Samantha Morton in In America; Photo: Fox Searchlight

Yay for surprises. The announcement of the 76th Academy Awards nominations were not the snoozefest we thought they would be, thanks to some shockers. Some thoughts on the categories:

Best Actress
Keisha Castle Hughes, youngest lead acting nominee ever, for Whale Rider; the film has been criticized for being heavy on cliche, but many films are (Lord of the Rings, for instance, though epic, is part of the adventure tradition) - it's the acting, directing, and other work around it that elevate it - and her performance was the heart of the film
Samantha Morton, for In America; Morton has shown an impressive, fearless body of work in a short time (Minority Report, Morvern Callar), and probably the British contingent in the Academy (versus SAG, which is an American organization) pushed her over the top
Naomi Watts, for 21 Grams; she did get the SAG nod, but it's nice that she's being acknowledged by the Academy, especially after they snubbed her for her work in Mulholland Drive

Best Actor
No surprises: Johnny, Bill, Jude, Ben, and Sean

Best Supporting Actress and Actor
No huge surprises, just the narrowing down from actors saluted by earliers awards, though the inclusion of Djimon Hounsou notes a pocket of support for In America. And it seems like Alec Baldwin's hustling has paid off with his nomination for The Cooler; this plus his Razzies nomination for The Cat in the Hat...it's a banner year!

Best Director
Well, Harvey Weinstein, you got a Best Director nomination, just not the one you thought (Anthony Minghella), so kudos to Fernando Meirelles, for an admittedly showy job of directing City of God but even better one of shaking things up
Sofia Coppola was expected to be nominated for Lost in Translation, but it's still nice point out that she's only the third woman to ever be nominated

A few other interesting things:

Micheal McKean and Annette O'Toole getting Best Song nominations for "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" in A Mighty Wind

Benoit Charest's and Sylvain Chomet's nominations for Triplets of Belleville, for Best Animated Film and Best Song.

The Academy loves Denys Arcand.

And though it's the most nominated film, The Lord of the Rings wasn't nominated for Cinematography (City of God, Cold Mountain, Girl With A Pearl Earring, Master and Commander, and Seabiscuit were).

And the lack of Cold Mountain...well, a friend put it best when she said, "If Cold Mountain doesn't appeal to people like us, then who will like it?" Us being people who would rather see a puff of a romantic comedy than hours of pseudo serious perfectly lit Transylvania as North Carolina with Civil War battles and Nicole Kidman trying to farm. But Gothamist likes the idea of Elvis Costello performing his nominated song, "Scarlet Tide."