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Analysis of this morning's Oscar nominations: Surprises, snubs and oddities

Announcement For every thing today's Oscar nominations got right - chief among them the two nods for Frozen River's Melissa Leo (Best Actress) and Courtney Hunt (Best Original Screenplay) - there were at least two things the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got wrong.

How, for example, could The Curious Case of Benjamin Button score a whopping 13 nominations (just one short of the record shared by Titanic and All About Eve) but not include Cate Blanchett, whose performance in the film was arguably more important to the drama than Brad Pitt's leading turn?

Heath-ledger-joker_l The wildly popular The Dark Knight, a movie that audiences and critics agreed transcended the comic-book genre and attained the stature of dramatic art, snagged eight nominations, including the anticipated Best Supporting Actor nod for the late Heath Ledger, whose performance as the villainous Joker is one for the ages.

But the rest of The Dark Knight's nominations were in technical categories: No Best Picture, Director or Screenplay recognition. The same went for Pixar's magnificent Wall*E, the guaranteed winner of the Best Animated Feature award, which at least managed to snag a Best Original Screenplay nod among its six nominations.

But Wall*E, too, was shut out of the Best Picture and Director races, replaced instead by Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon and Stephen Daldry's The Reader, two middling, Oscar-baiting dramas that landed five nominations apiece - and were driven primarily by Hollywood's desire to congratulate itself on making serious, "important" movies.

Richard Jenkins' Best Actor nomination for The Visitor was, like the Frozen River recognitions, a testament that Oscar voters are still willing to pay attention to small pictures made outside the behemoth studio machinery. But Jenkins' well-deserved nod knocked out of the race Clint Eastwood, whose swan song performance in Gran Torino deserved to have been commemorated by the Academy.

Gran Torino was completely shut out of the Oscars, although the Eastwood-directed Changeling fared better, scoring three nominations including Best Actress for Angelina Jolie and an Art Direction nod for its superb 1920s period setting.

The_wrestler Eastwood's acting snub was one of the biggest disappointments of the morning's announcements, although it was soothed by the inclusion of The Wrestler's Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei in the Best Actor and Supporting Actress races. Rourke is the only one who stands a real chance of derailing Milk star Sean Penn's Best Actor chances: Theirs will be one of this year's most exciting competitions, although if Frost/Nixon's Frank Langella swoops in to steal it, I'm chucking my TV set out the window in protest.

Slumdog Millionaire's 10 nominations should help keep that movie chugging along on its path to mainstream-hit status. The film is also, at this moment, apparently the movie to beat for Best Picture. But how to explain the two Best Song nominations it received (for Jai Ho and O Saya), while Bruce Springsteen's moody, melancholy tune for The Wrestler got nada

Shannon Other surprising and/or bewildering Oscar calls: Revolutionary Road's Michael Shannon was duly recognized for his electrifying performance in that film with a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but Kate Winslet's turn in the film as a frustrated housewife - easily the best work she's done to date - was ignored in favor of her more conventional turn in The Reader.

Rachel Getting Married's Anne Hathaway received a Best Actress nomination for her portrayal of a recovering addict wreaking havoc on her sister's wedding, but hers was the sole nomination in a film that was carried by an ensemble. Same went with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, whose Penelope Cruz got a Supporting Actress nod, but deserving co-stars Javier Bardem and Rebecca Hall got zilch.

Viola At least everyone in Doubt received a nomination for their performance, including Supporting Actress contender Viola Davis, who grabbed Oscar's attention by appearing in just one scene, and Best Actress nominee Meryl Streep, who extended her lead as the most nominated actor in Oscar history with 15 in the bank (Katharine Hepburn and Jack Nicholson trail her with 12 apiece).

Perhaps the most surprising nomination of the day was the Best Supporting Actor mention for Tropic Thunder's Robert Downey Jr.  Although his performance in the film as a Method actor who alters his skin pigmentation in order to play a black man was admittedly brilliant, it isn't the kind of thing the Oscars usually pay attention to. Downey's success in Iron Man probably played a big part in bringing him the nomination, since between the two movies, the actor cemented his Hollywood comeback in a major way.

But Iron Man was a comic-book movie, so Academy members opted to celebrate Tropic Thunder instead, because we know how Oscar voters feel about superheroes. Just ask the makers of The Dark Knight.

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can't fight this feeling anymore

I am pulling from the bottom of my heart for "Slumdog Millionaire," easily the best thing I saw in 2008...but I suspect "BButton" is going to take home the Oscar for best pic.

What's most appalling - and I can't believe I'm saying this - is the snub of "The Dark Knight." Not saying it should win, but it deserved an Oscar nom, at least. At the very least, it says a lot more about the darkness at the center of man's soul than the overrated "The Reader."

Speaking of overrated, SO happy not to see Clint Eastwood's name on the Best Actor list...

Juan

I find it inexcusable that The Dark Knight was not nominated for best picture. It has some of the best reviews of any of those nominated, and was a massive, well liked hit. Not to mention it was an outstanding film. The academy simply didn't have the BALLS to nominate it becuase it's a "comic book movie" and it hurts thier reputation for being pretentious elitists too busy high fiving eachother over "serious" films like The Reader. I am VERY upset about this. There is simply NO logical excuse. Just cheap b.s. academy politics. It downgrades the entire ceremony.

Slumdog is easily going to win. Kate Winslet will probably wint his year just becuase she has been nominated 7 million times. I think maybe Amy Adams or Penelope Cruz will take best supporting actress. Ledger looks like a shoe in for best supporting, but I know the academy is iffy on awarding the dead, in which case it will peobably go to Downey Jr. since they do love a comeback. Sean Penn I think will ultimately win best actor since he is an academy darling....this years oscars are just as predictable as last years it seems.

If they keep nominating films that no on has seen, then they can't complain when the ratings continue to shrink every year.

Rene Rodriguez

"Speaking of overrated, SO happy not to see Clint Eastwood's name on the Best Actor list..."

Don't make me ban you, eggroll.

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