The Oscar nominations were announced at the crack of dawn on Tuesday, initiating the annual catch-up-viewing period before the awards ceremony itself, which this year takes place on February 27. Of course, when it comes to these things, everyone has their druthers, but this year's major-category contenders seem considerably less objectionable—at least to these eyes—than they have in years past. The presumptive Best Picture frontrunners—The Social Network, The King's Speech, The Fighter, and True Grit—are all must-sees. And the Best Picture bench is deep: The Kids Are All Right and Winter's Bone, the summer's two indie sensations, probably won't take home any awards, but hopefully the prestigious recognition will encourage those who haven't seen these films to rent them.
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But, as always, there's also high-quality home-viewing to be found in the less glamorous categories of the Academy's nominee list. Mentioning Animal Kingdom in this context is a bit of a cheat, considering that its sole nomination is for Jacki Weaver as Actress in a Supporting Role, which qualifies as a mini-major category. But the Australian film, a gritty crime-family drama, barely grossed $1 million stateside, making it perhaps the most under-seen film cited this year for its acting.
Animal Kingdom is not merely a showpiece for Weaver, who plays the doting but calculating matriarch Janine. First-time writer-director David Michôd follows believably stiff teen "J" (James Frecheville) as he gets thrust into the Melbourne underworld after the heroin overdose of his mother. The movie is chockablock with showboaty speeches about betrayal and moody slo-mo, but Michôd raises the dramatic stakes with such a steady hand that his debut scarcely seems overblown.