Have the Oscars found their groove? Judging by Thursday's nominations announcement, they've certainly found a groove. The mood was frothy and frivolous at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in downtown Beverly Hills, and even the glowering visage of Michael Haneke, the austere Austrian director of Amour, couldn't dampen spirits.
"Amour is a co-production between Germany and Austria. The last time Germany and Austria produced something together, it was Hitler!" joshed this year's Academy Awards host Seth MacFarlane, as Haneke's portrait - in black and white, naturally - loomed on the screen behind him. MacFarlane did not follow up this one-liner with a quick Love ya, Mike!, but it was surely implicit.
After years of bungled ceremonies and niche best picture winners, perhaps the Academy has regained its nerve. A list of best picture winners from the past five years might well be a cinephile's dream: No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker, The King's Speech and The Artist. But in America these are small films, and some are even foreign. None was a notable success on Oscar's home turf.
In 2013, things look very different. The frontrunner, with nominations in 12 categories, including the crucial best picture and best director duplet, is Steven Spielberg's Lincoln - a fusty and Fordian period piece that itself feels like the product of an earlier era. Lincoln picked up 10 Bafta nominations, too, but that was because in the craft categories, the film is so downright nominatable: those stovepipe hats and mutton chops didn't make and groom themselves.
Watched in a British cinema, Spielberg's earnest recounting of the political chicanery required to free the slaves plays like a handsome and well-intentioned historical drama. In the US, though, as US president Barack Obama embarks on his own historic second term, it also feels like a vital echo from history - and that sense of import can only lubricate its path to victory in America.
Such a result would, once again, doom Ang Lee to the role of Oscar's bridesmaid. Lee's entrancing Life of Pi, an assured adaptation of Yann Martel's "unadaptable" novel, has been nominated in 11 categories, again including the crucial best picture/director pairing. But audiences in the US have not warmed to the film as they have in Britain, so perhaps a consolatory best director win is as far as Lee's film will go. Oscar watchers may well be reminded of 2006, when the Taiwanese director's Brokeback Mountain lost out to Paul Haggis's risible Crash - although to lose to Spielberg is hardly the same level of snub.
So who was snubbed? Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow, whose surprise no-shows in the best director category rather suggest their films, Argo, Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty, are unlikely to last the distance in best picture. One of their places was taken by David O Russell, whose divisive screwball romance Silver Linings Playbook won nominations in all four acting categories: it is the first film to do so in more than 30 years. (The kindest thing I can say about Silver Linings Playbook is that it wasn't for me.)
Spielberg, Lee and Russell are nominated alongside Haneke and also Benh Zeitlin, whose debut feature Beasts of the Southern Wild, a saccharine Deep South fantasia, secured an unexpected four nods.
And now let us spare a thought for the blockbusters, none of which managed to crack the best picture category. At least Skyfall found five nominations, spread across the technical and musical lists. The Hobbit secured a measly three; The Dark Knight Rises an embarrassing none. Two early frontrunners, Cloud Atlas and Untouchable (released in the US as The Intouchables), were also nowhere to be seen.
In the best actor and best supporting actress categories, Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) and Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) already look like sure things. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) and - why not? - Alan Arkin (Argo) seem likely to round out the quartet. But even if this looks set to be Lincoln's year, the Academy has already given us a few surprises: not least of all Amour, which was allowed out of the best foreign language corral only to pick up five nominations, including one for best picture. Surely even Michael Haneke would smile at that.
Oscars 2013: the nominees
Ang Lee for Life of Pi, Michael Haneke for Amour; Steven Spielberg for Lincoln; David O Russell for Silver Linings Playbook; Behn Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild
Beasts of the Southern Wild; Zero Dark Thirty; Amour; Argo; Life of Pi; Les Miserables; Lincoln; Silver Linings Playbook; Django Unchained
Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty; Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook; Emmanuelle Riva in Amour; Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild; Naomi Watts in The Impossible
Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook; Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln; Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables; Joaquin Phoenix in The Master; Denzel Washington in Flight
Best Supporting Actor:
Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master; Robert DeNiro in Silver Linings Playbook; Alan Arkin in Argo; Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln; Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained
Best Supporting Actress:
Sally Field in Lincoln; Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables; Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook; Helen Hunt in The Sessions; Amy Adams in The Master
Animated Feature Film:
Frankenweenie; The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!; Wreck It Ralph; ParaNorman; Brave
Robert Richardson for Django Unchained; Seamus McGarvey for Anna Karenina; Janusz Kaminski for Lincoln; Claudio Miranda for Life of Pi; Roger Deakins for Skyfall
Foreign Language Film:
Amour; NO; War Witch; A Royal Affair; Kon Tiki
Music (Original Score):
Dario Marianelli in Anna Karenina; Alexandre Desplat in Argo; Mychael Danna in Life of Pi; John Williams in Lincoln; Thomas Newman in Skyfall
Writing (Original Screenplay):
John Gatins for Flight; Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty; Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained; Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola for Moonrise Kingdom; Michael Haneke for Amour