Nominations announced for strike-imperiled Oscars

by Bruce Newman

San Jose Mercury News (MCT)

22 January 2008

Kathy Bates, left, and Sid Ganis make announcements at the 80th Academy Awards Nominations Announcement held at the Academy Theater in Beverly Hills, California, Tuesday, January 22, 2008. (Fitzroy Barrett/Landov/MCT) 

Like one of those NASA probes sending a signal into deep space, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences beamed its list of Oscar nominees into the blackness of Tuesday morning with no assurance a reply will ever come from the stars.

During Hollywood’s annual sunrise serenade of itself, “No Country For Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” each picked up eight nominations to lead a field almost evenly divided between those two and “Atonement” and “Michael Clayton” with seven apiece. That means that in a year in which no clear frontrunner for Oscar supremacy had previously emerged, none did Tuesday either.

“No Country,” an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s fierce novel about the truth and consequences of crime by the Coen brothers, received nominations for best picture, supporting actor (Javier Bardem), for the writing and direction of Joel and Ethan Coen, as well as several technical awards.

“There Will Be Blood” had a slightly gaudier haul, earning nominations for best picture, actor (Daniel Day-Lewis) and for Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction and adapted screenplay of the Sinclair Lewis novel “Oil!” That is nominally what the film is about, although, like “No Country,” it’s really a story of avarice, greed and sin without redemption - all subjects Hollywood knows something about.

The nominees for best picture are “Atonement,” “Juno,” “Michael Clayton,” “No Country For Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood.”

With the Hollywood writers strike against the studios now entering its third month, and the 80th Academy Awards just 33 days away, there remains a very real chance that no stars will ever come twirling up the red carpet to claim their gold statues. The Oscar ceremony is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. EST on Feb. 24. If it happens.

If it doesn’t, if the awards end up being mailed out following a press conference, which is what happened to the Golden Globes, it will reveal an uncomfortable truth about the Oscars: That without the glamour of the stars in their Vera Wang gowns and Valentino tuxes, the awards themselves might as well not exist. Hollywood’s biggest event has become a reality TV show.

But for the time being, there is hope. And where there’s hope, there is Oscar campaigning, which means a very real chance of sin without redemption.

“Michael Clayton” did a little better than anticipated, adding to the expected nominations for best picture and for George Clooney as best actor, along with Tony Gilroy’s surprise nod in the directors race. Gilroy also got a nomination for best original screenplay. Tom Wilkinson was among the supporting actor nominees for his electric performance as a lawyer losing his mind.

It was a good year for that. Julie Christie cemented her frontrunner status in the best actress race, picking up a nomination for her performance as a woman losing her mind to Alzheimers disease in “Away From Her.” There was one mild surprise in that category (Laura Linney of “The Savages”) and another very big one: Cate Blanchett received a best actress nomination for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” a movie very few people saw, or liked, and Angelina Jolie was not nominated for her role in “A Mighty Heart,” another movie very few people saw, although at least some of them liked it.

Academy voters, who can never quite get enough of Blanchett, gave us more than our fill of her this year, also nominating her for her wonderfully funky imitation of Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There.” Her main competition in that category will come from Amy Ryan, who plays a mother behaving badly in “Gone Baby Gone,” and Ruby Dee, who plays a mother behaving sadly in “American Gangster.” Dee is only onscreen for the blink of an eye, but she gets to slap Denzel Washington, which is one of those things that tends to get people’s attention.

Another supporting actress contender is Saoirse Ronin, the young Irish actress who steals “Atonement”; she also stole the only acting nomination for that picture, leaving leads Keira Knightley and James McAvoy ditched in a sad embrace. Other snubs considered memorable - if only to the people who received them - were the absence of any major award love for “Into the Wild,” and only Johnny Depp’s nomination as best actor for “Sweeney Todd.”

Even before the five finalists were announced, the race for best foreign language film was thrown into disarray when it was revealed that the nine semi-finalists did not include several of the year’s most highly regarded foreign pictures. The most egregious oversight was the omission of Christian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days,” the Romanian drama that showed up on dozens of critics’ top 10 lists.

Also inexplicably missing from the foreign legion were the French animated film “Persepolis” and Spain’s “The Orphanage,” although “Persepolis” climbed back into the game by receiving a nomination for best animated film, along with “Ratatouille” and “Surf’s Up.” That was a stinging rebuke to Jerry Seinfeld’s “Bee Movie,” which wasn’t very good, but did make a lot of money, usually the gold standard for an animated nomination.

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