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Oscar Snubs and Surprises



Yes, we all expected AVATAR and THE HURT LOCKER to have good showings for this morning's Oscar nomination announcements (they are both tied at 9 nominations each) and we were not surprised when the names George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep were intoned at the 5:30am ceremony in Los Angeles. And yes, even the six nods for PRECIOUS (including well-deserved nominations for Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher) and multiple kudos to the actors, writers and director of UP IN THE AIR were in keeping with expectations. But it wouldn't be the Oscars without some snubs and surprises.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the naming of Maggie Gyllenhaal in the Best Supporting Actress race for her sensitive performance as the nurturing girlfriend of aging boozer country rocker Jeff Bridges in CRAZY HEART. Gyllenhaal, who is enjoying her first nomination ever, was not included in any of the previous awards shows, including the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards. However, she more than anchors the film with her deep and sensitive portrayal of a woman who has been wronged in the past by men but who takes a chance on opening her heart yet again to the alcoholic drifter played by Jeff Bridges.

So, how do you nominated the two key performances in a film like CRAZY HEART and then don't nominate the film for Best Picture or the director or screenwriter for their special humanistic touch? If the idea of expanding the Best Picture category to 10 films instead of the usual 5 was meant to expand the playing field, it did  do that somewhat, allowing such individual works as UP, DISTRICT 9, AN EDUCATION and the Coen Brothers' A SERIOUS MAN a chance to be in the winners' circle. And there was even room for THE BLIND SIDE, an inspirational weepie that has made a gazillion dollars at the box office and that gives screen veteran Sandra Bullock a chance at Oscar gold. Films that were rumored to be on the expanded 10-film Best Picture list that surprisingly did not make the cut included the box office blockbusters STAR TREK, SHERLOCK HOLMES and THE HANGOVER, the critics' darling WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and one of the auspicious directorial debuts of the year, Tom Ford's homoerotic A SINGLE MAN (although the film's lead Colin Firth was included in the Best Actor race).

While most of the nominated actors and actresses in both the lead and supporting categories have already been in the running for previous awards, there are a few noticeable snubs. Robert Downey Jr. who nabbed a Golden Globe for his feisty reinvention of SHERLOCK HOLMES did not make the cut. The same was true for actors Viggo Mortenson, whose appearance in the apocalyptic THE ROAD was praised by critics but suffered anemic box office, and Michael Stahlberg, who gave such a winning performance as a modern-day Job lost in the wilds of 1960s Jewish suburbia in the Coen Brothers' A SERIOUS MAN. A longshot who also did not her his name announced this morning was Anthony Mackie, who was highly praised for his riveting performance in the Iraq War drama THE HURT LOCKER (for which his co-star Jeremy Renner received a Best Actor nod)

The Coens also did not make the final list in the Best Director race, although their original screenplay for A SERIOUS MAN was nominated. Also conspicuously absent from the final directorial count was Clint Eastwood for INVICTUS and Lone Scherfig for AN EDUCATION. While a woman was nominated in this category that has been traditionally stingy to female directors (Kathryn Bigelow, who is the odds-on favorite to win for her work on THE HURT LOCKER), two other prominent women did not make the cut, specifically Nancy Meyers for the sex comedy IT'S COMPLICATED and Nora Ephron for the enjoyable JULIE AND JULIA (both films starring the wildly prolific Meryl Streep, whose nomination for the latter brings her total to a record-breaking sixteen). Aside from the possibility of a first-time historic win for a woman director, Lee Daniels (PRECIOUS) becomes only the second African-American director to ever be nominated.

Several acting performances by women that seemed to be shoo-ins for Oscar recognition were also not announced this morning.  English actress Abbie Cornish who played the female love interest in director Jane Campion's costume drama BRIGHT STAR, did not make the cut. Neither did Emily Blunt in another historical drama, THE YOUNG VICTORIA. A longshot nom was predicted for French actress Melanie Laurent for her work as the Jewish cinema owner in Nazi-occupied Paris in Quentin Tarantino's imaginative World War II re-do, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. Another French actress, and former Oscar winner, Marion Cotillard, did not make the list for her performance in the musical NINE....fine work done in by the film's disasterous box office performance.

Another deserving performance that was ignored was that given by Samantha Morton as a woman who is told that her soldier husband has been killed in Iraq in the drama THE  MESSENGER (which did score noms for Woody Harrelson for Best Supporting Actor and director Oren Moverman and company for Best Screenplay). A nomination for Zoe Saladana for her heartfelt performance in AVATAR would have made it clear that the film was not just a digital effects extravanganza, but was given true life by the contributions of its actors. But alas, it was not to be..........

Sandy Mandelberger, Awards Watch Editor



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