Gut Reaction: Oscar Nominations

Oscar nominations were announced early this morning, and this year’s crop of contenders was comprised of an expected blend from the art house and box office winners pool. As predicted, Lincoln was the big winner today, scoring 12 nominations. Argo also did well for itself, but missed out on the coveted Best Director nod for Ben Affleck. Both were critical and commercial successes, but their shared focus on historical politics means it’s likely only one will get the lion’s share of awards, and that’s Lincoln, hands down.

The big X-factor this year is Les Misérables, which, despite having a polarizing effect on critics, has become a fourth quarter sensation, earning eight nominations, including Best Actor for Hugh Jackman, and Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway. Despite the lack of a nomination for director Tom Hooper, the film’s popularity, and strong box office receipts, make it one to watch.

But money was not the name of the game here. The Avengers? One nomination. The Hobbit? Three nominations. The Dark Knight Rises? ZERO nominations. Skyfall was the flag-bearer for popular cinema this year, earning five nominations across technical and aesthetic categories. As is often the case, the art house selections were more diverse, and unexpected. Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour both did very well, despite a lack of buzz going into Oscar voting. Zero Dark Thirty and The Master, on the other hand, are among those sure to garner “snub” talk, especially with regard to Best Director.

Here’s a quick breakdown, and some predictions for the biggest categories:

Best Actress

  • Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
  • Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
  • Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

While it’s great that the ages of both Emmanuelle Riva (85) and Quvenzhane Wallis (9) haven’t kept them from consideration, this is a two pony race between Lawrence and Chastain. Of them, Chastain has the better shot. She seemingly dropped out of the clear blue sky in 2011,  delivering revelatory performances in The Tree of Life and The Help, so Hollywood crowning her the best of the year would cement her Cinderella story. However, Lawrence is a huge “it” girl right now, and while it might seem like a move out of the HFPA’s (or MTV’s) playbook, giving the award to a bankable star who everyone seems to like wouldn’t be a huge shocker. Naomi Watts will once again go home as an also-ran.

Best Actor

  • Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
  • Denzel Washington (Flight)
  • Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)
  • Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

This is an easy one, so allow me to get metaphorical: The Academy has the hots for Daniel Day-Lewis, and decided to invite him to a party. But they want to be coy about it, so they invite four other guys to make it look like they’re not interested in Danny, even though he’s totally the coolest. Sure, he’s already gone home with Oscar twice, and the Academy has been flirting a bit with Hugh Jackman lately, but everyone else is just showing up to the party so they can look good and get wasted while DDL scores his hattrick. Wait, there’s no drinking at the Oscars? Why are those other guys even showing up then? The big surprise is the lack of a nod for John Hawkes, who, in addition to being a brilliant actor, had a very Oscar-baity role in The Sessions.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Sally Fields (Lincoln)
  • Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
  • Jackie Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
  • Amy Adams (The Master)

They’re going to show one second of Anne Hathaway singing “I Dreamed a Dream” at the show, and the other four nominees will instantly leave the building wishing they had shaved their heads and cried more in their respective roles. Hathaway is eminently likeable, and inviting her back up to the big stage would be an official apology for making her share hosting duties with a lifeless James Franco in 2011. Weaver is a nice surprise, but Adams and Hunt are courtesy nods more than anything. Depending on just how powerful an awards-magnet  Lincoln proves to be, Fields is the upset here, but don’t count on it.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
  • Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Alan Arkin (Argo)
  • Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

This is one of the toughest categories, as everyone listed is already an Oscar-winner. Waltz can probably be excluded since he won so recently, and Django doesn’t look like a strong contender anywhere else. Hoffman is great, but The Master is far to polarizing to scare up the right number of votes. That just leaves the golden oldies, and it’s a toss-up. Jones had arguably the showiest role, as he got to put much of the pith and vinegar into a crowd-pleasing political drama. But so did Alan Arkin, and Hollywood loves gently satirical takes on industry big wigs. And does one good role really help De Niro make the Academy forget the last decade of his resume? The Lincoln factor seems too hard to ignore here, so I’d give the edge to Jones.

