Every Wednesday, the Movie Forum convenes to discuss the latest news from the film world and answer questions submitted by you, the reader.
This week, in a special edition of the Movie Forum, we're all about the Academy Award nominations! Film critic Claudia Puig and movie reporter Susan Wloszczyna discussed the Great Director Snubbing of 2013 (Affleck! Bigelow! Hooper!) and the close competition in the Best Actress category as well as answering readers' questions about Best Actor, Animated Features and the lack of Best Picture love for The Master.
Enjoy the chat and submit your questions for next week below.
John Elliot: Welcome to a special Thursday edition of USA TODAY's Movie Forum
Happy Oscar Nomination Day, film fans
I'm John Elliot, online producer for USA TODAY Movies and I will serve as your moderator. Joining me today is USA TODAY film critic Claudia Puig and movie reporter Susan Wloszczyna.
How this works - Each week we solicit questions, online, from our readers on certain movie topics.
This week, however, we're devoting the entire hour to this morning's Oscar nominations!
Snubs, surprises, sure things…we'll cover them all! And we want your input too.
Submit your Oscar comments and questions below and we'll tackle them during the hour.
So let's get started…and let's start with the snubs and surprises
And let's start with the snubbing-est, suprising-est category of all this year…The Directors! What happened there, Susan?
Susan Wloszczyna: So yes - directors.
When the Directors Guild announced their list earlier this week, all us pundits figured that major studio releases were going to rule what with Tom Hooper for Les Mis, Ben Affleck for Argo and Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty making the lineup.
But those wacky academy voters rewrote the script, didn't they. They wanted Benh -- as in Zeitlan of Beasts of the Southern Wild. And they wanted David -- as in O. Russell of Silver Linings Playbook. And an Austrian dude named Michael Haneke.
What happened is the voters continue to embrace those little indie films that actually probably need their help but do not encourage people who saw Skyfall to watch the Oscar show.
Claudia Puig:For sure the best director category looked like a list of missing persons. Hard to believe Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow were left out. Ben Affleck might be the biggest shocker since there was so much early buzz about him and his film. So much for early momentum. Tom Hooper's omission was surprising, though he had his day with King's Speech I guess. Bigelow was no doubt hurt by the political controversy surrounding Zero Dark Thirty.
Two of the five nominees were not nominated for awards by the Directors Guild, which is widely considered a barometer for nominees and winners. Michael Haneke of Amour and Benh Zeitlin of Beasts of the Southern Wild were the surprise nominees, elbowing out DGA nominees Affleck and Bigelow.
The Academy's earlier than usual voting deadline might have been a factor since members turned in their ballots before the DGA nominations were announced.
One of the issues that's problematic when you have so many best picture candidates, though-- and this year there were 9--is that so many directors seem like worthy contenders. If a film is worth a best picture nomination, more likely than not its director is one of the key reasons it's as good as it is.
Susan Wloszczyna: I feel for Tom Hooper but many did bash his obsession with closeups and that he thought it was good idea to expose the public to Russell Crowe's two-note range.
But Affleck is the biggest head scratcher since he has been a SAG member probably before he could drive. I thought they loved director Ben and that he had paid for his J. Lo sins. At least Argo got 7 nominations,
Claudia Puig: Agreed about Afffleck. Much as I liked Beasts, and thought Benh Zeitlin did a very good job, I would have given that slot to Ben Affleck. And Haneke is a very deliberate and calculated, even cold, director. He's meticulous.
But Tarantino was really snubbed in my book.
Susan Wloszczyna: I had mixed feelings about Django. It had its high points -- that blue fancy-pants suit worn by Jamie Foxx and the use of Jim Croce's I've Got a Name is classic QT. But it seemed a bit of a jangled mess -- or a djangled mess. And ooh that QT cameo.
Claudia Puig: I thought it was pretty brilliant. Susan, do you think Kathryn Bigelow was hurt by the torture question and the accusations by Senators like McCain and Feinstein that torture was not used to track down Bin Laden? I know the radio talk shows have been focusing a lot on the accuracy issue.
Susan Wloszczyna: Controversy and public discussion rarely hurts a movie. But she did not take a stand on the scenes of torture or other questionable methods depicted. She took the artist defense -- I am not advocating or criticizing. And I think that might have upset the liberal leaners in the academy.
Claudia Puig: All the focus on whether or not torture was used may have just put a dent in the film's momentum by Academy members. Or maybe since she won so recently for The Hurt Locker, it's similar to the sense that she's had her day. Ditto for Hooper and The King's Speech? Then again, Spielberg has been nominated 6 times.
Susan Wloszczyna: Spielberg is at a whole different level than his competition this year. The fact that he had a return to form with Lincoln begged to be rewarded. Hollywood needs someone who greenlights films so easily to make worthwhile films. So they encouraged him.
Claudia Puig: Yes, Spielberg is pretty much in a class of his own. And he's the man to beat, as is Lincoln star, Daniel Day Lewis.
