Since starting this blog, I've become more involved with the discussions of "snubs" that follow any year's Oscar nominations. It's fun to proclaim how our favorites were robbed and talk about the idiocy of the Academy. Even so, my enthusiasm for deriding the selections has waned. When thousands of voters are determining the choices, deciding who really was cheated is impossible. Therefore, I'm sticking with a positive approach for this latest Top 5 List. The choices often aren't my favorite performances or movies; in some cases, I haven't even seen them. It's interesting to note the trends signified by a nomination. It's easy to dismiss the Oscars as self-indulgent silliness, but they still make an impact for artists' futures. Checking out these surprises is more exciting than the actual awards and makes them a rewarding annual tradition.
5. Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola for Best Original Screenplay, Moonrise Kingdom
My excitement is muted because it's the only nod for my favorite movie of 2012. Even so, I wasn't that surprised to see Moonrise Kingdom kept out of the Best Picture race. Although the competition is fierce for Original Screenplay, I think Anderson and Coppola have a great chance to take home the prize. The reaction has been really positive, even from those who aren't fans of Anderson's work. I'm hoping that this nomination will drive even more people to seek out this charming movie. It is currently available on DVD and definitely worth checking out if you missed the theatrical run last summer.
4. Joaquin Phoenix for Lead Actor, The Master
I'm unsure if I liked The Master, but this is one of the pivotal movies of 2012. The most difficult character to crack is Joaquin Phoenix's Freddie Quell. He uses facial twitches and an odd vocal delivery to deliver an original character. The difficulty is that he's unlikable and totally unhinged, which makes it off-putting to watch. Even so, Phoenix totally deserves the recognition from the Academy. The conventional wisdom did not include him in this category because of the divisive film and his disdain for awards. These obstacles make his nomination a great surprise in a movie filled with excellent performances. Daniel Day-Lewis feels certain to win, but that's secondary to seeing recognition for a very memorable role.
3. Best Picture, Amour
Since I haven't seen Michael Haneke's latest film, this might seem like an odd choice. However, Amour's appearance in the Best Picture nominees says a lot about this year's Oscars. Since the move beyond five choices in 2009, there have been more interesting options in the category. However, critically acclaimed small movies are still overlooked, particularly from other countries. The Directing and Lead Actress nominations just add to the surprise. It seems likely to win Best Foreign Film, but the placement in such prominent categories is sure to give it a major boost. Will this signify a trend that continues into the future? It's hard to say, but I'm more optimistic than I was after last year.
2. Roger Deakins for Cinematography, Skyfall
When you think of the Bond franchise, the first thing that comes to mind isn't the amazing cinematography. Roger Deakins doesn't seem like the obvious choice, but his background with Sam Mendes was the key factor. This is his 10th nomination in this category, and Deakins is long past due. Skyfall includes beautiful images that lift the story to another level. The pursuit and fight in the Shanghai skyscraper is gorgeous, and there are plenty of similar examples. Its omission from the Best Picture race didn't surprise me, so it was refreshing to see this recognition. His primary competition is Janusz Kamiński for Lincoln, but the Academy might want to give Deakins a career award.
1. Quvenzhané Wallis for Lead Actress and Benh Zeitlin for Directing, Beasts of the Southern Wild
I finally caught up with Benh Zeitlin's debut feature last month on DVD, and there's plenty to like within the low-budget production. One of the main reasons it works is the exciting lead performance from Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy. Her nomination was a surprise considering her young age, and the nod for Zeitlin's directing was an even bigger shock. While there are occasions where the Oscars have recognized smaller films, they usually still have budgets of several million dollars. This low-budget Louisiana production doesn't feel like the type of movie that wins Academy Awards. The voters are getting younger on the whole, and these selections over industry veterans give concrete evidence of that shift. I'm hoping this trend will continue and expand much further in the next few years.