D'Works pic's 8 noms lead tightly bunched Oscar pack

Oscar voters were in an all-American mood.

With “American Beauty” leading the nominations for the 72nd annual Academy Awards, voters tapped five U.S.-lensed films for best picture — a big turnaround from last year, when all the best-pic contenders were filmed overseas.

The actor’s branch was also feeling patriotic: Of the 20 acting nominees, 14 are U.S.-born, while the other six are Aussies or Brits playing American characters.

While the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences may have been waving the flag, it wasn’t exactly Veterans Day: The majority of producing, directing, writing and acting nominees are first-timers in the Oscar race.

Following the eight noms for DreamWorks’ “Beauty” were seven each for Miramax’s “The Cider House Rules” and Buena Vista’s “The Insider,” while BV’s “The Sixth Sense” tallied, appropriately, six.

Those four films are competing for the top prize with Warner Bros.’ “The Green Mile,” which chalked up four bids.

Four of the five films also saw their directors nominated: Sam Mendes (“Beauty”), Lasse Hallstrom (“Cider House”), Michael Mann (“Insider”) and M. Night Shyamalan (“Sixth Sense”). The fifth helming contender is Spike Jonze, for USA Films’ “Being John Malkovich.”

With 17 nominations, Walt Disney Studios scored a company-best tally, including bids for “Insider” and “Sixth Sense,” two films that were championed by recently departed exec Joe Roth. Disney can also bask in the glory of its owned subsid, Miramax, which has 14 bids — including five it’s sharing with Paramount on “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

Four of the five helming contenders are first-time Academy nominees, including two who are cited for directing their first films (Jonze and Mendes).

In addition, producers of four of the five films are Oscar newcomers; only Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy (“Sixth Sense”) are vets, and they’re cited with Oscar first-timer Barry Mendel. And of the 12 men in the script contest, seven are new kids.

Of the 20 thesps competing, 11 are Oscar virgins, including all five supporting actresses. The acting branch was also in a bio rhythm, since half of the 10 leading-performance candidates are playing real people.

Though DGA nominee Frank Darabont (“Green Mile”) was not cited by the Academy’s director’s branch, he can take consolation in the fact that his picture was named. And although there will be the inevitable “did the film direct itself?” questions, there have been only three years in Oscar history when there was an exact correlation of the five best-pic and directing contenders.

Darabont may be feeling deja vu, however. In 1994, he won a scripting nom for “The Shawshank Redemption,” which was also up for best pic, even though he missed out on a helming nom.

Screenplays score

All the best-pic possibilities also saw their screenplays nominated: three adaptations (“Cider,” “Mile” and “Insider”) and two originals (“Beauty” and “Sense”). Of the 12 men nominated for screenplay, seven also directed their film.

Like Darabont, Shyamalan is a double nominee. Mann (who scripted with Eric Roth) is a triple honoree, for directing, writing and producing.

While the five best-pic offerings cover various genres, there are some similarities. All are on the dark side, with two supernatural dramas (“Sixth” and “Mile”), and two about individuals who fight the system for personal redemption (“Beauty” and “Insider”). The fifth, “Cider House,” is about a man searching to define his destiny and his obligations to self and family — a theme that is also touched upon in the other four films.

The pics with multiple noms represent a mix of box office blockbusters, such as “Sixth Sense” and “The Green Mile,” with more modest-performing studio pics and prestige items from indies.

The goodies are widespread, with no film dominating the nom list. The results end a long streak of high nomination totals for a few films: In the past three years, for example, “The English Patient,” “Titanic” and “Shakespeare in Love” racked up 12, 14 and 13 noms, respectively.

The last time a film led the pack with a total as low as eight noms was with 1989′s winner “Rain Man.” Still, “Beauty” has reason for glee: In 14 of the past 15 years, the pic with the most nominations went on to grab the best-picture Oscar.

However, the other best-film contenders are still in the game: The exception in the past 15 years was “The Silence of the Lambs,” which wasn’t even runner-up in the nomination totals.

Dazed and confused

And if ever there was a year to defy the odds, this is it. Last year was full of question marks, but this year, it’s even more confusing.

The term “wide-open race” is an understatement, but even in a year when there were few certainties, Academy voters managed to come up with some big surprises.

The films that were not nominated are almost as interesting as the ones that were (see separate story). And there were some surprises in the lists. Though “Sixth Sense” and “Green Mile” did well at the box office, they had low profiles on most critics’ and guild award lists, leading some to doubt their Oscar chances.

B.O. relations

With more than $450 million globally, “Sixth Sense” was the highest-grossing best-pic nominee. Though there were some other big box office hits in the list, there’s usually little correlation between grosses and Oscar.

