By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com January 10, 2013 at 11:47AM
Ok, so we were super, super wrong about "Amour." Many had been tipping it for major prizes since Cannes, but given the way it failed to connect with the guilds, we didn't think it would figure in beyond the foreign language categories -- we thought it would be too close to the bone for the elderly Academy membership, and that it would struggle to get viewership from voters against higher-profile competition. Well, that was far from the case, as Michael Haneke's film picked up a Best Picture nomination, as well as nods for Haneke in Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, and a best Actress nod for Emmanuelle Riva, making her the oldest actress ever nominated in the category. It's an impressive feat, and one that we're glad we were so wrong about.
Joaquin Phoenix & co.
Some might read the performance of "The Master" as a snub; it missed out entirely in technical and writing/directing categories, with Paul Thomas Anderson failing to get even so much as a screenplay nomination. But while it's clear that the Academy weren't that taken with the film itself, they were certainly enamored of its performers in a way that the Screen Actors Guild weren't, nominating Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams alongside the SAG-approved Philip Seymour Hoffman. Given the challenging nature of the film, we'd probably count that as a triumph, even if we'd have liked the cinematography and editing to have been recognized as well.
Don't let its relatively minor four nominations fool you; the Academy were clearly very struck by "Beasts of the Southern Wild," and by its youthful debut director Benh Zeitlin in particular. He might have missed out on a nomination for the score he co-wrote (and given that we can't imagine that are that many Beirut fans in the Academy, we're not wildly surprised that they went for John Williams & co instead), Zeitlin managed a screenplay nomination alongside co-writer Lucy Alibar, and far more surprisingly, a directing nod over Affleck and Bigelow, a possibility that few had considered. Zeitlin was already a hot prospect, but as the eighth-youngest nominee in the category ever (younger than Jason Reitman, Spike Jonze and Steven Spielberg, older than John Singleton, Orson Welles, Kenneth Branagh and M Night Shyamalan when they got the same honor), expect him to be a force to reckoned with for a long time. Some had thought his young leading lady Quvenzhane Wallis was slipping out of the category, but happily, she made the cut, becoming the youngest ever acting nominee in the category in the process.
We have to say, this one's a bit of a head-scratcher for us. Don't get us wrong, we're huge fans of the Australian actress, and we were doing cartwheels over her nomination for "Animal Kingdom" two years ago. But most had counted her out of the category; she's very good in the film, but it's a small role, without the big moment or speech that's usually a requirement. Still, we don't begrudge her the nomination, and David O. Russell cements his reputation as an actor's director by making "Silver Linings Playbook" the first film since (we think) "Reds" to win nominations in all four acting categories.
Speaking of "Silver Linings Playbook," some had started to count the film out. It hadn't yet caught fire on the box office, and with Russell missing out at the DGA, and De Niro with BAFTA and the SAG, some were wondering if the film was starting to slip. But with eight nominations in total (putting it in third place alongside "Les Miserables"), it's certainly roaring back into the hunt. Alongside the four nominations for its actors, it also took nods for Picture, Director, Screenplay and, crucially, Editing. The latter's particularly important -- few films have won Best Picture without a nomination in the category, and it's a sign that the film could still surprise in February.
The Strength Of "Life Of Pi"
"Silver Linings Playbook" wasn't the only one that performed above expectations. Most had figured that "Life Of Pi" would do well, but outside of Best Picture, Cinematography, Score and Visual Effects, it didn't necessarily have that much locked up. But to go with Ang Lee's Best Director nomination (and one for David Magee's screenplay), the film took eleven nominations in total. The crucial ones here are production design and the two sound categories: not natural fits for a film that mostly takes place on a raft in the middle of the ocean, but a sign that the Academy are really, really keen on it, and perhaps an indicator that it's in it to win it.
Another one that no one had called. Aardman Animation haven't been nominated for Animated Feature since winning for "Wallace & Gromit," and their return to stop-motion with the wacky, underperforming "The Pirates!" wasn't expected to fit into the category. But if this year proves anything, it's that the Academy loves stop-motion (three of the five nominees were done in the format, including "Frankenweenie" and "ParaNorman") and despite not even scoring a BAFTA nomination yesterday, Peter Lord's enjoyably silly film gets an Oscar nomination here.
"Snow White & The Huntsman" in effects and costume, "Skyfall" & "Argo" in score
Not the showiest of nominations, but still somewhat surprising, were the pair for "Snow White & The Huntsman," for visual effects and costume design. Not many people liked the film much, but it's hard to disagree with the craft on show in those categories, even if most underestimated its potential with the Academy. Similarly surprising were two picks in the score category, where Thomas Newman's music for "Skyfall," and Alexandre Desplat's "Argo" soundtrack both turned up. Given that the latter seemingly scored every other film in theaters this year, we suppose he had to turn up somewhere, while Newman's nomination is, we believe, only the second for a Bond score, after Marvin Hamlisch's nod for "The Spy Who Loved Me."