Oscar Surprises: The Nominations That Weren't There

Courant Staff Writer

The 74th annual Academy Award nominations were announced yesterday and they are, as was to be expected, all over the place.

Propelled by its dominance in technical categories, Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" leads the race with 13 nominations, but there is still no clear winner even in the top award categories.

As the annual critics' awards and the Golden Globes indicated earlier this year, the Oscar competition finds film fans occupying factions. For every believer in the power of Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind," there are critics who charge the film with sentimentality and glossing over too many details of its subject's life. For every champion of Baz Luhrmann's fantasy-musical "Moulin Rouge," there is a critic who loathed it. The box office success of Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down" has been tarnished by some critics' accusations of racism. And for those swept away by "Lord of the Rings," there are multitudes who prefer the more indie-minded sensibility of Todd Field's "In the Bedroom" or Robert Altman's "Gosford Park." Defenders of David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" and the Coen brothers' "The Man Who Wasn't There" find their films deemed too weird for the mainstream.

So the nominations are a necessarily scattered lot.

"Lord of the Rings" is out front, tailed by "Moulin Rouge" and "A Beautiful Mind," each with eight nominations. Altman's British murder mystery "Gosford Park" got seven, and "In the Bedroom" got five. All five of those films were nominated for best picture. The French feel-gooder "Amélie" also got five nominations.

Elsewhere on the list, Oscar has wrought the usual delights, heartaches and head-scratching omissions.

Under the delights heading, the best actor/actress categories are crowded with sterling performances. Judi Dench has a chance to win the best-actress prize for her outstanding performance as the Alzheimer's-afflicted novelist Iris Murdoch in "Iris." She will have to take it from Sissy Spacek, who is nominated for her extraordinary performance as a grief-stricken mother in "In the Bedroom." Nicole Kidman, who stars in "Moulin Rouge" and the overlooked thriller "The Others," and Halle Berry, who plays a young widow in "Monster's Ball," turn up the heat in that race.

Russell Crowe, nominated for "Beautiful Mind," his third best actor nomination in as many years, will battle Will Smith for "Ali" and Denzel Washington for "Training Day." Rounding out that category are Tom Wilkinson, for his grieving father in "In the Bedroom," and Sean Penn as the mentally retarded father in "I Am Sam."

It is wonderful to see both Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith recognized as supporting actresses in "Gosford Park." Likewise Marisa Tomei, an Oscar winner in 1992 for "My Cousin Vinny," who plays a young mother in "In the Bedroom," and Jennifer Connelly for "A Beautiful Mind." Kate Winslet is also nominated in that category, for "Iris."

Jim Broadbent, who turned in splendid performances in "Iris" and "Moulin Rouge," is nominated for best supporting actor for the former. Joining him in that group is the great Ian McKellen, who gives "Lord of the Rings" its heart and soul, and Oscar fave Ben Kingsley ("Gandhi") for his vicious, mold-breaking role in "Sexy Beast." John Voight is also nominated, for "Ali."

The omissions list is most unhappily led by the supreme Cate Blanchett, who gave exceptional performances in "Bandits," "The Shipping News," "Lord of the Rings" and "Charlotte Gray," and who was ignored in both actress categories. Instead, to the surprise of many, Renée Zellweger is nominated for "Bridget Jones's Diary."

Likewise Billy Bob Thornton, who was busy in "Bandits," "Monster's Ball," and "The Man Who Wasn't There," was shut out of the actor categories. (Leaving room for Ethan Hawke in "Training Day," another surprise to many critics.)

David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive," which made a multitude of critics' Top 10 lists, earned only a single nomination - best director - for its luminous, bizarre homage to old Hollywood. Star Naomi Watts was overlooked. "Ghost World," a critical favorite, rated only one nomination, in the best adapted screenplay category. Steve Buscemi deserved a nomination for his performance in that film.

The happier surprises include the following:

Todd Field's low-budget indie "In the Bedroom," a singular study of grief and marriage, got the recognition it deserved.

Minority actors were better represented than they have been in some years past, and it's about time, with acting nods for Berry, Smith and Washington.

"Amélie" leads the foreign-language film nominees, which also includes Norway's "Elling," Indian's "Lagaan," Bosnia and Herzegovina's "No Man's Land," and Argentina's "Son of the Bride."

The Academy's new animated feature category includes nominations for "Shrek," which made many critic's year-end lists, "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" and "Monsters, Inc."

Now we must wait and see.

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