Oscar Nominations

Russell’s Race to Lose: The Oscar Nominations Are In

1-16-2014 8-40-12 AMShow me someone who earned at least 90% accuracy predicting this year’s nominees.

You can’t? Of course you can’t. The Academy puts the finishing touches on a monumental year for cinema, stirring the pot with major snubs and surprises, icing the cake on an unpredictable year with a crop of exciting nominees that defy expectations in typical Academy fashion.

When the snaps of encouragement for Cheryl Boone Isaacs died down as she took the stage (maybe that was just me), she summoned Chris Hemsworth to help her announce the nominees for the 86th Annual Academy Awards.

The one thing the Academy seems not to be—at least this year—is on the same page as history. 20 years from now, as we look back at the Oscar calendar year, 12 Years a Slave will be the one of the films that defines the era. It’s a film with powerful resonance at a time when even the Academy attempted to diversify its ranks and leadership, though it falls to a statistical third place with 9 nominations, trailing both American Hustle and Gravity with 10 nominations each.

Of its respective nominations, 12 Years a Slave seems poised only to take Adapted Screenplay. Declared an end-all champion early on during the festival circuit, the urgent support for the film died out, as the NYFCC shifted the tide, awarding American Hustle its top prize first out of the gate in December. When will pundits and bloggers alike learn to stop throwing titanic support behind early favorites? It does far more harm than it does good, and often allows other films circling the race to swoop in unexpectedly.

The momentum for Hustle surges because of this, as David O. Russell once again directs four of his cast members into each of the four acting categories. Though Russell has yet to win an Oscar (he came very close last year), having mastered this four-category feat two years in a row (as well as having directed 3 other Oscar-winning performances) cements a positive answer to the question the Academy has only toyed with until this point: Is Russell worthy of an Oscar? If you can direct that many performances to Oscar glory in such a short amount of time, something is working.

Gravity takes a firm hold on second place, here, missing out only on the all-important Screenplay category. While Russell now threatens the once-unstoppable Alfonso Cuaron’s position with the directors, we’ll have to wait for the DGA to settle this one (I can see them going for either).

Dallas Buyers Club powerfully emerges, playing 4th-fiddle to the aforementioned, but roaring into the race with key nominations in major categories (including two traditionally reserved for serious Best Picture contenders—Screenplay and Film Editing). Captain Phillips loses its momentum, missing out on Best Director and Best Actor, and Emma Thompson misses out on another nomination for Saving Mr. Banks (which, surprisingly, only received a single nomination).

Thompson was one of the many casualties in an overcrowded year, and snubbing was statistically inevitable. The fact that Amy Adams and the rest of the Hustle cast were able to squeak into the major acting categories (replacing expected nominees Thompson, Winfrey, Hanks, and Bruhl, respectively) without any help from the Globes (ballots were due prior to the Globes announcement) speaks volumes about the steamrolling power of American Hustle that’s only now becoming crystal clear. If the film had played the festivals (if it wins Best Picture, it’ll be the first film since The Departed to win without a festival showing), we likely wouldn’t be having this discussion. Silver Linings Playbook was destroyed by early festival reaction—not because people didn’t like it, but because the hype machine bludgeoned it to a premature death, just as it did to 12 Years a Slave this year.

Rounding out the major nominees is Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, scoring huge nominations for Best Director and Best Actor, Philomena mustering recognition in the Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay categories, Her garnering four huge nominations, and Blue Jasmine rightfully snagging nominations for Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins (shockingly snubbed in 2008 for her wonderful performance in Happy-Go-Lucky), and Woody Allen’s screenplay.

Left out of the Oscar race was everyone involved with Lee Daniels’ The Butler, a film which exceeded expectations as a “black” film, directed by a black man, focusing on a black cast at its core, that went on to gross nearly $150 million worldwide. How a film that defies so many expectations and proves the minority voice is not only acceptable to mainstream audiences, but profitable, is left out of the Oscar race is entirely baffling.

