Top 5 Oscar Surprises of 2012
#5 Surprise! - Demian Bichir for Best Leading Actor in A Better Life
The surprise is......nobody really knows who this guy is! He pops into the Best Leading Actor category as if uninvited to a birthday bash, and steals a spot from Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar). Even film enthusiasts would struggle to name one other film he has appeared in.
Demain Bichir is a Mexican actor who recently starred in Steven Soderbergh's Che (2008). His next major project is Savages (2012), by Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone. Bichir's performance in A Better Life has been rewarded with an Oscar nomination, but will the mainstream crowd be spurred on to catch this relatively unknown film.
[Image of Demian Bichir in A Better Life]
In a category that oozes star power in George Clooney (The Descendants), Brad Pitt (Moneyball), and to some extent, Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), DiCaprio's inclusion would have caused the bulb to blow because of the high star wattage. Perhaps the Academy voters chose the safer option by naming Bichir so that it will be a two-way fight between Clooney and Pitt. But wait...someone else might silently spoil the birthday bash. Anyone heard of Jean Dujardin?
#4 Surprise! - A Cat in Paris, and Chico & Rita for Best Animated Feature
The surprise is......to see two unheard of foreign-language animated films in this category! Sometimes you may see one, like in 2010 for The Illusionist, or in 2008 for Persepolis, but very rarely two. In fact, that has never happened before. The Academy must really dislike The Adventures of Tintin and its use of motion capture technology!
[Film posters of A Cat in Paris, and Chico & Rita]
While it is highly unlikely any of these will win the Oscar, their inclusion suggests that the Academy wants to promote obscure foreign animated films that are made via traditional means, and often financed independently. It's for a good cause, really, as these talented filmmakers get themselves and their painstaking efforts more exposure and recognition.
Perhaps in the future, there will be a new category for Best Foreign Animated Feature. But the question to ask is: When will the Academy start embracing motion capture as a viable technology for animated features?
#3 Surprise! - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close for Best Picture
The surprise is......this Stephen Daldry film made it into the final nine! Granted, Daldry has always been an Academy darling, with three Best Director nominations for his last three films - Billy Elliot (2000), The Hours (2002), and The Reader (2008). But his latest drama, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, has received mixed reviews, with some critics saying it is one of the year's best films, while others have criticized its overindulgence in sentimentality.
[Film still of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close]
It is painful to see films such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Drive left out of the Best Picture race completely. Was the inclusion of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close a "consolation nod" for Daldry? Or was it because of the far-reaching influence of prolific Hollywood producer Scott Rudin? But then again, Rudin produced The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and that was snuffed out of the Best Picture race too.
#2 Surprise! - John Williams for Best Original Score in The Adventures of Tintin
The surprise is......seeing the film music maestro challenging himself again in this category. While John Williams' evocative and beautifully-written score for War Horse is deserving of a spot, less can be said of the music for Tintin. It is a good score, but I am sure there are better scores around to pick from than to nominate Williams twice.
[Image of film composer John Williams]
But then, maybe it is an Academy tradition. Guess what, Williams has been nominated an astonishing 11 times for two scores in the same year! So to be honest, this is not much of a surprise if you look at it from this perspective. Still, it is surprising to see that the voters are still very appreciative of his works after all these years.
#1 Surprise! - Two nominees only for the Best Original Song category
The surprise is......only two nominees?! It seems like the Academy really wants to get rid of this category. But in truth, it is the strict nomination rules for this category that left it with a dearth of deserving nominees. This year, there was a shortlist of 39 songs in consideration to be nominated for Best Original Song. So, many of the votes were split, and only songs with an average score of 8.25 points (on a voting scale of 6 to 10) were chosen.
Therefore, by the curse of mathematics, only "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets, and "Real in Rio" from Rio managed to secure spots in the category. Perhaps only one of the nominees got an average of 8.25 points or more, and the Academy found it ridiculous to award that nominee an Oscar without any competition, thus picking the next best contender to put up a fight.
Whatever the reason, does anyone really care who wins or loses this category? The Academy really shot themselves in the foot with this farce. Let's hope they tweak the rules next year!