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Oscar nominations show voters' populist streak

'Lincoln' leads with 12 nods as the academy embraces other major studio productions while still including small indies like 'Beasts of the Southern Wild.'

January 11, 2013|By John Horn, Los Angeles Times
  • Seth MacFarlane and actress Emma Stone announce the Academy Award nominations at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, CA.
Seth MacFarlane and actress Emma Stone announce the Academy Award nominations… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

You actually might have seen some of the Oscar nominees this year.

Voters for the 85th Academy Awards showered praise on a range of broadly popular studio movies — particularly Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" — while also finding room for the smaller art-house titles "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Amour" in a field of nine best picture contenders.

The international thrillers "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Argo" won spots in the best picture field as well, but in two shocking snubs, their directors — Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck — did not receive nominations for director. Those two films had been seen as serious challengers to "Lincoln," but the omission of their directors from the Oscar contest seemed to boost the overall prospects for "Lincoln." It is extremely rare that a best picture winner doesn't have its director nominated as well; the last film to do so was 1989's "Driving Miss Daisy," directed by Bruce Beresford.

PHOTOS: Top Oscar nominees

For critics who feel the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences usually favors more obscure titles such as "The Hurt Locker" and "The Artist" over mainstream fare, Thursday morning's selections should temporarily silence their protests. Though only one of last year's best picture nominees, "The Help," grossed more than $100 million in domestic theaters, four of this year's selections — "Lincoln," "Django Unchained," "Les Misérables" and "Argo" — already have eclipsed that milestone, with "Life of Pi" not far behind.

"We are always hearing from the studios that dramas are dead," said Kathleen Kennedy, who produced "Lincoln," which had a leading 12 nominations. "But the audience is stepping up and saying, 'These are the movies we want to see.'"

Although the Oscar selections leaned toward these financially remunerative releases, the nominations included an assortment of lower-budgeted productions that have been critically heralded but have scarcely made a box-office dent.

For the first time since 2001, a movie was nominated both for foreign-language film and best picture: "Amour," Austrian director Michael Haneke's heartbreaking account of an elderly couple's final days in Paris. That last happened with the Taiwanese film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." "Never did we think we could play in the big courtyard with other nominations outside of best foreign film," said "Amour" producer Margaret Ménégoz.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild," a $1.8-million production that was financed entirely by nonprofit arts organizations, was nominated not only for best picture but also received nominations for first-time feature director Benh Zeitlin, 9-year-old star Quvenzhané Wallis (the youngest lead actress nominee ever) and adapted screenplay.

LIST: Complete list of Oscar nominees

"We were jumping up and down throughout the whole reading of the nominees," said "Beasts" producer Michael Gottwald. Shot in the Louisiana bayous with a skeletal crew and a largely nonprofessional cast, the film was three years in the making and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last January. "To have it end this way is all surreal," said producer Dan Janvey.

Said Hugh Jackman, a lead actor nominee for "Les Misérables": "This year's been defined by the courage of studios to make difficult movies. The academy is seeing that — they made some really bold decisions."

In addition to "Lincoln," "Amour" and "Beasts," the best picture selections are "Argo," "Django Unchained," "Les Misérables" "Life of Pi," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Zero Dark Thirty." Behind "Lincoln," the second-most nominations went to "Life of Pi," with 11. "Les Misérables" and "Silver Linings Playbook" each collected eight.

Reginald Hudlin, a producer of Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," said it's increasingly difficult in Hollywood to make a movie that is well-received by both ticket buyers and awards voters. "To make a movie that hits on all cylinders is a difficult needle to thread," Hudlin said. "And this movie is very unlikely — a black western!"

Spielberg, Zeitlin and Haneke are nominated for directing, as is Ang Lee for "Life of Pi" and David O. Russell for "Silver Linings Playbook." Besides Affleck and Bigelow's snubs, Tom Hooper was not nominated for directing "Les Misérables."

"I was surprised. I think he's in good company this year of snubs," Anne Hathaway, a supporting actress nominee for "Les Misérables," said of Hooper. "I think Tom deserves to be on the list. It's one of those bittersweet things."

The favorite to win the lead actor race is Daniel Day-Lewis, who played the 16th president in "Lincoln." He will be facing Jackman for "Les Misérables," Bradley Cooper for "Silver Linings Playbook," Joaquin Phoenix for "The Master" and Denzel Washington for "Flight."

OSCARS 2013: Complete list | Snubs & surprises | Reactions | Ballot

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