis (at 9) and Riva (at 85) are the youngest and oldest nominees ever in the category. The former’s tender age and the latter’s performance in a foreign tongue made neither a sure thing; we’re delighted by both. THE HEAD-SCRATCHER: Hey, you’ll have to search far and wide to find bigger Naomi Watts fans than us. But her performance in The Impossible feels so deliberately designed to win Oscars that it sort of left us cold, particularly when compared to… THE SNUBS: …Marion Cotillard, who made the oldest Oscar-baiting gambit in the book (playing a physical disability) into something fresh, and earthy, and raw in Rust and Bone. There was also a chance that our beloved Rachel Weisz would turn her surprise NYFCC win for The Deep Blue Sea into an Oscar nomination, but no dice; an even longer shot, but one we would’ve welcomed, would have been some Academy attention paid to Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s remarkable work in the underseen Smashed.

BEST DIRECTOR: Ang Lee, Life of Pi Michael Haneke, Amour David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook Steven Spielberg, Lincoln Benh Zeitlan, Beasts of the Southern Wild

THE PLEASANT SURPRISE: We didn’t see any pre-nomination press figuring Beasts director (and Flavorwire pal) Benh Zeitlan as anything more than a very long shot. His presence here is a shockingly forward-thinking one for the Academy, considering it’s his first feature — and a testament to their love for his film. THE HEAD-SCRATCHER: A Silver Linings sweep — and the legendary nomination-gathering skill of Harvey Weinstein — are about the only thing that properly explains how David O. Russell got a Best Director nomination for helming a perfectly nice, utterly harmless, well-made yet rather forgettable rom-com. And honestly, as much as we admire Amour, that film was more about performance and script than Haneke’s muted direction… THE SNUBS: …especially when you consider the giant canvases and (sometimes literally) armies marshaled by the shockingly passed-over Kathryn Bigelow, Ben Affleck, and Quentin Tarantino. We know, best directing doesn’t necessarily mean most directing, but I think everybody assumed Bigelow had this nomination — if not the award itself — sewn up; thousands of words will surely be written surmising as to why she didn’t land it, so we’re going to wait to hear some theories before floating the most obvious one (cough SEXISM cough). But the lack of a Director nod for Bigelow also means that the film’s chances in the Best Picture category are slim indeed. And some people are surprised that Tom Hooper didn’t get nominated for Les Miserables, but considering the love-it-or-hate-it atmosphere surrounding that film, with most of the online movie press leaning toward the latter disposition, it’s probably safe to assume that if he had made the cut and the trio above hadn’t, the Internet would have just plain exploded.

It’s a weird category, is the point.

BEST PICTURE Amour Argo Beasts of the Southern Wild Django Unchained Les Miserables Life of Pi Lincoln Silver Linings Playbook Zero Dark Thirty

THE PLEASANT SURPRISE: A double-nomination of Best Foreign Film and Best Picture in the same year is a rarity — it’s happened three times before, with Z, Life is Beautiful, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. All three of those films lost the big prize but won Best Foreign Film, and that will surely happen again this year with Amour. But still, it’s nice to see a genuinely great movie that isn’t solely consigned to that specialty category. THE HEAD-SCRATCHER: See aforementioned comments on Silver Linings Playbook; we’re all for the Best Actor and Best Actress nominations, but this kind of haul (eight nominations) seems pretty disproportionate. And with a Weinstein-backed comedy/drama taking on a Spielberg historical epic, it looks like we may be up for a repeat of 1998, when Shakespeare in Love pulled a still-shocking Best Picture win over Saving Private Ryan. THE SNUBS: Okay, we’ll admit not fully understanding the laws and mathematics that have given us a nine-nominee field instead of ten, which is the kind of nice, round number that everyone prefers. But we’ll say this much: considering how most observers agree that the number of nominees was upped in 2009 after The Dark Knight didn’t make the cut, couldn’t they have made an old wrong right and just tossed that tenth slot to Dark Knight Rises? No? Okay, better yet: why not give it to Moonrise Kingdom, OR ARE YOU JUST A BUNCH OF SOULLESS HUSKS.

Anyway, the full list of Oscar nominations is here; more analysis, and history, and predictions to come (of course) in the weeks ahead.