The 85th Academy Awards aired last Sunday night on ABC and in the dorm rooms of many a college student via shady online livestream. But unlike the films it honored, the broadcast was rather mediocre. Many of the winners, including Argo for Best Picture, Anne Hathaway for Best Supporting Actress, and Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor, were practically shoo-ins, having garnered Oscar buzz for months. Rushed acceptance speeches and lackluster musical numbers did not make the show any more compelling. More interesting than the night’s unsurprising winners were the snubs.
The awards were fairly evenly distributed, with Life of Pi collecting four wins, Argo and Les Misérables each getting three, and Django Unchained, Lincoln, and Skyfall each securing two. Somewhat surprisingly, the critically acclaimed thriller Zero Dark Thirty received only one Oscar out of its four nominations: Sound Editing, which it had to share with Skyfall. Moreover, the trailers for Silver Linings Playbook won’t hesitate to mention the film’s eight nominations and its status as the first film in thirty years to be nominated in all four acting categories, but only Jennifer Lawrence took home a trophy. Beasts of the Southern Wild failed to win any of its four nominations, although nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis’s performance was widely discussed. Of course, it is an honor just to be nominated—an honor that was not bestowed upon all talented filmmakers this year.
Host Seth MacFarlane received a lot of backlash for his misogynistic remarks, including the unfortunate “We Saw Your Boobs” number. However, he had at least one good joke: “Argo tells the previously classified story about an American hostage rescue in post-revolutionary Iran. The story was so top secret that the film’s director is unknown to the Academy.”
Argo director Ben Affleck was not nominated for Best Director, a snub made more egregious by his other recent accolades. Affleck won the BAFTA, DGA, and Golden Globe for directing Argo, but obtained no such recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Fortunately, Argo won Best Picture, and Affleck received a golden statue for his work as a producer, along with co-producers Grant Heslov and George Clooney.
In his acceptance speech, Affleck said, “You can’t hold grudges … and it doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life, because that’s gonna happen. All that matters is that you gotta get up.” Still, it is probably pretty hard to hold a grudge with an Oscar in your hand.
If anyone is holding a grudge, it should be Leonardo DiCaprio, whose lack of an Oscar has become something of a running gag in the online world. Throughout the broadcast, Tumblr users joked about DiCaprio singing “I Dreamed a Dream” to himself in the distance or crying, “She’s not even an actress!” upon Adele’s win for “Skyfall.” One blogger even wrote, “Leonardo DiCaprio better show up out of nowhere and set fire to the theater while the Phantom of the Opera theme plays in the background.” Such a spectacle would certainly have livened up Sunday’s show, but alas, DiCaprio was nowhere to be found during the ceremony.
Leonardo DiCaprio has been nominated for an Oscar three times during his long career. In 1994, the then 20-year-old actor was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. The award went to Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive), who was nominated again in the same category this year for Lincoln. DiCaprio received another nomination a decade later for The Aviator, but the Best Actor trophy went to his Django Unchained co-star Jamie Foxx for his portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray. DiCaprio was nominated a third time in 2007 for Blood Diamond but lost to Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland). Best Picture that year went to The Departed, a Scorsese film which featured some of DiCaprio’s best work. Perhaps if he had been nominated for that role, things might have gone differently.
Some critics believed this would be DiCaprio’s year, with prominent roles in Django Unchained and Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. Sadly, the release of Gatsby was pushed to May 2013, and his work in Django was overshadowed by that of his co-star Christoph Waltz, who won his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the Quentin Tarantino flick. Waltz’s win was perhaps the most surprising of the night, but the excitement wore off due to its relatively early announcement. Nevertheless, Waltz remains the first and only actor to win an Oscar for acting in a Tarantino film. DiCaprio had no such luck, but at least Waltz thanked him in his acceptance speech.
While accepting the Best Picture award for Argo, Ben Affleck acknowledged the eight other films nominated in the category, as well as other films that “didn’t even get nominated this year.” One of the most notable Best Picture snubs was The Dark Knight Rises, the finale to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The Dark Knight was famously snubbed in 2009, when the Best Picture category was capped at five films. The Academy, presumably seeing the error of its ways, extended the category in subsequent years. Yet The Dark Knight Rises was left out completely this year, with zero nominations and no sign of Christopher Nolan. Like Leonardo DiCaprio, Nolan has been nominated for three Oscars–for producing and writing Inception (2010) and for writing Memento (2000)—but still has no golden statue to call his own.
The Academy has been notoriously unkind to superhero blockbusters. Before introducing the cast of The Avengers, Seth MacFarlane noted, “The Avengers was the most popular movie of the year, which is why it’s only nominated once.” (For Visual Effects, which it lost to Life of Pi.) Perhaps Academy voters, whose median age is 62, are a bit out of touch with cinema’s general audience. Obviously, Oscars should not be awarded for box office stats alone, but action hits are not always mindless explosion-fests. Smart films like The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers should be recognized for their writing, direction, and acting, not just their effects.
Ultimately, the real tragedy of the 85th Academy Awards was not the absence of Batman or Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence’s fall, Seth MacFarlane’s crude jokes, or the use of the “Jaws” theme to play off winners. No, the most disappointing moment of the night was that after getting snubbed and winning anyway, Ben Affleck did not lift the running gag from his film and tell the Academy to “Argo fuck yourself.”