The biggest disappointment, however, comes as Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell misses out on a Best Documentary Feature nomination. The film seemed to sweep the critics’ awards in the same category. It’s funny that two strong documentary films (the other being Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish) directed by women missed out in the category. Again, in a year where the Academy attempted to diversify its ranks and leadership, the lack of support for female filmmakers who made real waves within the industry (Blackfish’s reach extends far into the real world, as protests and an outpouring of criticism against SeaWorld is ongoing) is disappointing, hurtful, and altogether perplexing.

Though they might not be on the “right” side of history, or concerned with recognizing the films that will define our society for years to come, the Academy has been on a mission to re-establish itself as an independent entity, free from the influence of traditional precursors such as the Golden Globes, DGA, and PGA. It’s clear that they’re still the biggest diva in the room, and they’re going to do their thing as they see fit. That’s mucks up the windshield for those of us who enjoy predicting their taste, but it’s refreshing to be wrong when the crop of films to choose from is so delectable.

Through murkiness comes clarity, and it’s obvious that the race is now Russell and co.’s to lose.

Best Picture:

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Actor:

Christian Bale – American Hustle
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Actress:

Amy Adams – American Hustle
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judi Dench – Philomena
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

Director:

David O. Russell – American Hustle
Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Alexander Payne – Nebraska
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

Supporting Actor:

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Supporting Actress:

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska

Original Song:

Alone, Yet Not Alone 
Despicable Me 2
Frozen
The Moon Song
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Adapted Screenplay:

Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Original Screenplay:

American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
Her
Nebraska

Animated Feature:

The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
Frozen
The Wind Rises

Documentary Feature:

The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square
20 Feet From Stardom

Foreign Language Film:

The Broken Circle Breakdown
The Great Beauty
The Hunt
The Missing Picture
Omar

Cinematography: 

The Grandmaster
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska
Prisoners

Costume Design:

American Hustle
The Grandmaster
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
12 Years a Slave

Film Editing: 

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
12 Years a Slave

Makeup and Hairstyling: 

Dallas Buyers Club
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger

Original Score: 

The Book Thief
Gravity
Her
Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks

Production Design:

American Hustle
Gravity
Her
The Great Gatsby
12 Years a Slave

Sound Editing:

All Is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor

Sound Mixing: 

Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor

Visual Effects:

Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek: Into Darkness

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Funneling the Insanity: Predicting the Oscar Nominations

cn_image.size.oscar-statue-nominationsI’ll keep this short and (relatively) sweet, as we’re just eight hours away from having this vibrant, bountiful, confusing, immensely-exciting, wildly-unpredictable awards season funneled into some semblance of harmony by the AMPAS as they announce their annual list of nominees.

I’ll post full impressions once nominations have been announced (5:30 AM PST, 8:30 AM EST), but I’ve sort of dawned on something as I whittled my predictions down to their final state (as seen below).

Of the three films that have dominated the awards season discussion thus far, only Gravity has history and statistics on its side. Traditionally, there are four categories within which a film must be nominated if it has a legitimate shot at winning Best Picture (Screenplay, Director, Editing, and Picture). Gravity is currently the frontrunner in two of those categories (Director and Editing), while American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave are poised to take the Screenplay awards in their respective categories.

With a slew of nominations for Gravity expected tomorrow, the Best Picture race is, statistically, Gravity‘s to lose. Though, when a film wins Director and Editing, it tends to win Screenplay as well. Gravity isn’t even on the radar in that category. Let’s take a look at past Best Picture winners and how they fared in their respective categories, and then at the current frontrunners’ and their numbered rankings (in terms of potential to win) in the same slots:

UntitledIf you’re predicting with your brain, Gravity should be way out front. The problem is that I get the impression that no one wants to put their finger on a single film and stick with it, and the Globes proved this. They divided each of the top awards amongst the three frontrunners. 12 Years a Slave won only one award (Best Picture – Drama), American Hustle picked up Best Picture – Comedy/Musical, and Gravity snagged Best Director. None of these films won Best Screenplay, which went to Her. Do the Globes represent the larger voting base of the Oscars? There are far too many factors acting upon each of the films, and if Gravity  had support from the SAG (its 2-person cast, largely helmed by one woman for the majority of the film, can’t qualify as an “ensemble” to make it into the SAG Awards’ top category), it’d be a lock for the Academy’s top honor.

