Early this morning, the event’s host, Seth MacFarlane, and actress Emma Stone announced the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards—the preeminent awards ceremony honoring the finest achievements of the year in film.
And, as in most years, there were quite a few surprises—and snubs.
1. SURPRISE: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
“I think it’s total, utter bulls—t, and I don’t want to be a part of it,” uttered Phoenix about the Oscars in an interview back in October with Elvis Mitchell. He later backtracked a bit, and it seemed to do him a world of good, as the talented actor—and sometime performance artist—garnered his third Academy Award nomination for his gripping turn as Freddie Quell, a deranged, sex-and-booze obsessed WWII veteran who falls under the grip of a charismatic mystic, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, in filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Phoenix deserves the nomination; his performance as Quell is pure, unadulterated id and, with his hunched posture, quizzical smirk, and sporadic bursts of violence, is one of the most unpredictable characters ever put to film. Alas, Phoenix’s nomination took the spot of John Hawkes for his performance as a polio-crippled poet attempting to lose his virginity via sex surrogate in The Sessions.
2. SNUB: Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
In the last 10 years, no actor has been snubbed more by the Academy than Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s only been nominated for two Oscars during that time—for The Aviator and Blood Diamond—and should have garnered nods for Catch Me If You Can, The Departed, Inception, and this year’s Django Unchained. DiCaprio stole every scene he was in as Monsieur Calvin Candie, a vicious Francophile slave owner in the antebellum South who lords over a plantation, dubbed Candieland, that plays host to Mandingo slave fights to the death. Having never played a villain before, DiCaprio relishes in the opportunity, spewing fire and brimstone. His phrenology speech delivered toward the end of the film—while wielding a hammer—got so intense that he accidentally split his hand open while giving it, and that’s the cut that was used in the film. For shame.
3. SURPRISE: Best Director: Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Michael Haneke, Amour
After making its premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild, became a critical and audience darling. Made on a shoestring budget of under $2 million, the film presented a wholly unique vision in telling the journey of Hushpuppy, a 7-year-old girl navigating the Katrina-ravaged community of “The Bathtub” in search of her long lost mother. It’s a savagely beautiful fairy tale that’s a poignant paean for Louisiana. However, Zeitlin wasn’t nominated for Best Director by most of the major awards groups, including the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, or DGAs. And Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, whose brilliant film Amour, about an elderly Frenchman caring for his dying wife during her last days following an awful stroke, was similarly ignored by the Golden Globes and DGAs, yet managed to sneak in a Best Director Oscar nomination—his first.
4. SNUB: Best Director: Ben Affleck, Argo, and Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Holy cow. Many were predicting that this was Ben Affleck’s year to win the Best Director Oscar for his sharp effort behind the lens in making Argo, a CIA espionage thriller about an exfiltration expert tasked with smuggling a group of diplomat-hostages out of Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis by posing as a Hollywood film crew. After all, the director does great press, is razor sharp, has been steadily improving as a filmmaker with each passing movie, and was nominated for the DGA, Golden Globe, and BAFTA. But alas, he was snubbed. The same goes with Kathryn Bigelow, who deserved to be nominated for her expert filmmaking effort in helming Zero Dark Thirty, an electrifying thriller chronicling the CIA’s decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. After all, she had become the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar in 2011 for The Hurt Locker. It wasn’t meant to be, however. One has to wonder if all the outrageous torture debate hurt her Oscar chances …
5. SURPRISE: Quevenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
“In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.” Yes, tiny Quevenzhané Wallis became the youngest-ever Oscar nominee—at the age of 9—for her performance as Hushpuppy, the mighty-mite protagonist of Benh Zeitlin’s brilliant indie Beasts of the Southern Wild. Hughpuppy arm-wrestles, delivers body blows, and stares down a prehistoric beast in this fairy tale epic, and never loses her grip on you. By the end of the film, you will remember Hushpuppy … and just might churn out a few tears on her behalf.
6. SNUB: Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
I guess, given the lack of Oscar love for John Hawkes’s polio-crippled poet in The Sessions and Marion Cotillard’s amazing turn as a killer whale trainer who loses her legs in Rust and Bone, the Academy has become a little less favorable to the disabled. Either way, many were expecting Cotillard, who became the first actress to win the Best Actress Oscar for a foreign-language role for La Vie en Rose, to be nominated for her second statuette for her turn as a Sapphic trainer who, after losing her legs, falls for a cold-hearted pugilist-father. She was nominated for the BAFTA, SAG, and Golden Globe, too. But her spot was taken by Emmanuelle Riva, who at 85, became the oldest Best Actress nominee ever for her turn as a dying woman in Amour. Riva didn’t even campaign a lick—she can barely speak English—and still got the nod. Bravo.
7. SURPRISE: Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
There always seem to be surprises in the supporting categories when the Oscar nominations are announced, and many felt Jacki Weaver’s turn as Dolores, the hushed mother trying to keep the dysfunctional Solitano clan together in Silver Linings Playbook, was overshadowed by Robert De Niro’s turn as her husband, and Bradley Cooper’s as her son. But Weaver, a prior Best Supporting Actress nominee in 2011 playing a much more wicked mother in Animal Kingdom, managed to eke out a nod again, despite being ignored by virtually every awards group prior to the Oscars. Never underestimate the power of “crabby snacks and homemades.”
8. SNUB: Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
Few actresses are more liked and respected—and can campaign for an award—like Nicole Kidman, and it seemed like she had a lock on her fourth Oscar nomination for her turn as a lascivious Southern belle who develops a twisted obsession with an inmate on death row (John Cusack) who may be wrongly accused, in The Paperboy. Kidman oozes sexuality in the role and gives it her all, whether she’s performing psychic masturbation with her jailbird crush during a conjugal visit, or peeing on co-star Zac Efron following a jellyfish sting. Unfortunately, it seems the film’s poor box office—making under $700,000 in theaters—lurid subject matter, and overall mixed reviews may have led Academy voters away from marking Kidman on their ballots. But fear not: she has plenty of Oscar nods in her future.
9. SURPRISE: Amour, Best Picture
Although both the PGAs and the Golden Globes snubbed Michael Haneke’s Austrian-produced French-language film, Amour, it still managed to sneak into the Best Picture Oscar race. The difficult-to-watch albeit heartbreaking film, about an elderly Parisian man in his 80s who is forced to care for his dying wife following a stroke, became the first film not in English to garner a Best Picture Academy Award nomination since 2006’s Letters From Iwo Jima, and the first foreign production to do so since 2001’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It definitely benefited from the fact that there were nine Best Picture nominees this year due to the bizarre voting system for the category, but it’s very deserving of the accolade, and nice to see a genius auteur like Haneke get his due.
10. SNUB: The Intouchables for Best Foreign Film
Harvey Weinstein, who is an expert in the Best Foreign Film category, distributed the film in the U.S., it is the highest-grossing film in a non-English language having grossed north of $420 million worldwide, and beat out a superior film—Rust and Bone—to be the French entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. And yet, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s crowd-pleasing tale of a quadriplegic, aristocratic white guy and his doting Senegalese caretaker didn’t manage to crack the list of Best Foreign Film Oscar nominees. It was a bit too Driving Miss Daisy–antiquated for my tastes, and perhaps the Academy voters agreed.
Tune in to the 85th annual Academy Awards ceremony on the evening of Feb. 24.