Attention, Oscar pundits: there is no such thing as a shoo-in or a “lock.” There’s also no such thing as a snub. Today’s Oscar nominations, announced at 5:38 a.m. by Emma Stone and this year’s Oscar host, Seth MacFarlane, were as unpredictable as ever, yet people who ought to know better continue to express shock and outrage as if they couldn’t see it coming. Example: with the Best Picture category expanded to nine films, but the Best Director category limited to 5, it means that four filmmakers are going to be left out, although I’m truly sorry that Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were among them.
Yet calling this outcome a “snub” is childish, as if a conspiratorial committee sat in a dark room deciding whom to punish. Since the Academy never releases its voting numbers, we’ll never know how close anyone came to making the final cut—including such other contenders as Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson. They might have been edged out by a handful of votes, for all we know.
What matters greatly is the breadth of support for certain films. Lincoln earned the most nominations—twelve in all—meaning that almost every branch of the Academy, from writers to sound editors, found it worthy. Life of Pi came closest with eleven, but no recognition for its actors. Perhaps the two most notable success stories are Amour, which scored nominations for Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film, as well as Best Director and Screenplay (Michael Haneke) and Best Actress (Emmanuelle Riva)…and The Silver Linings Playbook, which is the first film in 31 years to receive nominations for Best Picture, Directing, Writing, and all four acting categories. (The last film to pull that off was Warren Beatty’s Reds in 1981.)
This is the marvel of the Academy, which takes so many undeserved hits for being stuffy or out of touch: it is incredibly welcoming to newcomers, like the filmmakers of Beasts of the Southern Wild (not to mention its 9-year-old star, Quevenzanhé Wallis). For writer-director Benh Zeitlin to be honored alongside Steven Spielberg is no small matter.
Of course, the Oscar voters also celebrate great work by masters of their craft like composer John Williams, whose citation for Lincoln marks his 48th Academy nomination—more than any other living person. This is no mere mark of sentiment: Williams is still at the top of his game, like second-generation composer Thomas Newman, whose rousing score for Skyfall earned him his 11th Oscar nod. (He still has a way to go to top his father Alfred, who amassed 45 nominations during his remarkable career, with 9 wins to his credit. Thomas has yet to win, despite his outstanding efforts…and the fact that, for many years, he composed in his father’s study. Perhaps this will be his year to take home a statuette.)
Whatever the outcome, we now have about six more weeks of campaigning, schmoozing, jockeying and (yes) punditry before the Oscars are handed out on February 24. But if these nominations inspire people to go out and see great films like Life of Pi and The Silver Linings Playbook, or worthy documentaries and foreign-language films, they’ve done good for moviemakers and movie lovers alike.
Seth MacFarlane made a great impression this morning with his good-natured, inside-Hollywood wisecracks. I look forward to more of the same on this year’s broadcast.
To see why I think the Oscars still matter, check out this essay I wrote for Thomson Reuters.