All the snubs, surprises and Oscar-firsts that this year’s nominees present

Fun facts you need to know about the 2013 Academy Award contenders

Daniel Barna
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Will you look at this line-up?! (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty)

This morning the months of speculation, predictions, and odds-making came to an end when this year’s Oscar host Seth MacFarlane was joined onstage by Emma Stone to announce the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards. As expected, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln led all films with 12 nominations, making it the early favourite for a Best Picture win. But Spielberg’s dominance was just about the only thing that went as imagined this morning: snubs and surprises abound. First fun fact: For the first time in history, all the nominees in a single acting category–best actor in a supporting role– have won before. Second fun fact: Emmannuelle Riva (Amour) and Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of The Southern Wild) become the oldest and youngest Best Actress nominees ever. Academy, your playfulness this year is much appreciated. Below, five more noteworthy things we noticed about the nominees. Now let the weeks of speculation, predictions, and odds-making begin!

Who the hell is Benh Zeitlin and what has he done with Ben Affleck?

Woah. That was the reaction heard ‘round the world (and by world we mean Twitter) when Beasts of The Southern Wild’s helmer Benh Zeitlin was announced as a Best Director nominee alongside perennial heavyweights Steven Spielberg, David O. Russell, Ang Lee, and to a much lesser extent Michael Haneke, whose inclusion though still surprising, had a much better shot of cracking the top five than Zeitlin. There was actually an audible gasp heard in the room when Zeitlin’s name was read out loud. So who did the previously unknown Manhattan native’s inclusion bump? Oh, no one special. Just Ben Affleck, or maybe Kathryn Bigelow–two directors who prior to this morning’s announcement were virtual locks for directing nods. With her exclusion, Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty goes from Best Picture frontrunner to heavy underdog, while making Affleck’s Argo, considered a favourite after its heralded TIFF bow, a virtual non-factor.

The Best Actor category is a real heavyweight bout

Every year the acting categories produce one or two nominees that no one’s ever heard of. Last year two such nominees even took home the gold; Octavia Spencer for her supporting role in The Help, and Jean Dujardin for his lead work in The Artist. This year, there are once again not-so-boldface names in every acting category….except Best Actor. Holy. Cow. Daniel Day Lewis vs. Joaquin Phoenix vs. Denzel Washington vs. Hugh Jackman vs. Bradley Cooper is one of the most star-studded contests in recent memory, maybe ever. Though Day-Lewis’s coronation for his performance as Honest Abe is a lock if ever there was one, here’s hoping Phoenix–whose performance as a jagged misanthrope in The Master was once considered insurmountable–pulls of the upset, for the awkward, muffled acceptance speech alone.

The Academy apparently doesn’t take itself too seriously

Speaking of Joaquin Phoenix, many thought his once surefire nomination was in major jeopardy after the reclusive actor blasted the whole awards process in an October interview, saying “I think it’s bullshit. I think it’s total, utter bullshit, and I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t believe in it.” At the time, it was believed his anti-Oscar diatribe would open the door for the workmanlike John Hawkes, whose performance in The Sessions was definitely deserving of some recognition, and who would most likely relish a nomination. In the end, Phoenix’s performance proved too special to ignore, so kudos to the Academy on their thick skin. On the women’s side, but to a much lesser degree, Jennifer Lawrence was also naughty when she recently told Vanity Fair that acting is “stupid”. But a Lawrence snub was just never in the cards: Considering the year she’s had, the Academy probably just chalked that up to her famous self-deprecating charm (that’s just Jennifer being Jennifer!), and whereas Phoenix doesn’t have a shot, Lawrence remains the odds-on-favorite.

Batman gets no love

A Best Picture nod for The Dark Knight Rises was a longshot at best, as was one for its director Christopher Nolan. Especially since it was believed that if the Academy chose to recognize a genre pic, it would most likely be Skyfall (that didn’t happen either, although Maclean’s film critic Brian D. Johnson hoped for it.)  However, there was a small pocket of pundits that thought maybe–like they did with Peter Jackson’s The Return of The King some years back–The Academy would honour the final installment of Nolan’s bat trilogy, as an acknowledgement for the monumental achievement of the trilogy as a whole. Instead, the film–including Hans Zimmer’s memorable score–was shut out completely.

But Canada Does!

Everyone expected a French speaking movie to be nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category. But no one anticipated it would be Montreal director Kim Nguyen’s War Witch, which squeezed in and stole a sure bet nod from the Weinstein-backed French hit The Intouchables. Though a win for the tale about a 14 year-old girl growing up in war-torn Africa is highly unlikely–Michael Haneke’s Amour has a stranglehold here–it would mark the first time a Canadian film won Best Foreign Language Film since The Barbarian Invasions did it in 2003. In this case, we really are just happy to be nominated, and here’s to the official arrival of a major Canadian talent. Let’s also acknowledge Canuck scribe Yann Martel, who wrote the book on which 11-time nominee Life of Pi is based. The film will most likely snag some technical wins over the course of the night, so expect more than a few Martel shout outs. Hmmm, drinking game anyone?