The calendar year’s top 10 global grossers that were eligible are, in order: “Star Wars: Episode I — the Phantom Menace” (three nominations), “The Matrix” (four), “The Sixth Sense” (six), “The Mummy” (one), “Tarzan” (one), “Notting Hill” (none), “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” (one), “Runaway Bride” (none), “The World Is Not Enough” (none) and “Toy Story 2″ (one). “Sixth” aside, the other nine cumulatively nabbed only 11 nominations.

Though the acerbic “Beauty” could be termed a comedy, Oscar voters this year neglected to nominate lighter crowd-pleasers for best pic, as they have in the past with such titles as “Babe,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Shakespeare in Love.”

In terms of domestic distributors, the numbers point up the fact that the pure studio tallies of the old days are now impossible, thanks to shared production credits.

For example, Miramax had 14 (five shared); Par had 11, including the shared quintet with Miramax on “Ripley,” and single ones shared with Universal on “Angela’s Ashes” and with Warners on “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.”

Fox had nine, including Fox Searchlight; Sony had nine including Sony Pictures Classics. WB also had nine, including the “South Park” share. DreamWorks had eight, all for “Beauty.”

New Line had five, all its own. Universal had five, including the “Angela’s” share.

In addition, U shares its “Hurricane” nom with Beacon; Disney shares “Sixth” with Spyglass; and Paramount and Mandalay share “Sleepy Hollow.”

Thrilling reaction

Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group chairman Dick Cook was ecstatic about the studio’s two best-pic noms. He said, ” ‘The Insider’ hopefully will be the big beneficiary of all the nominations.” Starting Friday, it will reopen in New York, L.A. and other key cities, with the noms “validation that this is an important movie.”

Acknowledging that the very American story reps a challenge overseas, he added, “This is a giant help, the nominations and its having won other awards — it does nothing but help you.”

As for “Sixth Sense,” it will bow on homevid shortly after the awards, but he’s confident box office will get a goose, with the noms “reviving interest in the good feelings the audience has had since the film opened.”

DreamWorks spokeswoman Vivian Mayer said of “Beauty,” “On behalf of all our nominees and everyone who worked on the film, we thank the Academy for this tremendous honor.”

With the “Cider House” nom, Miramax earns its ninth best-pic nom in eight years; its streak since 1992 is unmatched by any major studio.

Mark Gill, prez of Miramax L.A., said, “If you look at the pattern,” the noms for “Cider House” could boost box office for the pic 100% in the next six weeks. “It’s a gentle movie that doesn’t shout at you. Now, however, we have something we can shout.”

Gill added that “Mr. Ripley” is “a quintessential European film. Even of its own steam, it’s going to do well overseas, but the nominations will absolutely help.”

WB prexy-chief operating officer Alan Horn, who was a Castle Rock topper when “Green Mile” was made, said: ” ‘The Green Mile’ is a film of which we are all tremendously proud. We couldn’t be happier that the Academy members have recognized the work of Frank Darabont, a brilliant cast led by Tom Hanks, and everyone else who contributed to this exceptional picture, which the American public has so warmly embraced.”

USA Films nabbed multiple bids for “Topsy-Turvy” and “Being John Malkovich,” including noms for respective scripters Mike Leigh and Charlie Kaufman. Company chairman Scott Greenstein enthused, “Seven nominations for a company that’s eight months old — we’re ecstatic. It bears out our philosophy: We’re very much a script-driven company.”

Proudly declaring the company “a spirited independent,” he said the nominations prove that “the lines are blurring” between indies and majors. And though Academy voters are often criticized for being conservative, he applauded their recognition of edgier fare: “I think everybody’s a little more flexible in their taste than they used to be. Academy voters know that a good movie is a good movie.”

Notable records

John Williams has his 38th nomination, for scoring “Angela’s Ashes”; though he still trails Alfred Newman’s record 45 bids, Williams is the most-nominated living person.

Cited for Miramax’s “Music of the Heart,” Meryl Streep enters the Oscar record books with her 12th nomination. She thus ties Katharine Hepburn for the most acting noms ever. While Hepburn’s are all in the lead category, Streep’s first two were for supporting actress; however, she accomplished this in only 22 years, compared with Hepburn’s span of 49 years.

In other acting records, 79-year-old Richard Farnsworth (“The Straight Story”) becomes the oldest nominee ever in the lead actor race, while 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment (“Sixth Sense”) is the third youngest supporting actor nominee. (He trails 8-year-old Justin Henry and 11-year-old Brandon De Wilde, who were up for awards in 1979 and 1953, respectively.)

