The Academy Award nominations announced Thursday in Los Angeles contained a few surprises.
Among them are the inclusions of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Amour." "Beasts" is an indie production that took nearly three years to make, and grossed only $11 million. It's lead actress, 9-year-old Quevenzhané Wallis, could potentially become the youngest female to win in the category. "Amour" is directed by Austrian Michael Haneke, known for films with violence. "Amour" is his tamest work, and it's no surprise his tale of an elderly couple coping with aging is the one being recognized.
I'm more lukewarm to the eccentric excitement garnered by David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook," a wonderful little romance. It's not exactly worthy of nominations in all six of the top categories. Nods for supporting players Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro seem misguided, the Academy could be making up for not awarding Weaver for her terrifying performance in "Animal Kingdom," and might just be overjoyed with De Niro working on something besides "Meet the Parents".
Altogether strange is the Best Actor category, with nods for Hugh Jackman for "Les Miserables" and Denzel Washington for "Flight." A nod to a less celebrated veteran, like John Hawkes for "The Sessions" or Matthew McConaughey for "Killer Joe," could encourage other big players to take more challenging roles.
Then there is the total lack of love for the Andersons, Paul Thomas and Wes (unrelated), for "The Master" and "Moonrise Kingdom," respectively, two of the most visually stunning films of the year. Paul Thomas Anderson is probably best known for his last film, "There Will Be Blood." I didn't think that he could make a better film than that, but "The Master" is a beautiful sweeping masterpiece (and the return of Joaquin Pheonix). Wes likewise, with "Moonrise Kingdom," has made his greatest film in a decade years with his tale of two young lovers on the run.
Although not a terribly unpredicted crew of nominees, the Academy has given enough of a variety to make the leadup to this year's race a nail biter, with strong contenders in every category and some solid independents that will get a boost in audiences.
Winners for the 85th Oscars will be announced Feb. 24.