1) Never underestimate a crowd-pleaser: Although "War Horse" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" had been mostly written off in terms of Oscar chances, this morning shows that the Academy loves to have its heart strings tugged. No matter what cynical film critics and Twitter trollers might say.
2) Critics awards aren't reliable bellwethers: No matter how many critics' Top 10 lists a film might make, sheer awards volume doesn't necessarily add up to Academy appeal. "The Artist" was the only film that could have conceivably boasted any kind of throughline in terms of the opinion of critics, but plenty of other films earned multiple awards in the November-December timeframe and didn't get Oscar noms. "We Need to Talk About Kevin," "50/50," "Margaret" and "Melancholia" spring to mind. Conversely, critics loathed "Extremely Loud" — the ones who saw it, at least — and most were dismissive of "War Horse."
3) Prognosticators are guessing, and nothing more: Festival buzz, boxoffice receipts, guild awards and pedigree all combine into a delicious stew from which prognosticators sup in the months leading up to Oscar noms. Just about any theory about what the Academy will choose can get reasonable-sounding support by pulling out the right combination of history and speculation. Say it with enough authority, and before you know it, it has become part of the awards conversation. In December, a website decided "War Horse" was a frontrunner simply based on the fact that guild members could use their cards to get passed into the film opening weekend. Sure, it turned out that "War Horse" pulled through, but the logic was pretty sketchy.
4) Some categories just don't make any sense: Foreign-language film, song and documentary (though docs might be better next year) have a host of reasons why their nominees often don't yield noms for the best films. Most of it has to do with small committees and arcane rules. It's kind of like trying to understand why the Writers Guild disqualifies most of the screenplays that people are talking about during the season.
5) This is fun, right?: Judging from the violent reactions on Twitter this morning, several prognosticators take the Academy's choices very seriously. They're crying "fixed" and "popularity contest" in the same breath that they're screaming in pain over perceived snubs. Ya gotta choose: Irrelevant or important. It can't be both. And how horrible must it be for nominees who read that they shouldn't have been included in the mix in favor of someone else? Just because a film is divisive doesn't mean it isn't deserving.