“Lincoln” Wins All the Oscars

OK, my title might be slightly premature, but looking over this morning’s slate of nominations for the 85th annual Academy Awards, that sure seems like where we’re heading.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Despite this glib initial summary, this year’s nominations did a satisfactory job of reflecting the incredibly strong and varied year in cinema, to the point that several branches of the Academy appear to be in open war with each other. It’s that general inconsistency from one category to the next that makes me think that “Lincoln,” a consensus choice (with a leading 12 total nominations, though “Life of Pi” was right behind with 11) across the board, has victory all but sewn up.

At this stage, though, we can just enjoy the eclecticism of the nominations stage and the fact that the Academy, refreshingly, went their own way in several unexpected ways. We have the first foreign language film to make the Best Picture slate since the category expanded. We have the youngest-ever and oldest-ever nominees for Best Actress in the same year. A host nominated for Best Original Song. A Supporting Actor slate comprised entirely of previous winners. A film that made all four acting categories. And, of course, a Best Director category that caused multiple audible gasps from the reporters in attendance at the live broadcast of the announcement.

I’ll go category by category with commentary in a minute, but first a word about that live broadcast. The announcements were read by host Seth MacFarlane (the first time in something like 30 years that the host was involved in announcing the nominations) and Emma Stone, who is quickly becoming the MVP of the awards circuit for her abilities in charming, self-deprecating banter. I’m increasingly convinced that hiring MacFarlane was the Academy’s most brilliant move regarding the ceremony in years – despite the massive popularity of MacFarlane’s products like “Family Guy” and “Ted” with younger people, his pop culture vocabulary is comfortably in range of the Academy’s aging membership. He led off with a Donny Osmond joke, for God’s sakes. He’s an old school song-and-dance performer with a tiny slice of Ricky Gervais’ irreverence (an “Amour” joke involving Hitler predictably landed with a squish among the bleary-eyed reporters). Perfect.

Anyway, there’s lots to say, so let’s get to it. Every year, I pick 3 reasonably nominations that would get me very excited, as sort of a defense mechanism (last year, for instance, I wasn’t fond of the overall slate, but I went 3 for 3 on my dream picks, so I came out that morning pleased). This time, I went with a Best Picture nod for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” acting recognition for Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams in “The Master,” and an Original Screenplay nomination for “Looper.” I ended up 2 for 3, but a nomination that I didn’t even dare to hope for made up for that – let’s find out which, shall we?

The 85th Annual Academy Award Nominations

Best Picture:

  • Amour
  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Miserables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty

Ethan sez: The Academy seems to have found its comfort zone in 9 Best Picture nominees. Unorthodox. Anyway, the expanded slate did its job pretty perfectly this year, allowing room for an acclaimed foreign language film, an indie festival darling and a popular Tarantino genre bloodbath. None of those would’ve been “Oscar bait” in the past. Congrats to that.

Best Director:

  • Michael Haneke, “Amour”
  • Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
  • Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”
  • Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
  • David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Ethan sez: And now the category that is going to make everyone lose their shit. I’m not sure the Directors Guild and the Academy have ever disagreed on THREE slots before – it’s really quite bizarre, considering it’s a lot of the same people voting for both. Hooper was always weak and the controversy over Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” probably didn’t help her out here, but I’m genuinely dumbfounded by the snub of Ben Affleck. Considering “Argo” was clearly well-loved overall (as we’ll see, it got love from unexpected corners like the audio branches, plus of course its Best Picture and Screenplay nods), I had him pegged as the second-safest pick behind Spielberg. I have no idea what happened, except that there was clearly a lot of passion for “Amour” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild-” much more than we thought. But I can’t emphasize enough that this was like the wheels suddenly popping off a Ferrari doing 80 on the freeway. Even yesterday, “Argo” was looking in great position to pull off the big win – now its Best Picture campaign is all but done (the last film to win BP without a director nomination was “Driving Miss Daisy”).

But though I loved “Argo” and thought Affleck was more than deserving, I can’t argue against finding room for Zeitlin. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was a spectacular, daring piece of filmmaking, and importantly, one of the most totally assured, confident directorial debuts I’ve ever seen. This is not a film that “shows potential;” it’s all there, right now, even with a shoestring budget and amateur actors.

So kudos to the directors for sticking their necks out for the kid. I didn’t even think that nod was a real possibility.

