The Oscars Focus
73nd Academy Awards (2001)
feature by Eddie Cockrell

(Berlin, 13 February) The popular combat costumers Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon lead the previously wide-open Oscar charge with twelve and ten nods, respectively, as the nominations for the 73rd annual Academy Awards were announced this morning in Los Angeles. For industryites just past the midway point of the Berlin International Film Festival, the occasion of the nominations was a welcome chance to take a mid-afternoon break, dart into one of the pubs or coffee shops in the new Potsdamer Platz festival center and catch the nominations on a television or from a group of colleagues.

Joining the two period films in the Best Picture category are Chocolat (Miramax’s tenth best picture contestant in nine years), Erin Brockovich (which debuted in March 2000 but clearly stayed in the voters' memories), and Traffic (which is based on a British TV miniseries). The two latter films were directed by Steven Soderbergh, who becomes the first helmer in the history of the awards to be nominated for two films in each category in the same year (and is the only American-born filmmaker in the Best Director field). High-profile pictures which were touted for Oscar nods but failed to show up in the final five include Cast Away, Chicken Run, Thirteen Days, Finding Forrester, You Can Count on Me, Almost Famous (with five nominations), Wonder Boys (with three nominations), Sunshine and Quills (with three nominations).

The other director nods went to Stephen Daldry for Billy Elliot (an early Best Picture pic shut out of that category in favor of Chocolat), Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which collected three more nominations than the previous record-holder for a foreign film, Life is Beautiful, and is the first Asian film and seventh foreign film to compete for Best Picture) and Ridley Scott for Gladiator (which along with Erin Brockovich are the two Best Picture nominees already available in the wildly popular DVD format). Interestingly, Soderbergh’s two nominations in the Best Director category mark the first time that’s happened since Michael Curtiz won dual nods in 1938 (for Angels with Dirty Faces and Four Daughters). Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and The Godfather Part II were both nominated for Best Picture in 1974 but a since-repealed Oscar regulation banning the practice prevented him from receiving two Best Director nods.

The Best Actor nominations went to Javier Bardem for Before Night Falls, Russell Crowe for Gladiator, Tom Hanks for Cast Away, Ed Harris for Pollock and Geoffrey Rush for Quills. Shut out of the running were Michael Douglas (Wonder Boys), Sean Connery (Finding Forrester), Matt Damon (All the Pretty Horses), Denzel Washington (Remember the Titans), Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), Ralph Fiennes (Sunshine), John Cusack (High Fidelity) and Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count on Me)

In the running for the Best Actress award are Joan Allen (The Contender), Juliette Binoche (Chocolat), Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream), Laura Linney (You Can Count on Me) and Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich). No-shows include Björk (Dancer in the Dark), Renée Zellweger (Nurse Betty), Brenda Blethyn (Saving Grace), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Cate Blanchett (The Gift) and Gillian Anderson (The House of Mirth).

The Best Supporting Actor slots were filled by Jeff Bridges (The Contender), Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire), Benicio Del Toro (Traffic), Albert Finney (Erin Brockovich) and Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator). Should Del Toro nab the prize it would be the first time an actor’s won for a role performed in a language other than English in an American film since Robert De Niro won Best Supporting Actor for his work in The Godfather Part II. Actors gone missing here include Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days), Fred Willard (Best in Show), Michael Douglas (Traffic), Joaquin Phoenix (Quills and/or The Yards), Michael Caine (Quills) and Jeffrey Wright (Shaft).

Duking it out for the Best Supporting Actress statue are Dame Judi Dench (Chocolat), Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock), Kate Hudson (Almost Famous), Frances McDormand (Almost Famous) and Julie Walters (Billy Elliot). Those who didn’t make the cut include Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Catherine Deneuve (Dancer in the Dark), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Traffic), Kate Winslet (Quills) and Connie Nielsen (Gladiator).

Of the eligible top ten box office earners in 2000, only The Perfect Storm and Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (with two and three nods respectively) join big-money earners Gladiator and Erin Brockovich. The other six shut out of the race include Mission: Impossible 2, Dinosaur, X-Men, Scary Movie, What Lies Beneath and Charlie’s Angels.

All five Best Picture nominees were also honored with nods for their scripts. The other original screenplay nominations were for Almost Famous, Billy Elliot and You Can Count on Me; the Best Adapted Screenplay nominees are rounded out by O Brother, Where Art Thou? and  Wonder Boys.

As has become a hallmark of the event, the Berlin festival programming committee has or will screen a number of the more high-profile nominations, including Traffic, Chocolat, Quills and Giuseppe Tornatore’s Malena (the only other foreign film to be nominated in major categories). The fest’s also-rans include Finding Forrester and Thirteen Days.

Nineteen films received at least one nomination, with twenty films garnering multiple nods -- that’s out of the 242 features released in the United States last year.

Always a surprise, the Best Foreign Film category didn’t disappoint. If voters get cold feet about giving Best Picture to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, look for it to get the statue here. Each of the other four nominees have good word-of-mouth on the festival circuit and U.S. distribution either firm or in final negotiations: Mexico’s Amor Perros, the Czech Republic’s Divided We Fall, Belgium’s Everybody Famous and France’s The Taste of Others (that country’s thirty-first nomination -- far more than any single nation).

Making its debut as an Oscar category, the Best Makeup nominees are The Cell, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Shadow of the Vampire.

The Academy has 5,722 members in fourteen branches. The Oscar ceremony will be held in Los Angeles March 25, where Steve Martin will make his hosting debut.

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