If 2013 taught us anything, however, it’s that riding the tide of awards season can be a daunting task–especially when no one’s dropping an anchor. My full predictions are below:

Best Picture: 

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Gravity
Captain Phillips
Nebraska
The Wolf of Wall Street
Her
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Alternates: Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips
Forest Whitaker – Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County
Emma Thompson Saving Mr. Banks
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Judi Dench – Philomena

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
Barkhad Abdi – Captain PhillipsMichael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Daniel Bruhl – Rush

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
June Squibb – Nebraska
Oprah Winfrey – Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County

Best Director:

Paul Greengrass – Captain Phillips
David O. Russell – American Hustle
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Original Screenplay:

Her
Nebraska
Inside Llewyn Davis
American Hustle
Blue Jasmine

Best Adapted Screenplay:

12 Years a Slave
Philomena
The Wolf of Wall Street
Before Midnight
August: Osage County

Best Film Editing:

12 Years a Slave
Gravity
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Rush

Best Cinematography:

Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
12 Years a Slave
Prisoners
Nebraska

Best Production Design:

Gravity
12 Years a Slave
Her
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Sound Mixing:

Gravity
Rush
All Is Lost
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis

Best Sound Editing:

Gravity
Rush
Pacific Rim
Star Trek: Into Darkness
Iron Man 3

Best Costume Design:

American Hustle
12 Years a Slave
The Great Gatsby
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Great Beauty

Best Original Score:

Gravity
All Is Lost
12 Years a Slave
The Book Thief
Saving Mr. Banks

Best Foreign Language Film:

The Broken Circle Breakdown
The Grandmaster
The Great Beauty
The Hunt
Omar

Best Documentary Feature:

The Act of Killing
Stories We Tell
Blackfish
Tim’s Vermeer
20 Feet From Stardom

Best Animated Feature:

Frozen
The Wind Rises
Despicable Me 2

Best Visual Effects

Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Pacific Rim
Iron Man 3
Star Trek: Into Darkness

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

American Hustle
The Great Gatsby
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Without PGA Support, Can ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ Survive?

LLEWYN2013 introduced this interesting Oscar dynamic where, even if a film misses out on what used to be a key Oscar precursor, it’s resuscitated by intense love from another guild or group.

The cycle of pre-Oscar awarding has shifted from recognizing good films to celebrating the ability of the respective guild or group to champion the right film of the year, considering the Academy can no longer use the majority of these precursor awards as springboards for their own nominations (with the new schedule, winners generally aren’t announced during or after Oscar balloting has already commenced).

All we’re doing is dancing around in circles with a different crop of films each time we pass the 360 mark.

The recent highs and lows of Inside Llewyn Davis on the awards circuit couldn’t have more fittingly encapsulated the 2013 awards season.

Within a matter of days, the Coen brothers’ latest offering went without recognition from the Producers Guild of America–a key Best Picture Oscar prognosticator–to nearly sweeping the National Society of Film Critics’ annual awards.

The National Society of Film Critics’ top honors for Best Film were bestowed upon Davis, with other wins in the Directing, Actor, and Cinematography categories, each a category that other Oscar contenders have led across the board since the beginning of the season. Gravity‘s Alfonso Cuaron and 12 Years a Slave‘s Steve McQueen have dominated the Director race, while Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey, and Bruce Dern have control the discussion on Best Actor.

The PGA turned a cold shoulder to the film (as have general audiences and other Oscar precursors), which undoubtedly hurts its chances (as crossover membership is a legitimate factor here, where it isn’t with the NSFC), considering Oscar ballots aren’t due for another three days. This will work in one of two ways:

1) Academy voters will read the headlines proclaiming “Coens Left Out of PGA Nominations” as a springboard for voting for something else (“If the PGA didn’t vote for it, why should I?” mentality)

or

2) Academy voters will read the headlines proclaiming “Coens Left Out of PGA Nominations” and use it as an opportunity to vote for the film in lieu of something else (my guess is that the film occupies the same space of appeal as something like Her or The Wolf of Wall Street).

Days before Oscar nominations, one thing remains clear: no one has any idea what they’re doing–or where the race is going.

Since 2000, only two films that the National Society of Film Critics have awarded their Best Film award have gone on to win top honors at the Oscars. The difference? The Academy’s preferential ballot allows films the NSFC generally goes for (polarizing, low-profile arty films) to succeed based on passionate enthusiasm. Since films can extend their reach into the Best Picture category like never before, the NSFC’s love for Inside Llewyn Davis (which doesn’t correlate with how Oscar voters will fill out their ballots) does prove that support for the film can be all-encompassing and firm despite typical precursors which are supposed to influence other precursors. This year, everyone seems to be doing their own thing.

On the Academy’s end, they tend to recognize the Coens when they’re doing something different. That might sound like it speaks for every film in the Coens’ library (evolving their style has become key to their recent work), but taking a look at the Coens’ Academy history, it’s not.

Inside-Llewyn-Davis-trailer-1877774A Serious Man rushed the Best Picture category the first year the Academy expanded the Best Picture category to include 10 nomination slots. Undoubtedly the wild card of the group, the film was boosted by staunch Coen supporters. A year after that, True Grit caught the Academy’s eye for being an uncharacteristically showy, genre-confined turn for the duo, and received a staggering 10 nominations without a single victory. 2008’s Burn After Reading, however, was completely left out of the Oscar race because, out of their most recent work, is more reflective of the classic work the Academy fell in love with in the first place (I like to think of it as Fargo-lite).

And then we have No Country For Old Men, perhaps the best work the brothers have done over the course of their entire career. It’s hard to compare anything to Fargo, let alone to an entirely separate work from an entirely separate period in the career of the most dynamic set of directors working today. No Country For Old Men exists as an entirely separate filmmaking fantasy roaming the stratospheres far and above just about every other film made over the last two decades. The film seemed to sweep awards season with the major critics circles (NYFCC, NBR) and key guilds (including PGA, SAG, and DGA) all the way to the Oscar for Best Picture.

Inside Llewyn Davis is perhaps the most drastic departure from their signature style that the Coens have taken in their entire career, and we know people (especially the Academy) aren’t comfortable with having their expectations challenged. It’s a film which starts as a playfully pessimistic peep into the life of a struggling artist but, as it concludes, is a depressing portrait of struggle making the art, not the artist spinning it for himself. It’s showy in a way that we haven’t really seen from the Coens, incorporating an extra-filmically appealing component–its soundtrack–that resonates in ways and places the film can’t. The majority of Academy voters–the guys in the sound department, for example–are going to tick off the more outwardly appealing films instead of the subtly challenging ones such as this.

When there’s a strong push for a Coens film, its almost always strong enough to break through to the Oscar race. Misfires and delvings into more commercially-appealing territory such as The Ladykillers or Intolerable Cruelty lacked even a critical push into the awards race, proving that voting members are actually paying attention to the Coens as directors with a standard of quality that’s tangible and ever-changing. It isn’t just a voting process that rewards the name. The passion for Davis is strong.

The industry as a whole learned its lesson after Fargo fell short of the prize in the 90s: when you go for the Coens, you must go big–and for the right picture–and I’m not sure they’re convinced Inside Llewyn Davis is that film. It’s still alive without PGA support, but this week’s DGA announcement will seal its fate–hopefully for the better.

HFPA Announces, Pushes ‘Rush’ In, ‘The Butler’ and Oprah Out

12-12-2013 8-58-55 AM

Oprah feels her first major pre-Oscar sting as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announces its list of nominations, continuing their recent string of somewhat-against-the-grain nods. 

