If I could remove any word from Oscar conversations, it would be “snubbed.” It’s catchy and makes good headline fodder, but it implies that a cabal of Academy members sat in a room and consciously decided to ostracize this actor or that moviemaker. These ballots are filled out by 6,000 to 7,000 voters, ranging from visual effects experts to screenwriters to studio chiefs. I can’t envision secret meetings to decide the fate of each candidate.
Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained) and veteran French star Jean-Louis Trintignant were both considered serious contenders for a Best Actor nomination; neither made the final cut, even though Trintignant’s co-star in Amour, Emmanuelle Riva, was nominated for Best Actress. At one point, the gifted John Hawkes was touted as a shoo-in for his brilliant performance in The Sessions. But I’ve learned never to use the word “shoo-in” where the Oscars are concerned.
There were fewer surprises in the Best Actress category, although some pundits had predicted Helen Mirren for Hitchcock, Marion Cotillard for the French import Rust and Bone and Rachel Weisz, who won the New York Film Critics’ award, for (The Deep Blue Sea). As it happens, they took a collective backseat to the youngest female ever nominated in this category, 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and the oldest, 82-year-old Riva.
The always-crowded Supporting Actor and Actress rosters excluded such prominent figures as Nicole Kidman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Maggie Smith, while admitting Philip Seymour Hoffman for what is clearly a leading role in The Master.
But the biggest buzz concerns this year’s Best Director lineup. Experienced Oscar watchers could see this brewing, as the current Oscar setup has a built-in dilemma. To understand it, one need only do the math: With the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences now enabling nine films to compete for Best Picture — in fact, they allow as many as 10 — but retaining only five slots for Best Director, at least four world-class filmmakers are guaranteed to be left out in the cold. How those four happened to be Kathryn Bigelow, Ben Affleck, Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino this year is anybody’s guess.