But we'll get to that. Overall, though, AMPAS provided us with yet another array of respectable, slightly uninspired nominations. As tends to be the case, the movies about which I'm maximally passionate achieved minimal success; in fact, my (tentative) favorite trio of the year combined to receive precisely zero mentions. But as always, there are plenty of laudable pictures and performances to be found in the list below, as well as a smattering of off-kilter surprises to keep us on our toes and remind us that the Oscars are the product not of mathematical science but of the whims of a free-thinking and spirited collective. And as long as the Academy continues to pay annual, careful attention to the cinematic landscape, so shall I.
On to the results. Incorrect picks are in red.
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Takeaways: As it turns out, my most prescient statement in my predictions – indicative of both the Academy's leanings and, paradoxically, my own failings as a prognosticator – was the following: "I'll hardly be surprised if any of Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, or Django Unchained makes the list (possibly at the expense of The Master or Moonrise Kingdom)." So, yes, I half-expected one of those films to crack the lineup. What I certainly did not expect was for all of them to show up. But for the second consecutive year in the Academy's fancy new ballot system – which requires nominees to receive at least 5% of the first-place votes cast – nine different movies made the grade, illustrating that there's plenty of passion to go around.
Snubbed: Looper. It never had a chance at the Oscars, but that doesn't diminish the power and vitality of the year's most compelling, exhilarating film.
Current favorite: Lincoln, I suppose, although if you examine the rest of the slate, Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook look awfully frisky. Of course, I went into this morning's announcement fully prepared to write something about how there was no clear frontrunner for the first time in years and that instead Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, and Les Misérables would engage in an exhausting battle over the next month and a half. But then ...
Michael Haneke – Amour
Steven Spielberg – Lincoln
Takeaways: There's a hilarious minor scene in The Great Escape when the three Americans in the prison camp convert a bushel of potatoes into a jug of moonshine; after they're finished, each of them then tastes it and simply remarks – in escalating degrees of amazement – "Wow". Well, that's how I felt when staring at this year's Oscar nominations for Best Director. I mean, WOW.
If you're nonplussed by my astonishment, permit me a brief statistical digression. The Directors' Guild of America has been nominating five filmmakers every year since 1970. For the past forty-two years, at least three of those five directors have also been cited by the Academy. Thus, since the DGA switched to a five-man lineup, this marks the first year ever that only two guild nominees find themselves in the running for the Oscar. What's even more baffling is that all three who received the cold shoulder (Affleck, Bigelow, and Hooper) made movies that earned a Best Picture nomination. Yet they're ousted in favor of a different trio of helmers (Haneke, Russell, and Zeitlin) whose films are also in the running for the top prize. Again, wow.
Current favorite: Spielberg. Lee is his only real challenger here. Besides, he hasn't won since Saving Private Ryan in 1998, and since then all he's done is make Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, Munich, and War Horse. Frankly, he's overdue.
Snubbed: Joe Wright – Anna Karenina. Wright took an epic novel of massive literary prestige and transformed it into a breathtaking cinematic document.
Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
Hugh Jackman – Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
Denzel Washington – Flight
Takeaways: My one perfect category. Kudos to the Academy for eschewing the Screen Actors' Guild and paying homage to Phoenix's revelatory turn as a disconsolate man searching for meaning that consistently slips out of his grasp. The remaining four thespians were all relative locks, so I can't congratulate myself too much.
Current favorite: Day-Lewis. Sure, it would be his fourth Oscar (following wins for My Left Foot, Gangs of New York, and There Will Be Blood), but he simply towers over everyone else in the field, and ... wait a minute, he didn't win for Gangs of New York? This is unforgivable. Hell, for his next movie, Chris Nolan should make a thriller about an obsessed, deranged Oscars' fan who time-travels back to 2002 in order rejigger the voting and correct this travesty, only to catastrophically alter the space-time continuum in the process. Joseph Gordon-Levitt would be perfect – he even has my eyes.
Snubbed: Anders Danielsen Lie – Oslo, August 31st. The movie itself is a rather depressive slog, but Lie is hypnotic as a drug addict seemingly bent on his own destruction.
Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Takeaways: Coincidentally, the category is bracketed by the oldest and youngest nominees in its history (Riva is 85, while Wallis is a pup of nine). Anyway, Watts had the SAG nod, so she's hardly a huge surprise, and I'm pleased that the Academy kept the fiery Wallis on the ballot.
Current favorite: At this point, I'd go with Lawrence, although we'll have a better idea of Chastain's chances after Zero Dark Thirty's nationwide expansion this week.
Snubbed: Kara Hayward – Moonrise Kingdom. She was surrounded by venerable adult actors, but it was Hayward's poise and emotional dexterity – along with child costar Jared Gillman's bracing honesty – that made Wes Anderson's latest enchantment sing.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Alan Arkin – Argo
Robert De Niro – Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Takeaways: Turns out Tarantino didn't spread the wealth too thin after all. McConaughey was my true wildcard pick, so I can't pretend to be shocked that he missed here, though I would have expected Javier Bardem to slide in rather than Waltz, especially given his presence at SAG. In general, though, it's something of a relief to see the Academy supply its own, highly individual choices rather than following the guilds like docile cattle.
Current favorite: Jones. He isn't quite a slam dunk, but I just don't see any of the remaining contenders challenging his playfully irascible performance as a republican firebrand.
Snubbed: Leonardo DiCaprio – Django Unchained. Waltz was predictably excellent, but it was DiCaprio's inimitable electricity that elevated Tarantino's revenge fantasy to another level.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams – The Master
Sally Field – Lincoln
Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables
Helen Hunt – The Sessions
Takeaways: Take that, Dowager Countess! To be fair, I had no problem with Smith's pleasant, inoffensive performance, but Weaver's presence here is highly gratifying, as I'd been concerned that she was being overlooked. Not that it matters because ...
Current favorite: Hathaway. Anyone who thinks otherwise is, ahem, dreaming.
Snubbed: Emma Watson – The Perks of Being a Wallflower. You were expecting someone else?
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Amour – Michael Haneke
Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino
Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson
Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal
Takeaways: I suppose even a single Oscar nomination for Looper was more than I could have hoped for, though I certainly didn't expect it to fall at the hands of Flight. Anderson's presence here gladdens me; that he represents the lone mention for Moonrise Kingdom, saddens me.
Current favorite: None. With most of the heavy hitters over in the Adapted Screenplay field, this is the most intriguing category of the entire ceremony. Will Tarantino's brazen tale of murder in the antebellum South find more champions than Boal's dissection of more modern-day killing? Or will voters opt for the wistful strains of Anderson's coming-of-age story, or perhaps be seduced by, well, whatever crazy shit Haneke pulls this time around? One thing is for certain: Gatins is just happy to be here.
Snubbed: Ruby Sparks – Zoe Kazan. It was difficult to top Looper for ingenuity, but Kazan's script is wildly inventive without sacrificing character development.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Argo – Chris Terrio
Life of Pi – David Magee
Lincoln – Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell
Takeaways: In case there was any doubt, the Academy really liked Beasts of the Southern Wild. In this particular category, unfortunately, that admiration came at the expense of Chbosky's warm, tender adaptation of his own novel.
Current favorite: Lincoln. Silver Linings Playbook is probably its strongest competitor, but Kushner's brisk, wily script is rife with colorful dialogue and also imparts an important history lesson with sincerity.
Snubbed: The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan. The most thematically fascinating installment of their trilogy, the Brothers Nolan expanded the Gotham universe to an extraordinary scope while also exploring the inherent tension between heroism and self-aggrandizement.
Life of Pi – Claudio Miranda
Lincoln – Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall – Roger Deakins
Takeaways: So I should probably mention that The Master didn't fare quite as well as I'd expected. It did scrape together nominations for three of its actors, but it was entirely shut out otherwise, so apparently those passionate hordes I've been hearing about reside outside the Academy. In its stead, Richardson's presence for Django Unchained is hardly a surprise, as this marks his eighth career nomination. McGarvey's inclusion, on the other hand, is deeply rewarding, as I'd been worried that he might miss the cut despite his stirring, sweeping camerawork.
Current favorite: None. I could make a case for any of these nominees. More interestingly, this category will serve as an early bellwether on the night of the telecast. If Kaminski takes the statuette, expect to hear Lincoln's name called frequently. If Miranda pulls out the win, however, then things could get awfully interesting later in the evening.
Snubbed: Farewell, My Queen. This ravishing costume drama never reached most audiences, meaning they missed an immaculately crafted piece of cinema.
BEST FILM EDITING
Argo – William Goldenberg
Lincoln – Michael Kahn
Zero Dark Thirty – William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor
Takeaways: So much for my hunch that Skyfall would be a major player in the craft categories. Also, its omission here – combined with Tom Hooper failing to crack the Best Director lineup – makes Les Misérables a dead man walking in the Best Picture field.
Current favorite: In a lineup of five Best Picture nominees, it's difficult for any one contender to separate. I'd probably still go with Lincoln despite its length, but Silver Linings Playbook could be a real threat here.
Snubbed: Cloud Atlas. The most ambitious film of the year also exhibited a remarkable display of the power of cross-cutting. It wasn't perfect, but it sure was watchable.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Anna Karenina – Dario Marianelli
Life of Pi – Mychael Danna
Lincoln – John Williams
Takeaways: Oh come on. Beasts of the Southern Wild racks up four nominations in major categories, and it can't get recognized for its magnetic score? Meanwhile, Skyfall can't garner an editing nod, but Thomas Newman's bland, generic music shows up here? I give up.
Current favorite: Call it a toss-up between Lincoln and Life of Pi. Enterprising gamblers would be wise to consider a parlay with Best Cinematography, as I'd hardly be surprised if the same picture snatches both trophies.
Snubbed: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Howard Shore. The movie may feel never-ending, but Shore's vibrant, rousing score is ceaselessly energetic and absorbing.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Takeaways: There's a reason I missed on Life of Pi here – it's production design just isn't that impressive – but it racked up 11 nominations in total, so perhaps voters simply got swept away by the storm. (Get it?)
Current favorite: Anna Karenina. Any other choice would be farcical.
Snubbed: The Woman in Black. Because that house was really fucking scary.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Takeaways: Poor Cloud Atlas. I'm pleased that Prometheus snuck in, though that pleasure pales compared to my confusion regarding the Snow White and the Huntsman nod.
Current favorite: Life of Pi. Maybe if Lincoln featured a computer-generated stovepipe hat, the two could duke it out in yet another category. As it is, this one's over.
Snubbed: John Carter. Sure, the movie was a bit of a mess, but that shouldn't mitigate the extraordinary work of the V/X team.
That's a wrap. Stay tuned over the next month as we bring you detailed analysis of each category.