Oscar's top nine picks

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Ben Affleck could think of it this way: At least he wasn't halfway out of his seat at the Dolby Theatre when he heard the name "Ben" in the best directing category.

Mr. Affleck was considered a safe bet for a directing nomination for "Argo," but Benh Zeitlin, director of "Beasts of the Southern Wild," was included in a category that excluded Mr, Affleck as well as Kathryn Bigelow, Quentin Tarantino and Tom Hooper.

"Argo," which counts Mr. Affleck as a producer alongside George Clooney and Grant Heslov, had plenty of reasons (seven, to be exact) to be happy when the 85th Academy Award nominations were announced Thursday by show host Seth MacFarlane and actress Emma Stone.

"Lincoln" earned a dozen nominations, more than any other movie, and learned the identities of its team of rivals as nine best picture contenders were named.

In addition to Steven Spielberg's historical biopic, the other top Oscar nominees are: "Argo," "Les Miserables," "Life of Pi," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained" and "Amour."

"Life of Pi" roared out of the gate with 11 nominations, and "Silver Linings Playbook" is living up to its title. It is the first film to receive nominations for picture, directing, writing and all four acting categories since "Reds."

("The Silence of the Lambs," best picture of 1991, garnered acting nominations for its leads and eventual winners, Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, but not for supporting players.)

Best picture nominees for 85th Academy Awards

1. "Lincoln," 12 nominations

2. "Life of Pi," 11 nominations

3. "Les Miserables," 8 nominations

4. "Silver Linings Playbook," 8 nominations

5. "Argo," 7 nominations

6. "Django Unchained," 5 nominations

7. "Zero Dark Thirty," 5 nominations

8. "Amour," 5 nominations

9. "Beasts of the Southern Wild," 4 nominations

The end-of-life drama "Amour" is the fifth film to be nominated for both best picture and foreign language film. The others were "Z," "The Emigrants," "Life Is Beautiful" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

"The Dark Knight Rises," once floated as a possible best picture contender, was skunked. It had two strikes against it: It was about Batman, not an eloquent, noble figure such as Abraham Lincoln, and it never emerged from the shadow of the midnight showing that descended into a massacre in Colorado.

Oscar voters may have wanted to put so much distance between themselves and Christopher Nolan's third and final Dark Knight movie that they weren't even willing to nominate it in technical categories such as visual effects or sound mixing.

Upper St. Clair native Stephen Chbosky was a favorite of many critics for adapting his novel, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," but he was squeezed out of the writing nominations. He can take comfort in his Writers Guild of America nomination, announced last week.

Some audience favorites, such as "Skyfall," turned up in categories such as cinematography, and a nomination for the visual effects team behind "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" means Aliquippa native and four-time winner Joe Letteri adds another nomination notch to his belt.

Seamus McGarvey, a cinematography nominee for "Anna Karenina," is a little poorer and much richer today thanks to his inclusion.

"The director of the film I'm currently working on just texted me. We had a $100 bet that I wouldn't get nominated, but he texted me that he's $100 richer! I'm over the moon!" he said in a statement released by Focus Features.

Daniel Day-Lewis, already a best actor winner for "My Left Foot" and "There Will Be Blood," was a shoo-in as a nominee for his uncanny, flawless portrayal of President Lincoln in his final months.

The only things standing between him and a third Oscar are: Another two-time winner (leading and supporting categories), Denzel Washington, as the alcoholic heroic pilot in "Flight"; Bradley Cooper as a cuckolded teacher back home with his parents in Philadelphia in "Silver Linings Playbook"; Joaquin Phoenix as a lost soul and World War II veteran in "The Master"; and onetime Oscar host and stage sensation Hugh Jackman as prisoner Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables."

Most Oscar observers thought John Hawkes would be a natural for his physically challenging performance as a man with polio who longs to lose his virginity in "The Sessions." Bill Murray, whose FDR is the best thing about "Hyde Park on Hudson," also was left in the cold while it appears Mr. Phoenix -- who has disparaged Oscar campaigning -- will have to suffer through another awards season.

(By the way, there is no Pittsburgh date yet for "Hyde Park on Hudson," a question posed frequently on Thursday.)

At a time when the richest parts for women seem to reside on television, Oscar had no trouble rounding up five best actress nominees, reaching for performers at each end of the bell curve of age and experience.

Nominees are: Jessica Chastain as a CIA operative hunting for Osama bin Laden in "Zero Dark Thirty"; Naomi Watts as a mother nearly swept away forever by the 2004 tsunami in "The Impossible"; Jennifer Lawrence as a young widow in "Silver Linings Playbook"; Emmanuelle Riva, who will mark her 86th birthday on Oscar night, as a gravely ill retired music teacher in "Amour"; and Quvenzhane Wallis, 9, as a 6-year-old motherless girl whose world begins to unravel in "Beasts of the Southern Wild."

Left off the list: Marion Cotillard for "Rust and Bone" and Helen Mirren, "Hitchcock."

