John Osborne wrote the key post-World War II British drama "Look Back in Anger," later filmed in 1959. By contrast there’s very little anger in all the look-backs among this year’s Academy Award nominations. Oscar's unofficial slogan in early 2012 is more like "Look Back with Bittersweet Nostalgia at the Industry’s Salad Days."
"Hugo,"director Martin Scorsese's nostalgic reflection on the early silent era and the legacy of fantasy filmmaker Georges Melies, leads the pack of this year’s Oscar nominations with 11 (see the full list of nominees). But the real front runner is another movie in love with the movies, in this case the late-silent and early-sound phase of screen mythmaking: the largely silent, entirely black-and-white French-made valentine"The Artist."
Per the Academy’s rules this year, anywhere between from five and to 10 films pictures theoretically could've made the cut for the best picture nomination list. The nine that did, beyond "Hugo" and "The Artist":"War Horse,""Moneyball,""The Descendants,""The Tree of Life,""Midnight in Paris,""The Help"and "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close."
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The surprises in that roster include the nod for Terrence Malick’s impressionistic memory film "The Tree of Life," which like "The Artist" and "Midnight in Paris" premiered last in May at the Cannes Film Festival.
Malick received a best director nomination as well, as did Michel Hazanavicius for “The Artist”; Alexander Payne for “The Descendants”; Scorsese for “Hugo”; and Woody Allen for “Midnight in Paris,” his biggest hit in decades.
Surprise performance nominations this morning include Demian Bichir for his moving portrayal of an undocumented Los Angeles resident in “A Better Life” and supporting player Jonah Hill as the academically trained baseball wonk in “Moneyball.” Nick Nolte was something of a surprise somewhat unexpected as well, receiving a supporting nomination for his role as the alcoholic father in “Warrior.”
Besides Bichir the best actor nominees include George Clooney for “The Descendants,” Gary Oldman for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (for a performance some considered too subtle for Oscar consideration), Brad Pitt for “Moneyball” and the likely winner, Jean Dujardin as the silent matinee idol in "The Artist."
Meryl Streep stunned no one by netting yet another Oscar nomination, her 17th, this time for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in the generally derided “The Iron Lady.” If she wins, it’ll be the first time since “Sophie’s Choice” a generation ago. Her fellow nominees: Glenn Close as the cross-dressing butler in “Albert Nobbs”; Viola Davis in “The Help”; Rooney Mara as the title character in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”; and, giving Streep and Davis some genuine competition, Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in “My Week with Marilyn.”
The supporting actor nominees are led by a classy pair of currently Oscarless veterans, Christopher Plummer in “Beginners” and Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," alongside Nolte for “Warrior,” Hill for “Moneyball” and, as Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh for “My Week with Marilyn.”
The conspicuous absentee in this category? Albert Brooks for his widely acclaimed role as the murderous ex-movie producer in the precious film noir exercise “Drive.” Brooks will have to channel his disappointment by way of his legendarily witty Twitter activity. “Drive” came away with a single nomination this morning, for sound editing.
Berenice Bejo received a supporting actress nomination for “The Artist,” as did Janet McTeer for “Albert Nobbs,” but their three fellow nominees may prove to be the most interesting competition of the night. Two key supporting players from “The Help,” Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer, are up against the widely beloved Melissa McCarthy for “Bridesmaids.” Many were expecting a best picture nomination for “Bridesmaids,” and the inclusion of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” in that category counts as a disappointment, certainly to those who prefer their9/11 weepies with a little less hooey.
On the other hand it’s something of a miracle to see “The Tree of Life” in that same premier category. And in addition to its easily predicted best foreign-language feature nomination, writer-director Asghar Farhadi's superb Iranian drama “A Separation” (opening in Chicago this weekend) received an original screenplay nod.
The complete list of nominees follows. Academy voters receive their ballots Feb. 1. Underscoring the good-old-days theme, Billy Crystal will again host the Oscar bash, broadcast live Feb. 26 on ABC-TV from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
And if "The Artist” wins for best picture, it’ll be the first black-and-white and (virtually) silent film to win since the first Academy Awards winner back in 1929: "Wings."