Best Actor:

  • Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
  • Hugh Jackman, “Les Miserables”
  • Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”
  • Denzel Washington, “Flight”

Ethan sez: I think we had all been automatically penciling in John Hawkes for so long that we neglected to notice that hardly anyone was actually talking about him or “The Sessions” anymore, whereas Phoenix stayed very much in the conversation thanks to his status on the bubble. That’s the kind of trick the season can pull on you. It seems unfortunate that Hawkes missed out (though I haven’t seen the film yet, admittedly), especially since Jackman’s overrated, literally one-note performance is in the mix, but again, with Phoenix’s deep, troubling performance recognized, I’m not going to complain much.

Best Actress:

  • Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”
  • Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
  • Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”
  • Quvenzhane Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
  • Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”

Ethan sez: Love the age disparity between Riva and Wallis. Love that Watts made it in, if only to give us one more movie to talk about. This is probably between the dueling rising stars at the top of the list here, but it’s a great lineup.

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Alan Arkin, “Argo”
  • Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
  • Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
  • Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”

Ethan sez: I had thought that DiCaprio might steal enough votes away from Waltz to make it a wash for “Django,” but no, Waltz’s sparkling performance made it through. It had the benefit of his character being a debatable lead, but either way the quality is certainly there, and it’s good to see that Waltz hasn’t ended up as something of a one-hit wonder.

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Amy Adams, “The Master”
  • Sally Field, “Lincoln”
  • Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables”
  • Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”
  • Jacki Weaver, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Ethan sez: AMY ADAMS. That is all.

Not really, though. Clearly we need to stop discounting the respect for Jacki Weaver in the industry, as this is now the second semi-surprising nomination she’s pulled off after “Animal Kingdom” a few years back. That gives “Silver Linings Playbook” a Streetcar-Named-Desire kind of dominance over the acting categories – but will any of them actually win? And does that support in the acting branch mean that the film still has a strong Best Picture shot after all? The questions aren’t done just because we have the nominations, you know.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • Chris Terrio, “Argo”
  • Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
  • David Magee, “Life of Pi”
  • Tony Kushner, “Lincoln”
  • David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Ethan sez: One of only like two categories I predicted entirely correctly, so not much to say here. Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” couldn’t pull off the spoiler nod in the end, considering how strong “Life of Pi” and “Beasts” turned out to be.

Best Original Screenplay:

  • Michael Haneke, “Amour”
  • Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained”
  • John Gatins, “Flight”
  • Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, “Moonrise Kingdom”
  • Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty”

Ethan sez: Usually this category earns my undying love for the writers branch, but that’s been dampened this year by the “Flight” pick on top of the directors’ decision to go subversive. Still, Haneke, Tarantino, Anderson and Boal are all favorites, so good to see them here. Poor “Moonrise Kingdom” for a while looked like it could be Wes Anderson’s “Midnight in Paris,” but it’ll have to settle for its one nomination here.

Best Cinematography:

  • Seamus McGarvey, “Anna Karenina”
  • Robert Richardson, “Django Unchained”
  • Claudio Miranda, “Life of Pi”
  • Janusz Kaminski, “Lincoln”
  • Roger Deakins, “Skyfall”

Ethan sez: And here we have the one snub that legitimately has me seething, namely Mihai Malaimare Jr’s superb work on “The Master.” I had prepared myself for P.T. Anderson’s film not to register in the major categories, but shame on the cinematographers for not recognizing the phenomenal technical work on display. The only good thing about that is it lets me root for Deakins to finally collect his looooooong overdue Oscar without reservations.

Best Production Design:

  • Anna Karenina
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Les Miserables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln

Ethan sez: I’m still mad at you people for snubbing “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” last year. Don’t think I’ve forgotten just because you confusingly changed the name of your category.

Best Costume Design:

  • Anna Karenina
  • Les Miserables
  • Lincoln
  • Mirror Mirror
  • Snow White and the Huntsman

Ethan sez: Phew. We don’t have to chastise the Academy for leaving off the last work by the late, great Eiko Ishioka on “Mirror Mirror.” Instead, I can just be the normal amount of annoyed at them for leaving off the wonderful duds in “Django Unchained.”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

  • Hitchcock
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Les Miserables

Ethan sez: I personally found Anthony Hopkins’ fat suit-Hitchcock rather unconvincing in the trailers, but apparently their peers were impressed enough to leave off living legend Rick Baker’s work on “Men in Black 3.”

