Analysis: The 85th Annual Oscar Nominations

This past Thursday, nominations for the 85th annual Academy Awards were announced. In a new twist, the ceremony’s host, Seth MacFarlane, joined Emma Stone on stage at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in LA to read the nominations. It’s rare for the ceremony’s host to present the nominations, as that position is usually filled by the Academy’s President, but clearly, AMPAS had something new and original in mind. It paid off. The comedic banter between the two worked well, as their chemistry felt natural and fresh. It also helped to paint the Academy in a younger, more vibrant light. Could this be a shadow of things to come when the golden statuettes are distributed on February 24?

One thing the Oscars definitely has going for itself this year is that many of 2012’s nominated films are movies that the general public have actually seen. The Oscar telecast is likely to see a bump in ratings after several years in decline. On to my analysis …

Best Picture

Last year was one of the best years in film in a long time—shades of 1939. Movies like Lincoln, Argo, Amour, Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, and Les Misérables were well deserving of a nomination in the top category, and they received it. The only other film nominated is Silver Linings Playbook, which is a good movie, but I feel it’s overshadowed by the other films it’s competing against (and rightly so), but no doubt Harvey Weinstein’s powerful machine will be there to back this Weinstein Company release all the way. (The last two Best Picture winners, The Artist and The King’s Speech, were both Weinstein films.) The only way I could be disappointed come February 24 is if Playbook takes home the top prize. I’m fine with any of the others winning. (Incidentally, Django is also a Weinstein release.)

Best Director

Holy WOW, Batman! The two biggest snubs this year are as follows (in order):

1. Ben Affleck (Argo) not getting nominated

2. Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) not getting nominated

The omission of these two beyond deserving directors is an embarrassment to the Academy’s directors branch (those who chose the five nominees), but the bright side is that it allowed for a couple of welcome surprises in Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Michael Haneke (Amour), both of whom turned in two of the year’s best and most memorable films. This was an extremely tight category this year, but Affleck and Bigelow should have been shoe-ins, not because of who they are, but because they made two of the very best films of 2012. Period. I could have done without David O. Russell (Playbook) in this category, but it is what it is.

Incidentally, they say in Hollywood that the three things you should avoid working with as a director are children, animals, and water, as their unpredictable nature could cause nightmares on set (in time, money, etc.). Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and Zeitlin worked with all three in their respective films, and they did so beautifully. That alone should have earned them nominations, so it’s nice to see both honored here.

Best Actress

Another notable snub is the omission of Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone). That said, I’ve seen her film and although she performs well in it, I never felt her performance was Oscar worthy, so I have no complaints about this. It’s considered a snub because she had been a favorite for a nomination for several months and plays a character with a physical disability (Oscar bait).

Some nominations that I correctly predicted (not all pundits did) that made the cut were Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) and Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts), both of whom turned in extraordinary performances. And in a pretty awesome twist, both are the oldest (85) and youngest (9) actresses (respectively) to be nominated in this category in Oscar history. (February 24, the night of the Oscar ceremony, will also be Riva’s 86th birthday.)

Some pundits are predicting that Jennifer Lawrence (Playbook) is the front-runner to win. That may be so, but, in my opinion, hers is the least deserving nomination in this solid category.

Best Supporting Actor

I recently told a friend that if favorite Leonardo DiCaprio did not receive a nomination for Django Unchained, it would be an indicator that the Academy’s love affair with the perennial actor is over. I think it’s over. This is the second of DiCaprio’s most acclaimed performances (the other being 2008’s Revolutionary Road) to go ignored.

Though a nomination wasn’t expected, I would have absolutely loved to have seen the non-actor Dwight Henry receive a nomination for his terrific performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild.

This category sees two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro’s return to the Oscar mix in over 20 years. People have been mentioning this stat as if he’s been long snubbed. The reality is that his performance in Playbook is one of the few good performances he’s had in those 20 years. It’s nice to see him actually trying again.

Best Animated Feature

Another snub is the omission of Rise of the Guardians, long considered one of the front-runners for the award, and deservedly so. The film is nuanced and well crafted with a fantastic screenplay. The only other animated film that I saw last year that is every bit as good (and a bit better) is Wreck-It Ralph, which did receive a nomination. Among the other nominated films I saw in this category are Brave and ParaNorman; both are good, but not nearly as good as Guardians.

A surprise here is The Pirates! Band of Misfits. I haven’t seen this, so I can’t comment, but no one I heard had previously given this film serious consideration, so it’s nice to see it break through (just not at the expense of Guardians).

Best Costume Design

All five nominated films have beautiful, “epic” costumes. An interesting note is that both of 2012’s Snow White movies made the cut, with Mirror Mirror receiving a posthumous nomination for the late Eiko Ishioka, the Japanese designer who had previously won an Oscar for costuming 1992’s Dracula.

Best Documentary Feature

Searching for Sugar Man has been making the rounds at all the notable award shows and festivals. It’s likely the front-runner here. That said, after watching The Gatekeepers at the New York Film Festival in October, I immediately texted a friend to tell her I had just seen the next Documentary Oscar winner. Let’s see if my early prediction pans out …

Best Foreign Language Film

After Affleck’s and Bigelow’s snubs, probably the third biggest came with the omission of France’s The Intouchables from this category. If there were two sure things about this category prior to last Thursday, it was that Amour and The Intouchables would receive nominations. The French film is that country’s highest-grossing movie of all time, and the French committee that chooses which film to submit for Oscar consideration chose this one over the more artsy Rust and Bone, thinking The Intouchables‘ feel-good story and international appeal would make it a slam dunk. That committee is no doubt kicking itself now (not that Rust and Bone is any more deserving, though some might think so).

Austria’s Amour is the heavy favorite to win here, but don’t count out any of the other nominated films. Remember, it was just three years ago when Argentina’s The Secret in Their Eyes beat out the two heavy favorites, Germany’s The White Ribbon (directed by Michael Haneke, who also directed Amour) and France’s A Prophet (directed by Jacques Audiard, who also directed Rust and Bone).

Best Score

I’m a big fan of Alexandre Desplat. He scored several films last year, so I’m just happy to see he received recognition for one of them (Argo). This is his fifth nomination, and will hopefully be his first win.

Best Original Song

It looks like the Academy is finally putting some thought into this category again after last year’s embarrassing win for The Muppets‘ “Man or Muppet,” a song that my four-year-old nephew could have written.

Best Short Film (Animated)

I’m glad to see “Paperman” received a nomination. The black-and-white film is charming and inventive. It kept a smile on my face throughout its entire seven-minute runtime.

Best Original Screenplay

There always seems to be a film that’s nominated for the one thing I think is actually its worst quality: its screenplay. Last year, it was The Descendants (which wound up winning in the Adapted Screenplay category). This year it’s Flight. I’m the only person I know who truly dislikes this film, and the more people say how much they love it, the more I despise it. Others’ praise of this film just reminds me about the needless on-the-nose moments, the not highly plausible scenes, the caricature characters, and the not fully formed plot lines. Ick! I even attended a Q&A with John Gatins, the nominated screenwriter, and when someone asked him about the plausibility of something actually happening (that’s depicted in the film), he didn’t even have a good answer! He clearly hadn’t thought it through himself!

For the complete list of Oscar nominations, click here.

The 85th annual Academy Awards air on February 24 at 7pm EST on ABC.

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