Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor both earned nods for their performances in the comedy, while the film itself was nominated as best picture in the musical or comedy category.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom ("Chocolat") and written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy ("Slumdog Millionaire"), "Salmon Fishing" follows a Yemeni man (Amr Waked), his representative (Blunt), and a fisheries expert (McGregor) as they attempt to introduce salmon fishing to the Middle East. The movie also stars Kristin Scott Thomas as the British prime minister's public-relations guru, who has a vested interest in their story.
The movie's cast and crew were pleasantly surprised by the nominations that had some film buffs scratching their heads.
"I'm so incredibly thankful to the Hollywood Foreign Press for recognizing our little movie that could," Blunt told the Los Angeles Times. "Ewan and the entire cast and crew could not be more deserving of this honor, and I'm thrilled that I'm able to share this moment among such a fantastic group of nominees."
"I am happy as a clam!" Hallstrom said in a statement carried by AwardsDaily.com. "Many thanks to the [sponsoring Hollywood Foreign Press Association, or HFPA] for recognizing our film with these nominations. I loved making this movie, and I am so happy for Ewan and Emily, and on top of being outstanding actors, they are two of the funniest and nicest people in the business, in my mind!"
It is indeed surprising that "Salmon Fishing," based on the acclaimed novel by Paul Torday, is being recognized now. The film grossed a modest $9 million after it was released in March, according to Box Office Mojo, and it has had mixed reviews. For example, it has a 67 percent Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
And even some of the critical praise it drew was lukewarm.
"Despite sporting the worst cinematic title since 'The Chumscrubber,' 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen' hooks some charming laughs and a quaint romance by not delving too deeply into its subject matter," John Anderson of USA Today said.
Mark Holcomb of the Village Voice noted that the film "[m]ostly sacrifices the political satire and epistolary structure of Paul Torday's source novel in favor of cute, if strained, rom-com shenanigans."
The dearth of successful comedies released this year may account for the "Salmon Fishing" best-picture nomination. The year has been filled with acclaimed action films, such as "The Dark Knight Rises," and riveting dramas, such as "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty." However, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" and David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook" are among the few comedies that have warranted awards-season recognition.
In terms of Blunt and McGregor's nods, it is possible that the two are being recognized for their respective bodies of work this year, rather than for "Salmon Fishing" alone.
McGregor had a memorable supporting role in Steven Soderbergh's "Haywire" and has earned rave reviews for his turn in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami drama "The Impossible," a performance that was recently endorsed via an industry screening held by Angelina Jolie. Blunt gave moving performances in the light-hearted indie "Your Sister's Sister," the rom-com "The Five-Year Engagement," and the futuristic thriller "Looper."
"Salmon Fishing" has received extensive coverage since the nominations were announced. Yahoo Movies has labeled it "the romantic comedy of 2012," while Hollywood.com released a list of reasons why the film deserves recognition.
Oscar ballots are due Jan. 3, which means that in the wake of "Salmon Fishing's" newfound attention, members of the sponsoring Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences may take the film into consideration. Additionally, because it may be tough to fill the 10 best-picture slots this year, the movie might have a slim chance of earning a nomination for that coveted award.
However, not all industry professionals take their cues from the HFPA: The critically panned "Burlesque" and "The Tourist" earned best-picture nods for musical or comedy in 2011.
The 70th annual Golden Globe Awards ceremony will be conducted Jan. 13. Nominations for the 85th Annual Academy Awards will be announced Jan. 10.