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More surprises than snubs in open Oscar field

The Associated Press, Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 9:01am (PST)

In a refreshingly open Oscar field, the surprises outweighed the snubs among the varied nominees announced Tuesday.

The favorites — "The Artist," "Hugo," "The Descendants" — all came away with their predicted boatloads, but a pleasant quirkiness followed with several out-of-left-field nods and a handful of unlikely curiosities.

One thing is clear: The year's movies were less song and more dance. Only two nominees were deemed worthy for best song ("Man or Muppet" from "The Muppets" and "Real in Rio" from "Rio"). The silence of the toe-tapping "The Artist," you could say, was pervasive.

A look at those that snuck into the Academy Awards and the ones that narrowly missed:

UNBROADCAST NEWS: Throughout awards season, Albert Brooks has been hailed for his against-type performance as a violent gangster in the neo-noir thriller "Drive." But Brooks — like so many comedic brethren before him — was left out from a competitive best-supporting actor category that also omitted Ben Kingsley for "Hugo." Brooks tweeted, "I got ROBBED. I don't mean the Oscars, I mean literally. My pants and shoes have been stolen." He added, "And to the Academy: `You don't like me. You really don't like me.'"

KEEP YOUR CLOTHES ON: The best actor nomination for Demian Bichir of the immigration drama "A Better Life" was a shocker. He, along with Gary Oldman ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), landed a nomination over some favored heavyweights in Leonardo DiCaprio (with prosthetics in "J. Edgar") and Michael Fassbender (without prosthetics in "Shame"). Also on the outside was Michael Shannon, whose paranoid performance in "Take Shelter" may prove more memorable than some of those that were nominated.

MAKING NOISE: The academy tweaked its best picture category this year, requiring winning nominees to receive a certain percentage of votes for inclusion. Anywhere between five and 10 films could have been nominated, and in the end it was nine. The final spot — which was dramatically revealed last on Tuesday's broadcast — went to "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," the 9/11-themed drama about grief and growing up. Few of the year's films have been more polarizing, with most critics lambasting it for being over-the-top sentimental kitsch.

TATTOOED: And then we have the curious case of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." David Fincher's remake of the Swedish thriller received a strong five nominations including Rooney Mara for best actress (over Charlize Theron in "Young Adult" and Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin"), cinematography, film editing, sound editing and sound mixing. Those below-the-line nominations often signal high regard for a movie's craft, and thus a directing nomination. But Fincher (who was nominated by the Directors Guild) wasn't selected, and the film failed to land a best picture nod even with nine nominees.

A NEW LEAF: There was always some mystery about how the academy would handle Terrence Malick's ambitious cosmic family drama "The Tree of Life." A masterpiece to some, a pretentious hodgepodge with Sean Penn meandering on escalators to others, the film is the Herman Cain of the Oscar race: ardently supported by its backers, snickered at by its critics. The backers won: The film was nominated for best picture and Malick for best director.

WHAT'S UP, DOC? The category with the most upheaval was best animated feature, where the unlikely and limited released "A Cat in Paris" (from France, naturally) and "Chico and Rita" (from Spain and the United Kingdom) snuck in ahead of high-profile studio films such as Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin," "Arthur Christmas" and Pixar's "Cars 2."

THE FORGOTTEN: Every Oscar race has a way of myopically winnowing the year's films to a batch of favorites, inevitably shutting out worthy movies. Everyone will have their own personal snub, but it's worth noting the fine absences, among them: Tom McCarthy's cheerful "Win Win"; the apocalyptic "Take Shelter"; the psychology history "A Dangerous Method"; the racing documentary "Senna" and, surely, many more.

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