CATEGORIES Movie NewsLet's face it: we actually like it when Oscar night provides us with snubs and surprises. They add suspense to what is often a predictable show, they remind us that the conventional wisdom is not always right, they sometimes result in someone worthy beating someone popular, or they allow us to seethe with righteous indignation as we take to our Twitter soapboxes to proclaim our shock and dismay at the injustice.
Alas, Sunday night's Oscars offered precious few snubs and only mild surprises. The biggest outrages had already happened with the nominations, with the omissions of Ben Affleck ("Argo") and Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty") from the Best Director category. After that, it was a foregone conclusion that "ZDT" would get shafted (indeed, it took home just one prize, for Sound Editing), while it also quickly became a foregone conclusion that "Argo" would win Best Picture despite the Affleck snub -- perhaps even because of it.
You could argue that there were some surprises and snubs in major categories where competitive races between equally worthy candidates were just too close to call. For instance, late oddsmaking had Steven Spielberg ("Lincoln") in a dead heat with Ang Lee ("Life of Pi") for Best Director. So you could read Lee's win as a snub of Spielberg and "Lincoln." After all, "Lincoln" had gone into the ceremony with the most nominations of any film this year (12 of them), but it took home just two (for Best Actor and for Best Production and Set Design, both categories the biopic had been expected to win), while "Life of Pi" ended up going home with four prizes. That's not exactly a sweep, but it's more Oscar wins than any other movie this year, including "Argo."
Similarly, the Best Supporting Actor race was a tough call this year, with all five nominees previous winners (an unprecedented situation). Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln") and Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained") were the frontrunners, with both having won prizes earlier this season. Jones was thought to have a slight edge, since Waltz won this category just three years ago for another Quentin Tarantino film ("Inglourious Basterds"). So Waltz's quick return to the podium was a bit of a surprise.
Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook") was long the favorite in the Best Actress race, so her win wasn't a surprise, but it must have read as a snub to fans of Emmanuelle Riva. The octogenarian had a strong base of support among the often AARP-aged Academy membership (hence the five nominations for "Amour") and had earned upset victories in a couple of recent awards ceremonies. At the very least, the French actress's fans were robbed of the chance to see her rewarded for a lifetime of work, and on her 86th birthday, to boot.
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You could read Chris Terrio's victory in the Best Adapted Screenplay category (for "Argo") as a snub of Tony Kushner's lofty and poetic "Lincoln" script. But given the Academy's fondness for all things "Argo" this year, it wasn't much of a surprise. In the original screenplay category, Quentin Tarantino's win for "Django" was also only a mild surprise, since he'd been honored for it earlier in the season, but it could be read as a snub for Mark Boal's journalistic "Zero Dark Thirty" work. (Boal's credulous depiction of torture as an effective intelligence-gathering tool in the War on Terror may have hurt his chances.)
"Brave" taking Best Animated feature was something of a surprise, since "Wreck-It Ralph" had been favored to win, but in retrospect, it's not that big a shock. Both were well-liked Disney movies and big hits, but "Brave" had the more traditional story, one more likely to resonate with the aged Academy membership than the videogame nostalgia of "Ralph." Besides, the first rule of the category is: When in doubt, bet on Pixar.
In the Editing category, William Goldenberg was both a winner and a snub victim. He won for "Argo," beating his own work on "ZDT" (a nomination shared with Dylan Tichenor). You could argue that his "ZDT" work was more impressive, but the Editing award usually goes hand-in-hand with Best Picture, so it's not much of a surprise that the Academy preferred his "Argo" work.
Cinematography purists will tell you that the biggest snub of the night was Roger Deakins, whose dark, painterly work suffused "Skyfall" (as it has his earlier films for Joel and Ethan Coen), and who has now been nominated 10 times without ever winning. Winner Claudio Miranda's work on "Life of Pi" was certainly gorgeous, too, but since so much of the film was post-production CGI work (the visual effects Oscar that "Pi" won was richly deserved), it's hard to say that Miranda deserves more credit for his achievement than Deakins. (Or, for than matter, Janusz Kaminski's work on "Lincoln," photographing a pre-electric world lit by gaslight and candles.)
In Oscar terms, there was one really big surprise: the tie victory in Sound Editing for "ZDT" and "Skyfall." (The award, which recognizes sound effects and post-production sound work, had been expected to go to the James Bond spy thriller, but the real-life spy thriller was a worthy winner, too). Presenter Mark Wahlberg's astonishment was understandable, as ties are extremely rare at the Oscars. So rare that this was only the sixth tie in 85 years of Academy Awards. Okay, so a Sound Editing tie isn't as thrilling as, say, the shocker in 1969, when Katharine Hepburn won her third Oscar (for "The Lion in Winter") while tying with newbie Barbra Streisand ("Funny Girl"). Next to that iconic moment, Sunday's tie won't be remembered as that kind of a landmark moment, but we'll take what we can get.
At least the telecast's producers and writers found some ways to add surprise to the show itself, whether by beaming in William Shatner to play Capt. James T. Kirk one more time, or by using John Williams' "Jaws" score as the music to play long-winded speakers off the stage, or by having First Lady Michelle Obama present Best Picture remotely from the White House. Still, it's not like the Academy actually needed to send a sealed envelope all the way across the country. She could have predicted the winner and announced it even without the confirming missive from PricewaterhouseCoopers in her hand.