Almost the moment Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone revealed the nominations, Twitter was flooded, complaints registering under the hashtag #OscarSnubs. Where to start? The directing category was the biggest bombshell, with Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) and Ben Affleck (Argo) all missing out, a shock when Django and Zero both picked up five nominations and Argo seven. At least all three wound up as Best Picture nominees.
A far bigger snub was to Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. A film that has topped numerous critics’ polls and awarded Anderson Best Director at the Venice Film Festival, it was ignored in all behind-camera categories (its three nominations came for the superlative performances). Then there were the acting snubs: notably John Hawkes for his quadriplegic in The Sessions and Marion Cotillard for her amputee in Rust and Bone (proof that playing disabled doesn’t always guarantee Oscar glory).
You could also mention Judi Dench and Javier Bardem for the James Bond movie Skyfall, a film many were predicting might even secure a Best Picture nod (it didn’t). It will compete in five categories, including Best Song for Adele (which it should win), but there’s a sense that the snobbery surrounding blockbusters struck Academy voters once again. The Hobbit picked up just three nods in technical categories, and most shocking of all – The Dark Knight Rises got not one single nomination.
Unquestionably, the biggest surprise was how well Beasts of the Southern Wild has done. The low-budget fable has already won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the Camera d’Or for first feature in Cannes, but it’s showing here – in such major categories as Best Picture, Best Director (for Benh Zeitlin) and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar) is quite remarkable. That the 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis was also nominated was more predictable. Becoming the youngest nominee in the Best Actress category, the Louisiana-born Wallis follows the likes of Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) and Anna Paquin (The Piano) and that rather sentimental Academy tradition of celebrating youngsters.
At the other end of the scale, Emmanuelle Riva became the oldest Best Actress nominee, breaking Jessica Tandy’s record for Driving Miss Daisy (she was 80 at the time). Riva, who gives a stunning turn as a woman in the throes of terminal illness in Michael Haneke’s Amour, will be 86 on February 24, the night of the ceremony. Like Beasts, Haneke won at Cannes, taking the Palme d’Or, and it was always going to be a favourite in the Best Foreign Film category. That it’s broken into the main arena – Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay nominations, a first for Haneke – is a genuine (and very pleasant) surprise. At least some people in Hollywood are paying attention to the creme-de-la-creme of world cinema.
With 12 nominations, Steven Spielberg’s historical epic Lincoln leads the pack – and only a fool would bet against a film that spotlights the abolition of slavery taking Best Picture. Likewise, Daniel Day-Lewis’s turn as Abraham Lincoln would claim a record third Best Actor Oscar win. While we’re at it, put your money on Spielberg taking Best Director, in what would be his third statue in that category, and Tommy Lee Jones sneaking Best Supporting Actor (a tough category to call, with all five nominees being previous Oscar winners).
Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, with the second-highest nomination tally (11), must surely take the Visual Effects Oscar, for the wonderful CG-rendering of Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger stranded in a lifeboat with the young Pi.
As for Best Supporting Actress, this is surely Anne Hathaway’s to lose, for her barnstorming turn as Fantine in Les Misérables. But, there’s no such thing as a sure thing.
Every year, there are always noble failures – films, actors, directors and the like who deserve it more than any other, but the stars are just not aligned. This year, it’s likely to be Silver Linings Playbook, David O Russell’s smart romantic comedy about two characters suffering from mental illness. Given the Academy’s aversion to funny films, it could well be the night’s big loser. As good as Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are, they’re likely to lose Best Actor and Actress to, respectively, Day-Lewis and Jessica Chastain (for Zero Dark Thirty). Likewise, Jackie Weaver and Robert De Niro must be considered outsiders in the Best Supporting categories. And Russell is liable to lose to Tony Kushner (Lincoln) for Best Adapted Screenplay. All may be fair in love and war, but not at the Oscars, it seems.
• The 85th Academy Awards take place on February 24