Surprises and Snubs from the Oscar Nominations

(This is a preview of the PopRox column in the Sunday Pocono Record, but is pretty timely today.)

The biggest surprises and the most frustrating snubs after Thursday’s Oscar nominations announcement, a day in which I predicted all of the nine best picture nominees, though I was overzealous and named one that didn’t make the cut:

SURPRISES

forget this year -- this is one of the most surprising nominations ever.

Love for Beasts of the Southern Wild.
The heat seemed to be off the charming story about survival on a strange island off the coast of New Orleans. In December, when it was getting nominations and awards from just about every two-bit film group in the country, I thought it would have been in for a best picture nomination even if there were only five nominees. By Wednesday when I made my final predictions, it was the last movie of 10 I included, and I didn’t feel that good about it. Not only did it get a best picture nomination, but director and first-time nominee Benh Zeitlin scored a nod, beating out Ben Whofleck and Kathryn Bigelow. I wasn’t a huge fan either, but Affleck was the bomb in Phantoms. Then 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis became the youngest best actress Oscar nominee ever in her first acting gig, beating out … well, not many big names. If it was ever going to happen, this would be the year for it.

Best directing category
This was just too good a year for directors to make everyone happy. So when you throw in two surprises — Zeitlin and Michael Haneke for Amour — there are bound to be some unhappy people like Whofleck, Bigelow, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson. But it also makes for a fun category that looks now like the biggest wild card category of the night. Or Steven Spielberg may just order Hollywood to hand him the trophy, who knows.

David O. Russell knows how to get his actors Oscar nominations.
We last saw the writer/director of Silver Linings Playbook in 2010 with The Fighter, when he scored Oscar wins for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo and a nomination for Amy Adams. In Silver Linings, all four of the major cast members — Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro and big surprise nomination Jacki Weaver — all picked up nominations. The guy might be a documented jerk, but he knows what he’s doing behind the camera.

SNUBS
The Master for best picture.
Maybe it’s not a snub so much as a reflection on the overriding opinions of the movie since it came out, that the parts were better than the whole, that the performances were better than the movie. It’s tough to argue with that logic for the average movie fan, though I took a much broader view after I saw it. No matter what your view, it would have been really, really hard to ignore the performances of Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Adams. Luckily, the Academy didn’t.

hard to feel bad for him when he looks like this.

Matthew McConaughey for his 2012 work.
While other award organizations are cool with allowing compilation nominations, the Academy isn’t — at least not out in the open. You get one movie to show your stuff, and each one is judged accordingly. Maybe McConaughey’s Magic Mike performance wasn’t enough to score a best supporting actor nomination, but you can put his work in Mike, Bernie and Killer Joe up against any actor who worked in 2012. It’s just that Academy only takes one of those into account. I’ve always believed that Kevin Spacey got a compilation award when he won best supporting actor in 1996 for The Usual Suspects, but he was just as good or better in Swimming with Sharks and Se7en. Same with Jessica Chastain last year when she was nominated for The Help but was better in Take Shelter and was the only redeemable thing in Tree of Life. Apparently compilation didn’t cut it for good ol’ Wooderson.

No respect for That’s My Boy.
Just kidding.

Leonardo DiCaprio skipped over.
I’ve been on the anti-Leo bandwagon for Django, but thought I was the only one. Apparently, I have company. He was more of a cartoon than anything, and while he was most assuredly powerful, too often he dipped into helplessness that didn’t seem like it was in the subtext of his part. Whether that was his choice or Tarantino’s, who knows. But it didn’t work as well as it could/should have. I would have been ripping mad if he got one and Christoph Waltz didn’t, but Waltz got the nomination he deserved.

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