Dateline: Beverly Hills, California, January 22, 2008.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced the Oscar nominations for the best of cinema in 2007 at its Beverly Hills headquarters today. There Will Be Blood, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of muckraker Sinclair Lewis’ 1927 novel Oil led the field with eight nominations, matched by Joel & Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. Oscar-winner George Clooney’s socially conscious Michael Clayton racked up seven nominations, including a Best Actor nod for its star.
There Will Be Blood features an old-fashioned, scenery-chewing bravura performance by Oscar-winner (and 2008 Best Actor nominee) Daniel Day-Lewis.
Joel & Ethan Coen, the brotherly duo who made the classic film Fargo, tied an Academy record by receiving four nominations each from one film. The brothers were nominated as Best Director and for Best Adapted Screenplay and again for Best Film Editing under their pseudonym Roderick Jaynes. They also received nods kudos as producers of No Country for Old Men. The record of four nominations was first set by Warren Beatty in 1979, with Heaven Can Wait, and equalled by Beatty himself three years later with his epic Reds.
The Oscar-winning songwriting duo of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz got three nods for the songs from Walt Disney’s Enchanted. “Happy Working Song,” “So Close,” and “That’s How You Know” all featured music by Menken and lyrics by Schwartz
The great surprise of this year’s Oscar season is the lack of acting nominations for the two leads of the highly praised British film Atonement, which was nominated as Best Picture. Both Keira Knightley and her co-star James McAvoy were shut-out of acting honors, as was the film’s director, Joe Wright. The omission of Knightley, who had been nominated for Best Actress in 2006 for Pride and Prejudice, was particularly startling as the actress seems to be on the verge of super-stardom.
It is highly unusual for a Best Picture nominee not to cop at least one major acting nomination, particularly since this is a drama, the success of which depends on the acting of its stars. It is also unusual for a film to garner a Best Picture nod and not get a nomination for its director. It was as if Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas and Anthony Minghella were not nominated for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director, respectively, for 1996 Best Picture winner The English Patient, which would have been unthinkable. The chances of Atonement bringing home the Best Picture trophy have been diminished.
The sole acting nominee for Atonement went to teenager Saoirse Ronan.
The Academy used to give out special Oscars for juvenile performances, the last being presented in 1961, to Hayley Mills for Pollyanna, which was cited by the Academy as “the most outstanding juvenile performance during 1960.” In 1963, 16-year-old Patty Duke won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her memorable performance in The Miracle Worker, which essentially brought to an end the practice of parceling out special Oscars to juvenile performers. Juveniles were allowed to compete in the regular categories, a practice that continues despite the fact that very young Oscar winners seldom go on to have successful careers, or develop into truly talented adult performers.
Sarah Polley was an exception, maturing from an award-winning juvenile into an award-winning adult actress in her native Canada. Back in 1998, Polley had been touted as a Best Supporting Actress nominee for her brilliant performance in Atom Egoyan’s art house classic The Sweet Hereafter, but she refused to campaign for the award and was denied. She turned her back on Hollywood a year later, walking off the set of Almost Famous to return to Canada, leaving the role of rock groupie Penny Lane to Kate Hudson, who eventually won an Oscar nomination in the part.
While not turning her back on acting, Sarah Polley decided to become a writer-director to truly indulge her love of cinema. Today, Polley’s choice was justified as she won her first Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for Away From Her, her first feature film. Adapted from Alice Munro’s short story “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.” Polley’s assured direction brought the film’s star, Julie Christie, a bushel of acting awards, including a Golden Globe and the screen legend’s fourth Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Julie Christie is the favorite to win her second Best Actress Oscar 42 years after taking her first, for her moving performance as a woman afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.
“What’s most gratifying to me is Sarah Polley getting a nomination for screenplay adaptation,” Julie Christie said, as quoted in Variety. “I was afraid she wouldn’t be recognized. I wondered if they were going to get this great piece of work. I’m very glad I did it because it’s a terribly important issue. We’ve got to face the fact that we’re living longer. This is the comeuppance of wishing for immortality.”