Best Film Editing:

  • Argo
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty

Ethan sez: Most people probably don’t realize how important this little technical category is to Oscar success. A nomination (though not necessarily a win) in Film Editing is often crucial to victory in the major categories, which makes the notice here for “Silver Linings Playbook” fascinating. Russell’s film and “Life of Pi” are clearly the ones to watch as potential spoilers to Spielberg’s party on Feb. 24.

Best Original Score:

  • Dario Marianelli, “Anna Karenina”
  • Alexandre Desplat, “Argo”
  • Mychael Danna, “Life of Pi”
  • John Williams, “Lincoln”
  • Thomas Newman, “Skyfall”

Ethan sez: The composers are apparently ready to go to war with the directors over “Argo,” giving Alexandre Desplat his obligatory annual It-Was-Good-But-Won’t-Win nomination. One of these years Desplat is going to settle down and only write one film score in a year rather than 15, and it will probably be the most incredible thing ever created.

Best Original Song:

  • “Before My Time,” from “Chasing Ice”
  • “Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” from “Ted”
  • “Pi’s Lullaby,” from “Life of Pi”
  • “Skyfall,” from “Skyfall”
  • “Suddenly,” from “Les Miserables”

Ethan sez: Back to a full slate of five nominees, the Original Song category has returned to its old eccentric ways as well. MacFarlane deftly defused the awkwardness of having his own name read out this morning with a pithy one-liner (“Cool, now I get to go to the Oscars!”), but the best part about that nomination is that it all but guarantees that the live performances will return to the ceremony – how weird would it be if your host was RIGHT THERE and you didn’t let him sing his nominated song?

Best Animated Feature:

  • Brave
  • Frankenweenie
  • ParaNorman
  • The Pirates! Band of Misfits
  • Wreck-It Ralph

Ethan sez: As expected, Dreamworks’ “Rise of the Guardians” didn’t register, but a different indie studio than predicted rose to the occasion. GKIDS has built a great reputation recently by scoring nods for tiny films like “The Secret of Kells” and the double whammy of “A Cat in Paris” and “Chico and Rita” last year, but couldn’t get anywhere with “The Painting” or “The Rabbi’s Cat” – instead, Aardman Animation’s gorgeously handcrafted “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” makes the cut. Fine with me.

Best Foreign Language Film:

  • Amour (Austria)
  • Kon-Tiki (Norway)
  • No (Chile)
  • A Royal Affair (Denmark)
  • War Witch (Canada)

Ethan sez: Something of a shocker that The Weinstein Company couldn’t push the feel-good French hit “The Intouchables” through in this category, but the critics are sure to be pleased. I still need to catch up with all of these, but they’re definitely all on the list.

Best Sound Editing:

  • Argo
  • Django Unchained
  • Life of Pi
  • Skyfall
  • Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Mixing:

  • Argo
  • Les Miserables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Skyfall

Ethan sez: An odd lack of blockbuster action films here, as the sound branches opted for the subtlety of prestige fare like “Argo” and “Life of Pi” over the bombast of “The Avengers” or “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Best Visual Effects:

  • The Avengers
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Life of Pi
  • Prometheus
  • Snow White and the Huntsman

Ethan sez: “Prometheus” had many problems, but its technical elements were not among them, so it’s good to see a little recognition there. I’m disappointed that “Cloud Atlas” couldn’t find any room below the line – likewise, that was a somewhat problematic work that was nonetheless ambitious, even virtuosic in its pure filmmaking.

Best Documentary Feature:

  • 5 Broken Cameras
  • The Gatekeepers
  • How to Survive a Plague
  • The Invisible War
  • Searching for Sugar Man

Ethan sez: We’re really starting to move out of the range of my ability to comment.

Best Documentary Short:

  • Inocente
  • King’s Point
  • Mondays at Racine
  • Open Heart
  • Redemption

Best Live Action Short:

  • Asad
  • Buzkashi Boys
  • Curfew
  • Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)
  • Henry

Best Animated Short:

  • Adam and Dog
  • Fresh Guacamole
  • Head Over Heels
  • Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
  • Paperman

Ethan sez: Yep, we’d better wrap this up. Thanks for reading all the way through if you made it this far!

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