Things Just Got Really Interesting: Academy Throws a Wrench Into Oscar Season Machine

Forget December 25th; the morning of the Oscar nominations is my Christmas Day. I’ve come to accept that the Academy has a specific sect of voters whose aim is to provide me with a cinematic lump of coal on my would-be day of jubilation (“The Blind Side” for Best Picture, I’m looking at you). But this year (with the help of Jennifer Lawrenceclaus, of course) the Academy decided to bestow upon me “The Tree of Life” (hands-down the best film of 2011) wrapped in a Best Picture nomination, a bright red “Best Director” nomination for Terrence Malick tied soundly atop the package (which also includes a nomination for Cinematography).

I, like so many others, was quick to discount 2011’s crowning cinematic gem out of the Oscar race entirely. Its release date (mid-summer) generally doesn’t bode well with Oscar voters (they tend to gravitate towards things currently in theaters or new to DVD), its concept a bit too abstract (I’m still basking in its lyrical mysticism, trying to figure out just why it speaks to me so heavily in some instances) for the masses. But I give it to the Academy for showing us again why they are the most respected authority in film.

It’s refreshing to see them shy away from the crowd-pleasers and include such an experimental piece, although I’m a little bummed that “Bridesmaids,” which picked up some superb late-in-the-game buzz with the Guilds and HFPA last year, didn’t fill its prophesized role as this year’s dark horse.

If the unpredictibilty of this year’s nominees tells us anything, it’s that the winners should be (hopefully) equally as hard to predict in some of the categories that were “locks” this time yesterday. I have faith that for Supporting Actress (HOLLA! JESSICA CHASTAIN IS AN OFFICIAL OSCAR NOMINEE <3) the Academy will be able to differentiate between a solidly sustained body of excellence from a gifted performer (I usually hate “comprehensive” awards, but it’s deserved here) and a fluke performance from a bit actor (sorry, Octavia, I’m looking at you, boo) . This race just opened up again.

Now, let’s get to the bitchery; “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” for Best Picture? Who said all these surprises were a good thing? Critical response has been lukewarm, at best, and I’m baffled as to how this crept its way onto Oscar ballots in general let alone all the way to a Best Picture and Supporting Actor nomination. This could potentially count as a small smidge of coal, but I’m too busy prancing through my day for “Tree.”

Something else I’ve been waiting for months to say, and now I officially can: OSCAR NOMINEE JESSICA CHASTAIN! After last week’s battle between Chastain and Spencer for the “coveted” (I use that term lightly) Golden Globe (with Spencer pulling out on top) my hopes for my ginger goddess’ rise to the Oscar occasion died a vicious, slow, agonizing death. This set of nominees has me wondering about the Academy’s ability to recognize a sustained and extraordinary body of work from 2011 (I usually hate “compliation” Oscars, but this one is more than deserved) versus a fluke performance from a bit actor (I love me some Octavia Spencer, but come on).

The other nominees were to be expected, save for a few surprises in the technicals (holla for “W.E.” sneaking in for costume design!) amidst some other major shake-ups (“A Separation” and “A Better Life” making a dent in Best Actor and Screenplay? I could holla at that as well…), but all in all I can safely say that this set of nominees has done something the Academy hasn’t been able to do for me in a long time:

For once, so close after the nominee ceremony, I’m actually excited about the Oscars again. Peace and blessings (for this year, at least) Academy.

Full list of nominees:

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

Oscars 2012: Get the latest news, photos, and more

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

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

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

Best Supporting Actor 
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

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

Best Original Screenplay
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Asghar Farhadi, A Separation

Best Adapted Screenplay
Alexander Payne, Jim Rash & Nat Faxon, The Descendants
John Logan, Hugo
George Clooney, Grant Heslov & Beau Willimon, The Ides of March
Aaron Sorkin & Steven Zaillian, Moneyball
Peter Straughan & Bridget O’Connor, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Best Animated Film
A Cat in Paris

Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

Best Foreign Language Film
Bullhead (Belgium)
Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)
A Separation (Iran)
Footnote (Israel)
In Darkness (Poland)

Art Direction
The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
War Horse

Costume Design
The Artist
Jane Eyre

Documentary Feature
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Documentary Short
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
God Is the Bigger Elvis
Incident in New Baghdad
Saving Face
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Film Editing
The Artist, Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants, Kevin Tent
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
Hugo, Thelma Schoonmaker 
Moneyball, Christopher Tellefsen

Albert Nobbs, Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng 
The Iron Lady, Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

Music (Original Score)
The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams
The Artist, Ludovic Bource
Hugo, Howard Shore
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias
War Horse, John Williams

Music (Original Song)
“Man or Muppet” from The Muppets, Bret McKenzie
“Real in Rio” from Rio, Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown and Siedah Garrett

Short Film (Animated)
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
La Luna
A Morning Stroll
Wild Life

Short Film (Live Action)
The Shore
Time Freak
Tuba Atlantic

Sound Editing
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Sound Mixing
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

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