The announcement of the Academy Award nominations is many things, but rarely is it dull. Every time it looks like the precursors are pointing to a predictable line-up, the Academy finds a way to throw a spanner in the works, and skip over those who seemed like sure-fire locks, while nominating those who might have otherwise been overlooked by prognosticators and predictors.
And in a year as competitive as this one, it was doubly true, so we've rounded up some of the most notable omissions and surprises of this year's crop. Anything you were raising your eyebrow about? Were your own favorites left off? Sound off in the comments section below.
Kathryn Bigelow & Ben Affleck
This is the big one, which virtually no one saw coming. Best Director was the most competitive category in years, but most had assumed that two of the safest nominees among them were Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck, helmers of "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Argo." Bigelow was a winner only three years ago, and Affleck's arrival as a filmmaker had been celebrated all over the shop. Both were included in almost all of the precursor awards, including the DGA and certainly many thought that Affleck had a good chance at winning the award (especially once BAFTA went and nominated him as director and actor yesterday). But both missed out. Bigelow may have been a victim of the "'Zero Dark Thirty' is pro-torture" campaign, but we given the quality of the job he did, we're honestly baffled by Affleck's miss. Maybe it's a question of his stardom working against him?
The Best Picture field was actually one of the more rock-solid categories this year; everyone agreed on the top six, and there was certainly a certain amount of agreement in recent days on "Django Unchained" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild." So the most notable snub for the big prize (given that we were never convinced by "Skyfall"'s chances there) has to be "Moonrise Kingdom," which people had been tipping since Cannes to be Wes Anderson's first nominated film, and this year's equivalent to "Midnight In Paris." It did well in the precursors (PGA, NBR etc), but ultimately seemingly couldn't capture enough first place votes to make the cut. Maybe "Grand Budapest Hotel" will do the trick, Wes?
For almost a year, since "The Sessions" (then called "The Surrogate") premiered at Sundance, John Hawkes was said to be a virtual lock for an Oscar nomination. As the paralyzed man looking to build a sex life, he overcomes the baitier aspects of the role to create a wonderful turn, and that had been reflected in nominations from the SAG, the Golden Globes and many others. But "The Sessions" never performed up to expectations, and had begun to lose steam of late, so, while co-star Helen Hunt was nominated, Hawkes missed out in favor of Joaquin Phoenix. A shame certainly, but given he already has a nod for "Winter's Bone," we're sure Hawkes will be back.
The French actress, and Oscar-winner for "La Vie En Rose," was never quite a sure thing in one of the more fluid, tricksy categories. But she'd won praise for her turn in Jacques Audiard's "Rust & Bone" since Cannes, and Sony Pictures Classics fought hard for her, lining up multiple tributes to the actress at Telluride, the AFI and the Gotham Awards, among others, and it seemed to be paying off. But it always felt like only one French actress from a Sony Pictures Classics picture would make the cut, and in the end, Cotillard was beaten out by Emmanuelle Riva, as well as Quvenzhane Wallis and the late-surging Naomi Watts.
Leonardo DiCaprio & Javier Bardem
A colorful bad guy is always a good shortcut to an Oscar nomination — see recent winners Heath Ledger, Javier Bardem and Christoph Waltz. But not so much this year. Despite a SAG nomination, the Academy seemed to find Bardem's turn in "Skyfall" a little too similar to his winning performance in "No Country For Old Men," while Leonardo DiCaprio lost out to co-star Christoph Waltz (also a previous winner, like everyone in the category) for his "Django Unchained" turn. DiCaprio had been on the ropes for a while, once The Weinstein Company walked back their decision to campaign Waltz as lead (mark our words, DiCaprio would have got the nom if that had remained the case), but it still caused a raised eyebrow or two to see the actor miss out here.
"Looper" & "Perks Of Being A Wallflower"
The screenplay categories always have some fun curveballs (see "Bridesmaids" last year), and after their WGA nominations, many were expecting the well-liked "Looper" and "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower" to pick up nominations in Original and Adapted Screenplay respectively, even if they were unlikely to figure in elsewhere. Sadly, they both missed out; Rian Johnson's script replaced by "Amour" and "Flight," Stephen Chbosky's by "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Life Of Pi." There was always a degree of wishful thinking to the idea of them being nominated, but it was still disappointing to the films' fans.
Honestly, this is one of the ones we were most surprised by. A giant, giant hit around the world (it was the 13th biggest grossing film worldwide last year, beating "Prometheus" and "Snow White & The Huntsman" to over $400 million), the French comedy was, while not especially well reviewed by U.S. critics, a big favorite of Harvey Weinstein's, especially once it beat out "Rust & Bone" to be picked by the French committee. And yet it ultimately missed out on the final five, with "Kon-Tiki" (another popularist TWC picture) taking its place.
"Rise of the Guardians"
With DreamWorks Animation expected to take a huge write-off on this season's animated disappointment, there was more bad news for the studio today. They'd campaigned hard for a nomination in the category for a film that, while it had middling reviews and disappointing box office, they hoped would appeal to the animators' branch. But whether it was the box office, or the film just not being well liked enough, it missed out, making it the first time in three years that a DreamWorks film didn't make the cut. With three films from arch-rivals Disney among the final five, that has to hurt.
"Zero Dark Thirty"
Without the nomination-happy ensemble of "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook," "Zero Dark Thirty" was never going to challenge those films for number of nominations. But with the film missing out on Best Cinematography (as well as sound mixing and, as we said above, director), it suggests that, while the film picked up five nominations, the Academy didn't take it to their hearts in the way that the critics did. A Best Picture victory is probably a long shot at this point.
