Every year, there are so-called Oscar snubs, people we thought were shoo-ins, or at least deserving of a nod, who got passed over for the nomination. It’s inevitable, if not necessarily fair to those who did get nominated.
But I can’t remember snubs quite as shocking and unexpected as the three missing names in this year’s Best Director category.
Let’s start with the biggest snub of all—Ben Affleck for Argo. I literally gasped when his name wasn’t read this morning.
For starters, Affleck racked up a ton of nominations from most of the other big voting bodies (Golden Globes, Directors Guild of America, Critics Choice, etc.). Also, he’s got a famous name. While the Oscar voters aren’t necessarily drawn to glamour the way, say, the Golden Globe voters are (the Globes are often seen as less a serious voting body and more an excuse to throw a really awesome party), one would think that name recognition alone would bolster his nod. This film was meant to represent Affleck’s shift from “actor who’s surprisingly adept on a film set” to “serious director with legitimate filmmaking chops.” In my mind, it certainly did—it’s one of my favorite films of the year.
Because the nominations weren’t read alphabetically this year, I actually had a panicky moment thinking Argo was going to be snubbed for Best Picture, too. (It wasn’t.) Argo also got a nod for Alan Arkin in the Best Supporting Actor category.
The other two directors snubbed are Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty and Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained—both those films got nominated for Best Picture and both are, perhaps not incidentally, embroiled in a bit of controversy. Some people—Spike Lee, in particular—raged against Tarantino’s unchecked use of the “n-word” in his film and his somewhat fanciful take on a piece of serious history; many object to what they see as Zero Dark Thirty’s pro-torture stance—even the CIA has renounced certain aspects of that film.
Of the three snubs, Affleck and Bigelow do crafty, skilled, if traditional directing jobs. Tarantino, of course, is a creation unto himself—a one-man band, so to speak. He’s such a complete auteur that to nominate his film is to implicitly endorse him as a director. Yes, I would go as far as to say: Love the film, love the director. But the Academy has always been a bit wary of Tarantino and his anarchic ways.
Of course, there were nine films nominated for Best Picture and, by rules, only five directors picked for Best Director. So four directors would inevitably be left out.
So let’s take a closer look at those Best Picture/Best Director nominations:
Beasts of the Southern Wild – The young director Behn Zeitlin WAS unexpectedly nominated for Best Director—clearly taking away one of the three slots. I certainly have no quarrel with Zeitlin’s nod—Beasts is great. But traditionally, an indie hit like this gets screenplay nods, maybe one of the acting categories (indeed, now 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis was nominated for Best Actress—she was 6 when she made the film). The Best Director slot tends to be reserved for more established players.
Silver Linings Playbook – Another bit of a surprise that David O. Russell was nominated for best director. Silver Linings was seen as an actor’s film—all four leads got nominated—and a screenwriter’s film (ditto for Russell’s adaptation of the screenplay), but less a director’s movie than those of Affleck, Bigelow, and Tarantino, who worked on more elaborate canvases and had to keep multiple balls in the air.
Zero Dark Thirty
Lincoln – Except for his inexplicable snub by the BAFTA’s, Steven Spielberg’s nomination was a foregone conclusion (and well deserved).
Les Miserables – Despite his win two years ago for The King’s Speech, recent criticism has focused on Tom Hooper’s clumsy direction, so no surprise that he didn’t get a nod
Life of Pi – For whatever reason, the brilliant Ang Lee hasn’t been a strong pre-Oscar contender. Thrilled to see his nomination here. *
Amour – Ah, here’s the other unexpected one. French director Michael Haneke is a bit of a bad boy auteur, whose films tend to be provocative and sometimes even hostile to the audience. Here he slowed down, found his humanity, and directed an absolutely soul-crushing pas de deux between an old man and his dying wife. Well deserved. But again, a surprise.
And there you have it. On Twitter (hey, follow me @maxthegirl), I speculated that maybe Affleck and Bigelow got snubbed because they were on steroids? (See what I did there?)
Anyway, it’s pretty obvious now that Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, and Django Unchained are no longer serious contenders to win Best Picture (not that Django ever really was). I’ve been saying that Lincoln is going to win all along and nothing I saw in these nominations convinced me otherwise. As for Best Director? Clearly an unpredictable category. But I have a hunch that Mr. Spielberg will be pocketing that baby, too.
Here are the rest of the major category nominations, with my EARLY speculation as to who might win.
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Denzel Washington, Flight
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
My pick: Daniel Day Lewis, in a virtual lock
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
My pick: Emmanuelle Riva. (I’m going against conventional wisdom here; most think it’s Chastain’s or Lawrence’s to lose. But I just have a hunch.)
Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Alan Arkin, Argo
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
My pick: Tommy Lee Jones, although this category is wide open.
Best Supporting Actress
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Amy Adams, The Master
My pick: Anne Hathaway. No limbs here. Everyone is picking her.
*In an earlier version of this story, I incorrectly stated that Ang Lee wasn't nominated for Best Director. Indeed, he was. (Thanks for the catch, Chris!)