Since these last two spots claimed by Frost/Nixon and The Reader were the ones that were potentially up for grabs, there was some speculation (like that of my colleague Eric Henderson at Slant Magazine) that the Academy would nominate two popular favorites released during the summer. And while I'm glad to see The Dark Knight snubbed - although it did pick up nominations for actor Heath Ledger and in several technical categories - Wall-E would have been a fine change of pace choice, a work - despite its status as a "mere" animated film - far more aesthetically innovative and personally affecting than any of the nominated films. Even the Christopher Nolan picture, as much as I dislike it, would have been something other than the usual fare; it's always good to see a receptivity on the Academy's part towards genre entries. And while Slumdog Millionaire, the sentimental favorite among the nominees, may appear to be anything but your typical Oscar material, its sentimental story, broad historical scope and slam-bang visuals hardly distance the film very greatly from the usual interests of Academy voters.
The most conspicuous - and egregious - snub in the acting categories would, no doubt, be Sally Hawkins' inspired turn in Happy-Go-Lucky. While it would be too much to hope for Michelle Williams to have picked up a deserving nomination for her fine work in Wendy and Lucy, Hawkins did win a Golden Globe for her performance (although in the lesser regarded Musical/Comedy category). But while the Academy made room for Angelina Jolie's silly hysterics in Clint Eastwood's Changeling, they couldn't clear a space for Hawkins' far more vivid characterization in Mike Leigh's movie. I rarely find myself getting too excited about individual film performances, but acting is always key in Leigh's pictures and in Hawkins' Poppy we get a figure whose outsized enthusiasms are barely contained by the 'scope screen, but whose indelible positivism gives way to a certain pathos as it rubs up against the practical limitations of an insistenly quixotic attitude. Playing a creature who both does and doesn't fit in the world around her, Hawkins' performance is the key to one of the year's best films and, while voters tried to make it up to Happy-Go-Lucky by nominating Leigh in the original screenplay category, denying the film's star (along with supporting actor hopeful Eddie Marsan) her rightful spot signals voters' preference for business as usual. But those who prefer to seek for positives will not be entirely disappointed. The mostly respectable documentary nominations did find room for such worthies as Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World and Tia Lessin's and Carl Deal's justly celebrated Katrina doc Trouble the Water.