The Academy at Their WTFiest: Thoughts on the 2012 Oscar Nominations

A couple hours ago, conventional wisdom said this year’s batch of Oscar nominees would be a gimme, easily predictable, shoo-ins across the board, and that the real surprises would reveal themselves on Oscar night thanks to tight races in the big categories.

Oscar Nominations 2012

All of that, we now know, was wrong. This could be the WTFiest nomination announcement in years – and that’s not counting Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone’s strained schtick. (Seriously, were MacFarlane’s smarm, greasy grin, and lame Hitler jokes all a ploy to make us yearn for the days of a brain-fried James Franco?) Major snubs for Best Director, unexpectedly low nod counts for certain contenders, and the usual madness in the technical categories turned this year into one big pile of crazy – and essentially did away with most of the tight races. Some random thoughts:

– Leading the pack, as expected, is Lincoln, with twelve nominations. The runner-up is Life of Pi with eleven. But here’s where it gets interesting: Les Misérables and Silver Linings Playbook nabbed eight apiece, Argo snagged seven, Zero Dark Thirty five. But Argo, Les Misérables, and Zero Dark Thirty, all previously considered serious contenders to challenge Lincoln for Best Picture, found themselves shut out of the Best Director category, which suggests the likelihood of any of those films beating Spielberg’s epic on Oscar night is now effectively zero. The nominations announcement was, essentially, the Academy’s way of telling us who won.

– Granted, we might still see a massive push from Harvey Weinstein to make Silver Linings a frontrunner. Its heavy nomination count is a good indication it has some support where it counts, and voters might be impressed by the fact that its eight nods all come from top categories. (Granted, Lincoln is also nominated in every category Silver Linings is minus Best Actress, but still.) Expect Weinstein to exploit one impressive factoid: this is the first film since Reds to earn nods in all four acting categories. I’d expect heavy promotion in the coming weeks as Weinstein attempts to repeat his Shakespeare in Love victory.

– Also missing from Best Director: Quentin Tarantino. He, Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper, and Ben Affleck were all considered sure things, and their collective absence has left fans scratching their heads and Oscar prognosticators weeping silently. Of all the surprises this year, the Director lineup is the biggest and jaw-droppingest.

– Instead, Spielberg is joined by Michael Haneke (Amour), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild). All five films also earned Screenplay nods, but it’s Haneke and Zeitlin’s that are getting plenty of talk today thanks to another fascinating stat: Emmanuelle Riva becomes the oldest Best Actress nominee the same year Quvenzhané Wallis becomes the youngest. That’s a pile of honors that move both films up several pegs out of the “Best Picture also-ran” zone; they’re the movies with the most to gain from the nominations, if not in actual wins, then at least in public awareness.

– Much has been made of the fact that all five Supporting Actor nominees are previous Oscar winners, but here’s something else: of the twenty acting nominees, only four – Riva, Wallis, Bradley Cooper, and Hugh Jackman – are first-time nominees. And of those, only Wallis can be considered a newcomer, making this an Oscar year for familiar faces and old pros.

– Look, I know Tommy Lee Jones was a lock for a nomination, but why not James Spader, too?

– And no McConaughey? What gives?

– A surprise: The Master pulls in three acting nominations… and nothing else. No Picture, no Director, no Screenplay, no nothing.

– Not a surprise, but still disappointing: Moonrise Kingdom only earns one nomination, for Screenplay.

– Blockbusters went nowhere: The Hobbit landed a mere three nominations (Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, and Visual Effects); The Avengers earned just one nod (Visual Effects); The Dark Knight Rises and The Hunger Games were completely shut out.

– I’m tickled to see ParaNorman up for Animated Feature. The other genuine surprise is The Pirates! Band of Misfits, which seems like a left-field choice, but I’ve grown to be OK with it. (I’d rather have seen The Secret Life of Arietty here, but alas, it’s ineligible.)

– Surely I’m not the only one who said “what the hell is a Chasing Ice?” to my television this morning. (Turns out, it’s a documentary about glaciers and not, as I hoped, a comedy about a ragtag hockey team who plans to steal the world’s biggest diamond.) “Before My Time” is apparently a tune from it, and the music branch liked it enough to grant it a Best Song nomination. It’s up against a song from Life of Pi and a song from Ted, and that’s three nominees few expected. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad sign regarding the new rules governing Best Song (which boil down to: five nominees, no matter what), but it is rather disappointing, in a year filled with some very good songs from some very popular movies (tracks from Hunger Games, The Hobbit, and Brave come to mind, among many others), that the Academy would once again be so stubborn in their musical tastes.

– The fourth Best Song nominee is Les Misérables‘ “Suddenly,” a non-surprise, but that’s the closest we get in this weaksauce category to anything resembling competition for Adele and “Skyfall.” This is good news, as “Skyfall” is indeed the best movie song of the year, by miles. Can’t wait for her performance on Oscar night. (And if Adele is unavailable February 24, Paul F. Thompkins can step in.)

Skyfall also landed Thomas Newman a nod for his work, a very pleasant surprise for one of the year’s best musical scores. And while I’m tempted to grumble over the film’s snubs in certain categories – alright, so it had no chance of a Best Picture nomination, but c’mon, no Visual Effects mention for that memorable train crash? No honors for its effective editing or chic costume design? Nothing for Dench or Bardem? – I’m still overjoyed that a James Bond picture is up for an Oscar for the first time since For Your Eyes Only and will very likely become the first to win one since Thunderball. The Sound Mixing and Sound Editing nominations are well earned indeed (the sound work here is some of my favorite of the year, and of the franchise), and the idea of Roger Deakins not only getting nominated (his tenth!) but also possibly winning makes me very, very happy.

– Also filed under Making Me Very, Very Happy: a nomination for Paperman, the stunning animated short that played before Wreck-it Ralph. It’s a work of total beauty.

– The following movies are now official Oscar nominees: Hitchcock, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Ted. Thanks, technical categories! They’re this year’s Harry and the Hendersons!

A complete list of the nominees can be found here.

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