"The Dark Knight Rises"
Last year, Warner Bros hoped that the final "Harry Potter" film would benefit from a "Return of the King" effect, and see some added recognition from the Academy. It didn't pay off, but the studio had their fingers crossed that they'd get a different result for "The Dark Knight Rises" — after all, Christopher Nolan's last Bat-film won two Oscars and was nominated for a further eight, while "Inception" was among the Best Picture picks two years ago. But in fact, the film was a washout with the Academy and for the first time since "Insomnia," a Nolan film failed to win a single Oscar nomination. Maybe "Interstellar" is the one that'll break the duck…
Ok, so we were super, super wrong about "Amour." Many had been tipping it for major prizes since Cannes, but given the way it failed to connect with the guilds, we didn't think it would figure in beyond the foreign language categories — we thought it would be too close to the bone for the elderly Academy membership, and that it would struggle to get viewership from voters against higher-profile competition. Well, that was far from the case, as Michael Haneke's film picked up a Best Picture nomination, as well as nods for Haneke in Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, and a best Actress nod for Emmanuelle Riva, making her the oldest actress ever nominated in the category. It's an impressive feat, and one that we're glad we were so wrong about.
Joaquin Phoenix & co.
Some might read the performance of "The Master" as a snub; it missed out entirely in technical and writing/directing categories, with Paul Thomas Anderson failing to get even so much as a screenplay nomination. But while it's clear that the Academy weren't that taken with the film itself, they were certainly enamored of its performers in a way that the Screen Actors Guild weren't, nominating Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams alongside the SAG-approved Philip Seymour Hoffman. Given the challenging nature of the film, we'd probably count that as a triumph, even if we'd have liked the cinematography and editing to have been recognized as well.
Don't let its relatively minor four nominations fool you; the Academy were clearly very struck by "Beasts of the Southern Wild," and by its youthful debut director Benh Zeitlin in particular. He might have missed out on a nomination for the score he co-wrote (and given that we can't imagine that are that many Beirut fans in the Academy, we're not wildly surprised that they went for John Williams & co instead), Zeitlin managed a screenplay nomination alongside co-writer Lucy Alibar, and far more surprisingly, a directing nod over Affleck and Bigelow, a possibility that few had considered. Zeitlin was already a hot prospect, but as the eighth-youngest nominee in the category ever (younger than Jason Reitman, Spike Jonze and Steven Spielberg, older than John Singleton, Orson Welles, Kenneth Branagh and M Night Shyamalan when they got the same honor), expect him to be a force to reckoned with for a long time. Some had thought his young leading lady Quvenzhane Wallis was slipping out of the category, but happily, she made the cut, becoming the youngest ever acting nominee in the category in the process.
We have to say, this one's a bit of a head-scratcher for us. Don't get us wrong, we're huge fans of the Australian actress, and we were doing cartwheels over her nomination for "Animal Kingdom" two years ago. But most had counted her out of the category; she's very good in the film, but it's a small role, without the big moment or speech that's usually a requirement. Still, we don't begrudge her the nomination, and David O. Russell cements his reputation as an actor's director by making "Silver Linings Playbook" the first film since (we think) "Reds" to win nominations in all four acting categories.
"Silver Linings Playbook" For Editing
Speaking of "Silver Linings Playbook," some had started to count the film out. It hadn't yet caught fire on the box office, and with Russell missing out at the DGA, and De Niro with BAFTA and the SAG, some were wondering if the film was starting to slip. But with eight nominations in total (putting it in third place alongside "Les Miserables"), it's certainly roaring back into the hunt. Alongside the four nominations for its actors, it also took nods for Picture, Director, Screenplay and, crucially, Editing. The latter's particularly important — few films have won Best Picture without a nomination in the category, and it's a sign that the film could still surprise in February.
The Strength Of "Life Of Pi"
"Silver Linings Playbook" wasn't the only one that performed above expectations. Most had figured that "Life Of Pi" would do well, but outside of Best Picture, Cinematography, Score and Visual Effects, it didn't necessarily have that much locked up. But to go with Ang Lee's Best Director nomination (and one for David Magee's screenplay), the film took eleven nominations in total. The crucial ones here are production design and the two sound categories: not natural fits for a film that mostly takes place on a raft in the middle of the ocean, but a sign that the Academy are really, really keen on it, and perhaps an indicator that it's in it to win it.
Another one that no one had called. Aardman Animation haven't been nominated for Animated Feature since winning for "Wallace & Gromit," and their return to stop-motion with the wacky, underperforming "The Pirates!" wasn't expected to fit into the category. But if this year proves anything, it's that the Academy loves stop-motion (three of the five nominees were done in the format, including "Frankenweenie" and "ParaNorman") and despite not even scoring a BAFTA nomination yesterday, Peter Lord's enjoyably silly film gets an Oscar nomination here.
"Snow White & The Huntsman" in effects and costume, "Skyfall" & "Argo" in score
Not the showiest of nominations, but still somewhat surprising, were the pair for "Snow White & The Huntsman," for visual effects and costume design. Not many people liked the film much, but it's hard to disagree with the craft on show in those categories, even if most underestimated its potential with the Academy. Similarly surprising were two picks in the score category, where Thomas Newman's music for "Skyfall," and Alexandre Desplat's "Argo" soundtrack both turned up. Given that the latter seemingly scored every other film in theaters this year, we suppose he had to turn up somewhere, while Newman's nomination is, we believe, only the second for a Bond score, after Marvin Hamlisch's nod for "The Spy Who Loved Me."