First, there were the shockers: Tiny-but-wonderful films like "Half Nelson" got more than a teaspoon of respect than their slight box office tallies might otherwise accord them. Ryan Gosling's performance got a Best Actor nomination. And Clint Eastwood's astonishing Japanese-language "Letters From Iwo Jima" also got a Best Picture nod. Comedies, almost always bereft of Oscar's love this time of year, were honored abundantly: "The Devil Wears Prada" star Meryl Streep got herself recommended for a Best Actress Oscar, while "Little Miss Sunshine" clearly stole the Best Picture nomination initially earmarked for "Dreamgirls," and -- gosh darnit -- our hearts, too.
Even Abigail Breslin, the charming tyke who emits that spine-decalcifying yelp in "Little Miss Sunshine," got a supporting actress nod. An amusing side note: Dreamworks co-founder David Geffen is thought to have produced a sound similar to Olive's when he learned that "Dreamgirls" didn't snare a Best Picture berth. Or maybe it was the anti-climactic bidding for the Los Angeles Times. You decide.
Meanwhile, as gratifying as it is to see the "Best Supporting" categories filled with aspirants who are apropos, (talented nobodies like "Babel" stars Rinko Kikuchi or Adriana Barraza), it's also baffling that the Academy can twist itself into pretzels to accomodate such blatant gaming of the system.
I mean, Judi Dench gets a nomination for Best Actress in "Notes on a Scandal" while Cate Blanchett gets a Best Supporting nod? They are on the screen simultaneously and equally, but Blanchett is permitted to be jammed into the lesser category solely because she stands a better shot at winning there. (It reminds us of an Archie comicbook we read as a kid. Betty: "Jughead, if you dropped a quarter in the living room, why are you looking for it in the dining room?" Jughead: "Because the light is better here in the den.") So too, for Jennifer Hudson as a Supporting Actress nomination, when she carries that film with her knock-you-breathless pipes and "Seabiscuit" sized heart.