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Oscar noms: Love and disses

Dave Karger sees front-runner status for ”Old Men” and ”Blood,” applauds the underdog nods for Tommy Lee Jones and Laura Linney, sums up a good year for women screenwriters — and not such a good day for Sean Penn, and more

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Sean Penn, George Clooney
Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

Oscar noms: Love and disses

Before we start worrying about whether the Oscars actually take place on Feb. 24, let’s take a moment to look at the biggest surprises and sure things from this year’s nominations.

SURE THINGS

Violence and more violence The watch-through-your-fingers duo of No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood led the pack with eight nominations each. As the only Best Picture nominees to score all-important editing nods, they’re certainly the two front-runners.

The Clayton cast clicks With nominations for George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, and Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton was the only film to receive more than one acting nod. So where was that SAG nomination for best cast?

Juno‘s got the momentum The indie smash scored four major nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. Despite its tiny size, it’s far and away the biggest hit in the Best Picture race.

Fun for all ages! From 13-year-old Saoirse Ronan and 20-year-old Ellen Page to octogenarians Hal Holbrook and Ruby Dee, the Oscar class of 2008 is a satisfying mix of performers at all different points in their careers.

Girl (screenwriter) power! For the first time ever, three of the five Best Original Screenplay nominees — Diablo Cody’s Juno, Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages, and Nancy Oliver’s Lars and the Real Girl — were written by women. And Sarah Polley’s inclusion in the adapted-screenplay race for Away From Her makes it four.

SURPRISES

Atonement ekes out a nod After being shut out of all the major guild-award nominations, the impressive period piece managed to snag seven nominations (including Best Picture), though its director, Joe Wright, got stiffed.

Sean’s shut-out Though Into the Wild managed nods for editing and Hal Holbrook’s amazing performance, the film’s writer-director got bupkis.

Tommy Lee Jones — finally After turning in two of the best performances of his varied career without much to show for it, he landed the biggest major-category surprise of the year: a Best Actor nod for In the Valley of Elah. And we say hallelujah.

Laura Linney’s hat trick Even though I predicted a third career nomination for the Savages star (who didn’t even get a Spirit Award nod this year), part of me still didn’t think it would happen. Kudos to the Academy for not copying every other award show.

Cate Blanchett’s double-dip The awesome Aussie earned slots in two acting races (for Elizabeth: The Golden Age and I’m Not There) even though the former flopped at the box office. She beat out another star of a flop: A Mighty Heart‘s Angelina Jolie.