“I’m in total disbelief. I’m thrilled but kind of in shock too,” Polley herself was quoted in Variety. “It’s been such a strange year and I’m bowled over by the life of the film. It’s more than I could have ever hoped. This now adds a very surreal element to it.”
If the Academy Awards ceremony, which is scheduled for February 24, 2008 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, is picketed by the Writers Guild, don’t expect Sarah Polley to be there. When she was starring in her first adult role in the 1999 film Guinevere, she joined a picketline of production personnel making the film, which was being shot as a non-union picture. The production personnel were protesting their treatment by the producers of Guinevere, and Polley not only wouldn’t cross their line, she walked it with them. Sarah Polley has said in the press that she has heard she has lost out on American acting jobs because of her pro-union stance.
Cate Blanchett was nominated in both the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories for her interpretations of two real people, Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Bob Dylan in I’m Not Here. One of the world’s greatest actresses, the Oscar-winning Blanchett — who was nominated in 1999 for playing the Virgin Queen in Elizabeth — was earlier nominated for Golden Globe Awards for both roles, and took home the gold for assaying Dylan. She is, along with Bing Crosby, Paul Newman, and Al Pacino, one of the few people to be nominated twice for playing the same character in two different movies
Tommy Lee Jones was a surprising nominee for In the Valley of Elah, while the superb American actress Laura Linney scored her third Oscar nomination for The Savages. Linney’s co-star, Oscar-winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman, had gotten the awards buzz for his performance in The Savages, but had to settle for a Best Supporting actor nod for Charlie Wilson’s War.
Hoffman’s War co-stars Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts and his director, Mike Nichols, surprisingly were overlooked for Oscar nominations, as was screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.
Perhaps the biggest upset of the day, other than Knightley not getting a Best Actress Oscar nomination, was the failure of French actor Mathieu Amalric to get a nod. His performance was th raison d’d’être for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. There would be no film without him.
Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn, who has received nominations from the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America for directing Into the Wild and writing its screenplay, also was overlooked. Of the cast and crew involved in realizing Into the Wild, it was veteran actor Hal Holbrook and editor Jay Cassidy who got recognized. A three-time Emmy Award winner, Holbrook — who will be 83 by the time the Oscars are presented — got his first Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. This is Cassidy’s first Oscar nod for film editing.
Hal Holbrook is the oldest man to receive an Oscar nomination for acting. Ralph Richardson received a posthumous nomination when he was 82-years-old. The record is held by Gloria Stuart, who was 87 when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Titanic.
While Hal Holbrook’s nomination was a pleasant surprise for those who appreciate the solid and frequently inspired craftsman who toiled mainly on the small screen and stage, so too was that accorded to Ruby Dee, the doyenne of African American actresses. The 84-year-old Dee received her own first Oscar nomination for her role in American Gangster. She made her film debut almost 70 years ago, in the race film What a Guy, a 1939 comedy made for the then-segregated colored cinema featuring Mantan Moreland, who is now generally reviled for his stereotypical antics. Ruby Dee’s breakthrough came in 1950, playing Jackie Robinson’s wife in The Jackie Robinson Story.
If either Hal Holbrook or Ruby Dee win, they will set the record as the oldest Oscar winner ever. George Burns and Jessica Tandy were both 80 when they won Oscars.
The feel-good indie box office hit Juno received much good news from the Academy, picking up nominations fir Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, an excellent haul for the modest comedy, a category that Oscar voters typically shun.
Director of photography Roger Deakins also was a double nominee, for cinematography for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and for No Country for Old Men. Previously, he had been nominated five times for the Academy Award, three of those for his work on Coen Bros.’ movies. Deakins has yet to win an Oscar. The other nominees for Best Cinematography were previous nominee Robert Elswit for There Will Be Blood, double Oscar-winner Janusz Kaminiski for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and Seamus McGarvey for Atonement.
The cinema year 2007 saw the release of Mideast-themed movies that were ignored by audiences and then by Academy Award voters. A Mighty Heart, Lions for Lambs, Redacted and Rendition all failed to get a single nomination.
All was not lost for the liberal-activist crowd, though. In the feature documentary category, Oscar-winning rabble-rouser Michael Moore copped his third Oscar nomination for his American healthcare system exposé Sicko.