You talking about a few that are in the bottom of the finalists section? they get quite interesting under the Illustrative section.
If they are judged against pictures of the same type i don't see any issues. They are far more creative than I am, that's for sure!
When you say 'muted blacks' fill me in with what that means, have no idea what I'm looking for
well to me this http://infocus.org.nz .../15IL0715143_WoodR_85.jpg isn't a photograph. Sure most of the parts where taken with a camera and it's based on a photograph but it's also edited beyond what a photograph should be.
I don't mind some editing but at some point it goes beyond a photograph and then becomes art in itself. Just like a painting so perhaps it's considered digital art more than a photograph.
as for the muted blacks I am talking about a photograph like this, if you look at the histogram, see how it doesn't go all the way to the left. there are no black pixels within the photograph. that's what your histogram means. the number of pixels from black to white. it's lacking contrast which makes the photograph look a little flat. And to be hones that's quite a boring photo.