Many experts thought Maggie Smith would nab the fifth supporting spot for "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," but the quietly competent turn by Jacki Weaver as a Philadelphian in "Silver Linings Playbook" probably was rewarded instead.

She was nominated along with Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"; Sally Field, "Lincoln"; Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"; and Amy Adams, "The Master."

Supporting actor nominees: Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"; Robert De Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"; Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained"; and Alan Arkin, "Argo."

The nomination of Mr. Waltz meant no love for Leonardo DiCaprio, who often is snubbed by Academy voters. Young Tom Holland also turned heads as the eldest of the three storm-ravaged boys in "The Impossible," but he found himself in an especially crowded category.

Other snapshots:

Beautiful music: Although they are not listed as official nominees for "Inocente" by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, two local residents were part of the team contributing original music to the documentary short. They are Rick Witkowski of Weirton, W.Va., and Vanessa Campagna of Beaver Falls.

Wonderful wake-up call: "Kon-Tiki" directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg exclaimed, "Being nominated means everything to us as directors -- it means the world for the film! We are both in LA with our families, and upon hearing the news we ran around in the corridors, hugging each other, waking up the whole hotel at 5:40 in the morning!"

"Kon-Tiki," a Norwegian film about Thor Heyerdahl and five buddies following an ancient path 4,300 miles across the Pacific on the fragile Kon-Tiki raft, is competing for foreign film along with "Amour" from Austria, "No" from Chile, "A Royal Affair" from Denmark and "War Witch," Canada.

Timing is everything: Not a single film released from Jan. 1 to June 26, 2012, was nominated for best picture. "Beasts of the Southern Wild," back in Pittsburgh at Downtown's Harris Theater, came out June 27. The latest releases were "Les Miz" on Christmas Eve and "Django Unchained," Christmas Day.

Time was on their side: Ms. Riva ("Amour") is now the oldest best actress nominee and Quvenzhane ("Beasts of the Southern Wild") the youngest. The oldest acting nominee remains Gloria Stuart, 87, from "Titanic." Youngest acting nominee overall is Justin Henry, 8 when included in the supporting actor field for "Kramer vs. Kramer."

Still in the game: Ms. Bigelow, a previous directing winner for "The Hurt Locker," is not back as a directing nominee for "Zero Dark Thirty" although she is one of the producers of the best picture nominee. Mr. Tarantino scored a writing but not a directing nomination for "Django Unchained." And "Les Miz" apparently directed itself, since Tom Hooper was not cited, either.

The directing nominees are: David O. Russell for "Silver Linings Playbook," Ang Lee for "Life of Pi," Mr. Spielberg for "Lincoln," Michael Haneke for "Amour," and Mr. Zeitlin for "Beasts of the Southern Wild."

Been there, done that: All five of the supporting actor nominees have won before, either in the leading or supporting categories.

Round-trip ticket: Ms. Chastain is the only acting nominee who also competed last year, for "The Help." This time, she's in the leading rather than supporting category.

Exclusive men's club: With his best picture nomination for "Argo," George Clooney joins Warren Beatty as the only individuals to have competitive nominations for picture, directing, writing and acting.

One singular sensation: John Williams, whose original score for "Lincoln" was nominated, has more nominations than any other living person, extending his lead with 48 (the late Walt Disney had 59). Woody Allen is an impressive but distant second with 23.

All in the family: Thomas Newman's nomination for original score for "Skyfall" is his 11th and brings the total for members of the Newman family (Alfred, Lionel, Emil, Thomas, David and Randy) to 87, a family record. Roman Coppola's writing nomination makes two dozen for his clan (Carmine and Francis Coppola, Talia Shire, Nicolas Cage and Sofia Coppola).

Mr. Coppola, who shares the screenplay nomination for "Moonrise Kingdom" with Wes Anderson, said, "I was in the car with my family when we heard the news -- everyone was so excited! It's a wonderful honor to be nominated among many great films and storytellers. Wes and I are thrilled."

A full house: Some years, it's five. Some years, it's three and 2012 was such a rich year for animated features that there are five contenders in "Frankenweenie," "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," "ParaNorman," "Wreck-It Ralph" and "Brave."

Oscar rules were changed for the 2009 release year to allow 10 nominees, and a later tweak permitted anywhere from five to 10 nominees to emerge. A year ago, nine movies including Mr. Spielberg's "War Horse" (ultimately 0 for 6) were nominated for Hollywood's most coveted prize.

For the first time since the inaugural banquet May 16, 1929, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel -- three months after the results were printed -- Academy members could use a traditional mail-in ballot or vote online. Problems with the new electronic system prompted a day's extension for votes.

ABC will televise the Academy Awards being presented Feb. 24 at the Dolby Theatre (formerly the Kodak) at Hollywood & Highland Center. Already announced are plans to salute the James Bond movie franchise, celebrating its 50th anniversary.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies. First Published January 11, 2013 5:00 AM


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