The early morning announcement of each year’s AcademyAward nominees has historically been a brief, dignified affair. Yesterday’s live-from-Hollywood event, though, could best be described as unprecedentedly rollicking. Writer-comedian-singer Seth MacFarlane (who will also host the awards presentation on February 24th, making him the first to perform announcer-host double duty since Charlton Heston did so way back in 1972) and actress Emma Stone brought a welcome tongue-in-cheek vibe to the formerly straightforward affair with their funny commentary on various nominees. They also poked fun at themselves and one another; Stone’s reaction to MacFarlane comparing her to Meryl Streep was priceless. Whether all longtime Academy members approve of the new approach remains to be seen but I believe it generally bodes well for next month’s show, which is being produced by gay dynamic duo Neil Meron and Craig Zadan of Smash, Hairspray and Chicago fame.
As is the case every year, there were snubs and surprises when the nominations are compared to prognosticators’ predictions. The biggest upset was in the Achievement in Directing category, where anticipated nominees Ben Affleck (Argo), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) and Tom Hooper (Les Miserables) were sidelined by Michael Haneke and Benh Zeitlin for their superb Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild, respectively. While I have yet to see Bigelow’s controversial take on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, I can’t say I’m surprised by Hooper’s omission for his no less controversial (at least in movie-musical and musical theatre circles) of Les Miz.
I’m personally delighted by the recognition of Amour and Beasts (which were numbers 2 and 3 on my best of 2012 list) not only in the direction category but among this year’s nine nominees for Best Picture. Amour also has the rare distinction of simultaneously being up for Best Foreign Language Film, which it will almost certainly win. Six of the other Best Picture nominees were essentially sure things (Lincoln, Life of Pi, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables) but ninth nominee Django Unchained represented something of a wild card. While Django is being debated heavily for its graphic depiction of slavery and 19th century racial politics, writer-director Quentin Tarantino obviously remains beloved by many Academy members. He is up for Best Original Screenplay, and Django was also nominated for its cinematography, sound editing, and terrific supporting performance by Christoph Waltz.
Waltz is a prior Oscar winner and, as Stone and MacFarlane didn’t hesitate to remind everyone, so is every nominee in the Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role category this year. The others are Tommy Lee Jones for his scenery-chewing turn in Lincoln, Philip Seymour Hoffman as The Master’s debauched religious guru, Alan Arkin for his memorable turn (primarily due to his movie-producer character’s unprintable, signature line) in Argo and Robert DeNiro, who admittedly gave what I consider his most purely enjoyable performance in years in Silver Linings Playbook. The Best Supporting Actress category likewise includes two past winners (Sally Field as Mary Todd in Lincoln and Helen Hunt as The Sessions’ vulnerable sex therapist), whereas the remaining three are all former nominees: Anne Hathaway, short-lived and histrionic in Les Miz but virtually guaranteed to win; Amy Adams, who gave what I consider the best performance in The Master; and Australian actress Jacki Weaver as the well-meaning mom in Silver Linings Playbook.
There are few surprises among this year’s candidates for Best Actor and Actress in a Leading Role, although Denzel Washington may be to some. But to those of us who saw Flight, his nomination likely seems most deserved. I haven’t always admired Washington’s work, finding an often imperious air in many of his performances, but said imperiousness works well here in light of his alcoholic pilot’s battle with inner demons. Washington does in Flight what I believe to be the most truthful work of his career to date. Meanwhile, nominee Naomi Watt’s performance in The Impossible strikes me as overrated, especially since her character spends half the movie in a coma. I’m pleased, though, with the recognition of little spitfire Quvenzhane Wallis as Beasts’ Hushpuppy and Emmanuelle Riva as the dying wife in Amour, who also represent the youngest and oldest nominees ever in Oscar’s lead actress category. They, along with Les Miz's Hugh Jackman and Silver Linings' Bradley Cooper, are the only first time nominees among all four acting categories this year.
More categories were announced than usual during yesterday’s nominations event, though not all. Time and space also prohibit me from examining every category today. I do, however, want to give a very grateful shout-out to the Music branch of the Academy for restoring five nominees to the Best Original Song category. When a tragically minimal two songs were nominated last year, it couldn’t help but give the appearance that the category itself was in jeopardy. The Music branch’s members subsequently revised their consideration rules to assure more nominees in the future. This year’s contenders are great, with British songstress Adele nominated for her Bond title theme from Skyfall and even MacFarlane included for his Ted song “Everybody Needs a Best Friend.” My only gripe is that there was no love for past nominee Dolly Parton, who wrote several notable songs for 2012’s Joyful Noise. I thought her wistfully romantic “From Here to the Moon and Back” would be a shoo-in.
And so the final march to Academy Awards glory, for this year anyway, begins. Our congratulations go out to all the nominees, as well as to MacFarlane and Stone as the fabulously funny MCs of yesterday’s nominations announcement. I’m looking forward to what I hope will be more of the same on February 24th.