Academy members have come up with a boisterous selection of nominees that tips its hat to the populist vote – the Holy Grail for the Academy these days. But there are some whopping omissions, not the least of which is a complete shut-out for The Dark Knight Rises.

The mix accommodates heavyweights like Lincoln (which leads the pack on 12 nods), Les Misérables, Amour (wonderful to see it in the mix) and Argo, the artistic splendour of Life Of Pi, edgier fare like Zero Dark Thirty and mass-appeal entries such as Silver Linings Playbook and Django Unchained.

Voting members can elect between five and 10 best picture nominees and this year they have gone for nine. The favourites now must be Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook but the roll of honour includes Beasts Of The Southern Wild, which has enjoyed a dizzying ride since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival a year ago.

Awards commentators and voting groups have already showered love and attention on Benh Zeitlin’s feral portrait of bayou life and it’s no surprise to see it get its due – it is one of the most unique movies in a season packed with strong work. What is surprising is that Zeitlin himself is a best director nominee, rubbing shoulders with Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Michael Haneke and David O Russell.

Best Actress

Even more surprising is the inclusion of Quvenzhané Wallis among the best lead actress nominees. The newcomer was six when they shot the movie and now, aged nine, becomes the youngest-ever nominee in the category. Such glorious recognition is what awards season is all about and Wallis can wear this as a badge of honour for the rest of her life.

This pairs nicely with the fact that Emmanuelle Riva from Amour is the oldest nominee at 85. The late Jessica Tandy remains the oldest winner of the category at the age of 80 for Driving Miss Daisy in 1990.

Wallis and Riva deliver fine performances in what has been a tremendous category this season. I know of Academy members who have been quick to point out that, despite barnstorming turns by Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain and Wallis, it has not been a particularly strong race because of the dearth of American contenders.

Let’s dismiss such culturally myopic remarks and celebrate the fine work of the aforementioned Americans, as well as Riva and Naomi Watts, who earns her second nomination for her exhausting work in The Impossible. It’s too bad the Academy left out Marion Cotillard for Rust And Bone, but you sense it’s only a matter of time before that Oscar on her mantelpiece gets an identical companion.

Best Actor

The lead actor contest features Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln, Denzel Washington for Flight and Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables. These were always the expected choices and deservedly so. Bradley Cooper is in there for his admired performance in Silver Linings Playbook and has gained momentum throughout the season

The surprise here is Joaquin Phoenix. It’s all the more startling principally because this gifted actor gives an uncontrolled performance in The Master that’s more like a show reel of twitches and wild-eyed mania. Paul Thomas Anderson failed to rein him in, but The Master is still one of the most beguiling works of the past 12 months and it’s a travesty that neither director nor picture is nominated.

Voters loved the acting though. Along with Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams each get supporting actor nods.

Phoenix’s comments about awards seasons and acting in general have not endeared him to a lot of people and for a while there it looked like voters would take a dim view. But he made the cut, probably at the expense of John Hawkes, who did a fantastic job in The Sessions.

Hawkes’ omission is one of the Academy’s biggest mistakes of the day. Poring over the snubs is one of the great parlour games of awards season and who are we not to play?

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow is out of the director race, which will be a huge surprise given her inclusion in the DGA nominations earlier in the week. You have to wonder whether the political furore over the depiction of CIA torture hurt her. For the movie to get nominations in senior categories like best picture, original screenplay and editing and not receive a nod for directing makes me think she is the fall girl over all the outcry in Washington.

Academy members also snubbed Tom Hooper but he will be back. This Oscar category is worlds apart from the DGA nods and you have to say Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee, whose delicious Life of Pi earned 11 nods from the Academy, are the favourites.

DGA nominee Ben Affleck is also out — according to received wisdom this scuppers its chances of winning the best picture contest — and in comes Zeitlin for Beasts and David O Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.

I’ve already touched on Zeitlin. Russell did a great job mixing up raucous comedy with heartfelt emotion in Silver Linings and it’s great also to see the movie produced nods for adapted screenplay and acting.

Lawrence is a frontrunner with Chastain for the lead actress category, while Robert De Niro gives his best performance in a long time and will give Alan Arkin, Tommy Lee Jones et al a run for their money in the supporting actor race.

Haneke is having a great year and flies into Los Angeles this weekend to receive the LAFCA’s best movie honour. Amour must be the foreign-language frontrunner in a solid category that sensationally omits Intouchables. Good. That movie has made everybody rich but was never deserving of being mentioned in the same breath as Amour or A Royal Affair. Great to see War Witch in there. 

Skyfall earned a handful of minor nominations, capping a thunderous few months that saw it cross $1bn at the global box office.

Atlas and Dark Knight snubbed

There was nothing for Cloud Atlas, which is too bad because it’s big and bold and is an example of how the independent space and the international sales business can mount works of ambition and scope. In time I believe it will come to be seen as a significant movie.

But the last word goes to The Dark Knight Rises. How the Academy could fail to give it a single nod is beyond me. Christopher Nolan and his partners at Warner Bros and Legendary have made the greatest, most satisfying superhero adaptation (by which I mean the trilogy as a whole) to emerge from Hollywood. It speaks to a far broader audience than comic book geeks, as the box office has shown, and merits prestigious recognition.