Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in "Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/DreamWorks, Twentieth Century Fox, David James)
Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in "Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/DreamWorks, Twentieth Century Fox, David James)

Heavy favorites were snubbed, independent visions celebrated, and Oscar history made with the naming of the youngest- and oldest-ever candidates for best actress when the nominees for the 85th annual Academy Awards were announced this morning.

The line-up both confirms and muddies this year’s race. Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” as expected, picked up the most nominations, with 12 nods including best picture, director, actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), supporting actor (Tommy Lee Jones), supporting actress (Sally Field), and adapted screenplay (Tony Kushner). But another heavily-lauded, if more controversial film, Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama bin Laden-hunt drama “Zero Dark Thirty,” was nominated for only five—including best picture and for Jessica Chastain’s leading role—while the filmmaker herself was snubbed for best director after winning directing awards and nominations from many industry and critics’ groups.

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Nor was that the only upset in the category. Ben Affleck, Tom Hooper, and Quentin Tarantino were passed over for “Argo,” “Les Miserables,” and “Django Unchained” respectively, while the directors of two critically praised but much less commercial films, Michael Haneke of “Amour” and Benh Zeitlin of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” scored nods for their work.

“Amour” was nominated for five Oscars, including best picture, director, actress, original screenplay, and foreign language film, a remarkable run for an austere French-language drama about an aging woman’s decline and death. The film’s star, Emmanuelle Riva, is at 85 the oldest actress ever to be nominated for an Academy Award. Quvenzhane Wallis, by contrast, is the youngest in that category: She was 6 when she filmed “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and is 9 now.

The nominees for best picture are: “Amour,” “Argo,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Django Unchained,” “Les Miserables,” Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” The nominations were announced Thursday morning by actress Emma Stone and writer-director Seth McFarlane (“Ted”); the latter is the first Oscar host since Charlton Heston in 1972 to present the nominations as well, and his spry sense of humor boded well for the upcoming ceremonies.

Overall, the nominations seemed to favor humanist statements big and small while avoiding politics and messy matters. “Lincoln” is now officially the season’s frontrunner, and Daniel Day-Lewis is considered nearly a lock for best actor. The second-most nominated film, with 11 nods, is Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” a fantastical but fundamentally serious drama of imagination and survival adapted from a much-loved book. “Silver Linings Playbook,” written and directed by David O. Russell (“The Fighter”)—and based on a novel by Holden native Matthew Quick—picked up eight nominations on the strength of its seriocomic portrait of characters coping with mental illness and fractious families; it is the only film with nominations in all four acting categories: actor (Bradley Cooper), actress (Jennifer Lawrence), supporting actor (Robert DeNiro), and supporting actress (Jacki Weaver).

By contrast, some major year-end contenders came up short. Anne Hathaway’s intense supporting performance as the doomed Fantine in “Les Miserables” was nominated, as expected, and Hugh Jackman has a shot at best actor, but the film’s seven total nominations didn’t include director Hooper (who won in 2011 for “The King’s Speech”) or the screenplay. “Argo,” Ben Affleck’s critical and commercial hit about a daring hostage rescue in 1970s Iran, scored nominations in seven categories, including picture, adapted screenplay, and for Alan Arkin’s supporting role as a seedy Hollywood producer, but was snubbed in other acting categories. And the minimal showing by “Zero Dark Thirty” has to come as a disappointment to the film’s creative team and fans.

It’s possible to read the tea leaves of the nominations as a kind of mission statement by the 6,000-plus members of the Academy, a body of industry professionals that tends to skew older. Clearly, the powerful depiction of an aging couple’s final months in “Amour” resonated with these voters. Just as clearly, the over-the-top violence of “Django Unchained” (five nominations, including picture, original screenplay, and supporting actor) played less well following a year of real-life tragedies. The Academy seemed to carefully pick and choose, with “The Master,” an exquisitely made but hard-to-love drama, receiving nods for best actor (Joaquin Phoenix) and best supporting actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and nothing else.

That directing category is especially fluky, and there has been speculation that the Academy’s introduction of online balloting may have asked too much of a notoriously stodgy voting body. But while some omissions can obviously be read as snubs—Bigelow and Hooper, the complete shut-out of ambitious blockbusters like “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Cloud Atlas”—others are more ambiguous. Ben Affleck’s career rehabilitation is complete and “Argo” is both admired and a hit; that he’s not nominated for best director this year is less a slight against him and more a sign that the Academy wanted to single out other kinds of movies and moviemakers. Oscar voters like him. This year, they just didn’t like him enough.