Everyone calm down. The Oscar nominations are not a disaster. They actually make for the most exciting awards season in recent memory. I know that for many of us this took a few minutes to notice. I am, frankly, still pretty ticked off about Kathryn Bigelow somehow missing a nomination for Best Director. I’d rant about this, but Monika Bartyzel over at Movies.com has already done an excellent job breaking it down. Other things aren’t so much infuriating as they are irritatingly dull, like a Best Supporting Actor category full of former winners and a studio-dominated Best Animated Feature. Add that to the embarrassing jokes Emma Stone and Seth McFarlane threw at us at 8:30AM EST, and it’s not surprising Twitter turned into a mini-maelstrom of bitter resentment.
However, there is much to be stoked about! There are the little things, like four nominations for my beloved Anna Karenina. There are littler things, like Quvenzhané Wallis becoming the youngest Best Actress nominee in history. There are the littlest things: PES’s Fresh Guacamole might be the shortest Oscar nominee in history with a running time of just over 90 seconds. Finally, the big picture is also a lot more intriguing than anyone would have guess just a few months ago.
Let me put it this way: no one has any idea who is going to win Best Picture. People are beginning to coalesce around Lincoln, but the dust has barely settled since yesterday’s announcement. Just before the nominations it looked like it could be a four-way race between Steven Spielberg’s bearded historical drama, Argo, Les Misérables, and Zero Dark Thirty. Then, surprising everyone, there was nary a Best Director nomination in sight for Ben Affleck, Tom Hooper or Kathryn Bigelow. It looked, momentarily, as if that could mean Lincoln was on the precipice of a clean sweep through the last six weeks of the season. I think I may even have tweeted as much.
It is nowhere near that simple, and for that we should all be terrible excited. Often by this point we have a clear front-runner and a film or two waiting (usually hopelessly) on the sidelines. This year is a grand, glorious mess. Lincoln is at the head of the pack with 12 nominations, but Life of Pi is right behind with 11. No one thought Ang Lee’s film was a major contender, but now he’s in and Affleck, Bigelow, and Hooper are out. This means that the year’s most admirable 3D extravaganza has a decent shot at running away with the whole thing. Silver Linings Playbook also has a bit of hope, having been dealt quite the hand in the acting categories. It’s the first film since 1981’s Reds to score a nod in each acting category. There are an awful lot of actors in the Academy, and we already know they love the film.
Nor would I completely write off the three films now out of the directors’ race. Argo just picked up the top prize at the Critics’ Choice Awards (and Best Director award for Affleck). It’s true that only three films have ever won Best Picture without a director nomination, and two of those (Wings and Grand Hotel) were too early to really even count in this sort of discussion. Driving Miss Daisy, however, sets an interesting precedent. Perhaps I’ll address the specifics of what the dynamics of 1990 could mean for this race in a later column, but for now let’s just say that Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are much better films than Daisy and I doubt anyone was nearly as shocked that Bruce Beresford missed a Best Director nod as they are for Bigelow and Affleck.
So there you have it: Lincoln at the top, Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook suddenly looking much better, and Les Misérables, Argo, and Zero Dark Thirty not dead yet.
What does that mean for Best Director? Well, who knows. I’ll say this: if Best Picture goes to Lincoln, Life of Pi, or Silver Linings Playbook, director will probably match up. But if somehow things shake out another way and we find ourselves staring at Best Director winner Michael Haneke (not impossible, given that Best Picture nomination), look for Argo to come sweeping in to steal the show at the end of the night. Suddenly it isn’t impossible to imagine these winners at the top: Argo, Michael Haneke, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Emmanuelle Riva.
That Best Actress category is also wide open. Last night both Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence won at the Critics’ Choice Awards, and they will likely both pick up a Golden Globe on Sunday. Yet while the BFCA and HFPA have multiple categories, Oscar only gives out one Best Actress statue. If the two ingénues are head to head, suddenly it’s a lot easier to imagine someone swooping in from the wings. That could be Naomi Watts or Riva, though probably not Wallis.
So as you can see, this awards season is the best kind of chaos. It’s possible that the Globes and the various guild awards will clear everything up, but if they’re anything like the Critics’ Choice Awards they might just muddy the waters even further. It’s entirely possible that Kathryn Bigelow or Ben Affleck will pick up the prize at the Globes or the DGA, and if that happens we should respond with peals of joy. Even if you don’t love all of the films (I’m a fan of probably 50% of the contenders), this is one of the more interesting races in a long time. Embrace it.
Oh, and Best Supporting Actor could also go any number of ways, but talking about five former winners might put me to sleep.
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