The Queen of all media suffers a huge blow to her Oscar chances. Once the clear front-runner in the Supporting Actress category, she’ll head into Oscar voting without a Golden Globe nomination, which essentially takes her out of the race for top honors. Though she received a SAG nomination for the role just yesterday (and the actors branch of the Academy will likely push her to a nomination), she really needed recognition from the HFPA to remain a legitimate contender. Instead, Sally Hawkins gets a major push for her work in Blue Jasmine, a performance which most likely allowed her to take Oprah’s spot here.

Lee Daniels is also feeling the shaft for the film as a whole, which didn’t receive a single Golden Globe nomination this morning. This is entirely surprising, as the HFPA generally loves his work (Precious received three major nominations, and just last year The Paperboy received a surprise nomination in a major category without a significant awards push from any other precursor).

So, how does a film with a vast network of  strong support (thanks largely to its ensemble A-list cast with roots extending deep into the industry) get shut out? It’s hard to tell, but I think The Butler‘s identity crisis has a lot to do with it. The film was a huge hit with audiences, as it made nearly $115 million at the domestic box-office, though critics chimed in with a rather lukewarm response.

The film teeters on the edge of melodrama and historical camp, deals with issues of race and class structure, and paints a relevant portrait of American life that resonates well into today’s society. The Butler is all of these things on the surface, though it isn’t as hard-hitting or, frankly, as “good” at doing these things as it should be. It’s a colorful, glossy, temporary glance at our culture, though it reaches perhaps a little too far and brings back a little too much for itself to handle.

I used to be staunchly opposed to the categorical separation that the Globes so passionately favors (does separating Drama and Comedy imply that one is inherently othered or better than the other?), but in years such as this one, it’s refreshing to see the work of so many outside the general conversation be recognized. Greta Gerwig for Frances Ha (Lead Actress – Comedy), Julie Delpy for Before Midnight (Lead Actress – Comedy), Julia Louis-Dreyfuss for Enough Said (Lead Actress – Comedy), and Kate Winslet (Labor Day) are all enjoying their deserved share of the awards season spotlight with nominations from the HFPA thanks to the division of genre. Does it portent Oscar recognition for any of these women? Not at all, but it’s the most prestigious honorable mention of sorts that any of them could ask for.

Rush also sees a later-than-expected push into the race with huge nominations in key categories (including Best Picture – Drama and Supporting Actor) over the likes of Saving Mr. Banks, a film that was largely expected to dominate the Globes.

So, what’s left? We’ve got Oscar voting in a couple of weeks, SAG final voting, the PGA Awards, the DGA Awards, and, of course, the Golden Globes ceremony on January 12th. That’s plenty of potential steam for many films and filmmakers to pick up.

The full list of Golden Globe nominees: 

Best Picture – Drama

12 Years a Slave
Gravity
Captain Phillips
Rush
Philomena

Best Picture – Musical/Comedy

American Hustle
Her
The Wolf of Wall Street
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska

Best Director

Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Paul Greengrass – Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
David O. Russell – American Hustle
Alexander Payne – Nebraska

Best Actress – Drama

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judi Dench – Philomena
Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks
Kate Winslet – Labor Day 

Best Actress – Musical/Comedy

Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Enough Said
Julie Delpy – Before Midnight
Amy Adams – American Hustle
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

Best Actor – Drama

Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Idris Elba – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford – All Is Lost

Best Actor – Musical/Comedy

Christian Bale – American Hustle
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis
Joaquin Phoenix – Her

Best Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
Daniel Bruhl – Rush
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle

Best Supporting Actress

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska

Best Screenplay

Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle

Best Foreign Language Film

Blue is the Warmest Color
The Great Beauty
The Hunt
The Past
The Wind Rises

Best Original Song

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Frozen
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Inside Llewyn Davis
One Chance

Best Original Score

All Is Lost
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Gravity
The Book Thief
12 Years a Slave

Best Animated Feature

The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Frozen

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
Hugo 
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
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
Rango 

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
Hugo
War Horse

Costume Design
Anonymous
The Artist
Hugo
Jane Eyre
W.E.

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

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

Makeup
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)
Dimanche/Sunday
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
La Luna
A Morning Stroll
Wild Life

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

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

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

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