By Caryn James | James on Screens January 24, 2012 at 10:41AM
The awards season zooms ahead now that the Oscar nominations have been announced. What didn’t we see coming? And what were those voters thinking? Never mind; a pointless question. Here’s a look at the biggest surprises and how they change the race.
BEST ACTOR IS SUDDENLY THE MOST INTERESTING CATEGORY
This is still George Clooney’s award, with Brad Pitt the runner up. But there were two terrific surprises. Gary Oldman, virtually ignored by other awards except the BAFTAs, turned up for his amazing, restrained performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. And Demian Bichir - I know, Demian who? – squeaked in for his affecting role as a Mexican gardener in A Better Life. (Photo below; he also played Castro in Steven Soderbergh's Che.)
Bichir displaced the presumed nominee, Michael Fassbender in Shame. Maybe the still-staid Academy didn’t want to sit through all those Michael Fassbender penis jokes that have also seemed inevitable. Oh, yes, Jean Dujardin from The Artist was nominated too; snooze. Much more on this race to come.
NINE BEST PICTURE NOMINEES
There could have been as few as five or as many as ten under this year’s wackadoodle rules, and a smaller number would have focused attention on the inevitable battle between The Artist and Hugo – or is it The Artist vs. The Descendants? With nine nominees, the possibilities for spreading votes changes the dynamics. There should have been seven. The Help, Moneyball, Midnight in Paris were all expected. Tree of Life wasn’t, which sends a message somebody wants to be seen as artistic. Then there were the lily-livered nominations: War Horse is there because it’s big and it’s by Spielberg. The mediocre Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is there because ... well, who knows? Earnest 9/11 subject?
YAY - ONLY TWO SONGS NOMINATED
Anything that cuts down on those bloated, cringe-inducing production numbers is fine with me. This year’s Best Song nominees are from The Muppets (“Man or Muppet”) and Rio (“Real in Rio”). Kid-friendly music may not make for the most sophisticated Oscar show, but it’s pretty hard to go wrong with Muppets!
THE INEVITABLE WHO WASN’T
Albert Brooks, widely considered a sure thing for a Supporting Actor nomination for Drive, wasn’t. But as he Tweeted yesterday , the nominations were only going to tell him if he had to show up for another awards ceremony where Christopher Plummer won.
The race is just heating up and will be fascinating to watch - maybe more fascinating than the Billy Crystal old-timers show.