Biggest surprise for me was John Hawkes getting into the best supporting actor category, and totally deserved. I think most of us thought his performance would be a touch too subtle to compete with some of the showier parts this year. But since I'd vote him right behind Christian Bale, I was happy to see him get recognized. Still, sad to see it come at the cost of Andrew Garfield. As much as I love Jeremy Renner, I would have gone with Garfield over him. I hope it doesn't show flagging support for The Social Network.
The second biggest surprise for me was the Coens taking Christopher Nolan's slot in best director. And again, always happy to see the Coens be recognized, but maybe they could have taken David O. Russell's slot instead? It just seems weird that Inception is being recognized for its writing and not its directing.
I imagine the foreign film category was surprising to many, given that it included challenging critics' fave Dogtooth, which from my understanding includes incest and cat killing. But this year has been so devoid of popular foreign film options that I truly don't care. Even with all of the marginally known options nominated (Biutiful, Incendies, In a Better World), I haven't seen any of them and probably won't. What happened to the days when movies like Life is Beautiful, All About My Mother, and Pan's Labyrinth were in this category?
As far as overall trends, it sounds like The King's Speech has the most overall nominations, and True Grit and Winter's Bone did better than expected. Social Network lost one in Andrew Garfield and Black Swan lost one in not being nominated for screenplay. But that's not ultimately what will decide the race. As I already wrote a few days ago (in depth), it's Social Network vs. The King's Speech, and the winner depends on the Academy's mood this year.
(For those curious, the other two nominations I missed was Javier Bardem for best actor instead of Ryan Gosling and Another Year for best screenplay instead of Black Swan.)
UPDATE: Just saw the list of nominees not announced on TV. For the most part, the movies in the big 10 continued to dominate in the smaller categories too. So just a few observations:
Many would say this was a better year for nonfiction films than fiction, so I was curious how documentary would go. As expected, presumed frontrunners Exit Through the Gift Shop and Inside Job were nominated, though other popular choice Waiting for Superman was not. Of the serious summer war docs, Restepo made it in but The Tillman Story did not. And haven't heard of the other two. Still rooting for Exit Through the Gift Shop. At least until I see Inside Job.
Also, Hereafter for visual effects? Really? I mean, I haven't seen it, but over Tron?
Pretty happy with all of the nominees in best score, and hoping Trent Reznor will soon be able to call himself Oscar winner.
Finally, the best song category is weak since there were no particularly good options this year, and they didn't even nominate the song from Waiting for Superman that I think was expected to win. But they did two things right: only nominate 4 songs since there clearly weren't five good ones (yet only three the year of The Wrestler, Wall-E, and Slumdog?), and keep Burlesque shut out.