No matter how good or resilient any film award experts dare to predict the final outcome, there always has to be a few surprises that sneak in to the Academy Award nomination dance. Some films and/or performances that may have been guaranteed locks or near shoo-in's suddenly find themselves on the outside looking in. The 2012 Oscar race is shaping up to be no exception.
There are major storylines to follow in this year's Academy Awards season (as the major precursors are still waiting to be presented), from the front-runner for the year's top prizes to the one category that may be more notable for who is NOT nominated than for who is.
1. Lincoln dominates with a dozen bids
There was no denial about Steven Spielberg's masterful epic about the last months of President Abraham Lincoln's life - it was a front-runner from the beginning of the awards season, and its leading 12 nominations only cemented that status. Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field scored expected acting nods, as did Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner. It may now be a matter of how many awards Lincoln will win,
and that includes the big one - Best Picture. Any major precursor win, especially the Golden Globe, will likely seal the win.
2. Big snubs in the Best Director category
This category had an interesting look this year, and it was mostly for the names not included. Ben Affleck was a front-runner for Argo, but somehow found his name off the final five. The same went for Zero Dark Thirty helmer Kathryn Bigelow, who lost a chance to be the first two-time female nominee for directing. Both did receive nods for producing, but Les Miserables' Tom Hooper did not - he was also snubbed. Even Django Unchained's Quentin Tarantino was a notable no-show.
3. Life of Pi falls one short of the lead
Ang Lee's adaptation of the popular bestseller by Yann Martel became a worldwide box office sensation, and its 11 nominations may be a good reflection of this. While it didn't receive any acting nominations (which could hinder its hopes of overall success), it may pose the most serious threat to Lincoln - especially in the technical categories. Any precursor wins could also provide a clue in how serious the film could be between now and February 24.
4. Silver Linings Playbook ties Les Miserables for third place
David O. Russell's ensemble dramedy had the same number of nominations as the epic musical - eight bids - but Russell hopped over Hooper for a directing nomination. It also had the rare distinction of having at least one nomination in all four acting categories. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence were expected givens, while Robert De Niro had to fight off a late SAG snub to get in. Yet the biggest surprise was supporting actress candidate Jacki Weaver, who had received little awards love until now.
5. Beasts of the Southern Wild surprises
This popular indie hit had the potential of getting lost in the big epic shuffle of later films being released - especially when it came out during the packed summer season. Yet the gritty tale of a little girl who comes of age on the Louisiana bayou scored four nods including Best Picture. Its leading lady, Quvenzhane Wallis, also made history by becoming the youngest Oscar nominee ever at age 9. Its director Benh Zeitlin also scored nods for directing and screenwriting.
6. Amour goes beyond the Foreign Film race
Austrian director Michael Haneke is better known for cerebral films such as Funny Games and his previous Oscar-winning WWI drama The White Ribbon. Yet he was rewarded for this deeply powerful portrait of an elderly couple coming to terms with their mortality, especially when the wife suffers a stroke. Outside of its expected Foreign Film bid, Haneke's drama scored nods for Best Picture and Best Director. It even gave French New Wave icon Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima Mon Amour) a Best Actress nomination - making her the oldest Oscar nominee ever, at age 85.
7. Despite snubbing it, Phoenix still gets in
Even as he received rave reviews for his performance as a wayward soul searching for peace in his life in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, Joaquin Phoenix was dismissive of the need of publicizing for nominations. That quotable move would be something famous Oscar refusers George C. Scott and Marlon Brando would have been proud of. Yet the Walk the Line Oscar winner still found himself in the Best Actor race anyway - and his co-stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams were also rewarded with nominations.
8. The Best Actress race is still close
Even after the nominations were announced, finding a frontrunner for Best Actress is still up in the air. Lawrence may have an edge due to Silver Linings Playbook having more bids than the other films with actress bids, but Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) can still sneak in with that film having a Best Picture nod backing it up. The same goes for Riva and Wallis, with their films going for the top prize. Only Naomi Watts (The Impossible) would need a miracle precursor run to win the top prize.
9. Skyfall is the best Bond film ever - nomination-wise
The famed series featuring the suave secret agent 007 hasn't wowed the Oscar committee. Only a few Bond films have been nominated - among them 1973's Live and Let Die, 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me and 1981's For Your Eyes Only, all of them for Best Song. Yet Sam Mendes' blockbuster Bond film starring Daniel Craig gave the series its best showing yet, with five nods. One of them was for Best Song, for Adele's powerhouse title track.
10. The Avengers only get one shot at Oscar gold
You would think getting an all-star cast of Marvel superheroes including featuring the Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, a bonafide "geek icon" directing (Joss Whedon) and being the biggest hit of summer with a $1.5 billion gross would get a little more Oscar love? It wasn't the case - the adventure got its inevitable place amongst the nominees for Best Visual Effects, but that was all it was placed.
11. Even the host can win a golden statue
Family Guy funnyman Seth MacFarlane already had a packed Oscar night ahead of him, considering he will be hosting the ceremony. Then came word of his first Oscar nomination. For his raunchy directorial debut Ted, he wrote the lyrics to the song "Everybody Needs a Best Friend," composed by his Family Guy score writer Walter Murphy. The song is in the final five for Best Original Song, squaring off against Adele's "Skyfall," the new tune from Les Miserables ("Suddenly") and the lullaby from Life of Pi. With a victory, MacFarlane could become the first Oscar host to win a statuette in the very same ceremony.