When the Academy announced its 85th Oscar nominations Thursday morning, the best picture nominees turned out to be the least controversial of all. Sure, they left out a few films that some thought had a shot: Skyfall, which would have been the first Bond film to score a best pic Oscar nom after grossing a billion bucks and scoring a PGA nom; Moonrise Kingdom and The Master, indies that had two of the highest per-theater opening weekends of the year and were Critics’ Choice nominees for best pic; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the all-star British cast of which received a SAG ensemble nom; and the blockbusters The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which made a fortune in the summer and winter, respectively. But their nine (out of a possible 10 nominees) covered all of the usual suspects that have shown up in the top category with other awards-dispensing bodies.
But the best director category that the Academy unveiled matched none that has been seen anywhere else, least of all from the Directors Guild of America, whose DGA Award nominees usually are a strong predictor of what the Academy will do, missing on one or at most two in most years. This year, three DGA nominees — all directors of films that were thought to be among the most serious contenders to win best picture — were snubbed by the Academy’s directors branch: Ben Affleck (Argo), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) and Tom Hooper (Les Miserables). They were replaced by the directors of three other best picture nominees, David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), whose film also scored noms in all four acting categories — something that hasn’t happened in 31 years — and now looks like the strongest challenger to Lincoln; Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), whose film now looks like a much stronger contender as well; and Michael Haneke (Amour), who became only the second director of a foreign-language film to score a best director nom in a decade, the other being Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).
In the best actor category, John Hawkes (The Sessions) became the rare Golden Globe, SAG and Critics’ Choice nominee not to repeat with an Oscar nom, booted out by the star of another indie film, Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), who had scored Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations but had been left out in the cold by the best acting nomination predictor of all, SAG. Joining Hawkes on the bench are several other veterans who gave career-best performances this year: Golden Globe nominees Richard Gere (Arbitrage), who is still in search of his first Oscar nomination, and Jack Black (Bernie), an indie fave this year; Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour), the French octogenarian whose scene partner was nominated in the best actress category; and two previous winners in this category, Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock) and Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained).
In the best actress race, there always appeared to be seven women with a serious shot at the five slots. The two who came up short Thursday were, somewhat surprisingly, Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone) and Helen Mirren (Hitchcock), two past winners who had scored SAG and Globes noms this year; Cotillard also received a Critics’ Choice nom. Also left out were three other three previous Oscar winners who received Globe noms this year — Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea), who also won this year’s New York Film Critics Circle best actress award; Judi Dench (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel); and last year’s best actress Oscar winner Meryl Streep (Hope Springs) — as well as Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina), who was nominated in this category for her first collaboration with director Joe Wright, Pride & Prejudice (2005), but not this one.
Best supporting actor was fairly straightforward. Five previous winners in this very category were nominated this year, but another one was snubbed who could have made history: Javier Bardem (Skyfall), who elevated the Bond villain to an art form and received SAG and Critics’ Choice noms for his efforts but whose film was perhaps too popcorn-y for the Academy’s conservative tastes. Voters nominated Django Unchained‘s Christoph Waltz but left out two of his co-stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, who has been nominated three times, and Samuel L. Jackson, who has one nom to his name, which came for his previous collaboration with Django director Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction (1994). Similarly, the Academy nominated Argo‘s Alan Arkin, but left out two of his co-stars: John Goodman, who probably didn’t help himself by being so strong in another supporting performance this year in Flight, and Bryan Cranston, whose role was probably the least flashy of the three. Eddie Redmayne, who has been hailed as a rising star by many thanks to his strong singing and acting in Les Mis, and Matthew McConaughey, whose work as a male stripper brought him this year’s New York Film Critics Circle award plus a Critics’ Choice nomination, also got squeezed out.
Best supporting actress always seemed to have four slots that looked secure, but nobody could agree on who would claim the fifth. I’m pleased to say that I predicted Jacki Weaver, only because the people who she wound up keeping out all had somewhat fatal flaws: Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy) scored SAG and Globe noms but was in a strange and widely ridiculed movie that voters never embraced; Ann Dowd (Compliance), this year’s National Board of Review winner and also a Critics’ Choice and Indie Spirit nominee, never got the support she needed from her film’s distributor in order to raise her profile with voters; and Maggie Smith, who bagged a SAG nom, refuses to campaign on her own behalf, which one can very rarely get away with in this media-crazy age. Some thought that a surprise nom might go to relative newcomer Kelly Reilly (Flight) or esteemed veteran Judi Dench (Skyfall), a Critics’ Choice nominee, or perhaps one of the young singing ladies of Les Mis, Amanda Seyfried or Samantha Barks, but this was not to be.
In the other categories, major snubs include The Intouchables, the immensely profitable French film that France controversially submitted for Oscar consideration in the best foreign-language film category over the more artistically ambitious Rust and Bone, something it now must be regretting; Rise of the Guardians, DreamWorks Animation’s big film this year; Lincoln, while it did score a very impressive 12 noms, was left out of two categories that it had a shot at, best makeup (the Academy usually loves whisker work) and best sound editing, keeping it from tying the all-time record for most noms for a single film that has long been held by All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997); Skyfall failed to meet its high expectations not only in the best picture and best supporting actor races but also by not showing up among the final five for best production design and best visual effects; Les Mis was denied a best film editing nom, which is statistically-crucial for a film that hopes to win best pic, and a best sound editing nom, which often is afforded to musicals; and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which scored noms for best makeup and hairstyling, best production design and best visual effects but failed to register in either of the two sound categories, a weak showing that must have Peter Jackson waxing for the days of the Lord of the Rings franchise, which dominated all of the below-the-line categories.
As for the best original song category, it’s hard to call any of those that were left out “snubs,” since the music branch had to choose five from 75 worthy options. But some of the highest-profile titles not selected include “Wide Awake,” which Katy Perry performed in the doc Katy Perry: Part of Me; “Not Running Anymore,” which Jon Bon Jovi, an Oscar nominee 21 years ago, performed in Stand Up Guys; “Breath of Life,” performed by Florence + The Machine in Snow White and the Huntsman; “Still Alive,” performed by six-time Oscar bridesmaid Paul Williams in the doc Paul Williams: Still Alive; the operatic “Still Dream,” performed by Renee Fleming over the closing credits of Rise of the Guardians; and any of the three songs from Django Unchained, including tunes performed by Jamie Foxx and John Legend.