Jan. 10, 2013 at 8:49 AM ET
The Academy Awards are a lively, high-spirited event, but many of the films nominated Thursday morning feature grim topics. From the waterboarding of "Zero Dark Thirty" to the desperation and revolution of "Les Miserables," movies this time around were rewarded for tackling dark subject matter with skill. Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" led all comers with 12 nominations, with Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" next with 11.
Up to 10 films can be nominated in the best picture category, and this year, nine were chosen. "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Amour" were three of the lesser-known titles making the cut. "Zero Dark Thirty," "Lincoln," "Les Miserables," "Life of Pi," "Django Unchained" and "Argo" were among the other films in the best picture category.
The best actress category offers a chance for history, as it features both the oldest (Emmanuelle Riva, 85, for "Amour") and youngest (Quvenzhane Wallis, now 9, for "Beasts of the Southern Wild") nominees ever in that category. (Tatum O'Neal, 10, won the best supporting actress award for "Paper Moon" in 1974 -- and Justin Henry was only 8 when he was nominated for best supporting actor in "Kramer vs. Kramer," but he didn't win.) But Jessica Chastain is likely to be favored in that category for her role as a CIA agent in "Zero Dark Thirty." Also nominated there are Naomi Watts for "The Impossible" and Jennifer Lawrence for "Silver Linings Playbook."
Many of the names Oscar watchers expected to hear were indeed called. Anne Hathaway was figured early on to be a favorite in the best supporting actress category for her role as Fantine, who sells her body, hair and teeth to save her daughter in the adaptation of the beloved stage musical. She's nominated, as is Sally Field, who plays Mary Todd Lincoln in "Lincoln," another expected name. Others in the category are Jacki Weaver for "Silver Linings Playbook," Helen Hunt for "The Sessions," and Amy Adams for "The Master."
Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays the title role in "Lincoln," will easily be named the favorite in the best actor category. Also nominated there were Hugh Jackman for "Les Miserables," Denzel Washington for "Flight," Bradley Cooper for "Silver Linings Playbook" and Joaquin Phoenix for "The Master." Phoenix was snubbed in the same category by the Screen Actors Guild award nominations.
Cooper called in to TODAY to talk with Al Roker, Willie Geist and Natalie Morales after hearing his name called.
"The funny thing is how I sort of talked myself into how I wasn't going to get up (for the announcements)," he told the anchors. "But cut to: It's like 4:30 in the morning, and I'm just puttering around the house, and then I got my mom up and my dog, and then we were watching."
Christoph Waltz was nominated for best supporting actor for his role as a dentist turned bounty hunter in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained." Waltz won the best supporting actor Oscar in 2010 for his role in another Tarantino film, "Inglourious Basterds." Also nominated in his category: Philip Seymour Hoffman for "The Master," Robert DeNiro for "Silver Linings Playbook," Tommy Lee Jones for "Lincoln" and Alan Arkin for "Argo."
Tarantino himself was not named in the best director category, nor was Ben Affleck, whom many expected to see there for his work on "Argo," or Kathryn Bigelow, for "Zero Dark Thirty." Steven Spielberg was nominated for "Lincoln," Ang Lee for "Life of Pi," David O. Russell for "Silver Linings Playbook," Michael Haneke for "Amour" and Benh Zeitlin for "Beasts of the Southern Wild."
While the snubs of Affleck, Bigelow and Tarantino bothered some, Bradley Cooper told the TODAY anchors he was thrilled that Russell was nominated for "Silver Linings Playbook."
"I kind of lost it watching," Cooper said of hearing Russell's name called. "His heart is in that movie."
In past years, the best original song category has been shrunk to as few as two nominees, but this year it was filled out with five. "Skyfall," singer Adele's song for the latest James Bond movie, is the best-known of the group. She'll compete against "Before My Time" from "Chasing Ice" (a documentary about climate change), "Pi's Lullaby" from "Life of Pi," "Suddenly" from "Les Miserables" and "Everybody Needs a Best Friend," from "Ted."
Oscar host Seth MacFarlane and actress Emma Stone read the nominations, and MacFarlane, who stars in and directed "Ted," was notably pleased that a song from his film was included. "That's kinda cool," MacFarlane said. "I get to go to the Oscars now."
Animated fim nominees are "Wreck-It Ralph," "Frankenweenie," "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," "Brave" and "Paranorman."
Original screenplay nominees were "Flight," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Django Unchained," "Amour" and "Moonrise Kingdom." Adapted screenplay nominees were "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Lincoln," "Argo," "Life of Pi" and "Silver Linings Playbook."
Foreign film nominees included the French-language "Amour," which also shows up in the best picture category, as well as Chile's "No," Canada's "War Witch," Norway's "Kon-Tiki" and Denmark's "A Royal Affair."
The Academy Awards ceremony will be held Feb. 24 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.