Oscar Nominations' Surprises: Javier Bardem, Mike Leigh

Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Javier Bardem, Biutiful

The Oscar nominations tend to be fairly predictable, but every year one can find surprising inclusions and just as surprising omissions. This year is no exception.

The top surprising inclusions are:

Javier Bardem as a Best Actor contender for Alejandro González Iñárritu's Mexican-Spanish drama Biutiful. In 2000, Bardem was nominated for playing a Spanish-speaking person, the Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel's Before Night Falls. However, Schnabel's movie was made for the American market and had mostly English dialogue. Thus, Biutiful marks Bardem's first Oscar nod for a performance chiefly in his native language.

David O. Russell is a Directors Guild nominee for The Fighter, which is also one of the year's top ten films according to Oscar voters. But Russell's chances in the Oscars' Best Director category seemed quite insignificant, considering that DGA non-nominees (DGA snubbees?) Joel Coen and Ethan Coen were very likely candidates for True Grit. Turns out the Coens and Russell are in, whereas shoo-in Christopher Nolan is out.

Mike Leigh's Another Year in the Best Original Screenplay category. Despite a warm reception at the Cannes Film Festival, Leigh's film has been relegated to the sidelines throughout this awards season, as Tom Hooper's The King's Speech has become the prestige British production of 2010. In fact, a week or so ago Another Year received only two BAFTA nods: Outstanding British Film and a Best Supporting Actress for Lesley Manville. Though not exactly a shocker – this is, after all, Mike Leigh's fifth nomination for Best Original Screenplay – Another Year's Oscar nod came as a moderate surprise.

Dogtooth, Giorgos Lanthimos
Giorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth

Dogtooth in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Directed by Giorgos Lanthimos, this Greek comedy-drama is hardly your usual foreign-language film nominee. But since 2006, each year a committee composed of about 20 Academy members in Los Angeles and New York selects the five nominees in that category. That has led to some weird omissions (e.g., Pedro Almodóvar's Volver) and now a weird – though not unwelcome – inclusion, Dogtooth.

Lucy Walker's Waste Land, about art and garbage pickers in Rio de Janeiro, and Josh Fox's GasLand, about corporate lust for the United States' gas reservoirs, in the Best Documentary Feature category. Their inclusion meant the exclusion of Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for 'Superman' and Amir Bar-Lev's The Tillman Story.

Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love has been a favorite among some critics and film aficionados thanks to Guadagnino's direction; Tilda Swinton's performance; and/or Guadagnino, Barbara Alberti, Ivan Cotroneo, and Walter Fasano's screenplay. But I wonder how many were expecting this romantic drama to get an Oscar nomination for Antonella Cannarozzi in the Best Costume Design category. Even Burlesque – unlike I Am Love, a Costume Designers Guild nominee – would have been a more expected choice.

The Social Network and The King's Speech nominated for Best Sound Mixing. What's curious about these two nods is that Sound categories are usually reserved for either loud, fast-paced movies or loud, ponderous movies. Something like Iron Man 2, TRON: Legacy, Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, or even The Twilight Saga: Eclipse would have been more likely candidates. (Last year's nominees, for instance, were The Hurt Locker, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Avatar, Star Trek, and Inglourious Basterds.)

The inclusion of the critically acclaimed low-key dramas says something about how well-liked they are among Academy members of all stripes.

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