RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the 86th Academy Awards
Obviously, the movie industry lacks a Nate Silver: This morning at 5:38am in Los Angeles, several manufactured narratives crashed to the ground as the Oscar nominations were announced, a slate that included a fair number of surprises. (Here's a full list of the nominees.) Leonardo DiCaprio, for all his enjoyable villainy in Django Unchained, yielded his presumptive slot to that film's Christoph Waltz, who gave a superior performance. Argo director Ben Affleck came away without a Best Director speech to prepare, as did two other DGA nominees—unusual, given that guild's perceived status as a bellwether of the Oscar bracket. And for all the arguments about Zero Dark Thirty's ethics, one thing that everyone agreed upon was Kathryn Bigelow's verve behind the camera, yet she didn't make the cut.
Could a new, online voting process—reportedly buggy—have affected the outcome? That's hard to believe when an 85-year-old actress, Amour's exquisite Emmanuelle Riva, snuck into the Best Actress field, while popular auteurs like Quentin Tarantino (a director with tech-savvy supporters) failed to place. Should we have followed the box office? Not reasonable either: The summer's behemoths, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, failed to score Best Picture nods despite strong reviews (neither did The Intouchables for Best Foreign-Language Film), while smaller, personal films like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour did. Did Joaquin Phoenix really ruin his chances for an acting nomination for The Master after shooting off his mouth in a sour interview? Apparently not: He's in. And all that buzz about critical-group momentum behind The Deep Blue Sea's Rachel Weisz? Sorry; thanks for playing.
All of these rationales will be trotted out selectively in the coming days (and years) by egg-faced "experts," who aren't likely to apologize or add the caveat that no particular theory works. One wonders how statistical rigor could be inserted into this annual shell game—you'd have to do exit interviews with the actual voters and build a fine-grain database of legitimate parameters, not fuzzy "Oscar logic." What factors were most important to them? One thing is certain: The show will go on too long.