I have to say I was happy to see Ang Lee get a nomination. The film hasn't seemed to get as much attention as some of the others, but obviously he's very admired by the Academy and his years-long efforts to turn a fairly unfilmable book into a movie were really honored. He's one of my favorite directors--despite the Hulk-- so I'm always happy to see him on the roster of nominees.
John Elliot: How about the Best Actress category? No real surprises here BUT no clear front-runner either. We've got five nominees who have never won an Oscar, though three (Watts, Lawrence, Chastain) have been nominated before…SO, Claudia, who do you think walks away with the trophy?
Claudia Puig: If I were king, the trophy would go to Emmanuelle Riva, the 85 year old actress who was so amazing as an elderly French woman facing her mortality. The scenes in which her face is twisted following a stroke seem frightening real. But I think the contest will be between three younger actresses--though not the youngest--9 year old Quvenzhane Wallis. For her just getting nominated is the big prize, as they say.
But I think it will be a contest between Naomi Watts, Jessica Chatain and Jennifer Lawrence, all former nominees and all very well liked and admired by the Academy. If I were to choose among those 3 I would go for Naomi Watts who does a fantastic job in a little-seen movie.
Susan Wloszczyna: No, no Naomi for me. At least this year.
I see a clear divide between the two J's. Both are stunners, both have such great potential, both are versatile. and Lawrence already has two franchises going for her at age 22. But Chastain fascinates me and she is a big reason I found Zero Dark Thirty so riveting. She had all the steely silent determination of Eastwood but maintained her female essence in her reactions.
Claudia Puig: While I think Chastain is a very talented actress and agree about the fascination and have really liked her in previous roles, I would not give her the Oscar for this role because for me her character felt like a robot, or a cardboard cutout. All we knew of her character was that she was driven. Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal didn't bother to give her a back story or much depth. I didn't buy a lot of her reactions--particularly the final scene, which I won't spoil for people who haven't seen it. But I would have liked to see more character development.
I think Jennifer Lawrence is really amazing. She's only 22 and has made such wise choices in roles from Winter's Bone to this and of course Hunger Games. She'll have a long career, as no doubt Chastain will too.
Susan Wloszczyna: A robot? Do you think strong and silent male heroes are robots? Or stoic maybe. Mysterious. Not every female action hero has to come on like a Disney princess or Lara Croft. As for Lawrence, I am a big fan -- she can deliver a zingy speech like no one's business. But Chastain to me has much more to show. She really deserves the Oscar.
Claudia Puig: I'm not a big fan of strong and silent anything--male or female. I do like stoic and mysterious and dedicated, etc. Stoic and mysterious is different from lacking any character dimension. I sure don't think every female action hero should be a Disney princess or God forbid, Lara Croft.
But give me Carrie on Homeland any day. There's character development! But I think we'll have to agree to disagree
But, I do think Watts is an under-rated actress and her ability to switch from mama bear to cool doctor in The Impossible is pretty astounding. She was determined and stoic, but also showed some emotion. And her chemistry with the boy who played her youngent son and with Ewan McGregor, who was also very good, is also impressive.
Susan Wloszczyna: Ewan, Ewan, Ewan. To me he really hasn't had a good role that plays up his bad boy side since Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. He lost that edge some where along the line -- probably at the same time he picked up a light saber.
Claudia Puig: I love Ewan too! But i thought he was great in Beginners last year, as the son of Christopher Plummer. Alas, not enough people saw that excellent film
Susan Wloszczyna: Remember Velvet Goldmine! Now THAT was Ewan McGregor, pantless and all.
Claudia Puig: Oh yes I remember it well!
John Elliot: You'll notice that the Academy didn't fill all ten of its possible Best Picture spots (it did pick nine however). Why is that? And who could have (or should have) snagged that 10th spot?
Susan Wloszczyna: Math is not my strong suit. There are websites devoted to the formulas the academy uses to weight the votes, stuff about now many No. 1's and No. 2's and such (that sounds like an Al Roker thing now that I think about it). Anyway, to me, why not fill all 10? Every time a movie is promoted as an Oscar contender, that is money to make more potential Oscar nominees. Moonrise Kingdom or Skyfall could have easily gone in there and made people happy.
Claudia Puig: I guess the 10th for me would have been Skyfall or Moonrise Kingdom, the opposite ends of the spectrum. But I thought one of the reasons the Academy increased the number of best picture nominees was to include more audience favorites, the best of the blockbusters or popcorn fare. So, in that case it would have been good to see Skyfall or Looper or perhaps even The Avengers in that 10th slot. But the critic side of me can think of lots of indies that are equally deserving. Hello, I Must Be Going, Robot and Frank, Safety Not Guaranteed...I could go on....It's been a good year
What are your thoughts on Best Actor? Any snubs there?
Claudia Puig: I guess John Hawkes who played a guy in an iron lung seeking to lose his virginity would be considered a snub. Some might say Daniel Craig, who really is a great Bond.