Best Director

  • David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
  • Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
  • Michael Haneke (Amour)
  • Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Easily the biggest “wait, WHAT?!?” category of the awards, the surprise nominations for the populist-averse Haneke, and first-timer Zeitlin caused some huge names to be left out. Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson weren’t even given the courtesy of an invitation, even though their odds of winning were slim at best. Affleck’s absence is more jarring though, as it seemed like he would finally get some Academy recognition to go with the massive amount of praise he’s received from his short time behind the camera. The biggest snub though? Kathryn Bigelow, who’s critically vaunted Zero Dark Thirty was arguably the biggest loser on the day overall. Perhaps it’s because the subject matter is too similar to that of The Hurt Locker, which she won for in 2009. The torture controversy certainly didn’t help its odds, but the lack of so much as a nod is baffling, and makes for an unfortunate reminder of how much of a boys club the director title always is. With her out of the running, Spielberg is already clearing space on his mantle.

Best Animated Feature

  • Frankenweenie
  • The Pirates!: Band of Misfits
  • Wreck-It Ralph
  • ParaNorman
  • Brave

This is…I mean…man, had you told me THIS would be one of the toughest categories to call, I wouldn’t have believed you. But look at it this way: you’ve got a liked, but not loved Pixar movie going up against an unexpected critical and commercial triumph from Dreamworks. But then you factor in three other films either from beloved studios or directors, and it becomes even more of a toss-up. I’ll bet only a quarter on this one, and say that Wreck-It Ralph KOs the competition.

Best Cinematography

  • Seamus McGarvey (Anna Karenina)
  • Robert Richardson (Django Unchained)
  • Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi)
  • Janusz Kaminski (Lincoln)
  • Roger Deakins (Skyfall)

I’ll repeat what I say every time I see his name nominated: this is Deakins’ year, finally. The guy practically has a nomination written into his contract, but hasn’t ever won. Giving it to him now would correct one of the Academy’s longest running mistakes, and make for a nice thank you note to popcorn filmmaking.

Best Writing – Original Screenplay

  • John Gatins (Flight)
  • Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
  • Michael Haneke (Amour)
  • Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom)

Another close category, though Gatins’ inclusion seems more like the Academy making up for their gross lack of judgement in not nominating his last film, Real Steel. This will probably be a “one and done/consolation prize” for Tarantino, Haneke or Bigelow/Boal. However, this being Moonrise Kingdom‘s sole nomination, it’s hard to tell if its inclusion is lip service, or a sign that the Academy thinks it’s time for Anderson to finally get a statue. Gun to my head, I’m going with Zero Dark Thirty.

Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay

  • Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitland (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  • Chris Terrio (Argo)
  • Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
  • David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • David Magee (Life of Pi)

Kushner is a celebrated writer. The Academy loves celebrated writers. They also love Lincoln. The only thing standing in his way is a sympathy win for Argo, or a very unlikely upset coming at the hands of O. Russell. To reiterate: 2013 belongs to Lincoln.

Best Picture

  • Argo
  • Amour
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Misérables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty

This is Lincoln‘s race to lose. It’s a biopic of one of America’s greatest presidents, that doubles as a political drama. It’s got a feel good message, a fantastic lead and cast, and was directed by Steven Spielberg. It doesn’t hurt that it made a lot of money to boot. The only possible alternative in my mind, given the other nominations (and it’s a long shot), is that Les Misérables stages a coup, wins big in all its categories, and the French steal gold from The Great Emancipator, while I throw a chair through my TV. Zero Dark Thirty seemed like it had a real shot, despite its familiarity, but given the absence of a nod to Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director, it’s here as a placeholder. Meanwhile, The Master proved too divisive to even warrant bumping the list of nominees up to a nice round number.

So, in short: what could have been a bloody free-for-all has quickly boiled down to one name. Tune into the 85th Annual Linco- pardon me, Academy Awards, February 24th.

That’s all from ground zero of Oscar feverbut stay with We Go This Covered for more awards talk in the very near future.