Oscar’s a tease this year

It’s that time of year – the time where I re-establish my love/hate relationship with Oscar.

There’s just something about Oscar nom day that gets me in a fervor- something about the pretentious formality of it all that entices me.

Like so many other cinephiles, I woke up extra early on nomination day. With weary eyes and a caffeine tank on empty, I sat on pins and needles awaiting the nominations.

As usual, Oscar satisfied me in ways only he can, but at the same time, failed to give me the climax I so desperately desire (trust me, it’s a totally platonic relationship). 2008’s nominations offered a few surprises and a few expected entries.

As predicted by many Oscar analysts and critics, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ leads the pack with 13 nods. Only three behind is ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’ ‘Frost/Nixon’ (5 noms), ‘Milk’ (8 noms) and ‘The Reader’ (also with 5 noms) occupy the remaining three slots in the Best Picture race.

Much to my delight, for the mere fifth time in the Academy Awards long history, all five Best Picture noms also saw its director nominated.

It isn’t unusual, and in recent years not entirely unexpected, that the Academy dumps a few surprises, some deserving and some not, into the nominee pool.

The most notable of these is Best Supporting Actor nominee Michael Shannon, who stole ‘Revolutionary Road’ with only two scenes and around 10 minutes of screen time – not an easy task when your sharing the stage with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

Other surprises include a Best Actor nomination for Richard Jenkins in ‘The Visitor’, Melissa Leo for her role in ‘Frozen River’, and the aforementioned Best Picture nominee, ‘The Reader.’

My biggest point of contention in this year’s race is the collective outpour for ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,’ – a film that I find slightly overrated and most definitely not deserving of the baker’s dozen nominations it received. Brad Pitt’s Best Actor nomination for ‘Button’ seems more like a contrivance to give it the most nominations possible than a deserving recognition.

Almost as fun to squabble over as who got nominated-is who got snubbed. Oscar has a long history of turning its cheek to deserving contenders (acknowledge the fact that Martin Scorsese didn’t win the Best Director Oscar until 2006 and you can see my point).

Much to the dismay of fanboys everywhere (including myself), ‘The Dark Knight’ failed to lock a Best Picture nomination. Despite a heavy campaign in favor of the latest caped crusader installment to be recognized, its only major nomination came in the Best Supporting Actor category as Heath Ledger goes for the first post-humus Oscar since Peter Finch nabbed one for ‘Network’ in 1976.

Overall, Batman’s avid followers should be pleased with its eight total nominations- an achievement for a superhero film that should not be overlooked.

Also heavy on nominations but shut out of grand prize consideration was ‘Wall-E’, which hoped to be only the second animated film ever nominated for Best Picture (Beauty and the Beast remains the only one to do so).

But with six nominations, ‘Wall-E’ not only becomes the most nominated Pixar film ever, but also a good indicator that animation is starting to be taken as seriously as the live action/heavy-handed dramas academy members so adore.

So, the race for the little golden guy is officially underway. Debates and predictions will dominate film fan conversations and online forums until Oscar reveals his picks on Feb. 22. At the very least, I can expect a somewhat satisfying cheap date. At the most, Oscar will actually give me the happy ending I hardly ever receive from him.