Oscars 2013: Shocks, snubs and surprises

Clockwise from top left: Argo director Ben Affleck; Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained; Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; a scene from Zero Dark Thirty featuring Jessica Chastain Clockwise from top left: Ben Affleck on the set of Argo; Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained; Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; a scene from Zero Dark Thirty featuring Jessica Chastain

Argo, Django, Zero, Bilbo. The films in contention for this year's Academy Awards are an eclectic bunch that run the gamut from serious historical dramatisation to spectacular fantasy adventure.

Small wonder, then, that the list of nominations announced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Thursday is a study in dramatic and rather bewildering contrasts.

It is no surprise to see Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's hefty eulogy to one of America's greatest statesmen, lead the field with 12 nominations.

Yet snapping at its heels with 11 nods is Life of Pi, a magical realist fable based on a celebrated novel about a boy and a tiger reluctantly sharing a lifeboat.

In the best actress category, an 85-year-old veteran of French cinema - Emmanuelle Riva, of Hiroshima Mon Amour fame - finds herself rubbing shoulders with a nine-year-old so fresh-faced even the term newcomer seems excessive.

Michael Haneke and Benh Zeitlin Haneke's Amour and Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild are among nine films up for best picture

In the best director category, meanwhile, Benh Zeiltin, a New York rookie with just one feature under his belt sits alongside Michael Haneke, a powerhouse of European arthouse cinema with a reputation as formidable as his often austere demeanour.

What can we deduce from this? Perhaps that the Academy's 6,000-strong membership have more diverse and varied tastes than they are often given credit for.

Sure, they are not above saluting the tried and true. In the best supporting actor category, for example, there is not one candidate who has not one or more Oscars already adorning their mantelpiece.

On this evidence, though, the narrow-minded conservatism that seemed to characterise previous generations of voters has been replaced, for now at least, by a more embracing, inquisitive outlook.

Time will tell if this is a flash in the pan or a lasting trend. At the very least, though, the list of nominees makes for interesting and intriguing reading.

Oscar hopefuls tend to fall into two camps at this time of year. You have your darlings, and then you have your orphans.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin's low-budget indie about a little girl from Louisiana whose pluck helps her survive a devastating Delta disaster, is unquestionably one of the former.

Naomi Watts on the set of The Impossible with director Juan Antonio Bayona Naomi Watts (l) was previously up for best actress for 2003's 21 Grams

Much of its success lies in the enchanting Quvenzhane Wallis, a captivating presence who, despite being five when she auditioned, gives a performance older and wiser than her tender years.

Yet its boldly expressionistic take on a natural calamity, evidently inspired by the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, clearly struck a more resonant chord than The Impossible, a superficially similar yet dramatically more conventional treatment of the Asian tsunami that occurred the previous year.

The Impossible does receive one nomination for Naomi Watts, whose portrayal of a mother caught in the teeth of a tidal wave proves the Academy admires an actress who suffers for her art.

No amount of physical discomfort, though, could land Sir Anthony Hopkins a berth in the best actor category for his prosthetically aided portrayal of Hitchcock's titular director.

Dame Helen Mirren might also count herself a little hard done-by not to be shortlisted for her role as Hitch's loyal and long-suffering wife Alma Reville in Sacha Gervasi's depiction of the making of Psycho.

But at least she is in good company, the Academy also snubbing fellow dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith for their work in Skyfall and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel respectively.

Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock Neither Dame Helen Mirren nor Sir Anthony Hopkins made the cut for their work in Hitchcock

Another Briton who may be feeling somewhat unloved is Tom Hooper, left out of the best director category despite managing to bring long-running stage musical Les Miserables to the big screen.

Yet at least he will have the satisfaction of seeing his colleague Anne Hathaway win this year's best supporting actress prize - surely the surest sure thing ever in the 84-year history of Hollywood's annual back-slapping gala.

But what of Bilbo Baggins, we hear you cry? What has he done to be mentioned in the same breath as Ben Affleck's Argo, Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained and Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty?

To be honest, not much. But his hirsute feet and pointy ears did at least help earn The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a nod for best make-up and hairstyling.

And with two more Hobbit instalments still to come, there may yet be Oscar glory for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings prequel trilogy.

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OSCARS 2013

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