Go Big or Go Home at the 85th Academy Awards


The Academy Award nominations were announced bright and early Thursday morning -- timing that made it difficult for a wage slave like myself to provide them to you instantly, but did afford me with a nice interval in which to think about them from 35,000 feet up. In the coming weeks I'll have more in-depth analysis, and I'll get to the complete nominations in a second, but, since you've probably already seen a full list at some point today, here are some of my initial thoughts on them first. • Big is back, at least this year. OK, sure, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour, films with little broad commercial appeal, are among the Best Picture nominees, but the rest are big in some way. They might not be blockbusters on the order of The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers, but there are big stars, big directors and big commercial successes up and down the ballot. Five of the nominees -- LincolnArgoDjango UnchainedLes Miserables and Life of Pi -- were among the top 35 earners at the box office in 2012. Zero Dark Thirty, which also could be a big success at the box office, opens nationwide this week, so it's possible two-thirds of the nominees could be seen by many, many casual fans before Oscar night. That's a far cry from 2011 when The Help was the only nominee among the top 35 earners. Whether this means the Academy voters are more in touch with the average moviegoer or the average moviegoer has a better palate, this seems like a positive development.

Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern WildSpeaking of Beasts of the Southern Wild, it is the surprise darling of the nominations. It wasn't even a foregone conclusion that the little indie film that could would be nominated for Best Picture at all, but there it is. And there Quvenzhane Wallis -- aka Hushpuppy -- is among the Best Actress nominees -- another stunner, especially since she is the youngest nominee in the history of the category. Benh Zeitlin also pipped both Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) for a Best Directing nomination, perhaps the biggest surprise of all.

• Speaking of Beasts of the Southern Wild again, how did it not get a nomination for Best Original Score? The music by Dan Romer and Zeitlin was brilliant.

• The Academy's perception of The Master perfectly aligns with mine. Of director Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, I wrote that "the parts of [it] feel just a little greater than its sum." I was referring to the incredible performances by the actors in it and this nagging feeling that there wasn't much of a coherent point beneath the virtuoso displays from the likes of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams. All three of them received award nominations, but The Master was shut out of the Best Picture category.

• The Best Actor race is over before it started. Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as our 16th president in Lincoln is as much a slam dunk as I can recall in the last few years. This says a great deal about him as an actor, not just because he was so terrific, but because in any other year Phoenix's turn as Freddie Quell in The Master would be nearly as much of a foregone conclusion.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine in Les Miserables• Go down ballot on Best Supporting Actress. Consider this my first, of likely many, pleas to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as the nominations sink in further. I'm severely underwhelmed by the nominees in this category. I could live with Adams (The Master) winning the award, but the idea of either Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) or Sally Field (Lincoln) taking it for their histrionic-filled performances this year is bothersome. Me? I'm pulling for Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook).

• The absences are noticeable to a glaring degree in the Best Director category. Zeitlin's nomination is a major surprise, but so is Haneke's -- albeit to a lesser degree -- when you consider that their inclusion left Bigelow, Tarantino and Ben Affleck (Argo) on the outside looking in. Partially because I'm so happy for Zeitlin and I haven't yet seen Amour, I'm not all that worked up about who is missing. Mostly, though, it doesn't bother me because there's nothing tangible with which to judge this category for a total Hollywood outsider. How, exactly, am I supposed to know if Tarantino directed the shit out Django Unchained compared to Ang Lee's work on Life of Pi other than by simply judging the movie as a whole, which is already the purpose of the Best Picture category?

• Less noticeable, but still glaring, are the absences in the Best Supporting actor category. I'm glad to see Christoph Waltz nominated for playing Dr. King Schultz in Django, but at least one, if not both, of Leonardo DiCaprio or Samuel L. Jackson should have joined him in getting nominated in this category. Jackson was particularly excellent, I thought, and Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook) and Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) could have all been bumped.

Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook• Finally, Best Picture seems fairly wide open, doesn't it? Before the nominees were announced, I saw this boiling down to a three-horse race between Zero Dark Thirty, Argo and Lincoln, with a slight edge to the former of the three films. The fact that neither Bigelow nor Affleck were nominated for Best Director turns that logic on its head (since Best Picture and Best Director often go hand in hand), and would seem to make Lincoln the odds-on favorite to take home the top prize and sweep up a number of awards. But this is a brave new world we're living in where more than five films can be nominated for Best Picture, so I'm not sure how reliable that line of logic really is anymore. Sure, you have to like Lincoln to win and win big at this stage, but I'm not taking it to the bank exactly. Take note of Silver Linings Playbook as well, which has to be emerging as a darkhorse candidate with director David O. Russell's nomination in the bellwether Directing category.

Best Picture

Amour Life of Pi
Argo Lincoln
Beasts of the Southern Wild Silver Linings Playbook
Django Unchained Zero Dark Thirty
Les Miserables

Best Actor

Best Actress

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Denzel Washington, Flight Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actress

Alan Arkin, Argo Amy Adams, The Master
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook Sally Field, Lincoln
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Animated Feature

Best Cinematography

Brave Anna Karenina (Seamus McGarvey)
Frankenweenie Django Unchained (Robert Richardson)
ParaNorman Life of Pi (Claudio Miranda)
The Pirates! Band of Misfits Lincoln (Janusz Kaminski)
Wreck-It Ralph Skyfall (Roger Deakins)

Best Costume Design

Best Directing

Anna Karenina (Jacqueline Durran) Michael Haneke, Amour
Les Miserables (Paco Delgado) Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Lincoln (Joanna Johnston) Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Mirror Mirror (Eiko Ishioka) Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Snow White and the Hunstman (Colleen Atwood) David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Documentary Feature

Best Documentary Short

5 Broken Cameras Inocente
The Gatekeepers Kings Point
How to Survive a Plague Mondays at Racine
The Invisible War Open Heart
Searching for Sugar Man Redemption

Best Film Editing

Best Foreign Language Film

Argo (William Goldenberg) Amour
Life of Pi (Tim Squyres) Kon-Tiki
Lincoln (Michael Kahn) No
Silver Linings Playbook (Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers) A Royal Affair
Zero Dark Thirty (Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg) War Witch

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Best Original Score

Hitchcock (Howard Berger, Peter Montagna and Martin Samuel) Anna Karenina (Dario Marianelli)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater and Tami King) Argo (Alexandre Desplat)
Les Miserables (Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell) Life of Pi (Mychael Danna)
Lincoln (John Williams)
Skyfall (Thomas Newman)

Best Original Song

Best Production Design

"Before My Time" by J. Ralph (Chasing Ice) Anna Karenina (Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer)
"Everybody Needs a Best Friend" by Seth MacFarlane (Ted) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent and Simon Bright)
"Pi's Lullaby" by Bombay Jayashri (Life of Pi) Les Miserables (Eve Stewart and Anna Lynch-Robinson)
"Skyfall" by Adele (Skyfall) Life of Pi (David Gropman and Anna Pinnock)
"Suddenly" by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil (Les Miserables) Lincoln (Rick Carter and Jim Erickson)

Best Animated Short

Best Live Action Short

Adam and Dog Asad
Fresh Guacamole Buzkashi Boys
Head Over Heels Curfew
Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare" Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)
Paperman Henry

Best Sound Editing

Best Sound Mixing

Argo (Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn) Argo (John Reitz, Greg Rudloff and Jose Antonio Garcia)
Django Unchained (Wylie Stateman) Les Miserables (Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes)
Life of Pi (Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton) Life of Pi (Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill and Drew Kunin)
Skyfall (Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers) Lincoln (Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Ronald Judkins)
Zero Dark Thirty (Paul N.J. Ottoson) Skyfall (Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell and Stuart Wilson)

Best Adapted Screenplay

Best Original Screenplay

Chris Terrio, Argo Michael Haneke, Amour
Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
David Magee, Life of Pi John Gatins, Flight
Tony Kushner, Lincoln Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty

Best Visual Effects

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and R. Christopher White)
Life of Pi (Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott)
The Avengers (Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams and Dan Sudick)
Prometheus (Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley and Martin Hill)
Snow White and the Huntsman (Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Philip Brennan, Neil Corbould and Michael Dawson)