The Oscar nominations will be announced next Thursday, January 10th. Who’s excited? Perhaps more tellingly, who’s geared up enough to wake up early to watch the press conference live? It’s at 5:30AM PT! I’m planning on it, but I’ll probably just add another year to my tradition of sleeping through my alarm and missing all of the fun. That’s a shame, because surprises are always best in the moment. And there are always surprises.
The trick is trying to predict them. Last year people were somewhat taken aback by Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close grabbing a Best Picture nomination, intrigued when Demián Bachir pulled off the nod for Best Actor, and impressed when little distributor GKIDS managed to get both A Cat in Paris and Chico and Rita in for Best Animated Feature. There are also always a few omissions that upset the common wisdom. Remember when Dreamgirls missed a nomination for Picture, knocked out by Letters from Iwo Jima? The twists and turns make the season fun. You wouldn’t want to wake up that early only to have all your bland suppositions simply confirmed by the Academy.
So let’s predict the unpredictable! Here are five potential surprises to look for next Thursday morning. Don’t hold it against me if I’m wrong, but if I’m right you should totally tell all your friends.
Django Unchained doesn’t make it.
It seems to be the common wisdom that Django Unchained is a lock for a Best Picture nomination. I’m not at all sure of that. True, the film has a lot in common with Inglourious Basterds, which racked up eight nominations three years ago. Yet Quentin Tarantino’s new romp through history is nowhere near that kind of critical and awards juggernaut. I definitely see it making headway in a few technical categories, but something tells me that it misses out on the top. My guess would be four nominations: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Cinematography, and Best Supporting Actor (60% DiCaprio, 40% Waltz).
Best Supporting Actress Nicole Kidman!
The Paperboy might be the best terrible movie of the year. It’s a pulpy, sweaty, soggy mess. Frankly, I would be surprised if a majority of the Academy even got through the whole thing. However, things are possible for Nicole Kidman anyway. It wouldn’t be the first time Oscar went for a highly sexualized performance in a god-awful movie. I’m reminded of Penélope Cruz in Nine, who was practically given a nomination in the same category for writhing up and down a rope in her underwear. Both Cruz and Kidman are prior winners with a lot of goodwill in Hollywood, enough to overcome critical revulsion of the film around them. They also both have the body of genuinely brilliant prior work needed to rise above this kind of role. And Kidman’s role in The Paperboy involves a lot more acting than anything in Nine.
Man of the Year, Matthew McConaughey
Best Supporting Actor is giving me great stress. It’s possible that we’ll end up with the most boring list of nominees ever, and five former winners at that. And while I’m plenty impressed by Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln and Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master, I don’t understand how anyone is anything but lukewarm on Robert de Niro in Silver Linings Playbook and Alan Arkin in Argo. What this category needs is a bit of a shakeup, courtesy of Matthew McConaughey. Frankly, if the Academy weren’t so uncomfortable with sexualized male roles, he’d be a shoo-in. But they didn’t go for Michael Fassbender in Shame, and it would be a big surprise if they gave Magic Mike some love. I’m crossing my fingers that this happens against the odds.
Maybe this is just a combination of wishful thinking on my part and a frustration with studio films dominating Best Animated Feature. Yet for the past few years we’ve seen some really neat foreign work make it in this category. Why not keep predicting it? I think Brave, Frankenweenie, and Wreck-It Ralph are definitely in, but those last two slots look vulnerable. ParaNorman and Rise of the Guardians don’t seem like certainties at all, and I could see The Rabbi’s Cat and From Up on Poppy Hill coming through for GKIDS. I haven’t seen The Painting, but that’s another real possibility for this young distributor.
Against the Odds, Romania
Beyond the Hills really has almost no chance at grabbing a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. I know this. It’s too harsh, too long, too troubling, and too not-in-French. Yet I can’t shake the suspicion that Cristian Mungiu’s dark, powerful moral tale is in a better position than anyone thinks. Much of this has to do with history. His Palme d’Or-winning masterwork, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days caused such uproar when it wasn’t even shortlisted, that they changed the rules. Admittedly, this is also proof that there isn’t much love for his style within the Academy. But on the other hand, if Dogtooth can make it then anything can happen. Amour and The Intouchables seem like locks, but beyond that I think this is a pretty open list. Fingers crossed for the Romanian nuns, everyone!