Now the Race Really Begins
Academy's surprise picks and snubs leave no clear path to the big prizes.
Suddenly, the 84th Academy Awards is shaping up more like an unscripted reality show than a predetermined march to a coronation. At least there were enough surprises in the nominations announced Jan. 24 to keep the handicappers arguing.
Sure, The Artist, which scooped up 10 noms after winning a Golden Globe and a Producers Guild best picture nod, is a formidable contestant. But Martin Scorsese's Hugo, which pays tribute to the silent movie era, edged ahead by collecting 11 noms. Ironically, while Hugo failed to score in the acting categories -- where Artist's Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo were recognized -- it picked up two sound noms, the one area in which the nearly silent Artist couldn't compete.
If the Directors Guild, which convenes Jan. 28, and SAG, which holds its trophy-fest Jan. 29, endorse Artist, then it's game over. But if the DGA bypasses French helmer Michel Hazanavicius for a revered figure like, say, Scorsese, and SAG celebrates the ensemble-driven The Help, then the game really is on.
"We knew from the beginning that The Artist would have a slow build," says The Weinstein Co. COO David Glasser of the film that debuted in May at the Cannes Film Festival. "It's one of those movies that people had to discover." As Artist now broadens into commercial release, fresh TWC talking points are taking shape: The movie may have been written and directed by a Frenchman, but it was shot entirely in Los Angeles using a cast of about 70 local actors. The hope is that the message will resonate with the 1,183-member actors branch.
But if the nominations proved anything, it's that the Academy can't be counted on to react predictably. For best actor, for example, it embraced the relatively unknown Demian Bichir, who plays an East L.A. gardener in A Better Life, a movie that has grossed less than $2 million, and ignored Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar and Michael Fassbender in Shame. Some suggest that Fassbender, hailed as best actor at the Venice Film Festival, lost votes to his competing performance in A Dangerous Method; others argue that the more staid Academy members couldn't sit through the sexually explicit movie. (Or maybe the explanation is as simple as a bad case of penis envy.)
Academy members also proved they have been paying attention to movies big and small. The best actress lineup includes newcomer Rooney Mara, from Sony's Christmas release The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and veteran Glenn Close for her passion project Albert Nobbs, which is still rolling out. And the Iranian drama A Separation not only claimed a foreign-language film nomination but also one for original screenplay. "The one thing you can say," notes Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics -- which earned eight noms, including four for Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris -- "is that the Academy took the time to watch the quality films and not just the commercial movies."
Some box-office giants (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Bridesmaids) failed to score best picture noms, and the animated feature category bypassed some blockbusters. "It was probably the most competitive it's been in a long time, in terms of both quality and quantity," says Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, which, for the second time, fielded two contenders: Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots. Animation branch voters also drafted Rango and two foreign 2D movies, France's A Cat in Paris and Spain's Chico & Rita, meaning that for the first time in six years, there was no "Pixar slot": Cars 2 was left in the dust. Even Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson got snubbed for The Adventures of Tintin, which suggests the branch is not yet comfortable with performance capture. And by rejecting the $350 million worldwide grosser, they made the Oscar broadcast's efforts to reach out to a global audience that much harder.
WHAT'S BEHIND THE OSCAR BALLOT
With a new voting system to decide the best picture nominees, it was anyone's guess how many movies would prevail. In the end, the magic number was nine. Drill deeper and this year's nominees include some movies with real depth, others that squeaked in. And veterans like Meryl Streep, with her 17 career noms, are rubbing shoulders with a whole host of newcomers.
- The Artist
- The Descendants
- Extremely Loud & Incredible Close
- The Help
- Midnight in Paris
- The Tree of Life
- War Horse
- Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris (23 career noms*, 3 wins)
- Michael Hazanavicius, The Artist (3 career noms, 0 wins)
- Terence Malick, The Tree of Life (3 career noms, 0 wins)
- Alexander Payne, The Descendants (6 career noms, 1 win)
- Martin Scorsese, Hugo (10 career noms, 1 win)
- Demian Bichir, A Better Life (1 career nom, 1 wins)
- George Clooney, The Descendants (7 career noms, 1 win)
- Jean Dujardin, The Artist (1 career nom, 0 wins)
- Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1 career nom, 0 wins)
- Brad Pitt, Moneyball (4 career noms, 0 wins)
- Glen Close, Albert Nobbs (6 career noms, 0 wins)
- Viola Davis, The Help (2 career noms, 0 wins)
- Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (1 career nom, 0 wins)
- Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady (17 career noms, 2 wins)
- Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn (3 career noms, 0 wins)
- Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn (5 career noms, 0 wins)
- Jonah Hill, Moneyball (1 career nom, 0 wins)
- Nick Nolte, Warrior (3 career noms, 0 wins)
- Christopher Plummer, Beginners (2 career noms, 0 wins)
- Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2 career noms, 0 wins)
- Berenice Bejo, The Artist (1 career nom, 0 wins)
- Jessica Chastain, The Help (1 career nom, 0 wins)
- Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids (1 career nom, 0 wins)
- Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs (2 career noms, 0 wins)
- Octavia Spencer, The Help (1 career nom, 0 wins)
- Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
- Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids
- Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
- J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
- Asghar Farhadi, A Separation
- Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, The Descendants
- John Logan, Hugo
- George Clooney, Beau Willimon & Grant Heslov, The Ides of March
- Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin & Stan Chervin, Moneyball
- Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy