What Happened: This year's nominations announcement kicked-off the Oscar race with a vibe already in stark contrast to last year's event. Seth MacFarlane, the second-ever Oscar host to also be naming the nominees (the first was Charlton Heston in 1972), began showcasing his humor in a preview of what's to come. After welcoming co-announcer Emma Stone from the audience to the stage, the two began a laid-back, joke-ridden narration of the nominees. It made me wish Jennifer Lawrence hadn't been saddled with Academy president Tom Sherak last year - her one-liners in hilariously candid interviews had more flavor than that announcement.
What This Means for Awards Night: I'm assuming he wrote the script for the ceremony, and in his introduction, MacFarlane poked fun at his own relative lack of fame, then moved on to make pointed jabs at the Academy, Stone, and then the just-announced nominees in every single category. So while I and many of the audience at home may be fondly reminded of Ricky Gervais' Golden Globes jokes at the expense of the rich and famous, MacFarlane may need to tone it down a bit if he ever wants a Ted sequel to see the light of day. So while calling out all the Best Supporting Actors as previous winners, saying the Best Directors laze about on set, belittling the Best Adapted Screenplay writers and even making a Hitler joke are not entirely too controversial, those actions stand in stark contrast to his own gloating expression when the host received a nomination in the category of Best Song.
The Major Nominees
Best Supporting Actor:
Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, Christoph Waltz
Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams, Sally Field, Anne Hathaway, Helen Hunt, Jacki Weaver
Best Animated Feature:
Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, The Pirates!Band of Misfits, Wreck-It Ralph
Best Foreign Film:
Amour, Kon-Tiki, No, A Royal Affair, War Witch
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Original Screenplay:
Amour, Django Unchained, Flight, Moonrise Kingdom, Zero Dark Thirty
Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix, Denzel Washington
Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Emmanuelle Riva, Quvenzhane Wallis, Naomi Watts
Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook
Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
Overall, I was pretty satisfied with how the nominations turned out, promising a tighter and more exciting race than last year. There were no out-of-the-ball-park nominees, unlike this year's incredibly off Golden Globes. As the final event of awards season, one can usually get some indication from other awards how the Oscars will go, and in the case of the nominations that was generally true. However, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the decisions. While I enjoyed but was unawed by The Master as a whole, the acting was superb and to have all three of the main cast nominated reflected that. I was also impressed that the Academy was willing to go a little more indie this year, as the love for Amour and Beasts were quite overwhelming. The Best Actress category, which feature the oldest and youngest nominees in Oscar history as well as the most versatile actresses of the new generation, may be the most exciting part of the night.
Everyone who knows anything about the film industry knows that the Academy is not representative of the movie-watching world. No Oscar race is without its fair share of snubs, no article complete without a "biggest snubs" list.
The category I have the most beef with is Best Director. I'm glad Ang Lee was recognized for filming a nearly unfilmable novel adaptation, especially since Life of Pi stands no chance of winning Best Picture. The use of framing, lighting and perspective in Lincoln were beautiful and Silver Linings Playbook was well-paced and full of momentum. To honor the director of Beasts, though, when it was the acting that made the movie a must-see, seems unnecessary, and I can't comprehend how the same group can pass by Asghar Farhadi for last year's A Separation and then give a rare foreign-film Best Director nomination spot to Amour. Where is the love for Kathryn Bigelow, whose distinctive style is the perfect framework for the story of the hunt for bin Laden, or Ben Affleck, who managed to weave comedy and action into a stark historical rescue mission?
It wouldn't be an Oscar season without a snub for poor Leonardo DiCaprio, who seems to have a lifetime supply of bad luck with the Academy. Here he is, going against type by playing one of the vilest characters of the year, and with enough gusto to smash his hand onto shattered glass. Not only is he once again passed over, but this time to his own cast member, Waltz, whose role was basically a continuation of the character he'd previously won the award for in Inglorious Basterds.
And lastly, while there are always quality crowd-pleasers that aren't prestigious enough for the Academy to acknowledge as Best Picture contenders, they usually compensate in the screenplay categories. This year they double-faulted by failing to nominate both Perks of Being a Wallflower, the perfect movie adaptation of a novel, or Looper, which could set the standard for smart sci-fi films to come.