America's singin', dancin' sweetheart Seth MacFarlane will host this year's Oscars, for some reason.
In a desperate attempt to declare their relevance - and this in a year when Family Guy creator and would-be lounge legend Seth MacFarlane is their host - the Oscars are jumping the gun, announcing the nomination for the 85th Annual Academy Awards much, much earlier than usual.
Usually, the Academy is kind enough to wait until everyone's Golden Globes hangovers have dissipated. This year, the announcement came before Sunday's ceremony, which should make for some interesting speeches as winners thank the Hollywood Foreign Press and then loudly wonder why Oscar failed to take note of them. (There's always one or two.)
This year's roster seems like an attempt to cast as wide a net as possible, with both the youngest and oldest Best Actress nominees in the history of that award in Beasts Of The Southern Wild's nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis and Amour's Emmanuelle Riva and other nominations scattered out in every direction.
Paul Thomas Anderson's critically beloved The Master landed nominations for all three of its principal cast - Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix, Best Supporting Actor for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Best Supporting Actress for Amy Adams - but that was it. No love for Anderson as a writer or director, nothing for Mihai Malaimare Jr.'s 70mm cinematography or David Crank and Jack Fisk's exacting production design. Naomi Watts was similarly nominated in a vacuum for The Impossible; ditto Helen Hunt for The Sessions, nominated in the supporting category for what's essentially a co-lead opposite John Hawkes. Remember Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson's best film since Rushmore? The Academy barely did, patting it on the head with an Original Screenplay nomination and sending it to its room to think about how to be more mainstream.
Admittedly, Wes Anderson's movies have never really caught Oscar's favour, and the placement of actors is largely up to the campaign strategists who submit them for consideration based on metrics of winnability - that's how Jennifer Lawrence can play a supporting role in Silver Linings Playbook and find herself a strong contender for Best Actress. I suspect no one wanted to find herself up in competition with Les Misérables' Anne Hathaway, who's as close to a lock as anyone this year.
And having said that, I should also point out that I have no frickin' idea what the Academy was thinking this year. Jacki Weaver for Best Supporting Actress in Silver Linings Playbook? Seriously? Did voters just tick the box every time they saw that movie on the ballot? (Actually, that's a rhetorical question; it clearly worked for Lincoln and Life Of Pi.)
Four films with extremely distinctive visual styles and personalities, Ben Affleck's Argo, Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, Tom Hooper's Les Misérables and Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, landed Picture and Screenplay nominations, but failed to see their directors make the final cut.
That's inevitable with the Academy's recent rule change allowing for anywhere between five and 10 Best Picture slots while keeping the maximum for all other categories at five ... but the imbalance here is telling. (In the case of Les Misérables, I'm thinking it's a direct comment on Hooper's endless showboating.)
Maybe Oscar was just overwhelmed by potential contenders. Lincoln's 12 nominations were easy; pretty much everything about Steven Spielberg's finely textured docudrama screams out to be recognized. Same for Ang Lee's Life Of Pi, which pulled down 11 nominations - making it even odder that star Suraj Sharma, who spends fully half the film on-screen by himself, failed to rate a Best Actor nod. It's a little difficult to reconcile that omission with the gimmick nomination for Wallis.
Canadians will be buzzing about Kim Nguyen's Rebelle (a.k.a. War Witch) making the cut for Best the Foreign-Language Film prize, though it's unlikely to triumph against competition like Amour and festival favourite Kon-Tiki. But it's nice to see Nguyen's smallish picture about a child soldier (Rachel Mwanza) confronting her awful past stay in the game, especially since Mongrel Media released the film on DVD earlier this week. And Mychael Danna scored nominations for Original Score and Original Song for his work on Life Of Pi - though I'd hesitate to bet on him winning the latter, since he's up against both Adele's Skyfall theme and that new Les Misérables track.
I'd have liked to see Mark Ruffalo considered for his terrific turn as Bruce Banner in Marvel's The Avengers, but the Academy went the other way and nominated the other guy with a Best Visual Effects nod. (And while we're on the subject: poor Joss Whedon, shut out for both the scripts for The Avengers and The Cabin In The Woods. I had such hopes.) And both Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen could have been acting contenders for their terrific work in Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz, but I suspect that film was steamrolled by the Silver Linings Playbook campaign.
No love for Jean-Louis Trintingnant, who carries Amour while Emmanuelle Riva gets all the glory. (Same thing happened with Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie in Away From Her, if we're keeping score.) Bruce Willis, overlooked for both Moonrise Kingdom and Looper. (Rian Johnson's Looper script, for that matter.) Michael Shannon in Premium Rush. At least the loathsome Hyde Park On Hudson was stiffed.
It's great to see Aardman Animation's The Pirates! Band Of Misfits and Laika's ParaNorman up for the Best Animated Feature prize, in a category expanded to five nominations to include Brave, Frankenweenie and Wreck-It Ralph - all worthy contenders, though I'd nudge the voters towards ParaNorman if given the chance.
And there's some terrific stuff up for Best Documentary Feature: The Invisible War, How To Survive A Plague, Searching For Sugar Man, 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers. You can always crab about something being left out - god knows that's what I've been doing for the last 900 words - but it's only fair to applaud when the Academy gets it right.
The 85th annual Academy Awards will be held February 24 in Los Angeles.