There is always such a feeling of inevitability by the time the Oscar nominations roll around. Even moved back to early January, it arrives after weeks of Top Ten lists, an unending array of critics awards, and predictions from every pundit with a blog. At least they beat the Golden Globe Awards this year, but the final tally is still measured against the consensus.
This year, no surprise, belongs to “Lincoln,” which entered the nominations as the film to beat and emerged with 12 nominations and an almost sure lock on Best Actor. The Best Picture category swelled to nine nominees, spreading the recognition around muscular studio pictures, big Hollywood Entertainments, and demanding independents. “Amour” emerged as the foreign upstart and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” the American indie that could. The front-runners and underdogs stake their positions and the critical kibitzing begins.
That’s not to say there were no surprises. Who foresaw five nominations for Michael Hanake’s harrowing “Amour,” or eleven for the survival drama by way of a storybook tale “Life of Pi” (albeit mostly for technical categories)? “Les Misérables” took eight nominations yet was ignored in directing and writing categories, which doesn’t bode well for Oscar night. “Silver Linings Playbook” scored better than expected and “Zero Dark Thirty” underperformed. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a game of numbers, it’s about the movies and performers and artists. The numbers just help take the temperature of the race.
Why do we care? Because politics and oddsmaking aside, the Oscars still matter to us, both as a star-studded spectacle and a sign of industry appreciation. A nomination is indeed an honor (certainly more of an honor than the Golden Globes) and a snub is still something to get worked up over. So here is our annual scorecard on Oscar’s slights and oversights: they shoulda been a contender.
The new shapeshifting incarnation of this category can shrink to five nominees or sprawl to ten films, depending on the Academy’s complicated formula. This year it’s a substantial nine nominees, including the inevitable but undeserving “Les Misérables,” and yet it left out Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” a film celebrated on best lists across the country (it was the fourth-ranked film on the MSN poll). The story of puppy love and adolescent runaways in a summer wonderland is Anderson’s most mature film to date and the most authentically benevolent and affectionate piece of filmmaking to come out of the American cinema in ages. I guess that kind of mix of storybook playfulness and unabashed sincerity isn’t considered serious enough, but I’ll take it over the often condescending clichés of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
The raw dysfunction of “The Master” may have been too uncomfortable for Academy voters but I appreciate its uncompromising intensity. There were cheerleaders rooting for “The Dark Knight Rises” to legitimize the comic book movie and “Skyfall” to honor Bond, but they’ll have to settle for their blockbuster box office.