Moving the Oscars up in the calendar a few years ago may have shortened the campaign period, but it still feels like the speculation goes on forever leading up to nomination day. After all, four of the movies that are nominated for Best Picture this year are already available on DVD. Turns out that a lot of those "Oscar shoo-in" predictions were correct: The Help, The Descendants, War Horse, The Artist, and Hugo were easy to anticipate. If the Academy still only honored five nominees in this category—it annoys me to no end that they don't, it's cheapened the category by broadening it—I'm guessing those would have been the finalists. The organization has long shown a fondness for costumed tales set amidst class and racial inequalities of the 1960s south; Alexander Payne can't make a bad film; Steven Spielberg can ("think ET with hooves" said the Daily Mirror critic), but the Academy usually caves into sentimental wartime tales, especially when they feature four-legged friends; and with the average age of an Oscar voter hovering around 57, who can be surprised that two films--excellent as both are--dedicated to the magic of cinema past will be duking it out for the statuette.
So what was surprising about this morning's nominations? The nod to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which had Oscar bait written all over it but was hardly warmly received, over Bridesmaids, which would have been a hell of a lot more fun to celebrate. The highly deserved attention paid to both Demián Bichir's beautifully understated performance in A Better Life (I wish this story of Los Angeles, which was as much a visual homage to the city as The Artist, had garnered more buzz) and Gary Oldman's killer portrayal of George Smiley in Tinker Tailor. It's shocking that Oldman has never received a nomination before, and the addition of these two talents knocked Leonardo DiCaprio out of the race for Best Actor, sparing us a red-carpet walk by him with a model who doesn't speak. His almost-comical proclivity for mute model girlfriends is rock-star boring and disappoints me to no end.
The magazine's film critic, Steve Erickson, is going to be more disappointed that Lars Von Trier's Melancholia must have bummed out too many voters--the name alone is a bummer--and went without any recognition. In the February issue Erickson writes that Melancholia will be "the movie you'll remember 20 years from now." (That is, if you saw it.) I think he'd potentially agree with me, however, that Michelle Williams is the actress of her generation, and as much as I love Meryl Streep and Viola Davis in everything they do, I'm hoping it's Michelle who wins.
As for the supporting nominations, it's the actor category that left me speechless: Jonah Hill is up against Kenneth Branagh, Nick Nolte, Christopher Plummer, and Max von Sydow. That is pretty awesome on every level. Have Plummer and Von Sydow ever been up against each other? When I was a younger moviegoer, I used to confuse the two of them. No actors do sinister quite like them (Von Sydow in Three Days of the Condor still leaves me quaking), though their roles this year are far more paternal. What extraordinary bodies of work.
So now it's on to the big night. Will Billy Crystal make his entrance on a war horse or through a train station clock? I will of course be watching.
ALSO: See the full list of nominees.