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Gray and gold are the hot colors in this year's Oscar nominations

Everything old is gold again after Tuesday's announcement of Academy Awards nominations, with two movies set in cinema's silent era making the most noise.

Martin Scorsese's fanciful Hugo, with its third act focused upon film pioneer Georges Melies, led all films with 11 nominations including best picture and director. The Artist, an affectionate replica of black-and-white, wordless storytelling, was close behind with 10, fully half in major categories.

Makes you wonder if the academy might dump Billy Crystal as host if Charlie Chaplin were still alive.

Beyond those faux vintage frontrunners, nominations for the 84th annual back-patting extravaganza known as the Oscars showed a decidedly gray streak.

Take young buck Jonah Hill out of the supporting actor equation and the group's average age of nominees is 71. Best director and original screenplay nominee Woody Allen (76) remembers when creaky dramas like best picture nominees War Horse and The Help were cutting edge stuff, and The Tree of Life was released as 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Some youth was served along the way, earning a measure of Hollywood Boulevard street cred. Hill's nomination for Moneyball may ensure that we'll never see that sequel to The Sitter that nobody asked for. Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) struck a blow for lowbrow comedy with a supporting actress nod. And Rooney Mara's best actress nomination for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo could make kinky piercings the trendy red carpet fashion accessory.

We'll find out Feb. 26 when the show is televised live from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. For now, here are a few thoughts that popped into my head after Oscar nominations were announced:

SNUBS AND SUBS

The best actor race contains two notable surprises. Many observers predicted Leonardo DiCaprio's J. Edgar Hoover impersonation and current "it" guy Michael Fassbender's full frontal sex addict in Shame would make the list.

Instead, the academy nominated first-timer Demian Bichir (TV's Weeds) for his tenderly pensive portrayal of an undocumented immigrant in A Better Life. The fifth slot went to Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), who was snubbed by the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild. The race still looks like George Clooney's (The Descendants) to lose.

Breaks from conventional wisdom were relatively minor in other acting categories. Best actress nominee Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) likely nudged out Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), who has a Screen Actors Guild nomination for consolation.

Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) got the supporting actor nod that many expected to go to Albert Brooks (Drive) after a run of critics awards. Among supporting actresses, Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs) was a toss-up choice; Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) or Carey Mulligan (Shame) would fit as nicely.

NO MOUSE IN THE HOUSE

For the first time since the Oscar category for best animated feature film was created in 2001, neither Disney nor its subsidiary Pixar are included among the nominees. Academy voters were rightfully unimpressed with Cars 2 and Gnomeo & Juliet. Not even Elton John's Golden Globe finalist Hello, Hello from the latter film was nominated, while only two songs made the Oscar cut — a record low.

DreamWorks earns animation studio bragging rights this year with three feature nominees: Rango, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots.

More surprising than Disney/Pixar's absence is the inclusion of two 'toons I've honestly never heard of.

A Cat in Paris is a French fantasy about a feline named Dino leading a double life. By day he's the pet of a police officer's daughter. By night he's literally a cat burglar stealing jewelry. Chico & Rita is a Spanish production set in 1948 Cuba, where a piano player and a singer fall in love to bolero rhythms.

Both nominees are handled by obscure distributors without Disney or DreamWorks' bankroll or connection with theaters. We'll let moviegoers know if and when Tampa Bay opening dates are set.

DOG EAT DOG

The most amusing tidbit from Tuesday morning's TV happy chat about the Oscars concerned a rivalry brewing between canine co-stars, stoked by an best supporting actor nominee.

At a recent Newsweek photo shoot, Christopher Plummer (Beginners) reportedly balked at posing with Uggie, a Jack Russell terrier and scene stealer from The Artist. Plummer had his own four-legged co-star in Beginners, a rescued Jack Russell named Cosmo who, unlike Uggie, conveys thoughts with subtitles.

"We had the better dog," Plummer reportedly sniffed. Uggie couldn't be reached for comment.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365.

Gray and gold are the hot colors in this year's Oscar nominations 01/24/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 11:50am]
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