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Oscar Nominations 2012: Snubs and Surprises

PARK CITY, UT: Disillusionment with the Oscars is one of the rites of passage for cinephile; we can tell you all about the great movies and filmmakers they didn’t nominate, and the swill that they did, we’ll tell you how it’s all politicized, bought, and sold, seldom having more than a passing acquaintance with actual cinematic quality. And yet here is your humble film editor, up early at Sundance to peruse the nominees announced this morning, and I must confess: it’s not just out of professional obligation. The Oscar derby is phony and petty and silly, and it’s also exciting and fun — the NCAA Sweet 16 for movie nerds. So fill out your brackets now; the major nominees are after the jump, along with some reactions.

Best Picture
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse

SURPRISES: The morning’s biggest surprise is the robust showing for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo — a critical favorite, sure, but I don’t think anyone was expecting it to lead the field in nominations (it netted 11 total, though most were in technical categories), including Best Picture. The other, less pleasant surprise is the recognition for the elsewhere-unloved Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; its Best Picture nomination is, if nothing else, a testament to the power of Superproducer Scott Rudin. The Malick lovers will be happy to see that The Tree of Life made the cut — far from a sure shot, since its, um, less than direct approach has alienated some viewers. And this moviegoer wasn’t as much surprised as discouraged by the inclusion of the creaky War Horse.

SNUBS: Rudin’s considerable weight (he also produced Moneyball) couldn’t get his third hopeful, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, onto the Best Pic list, though it picked up nominations elsewhere. Ditto Harvey Weinstein and My Week with Marilyn (thankfully — great performances, mediocre picture). Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was shut out here as well, which is too bad. And the considerable chatter over the idea of Bridesmaids picking up a Best Picture nomination was for naught; fair or no, Oscar just isn’t ready to yet to give a Best Picture nomination to a movie with a diarrhea set piece.

Best Actor
Demian Bichir – A Better Life
George Clooney – The Descendants
Jean Dujardin – The Artist
Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt – Moneyball

SURPRISES: Only one, but it’s a big one: Bichir, the star of the low-grossing (under $2 million), mostly-forgotten A Better Life. The low-key drama from director Chris Weitz (About a Boy, New Moon) should see a healthy surge in DVD rentals, thanks to this little boost.

SNUBS: Michael Fassbender was widely assumed to be a lock for his nuanced and heart-wrenching turn as a sex addict in Shame (and as a kind of achievement award for his very busy year), but he’s absent from the list, his graphic, NC-17-rated film possibly a victim of the preferences of the Academy’s notoriously aged voting bloc. One could offer the same explanation for the absence of a nod for Ryan Gosling in Drive; that hyper-violent picture only nabbed one nomination (for Sound Editing, natch). Michael Shannon’s tough performance in Take Shelter had many critics talking Oscar, but the film never really caught fire off the Coasts. Some are surprised that DiCaprio wasn’t nominated for J. Edgar, but not me; buzz for that performance peaked early when the film itself underwhelmed.

Best Actress
Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis – The Help
Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn

SURPRISES: It was a very good year for female actors, so this certainly a tough one to pin down in advance. Mara’s nomination is a surprise, but a welcome one; the movie’s dark subject matter could have shut it out altogether, but hers was too powerful a turn to ignore. Close’s nod for her passion project Albert Nobbs was discussed but far from a sure thing — the film opened quietly to respectful but less-than-passionate reviews, but the voters love Close and love serious drag turns.

SNUBS: So many. This writer’s biggest bummer of the morning is the lack of props for the best performance of the year: Elizabeth Olsen’s stunning turn in Martha Marcy May Marlene. (“She’s young,” is presumably the logic, “she’ll have plenty of chances.”) And while Young Adult’s shut-out in the other major categories unfortunate and undeserved but not unexpected, the snub of Charlize Theron is — that was a difficult, brilliant piece of work, as Oscar-worthy as any of these. Ditto Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia and Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh – My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill – Moneyball
Nick Nolte – Warrior
Christopher Plummer – Beginners
Max von Sydow – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

SURPRISES: I hadn’t heard Branagh’s name mentioned in a single “Oscar predictions” piece — this is one peculiar nomination, nearly as unexpected (and arguably undeserved) as von Sydow’s work in Extremely Loud. Hill and Nolte were both names that had been tossed around, but were by no means sure things — in fact, the only one here that was is the likely winner, Plummer.

SNUBS: The Drive Shut-Out of 2012 claims its most unfortunate victim here, as Albert Brooks — selected and nominated by countless precursor awards — gets bupkus for his electrifying work as Drive’s villain. Shame on you, Oscar. Many had also anticipated a nod for Patton Oswalt in Young Adult, but his fine work was ignored as well — apparently Jonah Hill filled the Academy’s only “comedian in a serious movie” slot.

Best Supporting Actress
Bérénice Bejo – The Artist
Jessica Chastain – The Help
Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer – Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer – The Help

SURPRISES: None, really; these were all names that had been thrown around for a while, though the McCarthy nomination was not a sure thing (see above comment w/r/t diarrhea), and movie-decatholon-entrant Chastain was perhaps expected to get the nod for Tree of Life or Take Shelter rather than The Help.

SNUBS: Because of the crowded Best Actress field, Keira Knightley had been mentioned as a possibility for A Dangerous Method — which is kind of dopey, since that’s as much her film as Fassbender’s, but that’s a moot point now, since she didn’t get any love (and shame on that). Also ignored were Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet for Carnage, a bit of a surprise since they’re both such Academy favorites. And the Descendants glow didn’t extend to co-star Shailene Woodley, which is unfortunate; that’s one powerful piece of work.

Best Director
The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants – Alexander Payne
Hugo – Martin Scorsese
Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen
The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick

SURPRISES: Not too many, really — if anything, the Best Director nominations helps narrow Best Picture field (nine titles this year, due to some sort of arcane voting rules that I’m not even going to pretend to understand), since the Best Picture Oscar so seldom goes to a film not also nominated for Best Director. Allen’s nomination is maybe a tiny bit of a surprise, and shows (along with his expected Screenplay nomination) that his little European comedy may be a more serious contender than you’d think.

SNUBS: The Academy loves Steven Spielberg (over the last couple of decades, anyway), so the fact that he didn’t pick one up for War Horse should dispel any concerns that it’ll take the big prize. The bigger shock is that his Adventures of Tintin was determined ineligible for Best Animated Film, which is too bad. And the lack of love for David Fincher probably means that Girl with the Dragon Tattoo may go away empty-handed as well.

The full list of nominees are on the Oscar website here; which ones surprised you? Who are you surprised was left off?

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