Ben Affleck Oscar nominations

Oscar Nominations Shockers: Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathryn Bigelow & More

And, as in most years, there were quite a few surprises—and snubs.

1. SURPRISE: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

“I think it’s total, utter bulls—t, and I don’t want to be a part of it, ” uttered Phoenix about the Oscars in an interview back in October with Elvis Mitchell. He later backtracked a bit, and it seemed to do him a world of good, as the talented actor—and sometime performance artist—garnered his third Academy Award nomination for his gripping turn as Freddie Quell, a deranged, sex-and-booze obsessed WWII veteran who falls under the grip of a charismatic mystic, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, in filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Phoenix deserves the nomination; his performance as Quell is pure, unadulterated id and, with his hunched posture, quizzical smirk, and sporadic bursts of violence, is one of the most unpredictable characters ever put to film. Alas, Phoenix’s nomination took the spot of John Hawkes for his performance as a polio-crippled poet attempting to lose his virginity via sex surrogate in The Sessions.

2. SNUB: Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained

In the last 10 years, no actor has been snubbed more by the Academy than Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s only been nominated for two Oscars during that time—for The Aviator and Blood Diamond—and should have garnered nods for Catch Me If You Can, The Departed, Inception, and this year’s . DiCaprio stole every scene he was in as Monsieur Calvin Candie, a vicious Francophile slave owner in the antebellum South who lords over a plantation, dubbed Candieland, that plays host to Mandingo slave fights to the death. Having never played a villain before, DiCaprio relishes in the opportunity, spewing fire and brimstone. His phrenology speech delivered toward the end of the film—while wielding a hammer—got so intense that he accidentally split his hand open while giving it, and that’s the cut that was used in the film. For shame.

3. SURPRISE: Best Director: Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Michael Haneke, Amour

After making its premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild, became a critical and audience darling. Made on a shoestring budget of under $2 million, the film presented a wholly unique vision in telling the journey of Hushpuppy, a 7-year-old girl navigating the Katrina-ravaged community of “The Bathtub” in search of her long lost mother. It’s a savagely beautiful fairy tale that’s a poignant paean for Louisiana. However, Zeitlin wasn’t nominated for Best Director by most of the major awards groups, including the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, or DGAs. And Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, whose brilliant film Amour, about an elderly Frenchman caring for his dying wife during her last days following an awful stroke, was similarly ignored by the Golden Globes and DGAs, yet managed to sneak in a Best Director Oscar nomination—his first.

4. SNUB: Best Director: Ben Affleck, Argo, and Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

Holy cow. Many were predicting that this was Ben Affleck’s year to win the Best Director Oscar for his sharp effort behind the lens in making Argo, a CIA espionage thriller about an exfiltration expert tasked with smuggling a group of diplomat-hostages out of Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis by posing as a Hollywood film crew. After all, the director does great press, is razor sharp, has been steadily improving as a filmmaker with each passing movie, and was nominated for the DGA, Golden Globe, and BAFTA. But alas, he was snubbed. The same goes with Kathryn Bigelow, who deserved to be nominated for her expert filmmaking effort in helming Zero Dark Thirty, an electrifying thriller chronicling the CIA’s decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. After all, she had become the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar in 2011 for The Hurt Locker. It wasn’t meant to be, however. One has to wonder if all the outrageous torture debate hurt her Oscar chances …

5. SURPRISE: Quevenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

“In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.” Yes, tiny Quevenzhané Wallis became the youngest-ever Oscar nominee—at the age of 9—for her performance as Hushpuppy, the mighty-mite protagonist of Benh Zeitlin’s brilliant indie Beasts of the Southern Wild. Hughpuppy arm-wrestles, delivers body blows, and stares down a prehistoric beast in this fairy tale epic, and never loses her grip on you. By the end of the film, you will remember Hushpuppy … and just might churn out a few tears on her behalf.

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