Oscars 2013 nominees and winners

Oscars 2013 nominations analysis: 'Beasts' delivers on historic day

"Lincoln" might have led the field this morning (Jan. 10) with 12 Oscar nods - including in five of the "big six" categories - but it would be hard to argue that any filmmakers had a bigger reason to whoop and holler over this year's Academy Award nominations than the makers of the Louisiana-made little-indie-that-could "Beasts of the Southern Wild."

Almost exactly a year after it took Sundance by storm, director Benh Zeitlin's surrealist, shrimp-boot drama earned four Oscar nods, including for best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay and - the one that should make everyone smile - best actress for Houma native Quvenzhane Wallis, who was just 6 years old when the film was shot. (Interesting fact: Wallis becomes the youngest nominee in history of the category, while fellow nominee Emmanuelle Riva of "Amour" becomes the oldest, at 85.)

Coupled with the five nominations for Quentin Tarantino's New Orleans-shot "Django Unchained" - which grabbed nods for best picture, supporting actor (for Christoph Waltz), cinematography (Robert Richardson), sound editing (Wylie Stateman) and original screenplay (Quentin Tarantino) - this much becomes clear: Not since that day in 1896 when the Vitascope Hall on Canal Street became the nation's first permanent, for-profit movie theater has there been a more significant day in Louisiana's film history.

Sure, there have been years in which locally shot films have snagged more nominations. David Fincher and Brad Pitt's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" grabbed 13 nominations all by itself in 2009. That was the same year in which the Katrina doc "Trouble the Water" was nominated for best documentary.

But numbers don't tell the whole story, because "Beasts" is different. It was made by local residents, it stars local residents and - with its emotional, Katrina-inspired storyline - it tells a distinctly Louisiana story, arguing in the most poetic of terms that every place is important, no matter how flood prone it might be and no matter how much its residents might like to eat things plucked from the mud. Of course, we here in the Bayou State all knew how resonant Zeitlin's film was, but the validation offered by the film's four Oscar nominations speaks volumes of its universal appeal.

Since 2002, Louisiana has been luring production after production with its film-friendly tax incentives. Only time will tell, but "Beasts" - especially when coupled with last year's Louisiana-made "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, " which won the 2012 Oscar for best animated short - could very well mark a tipping point, signaling the start of a trend in which our local creatives get into the game rather than just playing a supporting role to visiting filmmakers.

Plus, from a more practical viewpoint: Has there ever been a year in which two locally made films competed against each other for the best picture Oscar?

Granted, "Beasts" and "Django" will be going up against some stiff competition in that mother of all Oscar categories, which this year includes nine films. Their fellow best picture nominees are "Amour, " "Argo, " "Les Miserables, " "Life of Pi, " "Lincoln, " "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Zero Dark Thirty." There are more than a few heavyweights on that list.

Going into this morning, smart money would have been on either Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" or Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" to win the thing. But then, not many people gave "Beasts" much of a chance to notch as strong a showing as it did on nomination Thursday. The lesson we should keep in mind as Oscar night approaches on Feb. 24? Simple: Underestimate Hushpuppy at your own peril.

As in the best picture race, Zeitlin will be going against some tough competition if he is to win the best director trophy in his first time out the gate. The other nominees in that category: Michael Haneke ("Amour"), Ang Lee ("Life of Pi"), Spielberg ("Lincoln") and David O. Russell ("Silver Linings Playbook").

In the race for best actress, Wallis will be going up against Jessica Chastain ("Zero Dark Thirty"), Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Riva ("Amour") and Naomi Watts ("The Impossible"). Best actor nominees, for the record, are Bradley Cooper ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Daniel Day-Lewis ("Lincoln"), Hugh Jackman ("Les Miserables"), Joaquin Phoenix ("The Master") and Denzel Washington ("Flight").

In the supporting actor race - which, interestingly, is populated entirely by past Oscar winners - Waltz of "Django Unchained" will be competing against Alan Arkin ("Argo"), Robert De Niro ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master") and Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln"). Competing for best supporting actress is Amy Adams ("The Master"), Sally Field ("Lincoln"), Anne Hathaway ("Les Miserables"), Helen Hunt ("The Sessions") and Jacki Weaver ("Silver Linings Playbook").

Of course, there were a few disappointments as the nominations were announced. Local baker and "Beasts" co-star Dwight Henry was left off the supporting actor list. Rian Johnson, who was considered a possible nominee for his original screenplay for his New Orleans-shot "Looper, " was also left out. And DreamWorks' "Rise of the Guardians" - based on characters created by Shreveport's William Joyce, who executive-produced - wasn't among the nominees for best animated feature.

As snubs go, however, they were in good company. Past winner Kathryn Bigelow, for example, who was considered a shoo-in for a directing nomination for her work on "Zero Dark Thirty, " was left off the list. So was "Argo" director Ben Affleck, "Les Miserables" director Tom Hooper and "The Master" director Paul Thomas Anderson.

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