I got up to watch the Academy Awards' nomination broadcast this morning, something I have never done before — somehow, my enjoyment of sleep has always trumped my fanaticism about the Oscars. It turns out watching the broadcast is a jarring experience: the pace of the announcements feels alarmingly rapid, and this year they didn't announce in alphabetical order, so there was no way of knowing whether anybody had been definitively eliminated. (I think I noticed several instances of the most shocking nominee being announced last in the category, though I can't be sure this was deliberate.)
It was a good year to start with, though, because for once the Oscar nominations are... not that offensive! Strangely well-deserved, in many cases! Sure, there were some egregious snubs, but that's to be expected; nobody ever survived long playing the Oscar game who got outrageously worked up over their favorites being denied. It's a shame, for sure, that my favorite film of the year, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, only got nominated in the acting categories — but hey, did you hear that Joaquin Phoenix actually got nominated for The Master?! This was, frankly, more than I was expecting. I will take what I can get.
2012 has been unique amongst recent years in that the Oscars are, for the most part, anyone's game. Aside from Anne Hathaway, who could probably have had her name engraved on a statuette as of last summer, all of the major categories are fairly contentious: I have genuinely no idea who is going to win Best Actress or Best Supporting Actor, and even Best Actor is a minefield. Almost all of the actress and supporting actor nominees stand a reasonable chance of winning: Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence are Hollywood's "It" girls du jour, and give fantastic performances in well-received movies; Naomi Watts is a well-loved actress who's been working for a long time and who gives the most baldly emotional performance of the lot; Emmauelle Riva is a grand dame and a legend; and even Quevenzhané Wallis, who was only six when she filmed Beasts of the Southern Wild, is a possible spoiler. Meanwhile, every single actor nominated in Best Supporting Actor has previously won an Oscar, so nobody gets any beginner's luck.
Meanwhile, Lincoln seems poised to do well across the board: with 2 nominations, it's easily the most-honored movie in the field, and Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor are in such a state of flux that it could feasibly be the consensus pick. Movies get nominated based on the passion of their supporters, not based on having the most supporters — that is, movies with the most "number one" votes do better than movies that have more votes total, but in lower positions — but the ultimate winner is the movie with the most votes in the final round. People who were passionate about, say, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour will continue to vote for those movies, but I'd bet that Lincoln had one of the biggest vote totals across the board, which bodes well for its chances. Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg's two biggest challenges in the Best Director category, Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck, weren't nominated at all.
But we've got six weeks until the big night, and lots of time to strategize about our ballots. For now, let's take a moment to appreciate the Academy's pleasant surprises, and bitch about their most offensive snubs. I'll start:
— Both Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) and Quevenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) getting nominated in Best Actress is quite a shocker, and a delightful one. In fact, the number of nominations garnered by both Amour and Beasts is stunning, and welcome. I loved Beasts and did not love Amour, but much in the way that I was excited for The Tree of Life last year without having liked the movie much, I'm grateful that Amour is in the mix, just on behalf of good cinema. I may not have loved it, but it's a serious work of art, which is more than can be said for some of the other nominations.
— He deserves his own bullet point: Benh Zeitlin getting nominated for directing Beasts is so unbelievably well-deserved that I almost can't complain about anything else.
— Worth repeating: Joaquin Phoenix. Joaquin Phoenix. Joaquin Phoenix.
-- This is bitchy, but: the fact that both Ben Affleck (Argo) and Tom Hooper (Les Misérables) got left out fills me with glee. For once, the Academy went for artistic achievement over mere predictability. Good for them.
Bad Surprises/Sadly Predictable Snubs
— Although I am mostly thrilled with how genuinely bonkers the Best Director category is (only two of the Director's Guild nominees got in!), I am outraged and appalled and other strongly displeased adjectives that Kathryn Bigelow did not get nominated for Zero Dark Thirty. Her work on the movie is a stunning achievement that I believe is at least equal to her deservedly rewarded work on 2009's Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker, and it's a crying shame that it wasn't acknowledged.
— God, the Supporting Actor category is bleak, isn't it? Poor Matthew McConaughey.
— This isn't so much bad as simply baffling: Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook? Say what? She's good in the role, but it's barely a role at all, let's be real.
— The tech categories: on the whole, I'm pleased with the major categories, but the technical categories are somewhat baffling and much more boring. Lots of the same movies repeated over and over again. Have some imagination, guys!
— Last but not least, I need to say another few words about The Master. I'm almost most disappointed that it didn't score in the technical categories, since I wasn't expecting it to do well in general — the cinematography, costume design, production design, and score are all some of the year's finest technical achievements, and to see them uniformly ignored is really too bad. And then, of course, there's the real master of the film, Paul Thomas Anderson, who finds himself sans nomination this morning. I truly don't believe there is another working American director who can match him, and while he'll go down in the history books as one of the greats, and though he professes to not care about awards at all (which I believe), it's kind of embarrassing for the organization to have left him out in the cold. One day, maybe.
Click here for the full list of the year's nominees.