Susan Wloszczyna: John Hawkes was insanely good. He was not just a guy in an iron lung in The Sessions. He was funny, he was sexy, you understood why so many women found this guy incredibly attractive even if he couldn't even scratch his nose. Such a beautiful performance. Yeah, yeah, Bradley Cooper was bipolar. But he wore a garbage bag. John Hawkes got naked both physically and emotionally.
Claudia Puig: Hawkes is always good. His role as Uncle Teardrop in Winter's Bone still sends a chill up my spine! I had the opportunity to meet him at an event once and I was scared to talk to him, that character was so indelible in my memory....
On second thought, another snub would be best actress nominee Emanuelle Riva's co-star in Amour -- Jean-Louis Trintignant. But that woudl have been a very big long shot.
I think Jamie Foxx was quite good in Django. I think there were more omissions for best supporting actor::Javier Bardem in Skyfall, James Spader in Lincoln, Leonardo Di Caprio and Samuel L. Jackson in Django.
John Elliot: Life of Pi got the second highest number of nominations with 11…but none of them were in the acting nominations. Does it have any chance of winning Best Picture?
Susan Wloszczyna: The film hasn't stirred as much debate as Zero Dark Thirty, Django or even Les Mis, but there are people out there who love this film to death. I found it beautiful, enchanting and at times profound -- although around the time the lemurs showed up, I started to question where the ending was going having not read the book. But Ang Lee obviously has his supporters in the academy -- he and Spielberg are the only two DGA nominees that were honored by the Oscar voters too.
But supposedly without a best actor nominee, a film often has little hope of taking the top prize. Not that I think Silver Linings with four acting noms is going to have an easy time, either, being a comedy.
Claudia Puig: I found it enchanting too and I think Life of Pi stands some chance, but Lincoln, Silver Linings and Argo stand better chances. I think the plethora of technical nominations it got shows how impressed the Academy is with it as a filmmaking achievement, but since actors are the largest branch of the Academy, i think they'll likely vote for Lincoln or Silver Linings -- both of which had a lot of acting nods -- over Life of Pi.
Do you think anything was left out of Best Animated Feature?
Susan Wloszczyna: No DreamWorks title. Three Disney releases made it in, though. ParaNorman, which I loved, made it in. The surprise, however, was the underseen The Pirates! Meanwhile, The Rise of the Guardians was left out. That might be because it was the last DreamWorks film distributed and promoted by Paramount. Maybe the handoff to Fox caused a lack of enthusiasm to build for it.
Claudia Puig: Disney does dominate the animated category, not surprisingly. And not for the first time. It was a pretty good year overall for animation. While I'm happy that the dreadful Hotel Transylvania didn't make it in. I guess Rise of the Guardians could be considered an omission.
My personal favorite is Frankenweenie, since I'm a big dog lover and a huge fan of Tim Burton...But I also loved Wreck it Ralph and Brave and thought ParaNorman was entertaining, though less than those other 3. A question for our questioner: Do YOU think something was left out?
Susan Wloszczyna: I am a Wreck-It Ralph supporter myself. I love that Disney made a Pixar film and Pixar made a more Disney-like princess film.
Matty P from New Haven asks:
Why do you think The Master didn't get nods in Best Picture/Director?
Claudia Puig: Hi Matty, I think The Master divided people, but the one thing most people agreed on was that Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman gave amazing performances. And the Academy added Amy Adams, who is also a wonderful actress.
I'm a huge PT Anderson fan, but this was not my favorite of his films so I can't say I was very upset to see it left off the list. The acting was the key to that film, in my book, though it was beautifully shot
Susan Wloszczyna: If The Master came out later in the year, it might have hung on. But that is the trouble with coming out in early September. The initial excitement over a new Paul Thomas Anderson film died out before the month ended. And The Weinstein Co. pinned their hopes on Django and Silver Linings instead.
Claudia Puig: Timing is everything. I think Argo coming out as early as it did in the process and getting all that advance buzz for Ben Affleck might have hurt him as well.
John Elliot: Well, it's time for us to wrap up unfortunately… We'll get our first possible Oscar winner predictors this Sunday during the Golden Globe Awards
Thank you Claudia and Susan. And a VERY big thank you to all our readers who participated and submitted questions.
Claudia Puig: Thanks, readers, for your astute questions. Go see the Oscar nominees--and other movies too! And happy New Year to all!
Susan Wloszczyna: Oh boy, we have what? Six more weeks or so to keep rehashing these theories. Hang in there folks. This is like covering a political campaign for us film reporters. It is never ending.
John Elliot: Remember: you can submit your burning movie questions all week long, right here.
Check usatoday.com for or ongoing Oscar coverage and join USA TODAY online Sunday as we cover the Golden Globes live.
Thank you all for joining us for the USA TODAY Movie Forum! Please join us again next Wednesday at 3 PM EST/12 PM PST for another edition of Movie Forum.