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Analysis: Fresh faces help enliven nominations

The Associated Press, Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 1:22pm (PST)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -- Waking up at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday is never fun, but the promise of Oscar nominations makes that dark hour vaguely more tolerable. Upon arriving at the Academy for this year's batch of hotly awaited announcements, several nominations made me extremely happy. Among them:

— Melissa McCarthy getting a supporting-actress nomination for her awesomely inappropriate, scene-stealing turn in "Bridesmaids," along with the film's writers, co-star Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, being honored for their original screenplay. I would have liked to have seen the movie sneak into the best-picture category, too. There are potentially 10 spots, after all. But now I'm just getting greedy.

— Gary Oldman finally — finally! — receiving an Oscar nomination. It's sort of mind-boggling that this has never happened before, given his veteran status and versatility. It's also amusing that it's his meticulously restrained work as longtime British operative George Smiley in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" that earned him the best-actor honor, given the crazier work in his filmography.

— The original-song nomination for "Man or Muppet," the duet Jason Segel performs with his felt-covered brother in "The Muppets," which dares to address the existential conundrum: "Am I a man ... or am I a muppet?" I can't wait to see how they pull off this performance on stage at the Kodak Theatre. (Until then, please enjoy the music video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v-WWWTW1P8rQ)

— "The Tree of Life" getting a nomination for best picture — haunting yet polarizing, it appeared high on my top-10 list for 2011 — along with well-deserved nominations for Terrence Malick's ambitious direction and Emmanuel Lubezki's exquisite, dreamlike cinematography. Unfortunately, its inclusion will also probably inspire some hacky dinosaur jokes from host Billy Crystal.

— "Hell and Back Again" being nominated for documentary feature. Gorgeously photographed by director Danfung Dennis, this story of an injured Marine returning home from Afghanistan plays with all the drama and artistry of a fictional feature. (I was surprised, though, that the critically acclaimed "Bill Cunningham NY" or "Project Nim" also didn't make it in there.)

— "A Separation" earning an original-screenplay nomination, an honor the Los Angeles Film Critics Association gave writer-director Asghar Farhadi more than a month ago, thank you very much. (The intimate, riveting Iranian drama also was nominated in the foreign-language category. This is the first time a script written in Farsi has been included in this category.

— Jonah Hill in the supporting-actor category for playing a stat geek in "Moneyball." Just because it will be a hoot to refer to him for all of eternity as "Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill." Unless he actually wins, of course ...

— Rooney Mara receiving a best-actress nomination for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." She took the role of tatted and tormented computer hacker Lisbeth Salander — which Noomi Rapace had made famous in the original Swedish trilogy about the character — and made it her own, to borrow the "American Idol" vernacular.

But naturally there were some disappointments, too. Since we already have "Dragon Tattoo" on the brain ...

— How is it possible that the film itself didn't get nominated for best picture? Or David Fincher, who's up for a Directors Guild Award? Or the original score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won the award last year for Fincher's "The Social Network?" Besides Mara's nomination, it was listed in four other categories — cinematography, editing, sound mixing and sound editing — which makes me wonder how many votes shy of that last best-picture spot it might have been.

— Since we're talking about scores, how great was The Chemical Brothers' music for the thriller "Hanna?" Not good enough for Academy voters, apparently. Rather than going with something refreshing and new, they nominated John Williams for the 46th and 47th time, for the Steven Spielberg films "The Adventures of Tintin" and "War Horse." This is no knock on the iconic Williams. This is a plea for recognition of daring work, as well.

— And speaking of daring: Michael Fassbender in "Shame." Michael Shannon in "Take Shelter." Elizabeth Olsen in "Martha Marcy May Marlene." Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin." Vanessa Redgrave in "Coriolanus." Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks in "Drive." Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt in "Young Adult." All thought-provoking, uncompromising performances that were overlooked Tuesday morning. (See also: every single moment of Lars von Trier's "Melancholia.") Instead, you get the sexiest-man showdown in the best-actor category between good friends Brad Pitt in "Moneyball" vs. George Clooney in "The Descendants."

Again, not totally complaining here. It's always nice to see those guys show up in tuxes on the red carpet. But we've seen that — a lot. And if you're going to get out of bed in the middle of the night, it better be for something shockingly good.

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Thoughts on Oscar nominations? Share them with AP Movie Critic Christy Lemire through Twitter: http://twitter.com/christylemire.

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