The Oscar Warrior’s Nomination Shocks and Surprises

Well, it’s been an exciting morning and you have to give the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a lot of credit for knowing how to really pull the rug from under the feet of the Oscar bloggers and movie writers who have been spending the last few months trying to guess what movies and performances they might nominate for the 85th Annual Academy Awards.

While some of their nominations, announced earlier this morning, were expected, there were some real shockers, not just from myself as a movie writer with my own specific tastes and preferences, but just in general, and you really didn’t have to look much further than the directing race to scratch your head and wonder, “What happened there?”

One name that’s been mentioned countless times over and over as a frontrunner at the Oscars was Ben Affleck’s Argo, ever since its debut at the Telluride Film Festival. The film has received unanimously positive raves and reviews and everyone mentions how impressed they were with Affleck’s work. The film was nominated for its screenplay by Chris Terrio, for Alan Arkin’s performance and a number of technical awards as well as the original score by Alexandre Desplat. And yet… the man who pulled this whole team together and helped craft this film – he doesn’t deserve recognition for his work? Really?

Affleck’s snub reminded me of the year when Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator was sweeping all the technical awards on Oscar night and then it came to award the Oscar for direction and it was given to Clint Eastwood over Scorsese.

But Affleck wasn’t the only snub in the directing category, one that had a lot of potential candidates and at least four that were thought to be favorites due to their DGA nominations just a few days ago. Affleck received one of those DGA nominations and so did Kathryn Bigelow, whose thriller Zero Dark Thirty had received many early awards from the critics and the National Board of Review, including ones for her direction. Her name was left off the list despite seemingly heading towards being the first woman to receive a nomination in this category twice, just three years after the first woman director to win an Oscar.

Affleck and Bigelow were probably more surprising than Tom Hooper, who also received a DGA nomination for Les Misérables a few days back, but also seemed to be one of the candidates that Oscar predictors were on the fence about.

Instead, David O. Russell bucked his lack of a DGA nomination to be nominated for his comedy Silver Linings Playbook for his second Oscar nomination in this category. Directors of comedies tend to not get as much credit as they probably should, but Russell joins Alexander Payne, Jason Reitman and Woody Allen as recent nominees for directing a comedy that the Academy got behind with their support.

Russell was probably not as big a surprise as Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, who received his very first Oscar nomination in any category this year. But he didn’t just get one for directing his tough drama Amour; he also got a second one for writing the screenplay and the film also got into the Best Picture race, bumping a number of other films that had been getting just as much critical acclaim over the past year. His leading actress, Emmanuelle Riva, received her first Oscar nomination at the age of 85.

There was a lot of love for Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, one of the breakout hits from last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Not only did it receive a nomination for Best Picture and another for its screenplay, both of which were expected, but Zeitlin himself received a nomination for his direction. That was something rather unexpected and the nominations for him and Haneke (neither who were eligible for WGA or DGA awards) really shook things up. Also, 8-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis did indeed receive a nomination as the youngest person to ever receive an Oscar nomination.

Meanwhile, Quentin Tarantino received a nomination for his screenplay for Django Unchained and Christoph Waltz received a second supporting nomination (despite being the co-lead in the film) plus it received a nomination for cinematography, but Tarantino also didn’t make it into the really tough director’s race with two surprise nominees joining in. Waltz displaced Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson, who both gave great performances as the film’s baddies and would probably be considered more supporting roles.

Speaking of Sundance, one of the performances that everyone was talking about was John Hawkes in The Sessions, just a fantastic performance that involved a lot of physical hardship on his part to recreate poet Mark O’Brien’s paralysis. His co-star Helen Hunt received a nomination for her own supporting performance but Hawkes was nowhere to be found in the list of nominated actors.

To me, the biggest shocker and most upsetting upset had to be not seeing the French film The Intouchables receiving an Oscar nomination in the Foreign Language category despite being one of the best films I’ve seen this year and it being a huge worldwide box office hit. Haneke’s film was nominated in that category too as Austria’s selection (even though it’s in France and features French actors), but The Intouchables was omitted entirely despite rumors that it had a lot of support in the Academy. They instead went with Chile’s No and Canada’s War Witch, both decent movies, and two Scandinavian films, Norway’s Kon-Tiki and Denmark’s A Royal Affair – two movies that didn’t really thrill me much even though neither was a surprise.

What made me even sadder was not seeing actress Marion Cotillard be nominated for Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone, which was just a fantastic and incredible performance from the French actress who first got recognition when she won an Oscar for playing Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. Her omission (in favor of Riva and/or Wallis) made me think that maybe Academy voters looked at some of the recent winners – like Cotillard… and Tom Hooper… and Kathryn Bigelow… and thought, “Hey, they just won an Oscar. Why should we nominate them again?”

Of course, that doesn’t explain the love for Philip Seymour Hoffman (a previous winner) and Amy Adams (a multiple previous nominee) who both were nominated for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, along with their co-star Joaquin Phoenix. Otherwise, Anderson’s film didn’t even receive screenplay or cinematography nominations which seemed like the most obvious places for them to be recognized. Nope. Looks like PT Anderson will have to watch the Oscars from home unless the awards-hating Phoenix wants to bring the filmmaker as his date.

Probably my biggest thrill from the nominations came from not seeing Nicole Kidman being nominated for Lee Daniels’ abysmal The Paperboy after being nominated by both the Golden Globes and SAG. I honestly had no idea what anyone was thinking there and why some of my colleagues were getting behind Kidman so enthusiastically, but she was snubbed in favor of someone nobody had even mentioned… and that was previous nominee, Australian actress Jacki Weaver for Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook. She joined the other three nominated actors in Russell’s movie that’s been moved up the ranks as a possible Best Picture frontrunner since it’s received so much support in key branches. The place where it’s lacking are the technical categories, giving clear advantages to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.

Probably the biggest “What the f*ck?!?!?” moment had to come during the Animated Feature announcement when they were listing off the nominees and Peter Lord’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits was announced. Now, I personally have never seen the movie, and honestly, I don’t know many people who have. It was one of last year’s lowest profile animated movies, being released in late April with little fanfare and grossing a minimal $31 million. It did rate 87% on Rotten Tomatoes though and apparently, the animation branch of the Academy really loves stop motion animation since they nominated three movies in that format.

Jeffrey Katzenberg probably didn’t have a very good morning as neither of DreamWorks Animation’s two movies from the year were nominated, not even Rise of the Guardians, which received a PGA and Golden Globe nomination but wasn’t embraced by the Academy.

The 23rd James Bond movie Skyfall did receive some love for its original song by Adele and score by Thomas Newman, and as expected Roger Deakins received yet another nomination for his cinematography. Will he finally win this year for a movie that didn’t receive nominations for Best Picture, director, screenplay or any of its actors? That would be ironic, although right now, the favorite seems to be Life of Pi.

Oh yeah, and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises? Not one single nomination, not even in technical categories where some thought it might thrive ala The Dark Knight.

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