With less than two weeks until the inauguration, America — or Hollywood, at least — has come together to fully support one president. That president is Abraham Lincoln.
Steven Spielberg’s biopic of the 16th president and the 13th Amendment garnered 12 Academy Award nominations Thursday, including best picture, director, adapted screenplay, supporting actor and supporting actress — and a much-anticipated best-actor nod for Daniel Day-Lewis, a two-time Oscar winner (“There Will Be Blood,” “My Left Foot”), whose stooped, homespun performance transformed Lincoln from myth to man.
“We are absolutely thrilled and astonished with the 12 nominations,” wrote producers Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy in a joint statement that acknowledged a numerical coincidence: “It is such a tribute to the work of those who joined us in this 12-year journey to bring ‘Lincoln’ to the screen.”
“I’m tremendously honored,” Tony Kushner, the “Lincoln” screenwriter, wrote in his midair missive. “I heard that I’d been nominated while waiting to take off on a plane from JFK to LAX. James Gandolfini, who’s sitting in front of me, gave me a hug and a kiss, so I’m about as happy as can be.”
“Lincoln” was just one of this year’s Washington-centric films. Two other Hollywood contenders also looked eastward, honoring the policy, process and nitty-gritty niggling of the nation’s capital. “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow’s tense account of the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden, won five nominations — although none for Bigelow, who remains the only woman to have won an Oscar in the directing category, in 2010 for “The Hurt Locker.”
Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” about a gutsy, goofy CIA mission to rescue U.S. Embassy workers during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, received seven nods, including best picture, adapted screenplay and supporting actor. Affleck, too, was shut out of the directing category. But fear not, Ben. Everyone who follows Hollywood knows that each year is either a Ben Affleck year or a Matt Damon year. It is still an Affleck year.
As with last year, the Academy was technically allowed to put forth up to 10 best-picture nominations but instead stuck with nine — a number that managed to seem both bountiful and choosy.
The best-picture nominees also included French Revolution song-fest “Les Miserables,” spaghetti-western revenge fantasy “Django Unchained,” heartwrenching love story “Amour,” the lush “Life of Pi” and the fantastical “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” “Silver Linings Playbook,” a tragicomic love story/dance-off chronicling a man’s reentry into society after a stint in a mental institution, was the only picture to win nods for best picture, best director and all acting categories.
“I let out a very loud, elongated expletive,” says supporting actress nominee Jacki Weaver, up for portraying a dizzy, enabling mom in “Silver Linings.” “You can’t print it. You know what it was.”
Weaver called from New York and sent her love to Washington — she lived here in 2011 while performing in the Kennedy Center’s “Uncle Vanya.” “It was very hot,” she said. “And I was there for the earthquake.”
Her voice was a bit rough from talking to everyone Thursday morning. Everyone but her husband, who’s home in Australia. “I’ve rung him several times, and I haven’t been able to get him,” she said. “I think he’s still asleep. He’s not a good sleeper so I felt guilty for trying him so early.”
It was all portrayed as such a surprise, such a whirlwind, from which everyone emerged humbled and thrilled and flabbergasted and stunned.
Thursday was the latest iteration of a beloved and punishing annual ritual: Hollywood dragged itself out of bed at precisely 5:38 a.m. to listen to this year’s host, Seth MacFarlane, and his sidekick, Emma Stone, stand on an empty stage and read a list of names, 90 percent of which had been predicted — and praised and pooh-poohed — before the mike check was finished.
Awards prognostication has become such an art form that the people who follow these things tend to be shocked by the one slot they didn’t guess rather than smug over the four they did.
Example: For months, critics had discussed the deserved inevitability of Day-Lewis’s nomination, and he was joined by other compulsories: Denzel Washington’s alcoholic tailspin in “Flight,” Hugh Jackman for “Les Miserables,” Joaquin Phoenix as a questioning believer in “The Master.” But then, surprise! Helloooo, Bradley Cooper! Your manic turn in “Silver Linings Playbook” was touching and tortured, but wasn’t your slot supposed to go to John Hawkes, supine and iron-lunged in “The Sessions”?
The best-actress category set two new records, for oldest nominated performer (Emmanuelle Riva, 85, for “Amour”) and youngest (Quvenzhane Wallis, now 9 but just 6 when “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was filmed). Although some critics had anticipated a nod for one of the two, it was rare to see a dance card that accounted for both.
“My mom woke me up,” said Quvenzhane, who called from Los Angeles. “I never get up at 5:45.” She got to skip school Thursday but predicted that she would soon be back to “singing, volleyball, basketball” and her other favorite activities.
The remaining best-actress slots were divvied up mostly as expected: Naomi Watts surviving a tsunami in “The Impossible” and Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain for “Silver Linings” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” respectively — the It-iest It Girls in all of the land.
Thank goodness for some predictability. It would be upsetting to have only upsets. One needs a smidge of stability, and the nominated supporting actors — a posse of been-there-won-thats — were there to provide it. Emma Stone read Philip Seymour Hoffman’s name for “The Master” and then deadpanned, “He’s won before.” She did the same for Robert De Niro. And Tommy Lee Jones. And Christoph Waltz. And Alan Arkin.
Arkin, up for “Argo,” acknowledged his nomination by obliquely acknowledging Affleck’s snub. “I am of course very excited about the nomination this morning,” he said in a statement. “Ben Affleck is an amazing director, and I am so happy that ‘Argo’ was recognized in seven categories!”
Only two supporting actress nominees have won before: Helen Hunt, nominated for her role as a sex surrogate in “The Sessions,” and Sally Field, as the complicated Mary Todd Lincoln. One is torn between two impulses: (1) to root for the uncrowned — Weaver, Amy Adams’s steely spouse in “The Master,” Anne Hathaway’s wounded songbird in “Les Miserables.” Or (2) to discover how much the Academy really likes Field.
“I’m spinning and beyond thrilled on so many levels,” Field wrote in a statement. “To be included in this amazing group of extraordinary craftsman and exquisite talents has been an honor in itself.”
From his position on the Los Angeles stage, MacFarlane learned that he would be a nominee this year; he contributed the lyrics to “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from “Ted.” “That’s kind of cool,” he said. “I get to show up.”
Best song is one of the less-anticipated categories — a one- or two-pointer on an Oscars ballot.
Sometimes, though, the best stories can come from the categories that most of the world isn’t waking up to see.
Married Washingtonians Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine were nominated for their short documentary, “Inocente,” about a young undocumented immigrant’s determination to become an artist. When the couple learned the news, they were attending a concert at their children’s school. It was a xylophone performance given by Dominic, the Ugandan refugee who became the Fines’ ward after he appeared in their previous documentary, 2007’s “War/Dance.”
“We were sitting there screaming, and the teachers were looking at us like we were crazy,” said Sean Fine by telephone. But it was fitting for the whole family to receive the news that way, he said. “We’re married, we work together — everything melds together all of the time.”
Amy Argetsinger and Ann Hornaday contributed to this report.