In the end, there were nine nominees for Best Picture announced on Tuesday morning, and eight of them were entirely predictable: The Artist, The Descendants, The Help, Hugo, Midnight In Paris, War Horse, The Tree Of Life, and Moneyball.
The last one, however, was Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, the adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel about a boy grieving the loss of his father on 9/11. That's the nomination you're going to be hearing about all day, at least from critics, many of whom reacted to the film with near-apoplectic disgust and offense. Interestingly, Extremely Loud was directed by Stephen Daldry, who also directed The Reader, the 2008 film in which Kate Winslet played an illiterate Nazi prison guard — a Best Picture nominee that a fair number of critics also hated. At the same time, it's genuinely not often that a movie that this many critics hate this much is nominated for Best Picture, even if it does star Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. (Here's just one example.)
The largest number of nominations — 11 in all — went to Martin Scorsese's Hugo, which scored for a number of technical categories as well as Best Picture and Best Director. (The other nominated directors: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist, Alexander Payne for The Descendants, Woody Allen for Midnight In Paris, and Terrence Malick for The Tree Of Life.) Right behind it was The Artist, with 10 nominations total, including a nomination for Original Score, a category in which it has been controversial as a result of using (with permission) segments of the score of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.
Surprises were harder to come by in other categories, although Melissa McCarthy did indeed pull off a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Bridesmaids, which puts her up against Bérénice Bejo of The Artist, Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer of The Help, and Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs. McCarthy is the only one of the five, if I'm not mistaken, to tackle someone. This gives McCarthy an Oscar nomination and an Emmy win in less than six months — a pretty good showing for an actress who wasn't particularly famous even two years ago. (The only downside is that McCarthy, while entirely deserving, may have helped nudge out Shailene Woodley's excellent work in The Descendants, which is too bad.)
The Best Supporting Actor field also yielded a couple of eyebrow-raisers: while Jonah Hill's nomination for Moneyball wasn't unexpected, the part is a bit slight for the category, and Nick Nolte being honored for Warrior seems to be a surprise to everybody.
Best Foreign Language Film features the widely praised A Separation from Iran, as well as Bullhead from Belgium, Footnote from Israel, In Darkness from Poland, and Monsieur Lazhar from Canada.
There were also some smaller categories where nominations failed to materialize. Pixar missed a Best Animated Feature nomination for Cars 2, its first miss since the category was established in 2001. Nominees included A Cat In Paris, Chico & Rita, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss In Boots, and Rango. (Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss In Boots but not Cars 2? That has to hurt when Pixar has been so dominant.)
Best Documentary Feature continued to surprise, as well. Project Nim, from James Marsh, the director of previous winner Man On Wire, wasn't nominated. Neither were the well-received Bill Cunningham New York, about the longtime street fashion photographer for The New York Times, or the horse-trainer story Buck. (Both are widely available for streaming; let me take a brief moment to recommend both.) Probably the highest-profile nominee is Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the latest chapter in the trilogy of documentaries about the West Memphis Three, who were released last year after more than 18 years in prison. Others include If A Tree Falls: A Story Of The Earth Liberation Front, Hell And Back Again, Pina, and Undefeated.
Pictures that came up interestingly empty or mostly empty: Lars von Trier's Melancholia, the sex-addiction drama Shame, Take Shelter, and Drive, which scored nothing except Sound Editing and was widely expected to garner a nomination at least for Albert Brooks as Supporting Actor.
Other points of interest:
-- Muppet fans should note that "Man or Muppet" will face off against only "Real In Rio" (from ... well, from Rio) in the very slender Original Song category.
-- In the kind of clash of opposites that the Oscars sometimes drop into one's lap, Hugo will face Transformers: Dark Of The Moon in three categories: Visual Effects, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing.
-- Speaking of Visual Effects, you can blame that category for the fact that if you want to see every movie in every category before the ceremony, you'll get a chance to enjoy the very silly Real Steel and the just as silly Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. Costume Design is doing the same for Madonna's W.E.
-- Community fans, the Jim Rash who's nominated for co-writing The Descendants is the same one who plays Dean Pelton.
Here's a list of some major categories; you can find a full list here.
Best Picture: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight In Paris, Moneyball, The Tree Of Life, War Horse.
Best Actor: Demian Bichir, A Better Life; George Clooney, The Descendants; Jean Dujardin, The Artist; Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Brad Pitt, Moneyball.
Best Actress: Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis, The Help; Rooney Mara, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo; Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn.
Best Supporting Actress: Bérénice Bejo, The Artist; Jessica Chastain, The Help; Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids; Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs; Octavia Spencer, The Help.
Best Supporting Actor: Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn; Jonah Hill, Moneyball; Nick Nolte, Warrior; Christopher Plummer, Beginners; Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close.
Best Director: Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris; Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Martin Scorsese, Hugo; Terrence Malick, The Tree Of Life.
Best Original Screenplay: The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius), Bridesmaids (Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo), Margin Call (J.C. Chandor), Midnight In Paris (Woody Allen), A Separation (Asghar Farhadi).
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash), Hugo (John Logan), The Ides Of March (George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon), Moneyball (Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin; story by Stan Chervin), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan).