Friday, January 11, 2013

Oscar Retains the Ability to Surprise

Oscar nominations were announced early Thursday morning, Jan. 10th, 2013 for the 2012 release year. After several years of fairly predictable nominations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their annual awards ceremony and equally predictable winners, it seems this is the year for the Oscars to surprise us once again.

In what was generally thought of as an excellent year for Hollywood born movies, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that such a broad field of candidates should yield the most surprising batch of nominees in recent years. Lead by Steven Spielberg’s historical epic “Lincoln” with 12 nominations, this year’s candidates are some of the most diverse movies to be nominated in the history of the awards.

In it’s second year with rules that allow for a flexible amount of Best Picture nominees, between 5 and 10 movies, the Academy once again nominated nine Best Picture candidates. The most surprising of which is the Austrian film “Amour”, which also garnered 4 other nominations including surprise nominations in the categories of Best Director for Michael Haneke and Best Actress in a Leading Role for Emmanuelle Riva, who at the age of 85 becomes the oldest person ever nominated in the Leading Actress category. She will turn 86 on February 24, the same day as the Oscar Awards ceremony itself. “Amour” is also nominated in the Best Foreign Language category where it is expected to win.

Another milestone was met with this year’s nominations in the very same Leading Actress category. Quvenzhané Wallis became the youngest person ever nominated in the category for her work in the fantasy “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, which was another surprise nominee for Best Picture and Best Director for its first time director Behn Zeitlin. Wallis is nine today, but was only six when she filmed her remarkable performance.

“Silver Linings Playbook” became the first movie in 31 years to receive nominations in all six of the major categories of Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and Best Director. It also received nominations for Best Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay. Although Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is thought to be the frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar, the producers of “Silver Linings Playbook”, the Weinsteins, have a reputation for running win-producing Oscar campaigns that have garnered their films come-from-behind Best Picture wins for the past two years in a row with “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist”.  

In another unusual development, every nominee for the Best Actor in a Supporting Role category has already won an Oscar before, all but one in this very same category. Alan Arkin, Robert DeNiro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, and Christoph Waltz will all be vying for the statue. Since every one has won before, there is no clear frontrunner, guaranteeing an unpredictable race.

Other Best Picture Nominees include Ang Lee’s effects laden adaptation of the popular book “Life of Pi”, which holds the second most nominations with 11 total, Ben Affleck’s real life political thriller “Argo”, Quentin Tarantino’s slave-era western “Django Unchained”, the French Revolution musical “Les Misérables”, and the controversial military procedural about the capture and assassination of terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden “Zero Dark Thirty”. The Best Animated Feature nominees include Pixar’s “Brave”, Tim Burton’s stop-motion remake of his own live action short “Frankenweenie”, two other stop-motion pictures “ParaNorman” and “Pirates! Band of Misfits”, and the Disney video game-themed frontrunner “Wreck-It Ralph”. Best Feature Documentary candidates include “5 Broken Cameras”, “The Gatekeepers”, “How to Survive a Plague”, “The Invisible War”, and the popular favorite “Searching for Sugar Man”.

Of course, the most surprising details about this year’s Oscar race are the people and movies that were left out. While none of the exclusions from the Best Picture race are as surprising as the inclusion of “Amour”, Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom”, Robert Zemeckis’s “Flight”, and Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” were all expected to be potential nominees. “Kingdom” might’ve been even more of a surprise had it been nominated. Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” won him and his production team a Best Picture Oscar in 2004.

Perhaps the biggest surprises of this year’s nominations came in the Directing category with the omission of three directors thought to be shoe-ins for nods. Ben Affleck for the film “Argo” (in this critic’s opinion the greatest atrocity of this year’s snubs), Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables”, and Katheryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty” all missed out in the tightly contested category. Quentin Tarantino was another potential Directing candidate for his work on “Django Unchained”, although his was not as sure a nomination as the others.

The omission of these directors not only all but assures Steven Spielberg the Oscar, but it vastly worsens their films’ chances of stealing the Oscar from his film “Lincoln”. Of course, it does open up the chances for the Weinstein machine to steal both statues for their “Silver Linings Playbook”.

Also missing in action is Dame Helen Mirren, long thought to be the frontrunner for the Leading Actress category for her turn as Alfred Hitchcock’s wife and driving force in the film “Hitchcock”. John Hawkes missed out on a nod for his Leading Actor work as a paraplegic desiring a sexual experience in the film “The Sessions”. Although many omissions were expected for that category with such a crowded field, including Russell Crowe for Javert in “Les Misérables” and Ben Affleck for his CIA agent in “Argo”, Hawkes’ was probably the best performance overlooked by the Academy.

While the Lead Actor and Supporting Actress categories look like locks for Daniel Day-Lewis as President Lincoln in “Lincoln” and Anne Hathaway as Fantine in “Les Misérables” respectively, the categories of Leading Actress and Supporting Actor look to be wide-open races. The omission of Mirren opens up the chances for Jessica Chastain to take home gold for her performance as the CIA agent who cracked the Bin Laden case in “Zero Dark Thirty”, but again the Weinstein machine will campaign hard for Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook”. Both young actresses have been nominated before for exceptional performances and will no doubt have many future chances to win the Oscar. That also leaves the chances open for the two aforementioned January/December candidates who might be sentimental favorites. Naomi Watts is also a repeat nominee this year for her role in the tsunami disaster picture “The Impossible.” Her chances already look good for a nomination next year when she takes on the role of Princess Diana in the upcoming bio-pic of the beloved icon.

The Oscar host this year also promises unpredictability. Creator of the controversial adult cartoons “Family Guy”, “American Dad!”, and “The Cleveland Show”, and the writer/director/and vocal performer in last summer’s sleeper hit comedy “Ted”, Seth McFarlane has already shaken the foundations of the Academy during the announcements of the nominees yesterday morning. Some have said that this year’s were “the meanest” in history. Some said he injected humor into a normally bland presentation. Wherever you fall, it’s sure that the Oscar ceremony will bring much of the same brand of humor from the funny man, ensuring a unique evening in Oscar history. I, personally, can’t wait.

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