This morning, Katniss Everdeen brought clarity to a murky Oscar race by announcing the nominees for Best Picture—nine in total, a high number within the wacky anywhere-between-five-and-ten parameters recently instituted by the Academy—and other categories down the line. At the head of the pack were two films about early 20th century filmmaking: Presumptive favorite The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius’ film about a fading silent star, and Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s fantasy about silent pioneer George Méliès. Both Scorsese and Hazanavicius are competing in the Best Director category, and The Artist enjoyed a host of other major nominations as well, including Best Actor (Jean Dujardin), Best Supporting Actress (Bérénice Bejo), and Best Original Screenplay. The biggest Best Picture spoiler on Oscar night looks to be The Descendants, which has the box-office support The Artist is currently struggling to gain, and Woody Allen’s biggest hit to date, Midnight In Paris, may have a chance as well. A complete list of nominations can be found here, but let’s bullet point the surprises, shall we?
• Where’s Albert Brooks? After a triumphant run through critics awards, where he more or less split Supporting Actor plaudits with Beginners’ Christopher Plummer—who was nominated, and should expect to win—Brooks’ galvanizing performance as a vicious gangster in Drive failed to get so much as a nomination. Look for solace (and consistent laughs) in his Twitter feed.
• Brooks’ snubbing made room for Max Von Sydow’s performance as a mute old man in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which showed impressive resilience despite mixed—and in some cases, toxic—reviews and zero year-end awards. To his credit, Von Sydow’s work is the best thing about EL&IC, much like lunch at the hospital commissary is the best thing about radiation treatment. That it scored a Best Picture nomination, too, is a mystery best not pondered.
• On the other hand, The Tree Of Life, which had the opposite problem of being beloved by critics and not so much by general audiences, won nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. Despite getting more attention from critics groups than any other film this year, Oscar pundits anticipated a possible shutout. This is where having a potential ten nominees helps, but recognizing Terrence Malick for Director is a pleasant surprise.
• Perhaps the most cheering development is the Best Original Screenplay nomination for Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation. It’s rare for foreign-language films of any kind to break out of that categorical ghetto—though A Separation is also among the five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film, and the clear frontrunner—but Farhadi’s brilliant, multi-layered screenplay proved too good to be denied. It also sets up an apples-and-oranges showdown with Bridesmaids, which didn’t get the Best Picture nomination some had wished for it, but should have a solid chance here.
• On the acting front, Demián Bichir broke through in the Best Actor category for the little-seen and little-promoted A Better Life while Glenn Close and Janet McTeer get Actress and Supporting Actress noms, respectively, for the little-seen and little-loved Albert Nobbs. Gary Oldman’s Best Actor nomination for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was some heartening acknowledgement that great acting doesn’t have to be ostentatious, and Nick Nolte’s Supporting Actor nod for Warrior reveals the good will toward that underappreciated movie. But how the hell does Michael Shannon not get nominated for Take Shelter?
• A Cat In Paris and Chico & Rita joined Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss In Boots, and Rango for Best Animated Film, which now has everyone scrambling to figure out what those movies are and how deeply this embarrasses Pixar, whose Cars 2 got an unprecedented snub in that category.
• Jonah Hill, Oscar nominee. But not for The Sitter, oddly.