As previously established in this blog, the Academy Award nominations inevitably end up with some snubs. But on the slightly more positive side of the nomination day spectrum, there are usually some pleasant — and, yes, not so pleasant — surprises, as well.
Perhaps the biggest one Tuesday came in the form of Demian Bichir, a Mexican actor who played a struggling immigrant father in the film “A Better Life,” the role that gave him his first Oscar nomination for best actor. (You also may recognize him as Fidel Castro from “Che” or Esteban from Showtime’s “Weeds.”)
He had already earned strong critical praise for his turn in the small indie film, so industry insiders and avid film buffs were certainly aware of his work. But somehow, Bichir was largely overlooked by the online Oscar-prognosticating machine on the assumption that a Leonardo DiCaprio or Michael Fassbender was more likely to join the lead-actor company. Clearly it was wrong.
What else was a shocker, or at least a semi-shocker? Oh, it should come as no surprise that I made a list. Read it below, vote in our poll, then share you own “what the??” Oscar moments in the comments or by using the hashtag #oscarshocker on Twitter.
“A Separation” for best original screenplay
Most fully expected this Iranian film to be recognized in the best foreign language film category, which it was. But to breakthrough here was a surprise.
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” for best picture
This was included on my list of best picture predictions, but a number of observers — especially those who chatted earlier with me and Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday — were astounded that this less-than-fully-embraced film slipped into the field of nine. “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close?? A film that was pretty much panned by critics and ignored by moviegoers gets any Oscar nods, including Best Picture?? Help me understand!!!” All those exclamation marks clearly convey the sense of surprise.
“Margin Call” for best original screenplay
Another very well-received film that didn’t capture as much public attention as some of the other contenders, it was nice to see some recognition of this look at an investment bank going kablooey.
Jonah Hill for best supporting actor
Hill’s been considered a likely contender for some time now. But a number of people still seemed caught off guard by his nomination. Maybe they were confused and thought it was for “The Sitter”? (Pssst. It was for “Moneyball.” That makes a lot more sense, right?)
Melissa McCarthy for best supporting actress
Like Hill, the “Bridesmaids” star and apparent leader of a charmed life has been discussed as a possible nominee for months. But it was still a bit of a surprise when it actually happened. I mean, it is rare for a women to receive an Oscar nomination for a role that required her to have a bowel movement in a bridal salon sink.
“A Cat in Paris” and “Chico & Rita” for best animated film
Very few moviegoers seem to know what these releases are. For the record, the former is, as you might imagine, a French film focused on the adventures of a feline, while the latter is a transcontinental love story about a pianist and a singer. What’s more almost no one knows where they can see them. That’s because both films have played in limited runs, mostly via the festival circuit, and are not currently in mainstream multiplexes. So their inclusion was a surprise that worked on several levels. (“That got nominated? And I can’t even go and see it?”)
So which one of these surprised you the most?