Well, there's nothing better than surprises from the Oscars (when you have a natural resistance to Groupthink), and this year sure had its fair share! Thanks to the early voting date, voters had to get up to speed with all the contending films earlier than usual, and vote without the templates of the major Guild Awards (the disconnect between the Oscars and Guilds that announced just before voting cutoff shows that the majority of voters probably didn't wait 'til the last minute... or last minute online voting was a disaster...).
Any which way, the Oscars had to think for themselves this year. And the results are refreshing (even if it is weird not having the two de facto frontrunners out of the race for Best Director). It sucks for Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow, but it keeps the race unpredictable, for a change!
The biggest surprises?
Ben Affleck & Kathryn Bigelow's snubs in Best Director put a serious damper on their respective films' Best Picture campaigns, which puts a serious damper on many a Oscar predictor's forecasts. The resistance against Zero Dark Thirty is clear, but Argo's recent wins at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice keep it a threat to win Best Picture (even if it means the dubious honour of joining Driving Miss Daisy as the only films to win Picture without even a nomination for Director).
More realistically, it makes Lincoln the real frontrunner, and a worthy one - great film, great writing, great performances, great director stretching himself... - but also a somewhat slow and intellectual one. Awardsdaily's Sasha Stone smartly points out that Academy voters clearly preferred films that moved them - Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild - over films that made them think or demanded debate - Argo, Zero Dark Thirty. Which does not bode too well for Lincoln as a Best Picture winner (remember that even Saving Private Ryan was bested for Picture by Shakespeare in Love). The other film they showered mildly excessive love upon? Silver Linings Playbook. Which becomes your new runner up frontrunner. I like the film, but it's a bit lightweight for me, given the competition.
Which brings us to...
Jacki Weaver nominated for Best Supporting Actress, which bodes very very well for Silver Linings Playbook, which scored the big 4 (Picture, Director, Screenplay & Editing) plus nominations in every acting category. It's also worth noting, again, that David O'Russell bested Biglow, Affleck, Tom Hooper & Quentin Tarantino for that Director slot. Not insignificant. But I digress. Jacki Weaver is great in Playbook and her nomination is a great twist ending to the race between Ann Dowd and Nicole Kidman (and arguably perpetual Emmy winner Maggie Smith) for the fifth Supporting Actress slot. It's easy to be glad for the lovely Mrs Weaver (although it's equally easy to feel really sorry for the quit brilliant Mrs Dowd). But so it goes. Ann Dowd's career is still changed, although not to the degree she may have hoped.
And to belabour the point:
Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild killing the competition. The Foreign and independent success stories of the year, without a doubt. Two wildly brilliantly works of cinematic art by an old (and brand new) master. They killed the critics awards, but remained Oscar outsiders. Beasts was a good Best Picture contender (although a presumed 9th or 10th spot contender), while Amour was the Foreign Language Film frontrunner, and a Director dark horse contender, but I think few expected both to score Best Picture, Best Director, Original and Adapted Screenplay (respectively) and Best Actress nominations. Very significant. And very satisfying. (If you are not following Amour director Michael Haneke's parody Twitter account, incidentally, do so now.)
Which brings us to:
Emmanuelle Riva and Quvenzhané Wallis shaking up the Best Actress race. The oldest and the youngest contenders have joined the race. It's no longer simply Jennifer Lawrence vs Jessica Chastain, or even Naomi Watts pulling an Adrien Brody-style secret-option-C Win. Now it's Riva vs everyone else. And literally anyone could win. Except, probably, Wallis, who I think many would feel is just too young. But, for the first time in years, we have a real race. And not just in Best Actress. For now, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor are literally anyone's game, which, at this point of the race, is quite something.
Precursor / Oscar disconnect. Both the Best Director and Best Actress races will be significantly out of sync with the Precursor awards this year so, while Ben Affleck scoops up every award along the way, he won't contend at the Oscars and, while Jennifer and Lawrence flash their new Golden Globes and battle it out at the Screen Actors Guild, it doesn't mean the Oscar doesn't go to Emmanuelle Riva. You could call it a travesty, but I'm loving it.
Joaquin Phoenix in, John Hawkes out. Thankfully, Joaquin Phoenix's startling performance in The Master proved simply too brilliant to snub but, perhaps understandably, Bradley Cooper and Silver Linings Playbook had become simply too big to ignore, so John Hawkes got shafted for The Sessions, and it's a real pity but so it goes.
Enough surprises. Some random trivia:
- Robert De Niro & Steven Spielberg have each hit their 7th career nominations
- At a mere 7 years old, Quvenzhane Wallis becomes the youngest Best Actress nominee in history (Justin Henry was 8 when he was nominated as supporting actor for Kramer vs Kramer and Tatum O'Neal was 10 when she won supporting actress for Paper Moon, while Anna Paquin won her supporting Actress Oscar for The Piano at 11).
- Emmanuelle Riva turns 86 on Oscar night, and would become the oldest Oscar winner (Christopher Plummer currently holds the record for his win for Beginners at 82.
- For the first time in Oscar history, there is not a single first time nominee in Supporting Actor or Supporting Actress.
- Every single Supporting Actor nominee is a previous supporting actor nominee (seriously, this has never happened before)
- Every single Supporting Actor nominee is a previous Oscar winner, and four of the five won for Supporting performances. Epic. Or thoroughly irrelevant.
Full list of nominees after the cut (via Awardsdaily, because I'm too lazy / smart to retype them):