Oscar voters dealt a decisive blow to the animal kingdom when the nominations for the 2012 Academy Awards were announced this morning. True, the odds were never great that the Academy members would recognize the efforts of any of the four-legged performers who had gotten a surprising amount of award-season buzz in recent weeks. Having long displayed a pronounced bias toward bipeds, voters did not surprise by doling out the most nominations to humans such as Martin Scorsese (whose 3D fantasy film Hugo led the pack with 12 nominations), George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Brad Pitt. No strangers to red carpets, they'll be ready to walk 'em again when the Oscars take place at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre on Sunday, Feb. 26.
Nevertheless, it was disappointing to see that there was no room for either of the Jack Russell terriers in contention -- Uggie of The Artist or Cosmo of Beginners -- or a single one of the 14 equine performers who played the lead role of Joey in War Horse. Nor, despite persistent lobbying by co-star James Franco, was Andy Serkis named for his digital-capture performance as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In the wake of this disappointment, these creatures' trainers and owners had no choice but to put them down. Don't worry -- it was all done humanely. As for Serkis, he was thrown into the fires of Mordor by a tearful Peter Jackson.
Obviously, it's a happier day for the likes of Scorsese and the creators of The Artist, the French-made homage to silent cinema that received just one less nomination than Hugo. Even though it contains just a few words of dialogue, The Artist is still the one to beat in the Best Picture category. The latest set of revisions to the nomination procedure meant that the number of nominees for the night's biggest prize could've shrunk back down to five from 10. Even so, voters were enthusiastic enough about the selection to keep 9 films in contention, with The Artist and Hugo facing off against a smattering of crowdpleasing dramas (The Help, Moneyball, The Descendants), one bona-fide masterpiece (The Tree of Life), a middling Woody Allen movie that became his most successful movie ever (Midnight in Paris), the requisite Steven Spielberg production (War Horse) and the even more requisite one in which Tom Hanks' character dies tragically (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close).
Edgier movies that fared well with critics like Shame and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo were deemed too unsavoury by voters, who tend to favour more uplifting viewing experiences. Harder to explain was why The Help's preoccupation with feces-eating was judged more acceptable than the extravaganza of poop and puke in the most notorious scene in Bridesmaids, which missed the Oscars' Top 9 despite being included in the American Film Institute's annual Top 10. Voters made up for this by including Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids' MVP, among the Best Supporting Actress hopefuls.
Then again, it wasn't unusual for a performer to win an acting nomination for a movie that is not up for Best Picture -- indeed, the year was rife with flawed films that principally exist as showcases for thespians hungry for Oscar glory. Though the Best Actor category features such heavy-hitters as The Descendants' George Clooney, The Artist's Jean Dujardin and Brad Pitt's Moneyball (any one of whom could prevail), there was also room for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Gary Oldman and, even more surprisingly, Demián Bichir of the little-seen A Better Life. The Best Actress slate is far more lopsided, with only The Help's Viola Davis being cited for her work in a Best Picture nominee -- otherwise, it's shaping up to be a contest between The Iron Lady's Meryl Streep and My Week With Marilyn's Michelle Williams, with Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs) and Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) filling out the just-happy-to-be-nominated part of the equation.
Though audiences have been slower to take to The Artist than critics and festival-goers have been, chances are its clever and cute brand of warm-hearted nostalgia will earn it a considerable amount of affection on the big night. Its female star Berénice Bujo is likely to take the Best Supporting Actress prize, while similarly sentimental voters should also favour Best Supporting Actor nominee Christopher Plummer for his performance in Beginners. The Canadian actor's lack of an Oscar win despite a storied six-decade screen career also makes him the frontrunner. Let's just hope he doesn't insist on doing push-ups like Jack Palance when he collected his statutette for City Slickers. (Surely, Uggie or Cosmo wouldn't have done anything as embarrassing if either of them made it to the podium.)
Canuck viewers will also be happy to note that the second French-Canadian feature in as many years has a berth in the Foreign Language Film category. A thoughtful school-set drama by Quebec's Philippe Falardeau, Monsieur Lazhar competes with movies from Belgium, Israel and Poland, as well as the category's favourite, the widely acclaimed Iranian film A Separation.
Besides Canadians, some other demographic groups that have typically gone neglected but may have something to cheer about on Feb. 26 include: Flight of the Conchords fans (that show's Bret McKenzie is nominated for "Man or Muppet," his song for The Muppets); admirers of the late German choreographer Pina Bausch (subject of Pina, up for Best Documentary Feature); and anyone who wishes there were more animated movies about Latin jazz musicians of the 1940s (Chico & Rita, a Best Animated Feature nominee from Spain).
However, animal lovers and zookeepers -- and, indeed, anyone whose favourite film of 2012 was Zookeeper -- are bound to be disappointed. But ain't that always the case?