Of course “The Artist,” “The Descendants” and “Hugo” are big nominees. No surprise.
And no one really believed “Bridesmaids” could contend for best picture even if it had been nominated, which it wasn’t.
But “Extremely Loud Incredibly Close” instead? No one saw that coming.
The Academy Awards nominations, announced Tuesday, are a mix of nods and double takes.
That’s fitting in a year when even the number of best picture nominees was a mystery.
After just two years of opening up the possibilities from five nominees to 10, Oscar reined in the generosity, bestowing just nine nominations this time around. Under the academy’s latest rule change, anywhere from five to 10 films could have been nominated, depending on how many received a certain number of votes.
Within this slightly more limited field, some clear trends emerged:
• Oscar loves nostalgia:
“The King’s Speech” notwithstanding, most of last year’s nominees (e.g. “The Social Network,” “Inception”) tackled contemporary issues, as did the best picture winners for six straight years before that.
But this year takes a dramatic shift to the past. “The Artist” is a French filmmaker’s ode to 1920s Hollywood. “Midnight in Paris” is an American filmmaker’s ode to the 1920s City of Light. “Hugo,” too, escapes to 1920s Paris. “The Tree of Life” re-creates 1950s Texas. “The Help” and “War Horse” shoulder the woes of yesteryear.
In fact, only a third of the nominees face the 21st century head-on: “The Descendants,” “Extremely Loud” and “Moneyball.”
• Oscar loves middle-age angst (and beyond):
No steely bomb expert or intrepid young slumdog this year. Instead we get poor George, the silent-film star in “The Artist,” who sees the world pass him by as talkies take over. And sad-hearted Matt in “The Descendants,” a bad husband and father (but not as bad as the dads in “War Horse” or “The Tree of Life”). In “Hugo,” a bitter, washed-up filmmaker toils at the Paris train station. In “Moneyball,” Billy Beane is haunted by his disastrous days on the field.
•Oscar loves playing it safe:
Outrage overflowed on Twitter, where fans of movies targeted to younger audiences — “Drive,” “50/50,” “Young Adult,” “Bridesmaids” — poured out their indignation. Yes, Jonah Hill got a supporting actor nomination (for “Moneyball”). And Rooney Mara was nominated for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (but her director and picture were not). But mostly, the academy is recognizing familiar themes (war, family) and faces (George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Martin Scorsese).
• But, above all else, Oscar loves himself:
“The Artist” takes us back to the silent-film era, a simpler time when everything was in black and white. We mingle with French filmmaking icon Luis Bunuel in “Midnight in Paris.” And in “Hugo,” Scorsese crafts a valentine to the dawn of cinema using the 3-D tools many Hollywood bean counters hope are the future of the movies.
The 84th Academy Awards show will air at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 on ABC. Billy Crystal will host. And once again, Tom Kane of Overland Park will provide the mellifluous voice announcing the nominees and winners - his fourth Oscar gig.