NEW YORK - In this year's Oscar nominations, the director's seat was the hot seat.
In the now heavily analyzed awards season, unequivocal snubs have become less common as the field is more accurately predicted. But on Thursday morning, the motion picture academy provided the genuine article: a somewhat shocking and unexpected brush off to one whom it so recently exalted: Kathryn Bigelow.
The director of the Osama bin Laden chase film "Zero Dark Thirty" had been widely expected to land her second directing nomination, with a strong chance of repeating her dramatic 2009 win for "The Hurt Locker" over James Cameron and a little, blue-people movie called "Avatar." But alas, Bigelow was not among the names read Thursday morning, leading to inevitable speculation that Bigelow and the film were diminished by the many objections to the movie's much-debated depiction of torture.
Instead, the director nominees were Steven Spielberg for "Lincoln"; David O. Russell for "Silver Linings Playbook"; Ang Lee for "Life of Pi"; Michael Haneke for "Amour"; and Benh Zeitlin for "Beasts of the Southern Wild."
Mouths were agape all over Hollywood. Aghast hordes wielded pitchforks on Twitter around the world.
The category could have very possibly (and many expected it to) include Bigelow, Ben Affleck for "Argo," Quentin Tarantino for "Django Unchained" and Tom Hooper for "Les Miserables" - all of those films best picture nominees.
But the Oscar nominations clearly shook up prevailing thoughts about this awards season, which is moving at a slightly different pace this year with nominations coming earlier and before the Golden Globes are handed out Sunday. The message Thursday was that "Lincoln," with a huge 12 nominations, is the clear front-runner and that it's not "Zero Dark Thirty" or "Argo" as the main competition (when a film's director isn't nominated, it rarely wins best picture) but "Silver Linings Playbook."
That made it one of the least predictable nomination days in memory, with considerable boosts for "Silver Linings Playbook" (eight nominations), "Amour" (five nominations), and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (four nominations).
The eight for Russell's film included the rare feat of nominations in all four of the acting categories: Bradley Cooper (actor), Jennifer Lawrence (actress), Robert De Niro (supporting actor) and Jacki Weaver (supporting actress). The latter two were not favorites.
Haneke's "Amour," too, is an oddity in Oscar history: the first foreign language best picture nomination since Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in 2001. Its five nominations includes a nod for the 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva - the oldest actress ever to receive a best actress nomination.
Made for less than $2 million, the "Beasts of the Southern Wild" has now completed the arc many predicted, from Sundance darling to Oscar hit. Actually, it did even better than its fans hoped, earning not just best picture, but nominations for director Zeitlin and its young star, Quvenzhane Wallis - the youngest best actress nominee ever. (Again, it was a day for the record books.) Still, Zeitlin could also be considered a snub: He composed the film's beautifully lush score.
The case of "The Sessions" was just as surprising. In a film about a guy in an iron lung, it's usually the guy in the iron lung who gets an Oscar nomination. But it wasn't John Hawkes' widely hailed performance that earned a nom, but Helen Hunt, who plays a professional sex surrogate helping him lose his virginity.
Though the best picture category this year boasts films that have largely fared well at the box office, arguably the year's most popular film, the Bond flick "Skyfall" (with more than $1 billion in tickets globally) was not among them. It reaped five nominations in cinematography, music and sound categories, but nothing in the above-the-line awards.
The French foreign language submission, "The Intouchables," seemed a sure thing, considering it was one of the biggest hits ever in France. But it came up empty-handed, suggesting the choice was wrongheaded when the country could have instead chose the more critically adored "Rust and Bone" or "Holy Motors." Marion Cotillard's performance as an amputee in "Rust and Bone" was another unexpected snub for best actress.
And then there are countless other quibbles a moviegoer could fairly make. Were Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" (handsomely shot in 70mm) and Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" not two of the best films of the year? Wasn't Jason Clarke ferocious in "Zero Dark Thirty"? How about the wry James Spader in "Lincoln"? Was anyone more fun to watch than John Goodman in "Argo" or Michael Shannon in "Premium Rush" or Javier Bardem in "Skyfall" or James Gandolfini in, well, anything?
And then there's Denis Lavant's hailed performance in the bizarrely riveting "Holy Motors." His character's name, after all, shared the name of the Academy Awards' statuette.
But this year, even Oscar was snubbed by Oscar.
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