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Oscars 2012: 'Hugo' emerges as a serious best picture contender

'Hugo,' which leads this year's Academy Award nominations with 11, joins 'The Artist' (10 nods) and 'The Descendants' (5) as a top best picture contender.

January 25, 2012|By John Horn, Los Angeles Times

Many people expected that Albert Brooks would be honored in the supporting actor race for his bad-guy turn in "Drive," but he was overlooked. Parodying Sally Field's 1985 Oscar acceptance speech, Brooks tweeted his reaction: "You don't like me, you really don't like me." The heavy favorite in the race is 82-year-old Christopher Plummer for "Beginners," who will square off against another octogenarian, "Extremely Loud's" Max von Sydow, 70-year-old Nick Nolte ("Warrior"), Kenneth Branagh ("My Week With Marilyn") and Jonah Hill ("Moneyball").

Spencer, who costars in "The Help," is seen by many as the leading candidate in the supporting actress race, where she will join "The Help's" Jessica Chastain, Janet McTeer ("Albert Nobbs"), Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids") and Bérénice Bejo ("The Artist").

David Fincher, who directed "Dragon Tattoo," and Spielberg, who made "War Horse," were not nominated in the directing category. Instead, the picks were Allen, Scorsese, Malick, "The Artist's" Michel Hazanavicius and Alexander Payne for "The Descendants."

Payne said he was "hard-pressed" to categorize his film, but considered it more dramatic than his last three features, "Election," "About Schmidt" and "Sideways." Payne, who co-wrote the film, said he was grateful that the academy was willing to honor a movie with so much humanistic comedy.

Spielberg was blanked in the animated feature race, where his "The Adventures of Tintin," considered a likely nominee, was left on the sidelines. For the first time that it had an eligible film, Pixar Animation Studios was not nominated in the category, but tiny New York distributor GKIDS had two picks in the category — "A Cat in Paris" and "Chico & Rita." Said GKIDS President Eric Beckman: "Nothing prepared me for what happened."

With big studios largely focused these days on sequels and remakes, some executives took heart in the fact that six of the nine best picture nominees were adapted from literary works.

"It's rewarding for me to see films with profound themes recognized," said Stacey Snider, whose DreamWorks made "The Help" and "War Horse." "All these acknowledgments are meaningful."

With nominations now locked up, the studios, filmmakers, actors and craftspeople in contention for statuettes have about a month to try to sew up a win.

The three leading best picture contenders — "The Artist," "The Descendants" and "Hugo" — each face different challenges.

Harvey Weinstein, the distributor of "The Artist," has to sell tickets (the film has grossed just $12.4 million to date) while not turning off academy voters by pushing too hard. "Hugo" must convince actors, the largest branch in the academy, to support the film, even though it received no nominations for its performances. And "The Descendants" needs to capitalize on the very thing that makes it look plain in comparison — its warts-and-all depiction of an ordinary family.

The awards will be presented Feb. 26 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, in a ceremony hosted by Billy Crystal.

Times staff writer Nicole Sperling contributed to this report.

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