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Oscar controversy: Nomination snubs and shocks raise real questions, from Bigelow to Django

Oscar controversy: Nomination snubs and shocks raise real questions, from Bigelow to Django

Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook Silver Linings Playbook/Facebook
Amour, Emmanuelle Riva
Emmanuelle Riva in Amour Amour/Facebook
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hushpuppy, Quvenzhané Wallis
Quvenzhane Wallis as Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild Photo by Jess Pinkham/Cinereach Ltd.
Denzel Washington, Flight
Denzel Washington in Flight Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Les Miserables movie
Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Zero Dark Thirty
Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty Zero Dark Thirty/Facebook
Skyfall, James Bond, Daniel Craig, November 2012
Skyfall starring Daniel Craig as James Bond James Bond 007/Facebook
Joe Leydon, Argo, Ben Affleck, movie, September 2012
 Ben Affleck in Argo Argo/Facebook
Lincoln, Sally Field, Daniel Day-Lewis
Sally Field and Daniel-Day Lewis in Lincoln Photo by David James/DreamWorks
Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence
Amour, Emmanuelle Riva
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hushpuppy, Quvenzhané Wallis
Denzel Washington, Flight
Les Miserables movie
Zero Dark Thirty
Skyfall, James Bond, Daniel Craig, November 2012
Joe Leydon, Argo, Ben Affleck, movie, September 2012
Lincoln, Sally Field, Daniel Day-Lewis

Snubs. Upsets. Cinderella stories. On Thursday morning, members of the Motion Picture Academy offered, in true Hollywood fashion, a whole bunch of unexpected twists while advancing the narrative of this year’s Oscar competition.

And it’s safe to say there likely was as much head-scratching as high-fiving among awards handicappers and movie industry insiders as Seth McFarlane (this year’s designated Oscarcast host) and Emma Stone did the early-morning honors live in LA while announcing the finalists for the 85th annual Academy Awards.

Was the snubbing of Kathryn Bigelow a result of the roiling controversy over whether Zero Dark Thirty somehow “condones” the use of enhanced interrogation techniques?

Consider: Ben Affleck (Argo) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), heretofore considered by most critics and commentators to be mortal locks for Best Director nominations, were conspicuous by their absence from a list of five nominees that included both the predictable — Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) — and the surprising: Michael Haneke (Amour) and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

Spielberg’s Lincoln was, as expected, the leader of the pack, with a total of 12 nominations — including Best Picture, Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Tony Kushner). But the runnerup, with 11 nominations, was a picture with, relatively speaking, a somewhat lower profile: Lee’s widely admired (but not passionately championed) Life of Pi.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, this year’s Little Sundance Indie That Could, and Amour, a subdued French-language drama about the twilight years of a long-married couple, amazed even their most fervent admirers by claiming Best Picture nods, placing them up against seven arguably more traditional nominees: Argo, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty.

(It should be noted — and doubtless will be, by many observers — that Silver Linings Playbook is the first movie in nearly 30 years to score nominations in all four acting categories. Does that mean there’s sufficient Academy support for this darky comical romantic dramedy for it to upset nominal front-runner Lincoln in the Best Picture category?)

On the other end of the hype scale: Not so long ago, there was a lot of loose talk about Leonardo DiCaprio’s chances for copping a Best Supporting Actor nomination with his flavorsomely flamboyant turn as a Southern slave-owner in Django Unchained. On Thursday morning, however, DiCaprio was nowhere to be found among a Supporting Actor lineup that actually does include his Django co-star, Christoph Waltz, as well as Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) and the aforementioned Tommy Lee Jones.

Sally Field, Jones’ Lincoln co-star, and Anne Hathaway of Les Miserables already are shaping up as front-runners in the Best Supporting Actress race. Dark horses include Amy Adams (The Master), Helen Hunt (The Sessions) and Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook).

Daniel Day-Lewis appears to be the prohibitive favorite for Best Actor, though the Lincoln star will face at least token competition from Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) and Denzel Washington (Flight).

But there doesn’t yet seem to be an equally obvious fave among the diverse mix of Best Actress nominees: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).

Did Django Unchained miss out on scoring even more because of its ultra-violence — or its frequent (and frequently noted) dropping of the N-word?

So what does all of this mean?

Was the snubbing of Kathryn Bigelow a result of the roiling controversy over whether Zero Dark Thirty somehow “condones” the use of enhanced interrogation techniques?

Did Django Unchained miss out on scoring even more nominations because of its jolting ultra-violence — or its frequent (and frequently noted) dropping of the N-word?

Did Amour (also a Best Foreign-Language Film nominee) receive so much Oscar love because it struck an especially responsive emotional chord among the older-skewing Motion Picture Academy membership?

Truth to tell, we may never get definitive answers to any of those questions. (Which, of course, won’t stop in-print and online commentators from intensely fretting over them.) But we will know the final results of the various Oscar races on February 24, when the 85th annual Academy Awards are bestowed during ceremonies telecast live on ABC.