This morning, in irksomely bit-y fashion (it's too early for bits, guys), Emma Stone and Seth MacFarlane announced the nominees for this year's Academy Awards. As always there were some surprises, some disappointments, and some definite snubs. To spare you from us gloating about how mostly right we were in our predictions, let's first talk about how we were wrong.
The morning's biggest upsets/surprises/whatever definitely came in the Best Director category. Two of the directors that we called "this year's favorites" yesterday, Zero Dark Thirty's Kathryn Bigelow and Argo's Ben Affleck, were left off the list this morning, in exchange for Life of Pi's Ang Lee and Amour's Michael Haneke. Well, OK, most others would say they were left off in exchange for Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell or Beasts of the Southern Wild's Benh Zeitlin, who were for many the surprise inclusions of the morning. But yeah, no chance at gold for Bigelow and Affleck, the two American directors who told tales of American soldiers and operatives prevailing in troubled Middle Eastern climes.
Were the movies too political? It'd be hard to argue that Argo was, being that it's about a 30-year-old mission that is near-universally viewed as a good. But in Zero Dark Thirty's case, we suspect that, yes, something about the film's urgent political/moral tone and its unwillingness to tie things up nicely did alienate Academy voters. How else to explain the movie's snubs for both director Bigelow and cinematography? Sure it got the Best Picture, Screenplay, and Actress nods, but this was one of the best-reviewed films of the year. That its director was ignored in favor of Russell and Lee indicates, to us anyway, that there was some itchiness with the movie's subject matter. Affleck is a bigger mystery. A beloved Hollywood fixture, helming a beloved Hollywood movie. It seemed like a sure-thing. And yet. The Academy is strange and fickle, folks!
Well, not that strange and fickle. Like we said, we were mostly right about the big categories, missing one out of five in three of the acting races. (Best Actress, and Best Picture, went exactly as we thought they would.) In those cases, less-likely nominees like Ann Dowd, John Hawkes, and Leo DiCaprio were brushed aside in favor of previous nominee Jacki Weaver, previous nominee Joaquin Phoenix, and previous winner Christoph Waltz. The likely winners are all still firmly in place: Anne Hathaway for Best Supporting Actress, Tommy Lee Jones for Best Supporting Actor, and Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor. The Best Actress category is a little harder to figure out, but based on the chillier than expected Zero Dark Thirty reception this morning, we'd now put Silver Linings love interest Jennifer Lawrence over ZDT's Jessica Chastain, who just yesterday looked to be ever so slightly in the lead. We'll know more about the way voters are going when we see the Golden Globes on Sunday and the SAGs after that, but if voters didn't go for Bigelow, it seems likely they won't ultimately go for Chastain either.
Elsewhere, there was good news. Master cinematographer and now ten-time nominee Roger Deakins was noticed for his stunning work on Skyfall, and we'd hope that based on that movie's mass-appeal popularity he might actually win the damn thing this time. We're thrilled by all of Beasts of the Southern Wild's and Amour's nominations. Neither are "easy" films in their own ways, but they seem to have connected nonetheless. With all that Ben Affleck snub talk, it's easy to forget that, holy crap, first-time director Benh Zeitlin scored a nomination for Beasts. That's a big deal for a little film, for a rookie to be in the same category as past winners like Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee. We would have loved to see Dan Romer's beautiful score sneak in there too, but let's not get greedy.
We're thrilled to see How to Survive a Plague, one of our favorite movies of the year, up for the Best Documentary prize, alongside worthy fellow nominees The Gatekeepers and Searching for Sugar Man. Though, it's surprising to not see Amy Berg's West of Memphis on the list, given its relatively well-known subject matter and support from the likes of Peter Jackson. Maybe the material — children on trial, long, drawn-out fights for exoneration — was too similar to another potential nominee, The Central Park Five, and they split the vote.
All told, it's a solid crop of choices, though there were, as always, mistakes made. The biggest are arguably Affleck's and Bigelow's slights, but we'd also rap the Academy on the knuckles for overlooking Ann Dowd's work in Compliance, for ignoring Rian Johnson's Looper screenplay in favor of something like Flight, and for failing to use a golden opportunity to nominate Fiona Apple for an Oscar for her song "Dull Tool" from This Is 40. ("Everybody Needs a Best Friend" from Ted? Seriously? We know MacFarlane's hosting, but come on.) But all told, a majority of the choices were righteous, with only a few genuine snubs. That's pretty good for a strange year at the movies. We've got a pretty good idea of who will win most categories, predictions which are forthcoming on this site, but for now let's just revel in the glow of having gotten this far in the punishing/wonderful awards season.