Movie Review Nick Spake

The Oscar season is customarily kicked off by the Academy president and a random star solemnly announcing the nominees in a drab ceremony. The Academy decided to shake up tradition this year, however, in one of the most cheerful Oscar mornings we’ve ever had. Seth MacFarlane, director of “Ted” and this year’s Oscar host, announced the nominees Thursday morning alongside the invaluable Emma Stone, who had the funniest bit at last year’s Oscar ceremony. MacFarlane and Stone made for an outstanding duo, engaging in playful banter about each of the categories. Even when one of their jokes didn’t quite hit the mark, MacFarlane and Stone still looked like they were having a genuine ball on stage. That’s more than can be said about Anne Hathaway and James Franco when they hosted the Oscars two years ago.

The announcements aside, let’s talk about the actual nominations. Like last year, nine films made it into the Best Picture race. Although there are no major surprises in the lineup, the important thing is that the Academy managed to nominate nine diverse, positively marvelous films. Leading the pack is Steven Spielberg’s masterful American biopic, “Lincoln,” with 12 nominations. Not too far behind “Lincoln” was my favorite film of 2012, Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” gaining 11 nominations. David O. Russell’s demented romantic comedy, “Silver Linings Playbook,” got eight nominations overall in addition to becoming the first film since “Reds” in 1981 to score nominations in all four acting categories. Also among the nominees are “Amour” (five nominations), “Argo” (seven nominations), “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (four nominations), “Django Unchained” (five nominations), “Les Misérables” (eight nominations), and “Zero Dark Thirty” (five nominations).

While there were no upsets in the Best Picture category, the Best Director race is a whole other story. As expected, Spielberg did get in for “Lincoln” along with Lee for “Life of Pi.” The Academy threw us three curveballs though with Michael Haneke for “Amour,” Benh Zeitlin for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook.” Inexcusably absent are Ben Affleck for “Argo” and Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” both of whom seemed like surefire locks and potential winners. What happened? Maybe the Academy didn’t feel like recognizing Bigelow again so soon after winning for “The Hurt Locker.” As for comeback kid Affleck, perhaps his peers still haven’t forgiven him for the immortally despised “Gigli.” In any case, it’s a royal shame neither of these exceptional directorial feats received acknowledgment. Nevertheless, I can’t complain too much seeing how the Academy did nominate five well worthy directors.

Daniel Day-Lewis will definitely win the Best Actor award for his perfect portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. Bradley Cooper of “Silver Linings Playbook,” Hugh Jackman of “Les Misérables,” Joaquin Phoenix of “The Master,” and Denzel Washington of “Flight” should just be grateful to be nominated for their amazing work. Sadly absent is John Hawkes, who gave a transcendent performance as a man in an iron lung in “The Sessions.”

In the Best Actress race the nominees are Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty,” Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Emmanuelle Riva for “Amour,” Quvenzhané Wallis for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and Naomi Watts for “The Impossible.” Fun fact, Wallis has now become history’s youngest Best Actress nominee at age 9 while Emmanuelle Riva has become the oldest at age 85. Coincidentally, Riva will be turning 86 on Feb. 24, the same day as the Oscar ceremony. As superb as Riva and Wallis are, it’s hard to imagine them beating out Chastain or Lawrence.

The Best Support Actor category is completely comprised of past Oscar winners with Alan Arkin for “Argo,” Robert De Niro for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Philip Seymour Hoffman for “The Master,” Tommy Lee Jones for “Lincoln,” and “Christoph Waltz” for “Django Unchained.” Personally, I was disappointed to see Leonardo DiCaprio left out for his scene-stealing performance as the charmingly despicable plantation owner in “Django Unchained.” This snub was somewhat anticipated, however.

The highly deserving Best Supporting Actress nominees are Amy Adams for “The Master,” Sally Field for “Lincoln,” Anne Hathaway for “Les Misérables,” Helen Hunt for “The Sessions,” and Jacki Weaver for “Silver Linings Playbook.” In response to this category, MacFarlane made the hilarious crack, “Congratulations, none of you ladies have to continue to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”

Subsequent to last year’s Best Original Song debacle in which only two numbers were nominated, I’m content to announce that the Academy did nominate five good songs this year with “Before My Time” from “Chasing Ice,” “Suddenly” from “Les Misérables,” “Pi’s Lullaby” from “Life of Pi,” “Skyfall” from “Skyfall,” and “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from “Ted.” MacFarlane lit up with glee upon hearing of his nomination.

So those are the highlights from the major categories. Although there are no regrettable candidates on the ballot, there were some notable films that failed to merit any nominations whatsoever. Where the top grossing money makers most years have a tendency to be nothing good, 2012 actually brought us a number of sensational blockbusters, including “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Hunger Games,” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

Yet, none of those exceptional films could even garner a technical nomination. “The Avengers,” the year’s biggest movie, only acquired one nomination for Best Visual Effects. One blockbuster that did fare pretty well was the breathtaking “Skyfall,” achieving five nominations. But even that exceptional film couldn’t break into the Best Picture race despite this being such a landmark year for the James Bond franchise.

“Cloud Atlas,” one of the 2012’s most technically brilliant pictures, was ignored across the board when it at least should have gotten nominated for Best Makeup, Art Direction, and Original Score. Another film that didn’t get nearly enough love was “Moonrise Kingdom,” the year’s most heartfelt unconventional romance. At least Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola got in for Best Original Screenplay. Regardless, they’re going to have a tough time beating our Mark Boal for “Zero Dark Thirty” and Michael Haneke for “Amour.”

With exception to those oversights, this is a mostly great list to encompass a great year for movies. Based on this Oscar Morning, we can expect two things come Oscar Sunday. Foremost, “Lincoln” will win the Best Picture prize, although I’d love nothing more than to see “Life of Pi” pull an upset. Secondly, MacFarlane should be a riot if he’s anywhere near as charismatic and likable as he was on Thursday morning.

• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, Reach him at

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