From Javier Bardem's unexpected nomination for Best Actor to a whopping 10 nominations for True Grit, Marlow Stern brings you this year's Academy Awards bombshells. Plus, read our full Oscars coverage.
1. SURPRISE: Best Actor, Javier Bardem for Biutiful
Although the brooding Spanish actor had been previously nominated twice at the Oscars—Best Actor for Before Night Falls and Best Supporting Actor for No Country for Old Men, winning the latter—his Best Actor nod for his performance as Uxbal, a hustler and devoted single father dying of prostate cancer in Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful, still came as quite a shock. After all, Bardem's performance failed to be recognized in most awards ceremonies leading up to the Academy Award nominations, including the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the film received mixed reviews, with The Wall Street Journal writing, "The safe course is to recommend the film, which seems pitilessly long at 147 minutes, only for the transcendent quality of Javier Bardem's performance." Apparently, a little help from some Hollywood A-listers goes a long way. His Eat Pray Love co-star Julia Roberts openly campaigned on Bardem's behalf, hosting a screening of the film and saying, "If there's not hope for talent, then we're fucked," and Sean Penn called it the "best performance since Brando in Last Tango in Paris."
2. SNUB: Best Actor, Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine
Bardem's surprise nod for Biutiful pushed out Ryan Gosling for his heartbreaking, largely improvised performance in Blue Valentine. The snub is even more surprising considering his co-star, Michelle Williams, received a Best Actress nomination as the other half of the doomed couple, despite the two actors carrying the film in equal measure—he the ukulele player, and she the jig dancer, as it goes. Unfortunately, even though Gosling was nominated for a Golden Globe for the role, he did not have the Oscar pedigree of a Bardem—his only nomination came in 2007, as Best Actor for Half Nelson—or the same Hollywood support system. Case in point: Whereas Sean Penn hosted a Q&A following a screening of Biutiful, the Q&A after a similar Academy-coaxing screening for Blue Valentine was hosted by Jake Gyllenhaal.
3. SNUB: Best Documentary, Waiting for Superman
Davis Guggenheim's eye-opening exposé on the failings of the public school system in America through the eyes of a handful of promising kids was the most talked about, zeitgeisty documentary of the year. The New York Times called it "a call to arms," and Time magazine wrote, "This is more than an Important Documentary: It is engaging and, finally, enraging—as captivating as any Superman movie, and as poignant as a child's plea for help." The documentary was also the most polarizing of the year, with outrage coming from teachers' unions. Nevertheless, Guggenheim had previously won the Best Documentary Oscar in 2007 for his global warming film, An Inconvenient Truth, and Waiting for Superman had won the National Board of Review award for Best Documentary. Plus, Guggenheim and the five kids featured in the film got to meet with President Obama. Maybe the reportedly staged scene irked Academy members?
4. SNUB: Best Director, Christopher Nolan for Inception
Although it confounded and thrilled audiences in equal measure, there's no denying the unique vision behind Christopher Nolan's mind-bending blockbuster Inception. "Nolan blurs the distinction between dreams and reality so artfully that Inception may well be a masterpiece masquerading as a summer blockbuster," wrote critic Lou Lumenick of the New York Post. Despite the film being one of the highest-grossing of the year, receiving Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, and Nolan being nominated for Best Director from the Golden Globes and the Directors Guild Awards—both of which snubbed the Coen Brothers, who ended up with Nolan's Oscar nod—the Inception filmmaker was left out in the cold. It's even more of a head-scratcher considering that the Academy expanded the Best Picture race last year to 10 nominees specifically because Hollywood films like Nolan's Dark Knight and Pixar's Wall-E had failed to received nominations in years past. Guess the Best Director category is a horse of a different color.
5. SNUB: Best Supporting Actress, Mila Kunis for Black Swan & Julianne Moore for The Kids Are All Right
Despite receiving Golden Globe nominations for their performances—Kunis for Best Supporting Actress and Moore for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical—both actresses were given the cold shoulder by the Academy. Granted, in a puzzling move, distributor Focus Features campaigned for both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, who share an equal amount of screen time as a pair of lesbian parents in The Kids Are All Right, in the Best Actress category at the Oscars instead of guaranteeing the long overdue Moore—a four-time nominee—a nomination, and possible win, in the Best Supporting Actress category. And, in a category that's usually kind to up-and-coming talent, Kunis' turn as Natalie Portman's uninhibited ballerina foil in Black Swan went unnoticed, despite undergoing intense training and slimming down to 95 lbs. for the role.
6. SURPRISE: Best Supporting Actress, Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit
This is a shocker for a few reasons. First, Steinfeld, as plucky, revenge-minded cowgirl Mattie Ross, is clearly the lead in True Grit, but there was a great deal of uncertainty as to whether the 14-year-old actress would be included in the Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress category, ultimately receiving a nod in the latter due to her newcomer status (this is her first major film role). Then, she failed to receive a Golden Globe nomination for her performance. Steinfeld's nomination pushed out Black Swan stars Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey, who stars as Portman's evil mother, as well as Julianne Moore. However, the Academy has a long history of honoring spunky child actors, nominating 14 kids under the age of 16 in the supporting actor-actress categories since 1962—12 of them girls—with three winners (all girls).
7. SURPRISE: Best Animated Feature, The Illusionist
Since only 15 animated features were accepted into consideration by the Academy, one short of the minimum 16 needed to expand the category to five nominees—which is what happened last year—the Best Animated Feature Oscar was narrowed down to just three nominees. And, with Pixar's Toy Story 3 and DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon virtual locks, there was just one nomination left for the rest of the field. Since the Academy likes to recognize at least one artier animated film, critically acclaimed Hollywood blockbusters Despicable Me and the recent Disney film Tangled were left by the wayside, in favor of Sylvain Chromet's endearing tale of an aging French illusionist whose career is relegated to fringe theater—that is, until he comes across a young fan and the two embark on a wild adventure. The film was based on an unproduced script written by French mime, director, and actor Jacques Tati in 1956, and Chromet previously received a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination in 2004 for The Triplets of Belleville.
8. SURPRISE: 10 Nominations for True Grit
I guess you can never underestimate the power of box-office momentum. Despite being shut out of the Golden Globes and snubbed by the Directors Guild Awards—which is historically the greatest predictor of the Best Director Oscar winner— Joel and Ethan Coen's remake of the 1969 John Wayne-starring Western nabbed a surprising 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film, about an alcoholic U.S. Marshal (Jeff Bridges) who helps a feisty young girl (Hailee Steinfeld) track down the man who murdered her father, has already earned more than $138 million and cis limbing at the North American box office, and also received more Oscar nominations than Best Picture Oscar frontrunner The Social Network, which only garnered eight nods. Celebrated film critic Roger Ebert, meanwhile, is predicting a Best Picture upset for True Grit.
9. SNUB: Best Picture, The Town
Many Oscar pundits, including yours truly, predicted Ben Affleck's heist-thriller, with its talented ensemble cast, dynamic bank robbery sequences, and Hollywood box-office bucks, would make the list of 10 nominees for the Best Picture Oscar. After all, wasn't the point of expanding the list of Best Picture nominees to 10 to put more beautiful people on the red carpet? However, the film only received one nomination—Best Supporting Actor for Jeremy Renner—and fell flat in a host of other categories. In lieu of The Town, indie critical darling Winter's Bone nabbed an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
10. SURPRISE: Best Supporting Actor, John Hawkes for Winter's Bone
This year's little-film-that-could, Winter's Bone centers on Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), a determined Missouri Ozark Mountain girl who, with the help of her menacing Uncle Teardrop, navigates the dreary meth underworld in order to hunt down her drug-dealing father before the family is evicted from their home. Although the film earned just over $6 million at the domestic box office and was released in June, well before Oscar season, writer-director Debra Granik's Sundance hit garnered four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor. Hawkes took the Best Supporting Actor spot that many pundits expected to go to Andrew Garfield for playing Mark Zuckerberg's sympathetic Facebook accomplice in The Social Network. It seems the Academy favored Hawkes' flashy, windshield-busting turn over Garfield's more subdued performance. "As the heroine's uncle, a drug addict and jailbird named Teardrop, John Hawkes grows from a two-dimensional thug to a bruised lost soul bound by blood and vengeance," said critic Ty Burr of The Boston Globe. And, Teardrop's showdown with Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahunt) at a traffic stop—"Is this going to be our time?"—is one of the most badass scenes of the year.
Xtra Insight: The Daily Beast's Race to the Oscars
Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and is a masters degree recipient from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial dept. of Blender Magazine, as an editor at Amplifier Magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.