After two years of no black acting nominees, there are two this year: Denzel Washington for “The Hurricane” and Michael Clarke Duncan for “Green Mile.” Sociologists can draw their own conclusions about the fact that both portray men in prison.

In 72 years, this is only the ninth time that two or more black actors have been nominated in the same year. But for those who want to see the glass as half-full, there is definite progress: Eight of those nine years have occurred since 1985.

Six actors were nominated for playing real people: Russell Crowe, “The Insider”; Farnsworth, “The Straight Story”; Chloe Sevigny and Hilary Swank, “Boys Don’t Cry”; Streep; and Washington.

Portraying American characters are two Aussies — Crowe and Toni Collette (“Sixth Sense”) — and four Brits: Michael Caine (“Cider”), Jude Law (“Ripley”), Samantha Morton (“Sweet and Lowdown”) and Janet McTeer (“Tumbleweeds”).

Nominations were announced Tuesday morning by Acad president Robert Rehme and two-time best actor winner Dustin Hoffman at 5:30 a.m. PST, at Academy headquarters in BevHills.

The Acad consists of more than 5,000 voting members. Of those, the largest group is actors, with 1,300 voting thesps.

Members in nine branches nominate achievements in 16 categories. Special voting groups within the Academy this year picked the nominees in six other categories, with everyone balloting on best pic.

The Oscars will be presented March 26 from Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium, hosted by Billy Crystal and produced by Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck. They’ll be telecast live on ABC starting at 5 p.m. PST, preceded by a half-hour arrival preshow.

A complete list of nominees follows (To view video clips, RealPlayer is required) :

PICTURE

AMERICAN BEAUTY (DreamWorks) A Jinks/Cohen Company Production; Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks, Producers. (Real Video clip)

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (Miramax) A FilmColony Production; Richard N. Gladstein, Producer. (Real Video clip)

THE GREEN MILE (Warner Bros.) A Castle Rock Pictures, Inc. Production; David Valdes and Frank Darabont, Producers. (Real Video clip)

THE INSIDER (Buena Vista) A Touchstone Pictures Production; Michael Mann and Pieter Jan Brugge, Producers. (Real Video clip)

THE SIXTH SENSE (Buena Vista) A Hollywood Pictures/Spyglass Entertainment Production; Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy and Barry Mendel, Producers. (Real Video clip)

ACTOR

Russell Crowe in THE INSIDER (Buena Vista) (Real Video clip)

Richard Farnsworth in THE STRAIGHT STORY (Buena Vista)(Real Video clip)

Sean Penn in SWEET AND LOWDOWN (Sony Pictures Classics)(Real Video clip)

Kevin Spacey in AMERICAN BEAUTY (DreamWorks)(Real Video clip)

Denzel Washington in THE HURRICANE (Universal and Beacon)(Real Video clip)

ACTRESS

Annette Bening in AMERICAN BEAUTY (DreamWorks)(Real Video clip)

Janet McTeer in TUMBLEWEEDS (New Line)(Real Video clip)

Julianne Moore in THE END OF THE AFFAIR (Columbia)(Real Video clip)

Meryl Streep in MUSIC OF THE HEART (Miramax) (Real Video clip)

Hilary Swank in BOYS DON’T CRY (Fox Searchlight)(Real Video clip)

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Michael Caine in THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (Miramax)(Real Video clip)

Tom Cruise in MAGNOLIA (New Line)(Real Video clip)

Michael Clarke Duncan in THE GREEN MILE (Warner Bros.)(Real Video clip)

Jude Law in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (Paramount & Miramax)(Real Video clip)

Haley Joel Osment in THE SIXTH SENSE (Buena Vista)(Real Video clip)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Toni Collette in THE SIXTH SENSE (Buena Vista)(Real Video clip)

Angelina Jolie in GIRL, INTERRUPTED (Columbia)(Real Video clip)

Catherine Keener in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (USA Films)(Real Video clip)

Samantha Morton in SWEET AND LOWDOWN (Sony Pictures Classics)(Real Video clip)

Chloe Sevigny in BOYS DON’T CRY (Fox Searchlight)(Real Video clip)

DIRECTOR

AMERICAN BEAUTY (DreamWorks) Sam Mendes (Real Video clip)

BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (USA Films) Spike Jonze (Real Video clip)

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (Miramax) Lasse Hallstrom (Real Video clip)

THE INSIDER (Buena Vista) Michael Mann (Real Video clip)

THE SIXTH SENSE (Buena Vista) M. Night Shyamalan (Real Video clip)

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

AMERICAN BEAUTY (DreamWorks) Written by Alan Ball (Real Video clip)

BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (USA Films) Written by Charlie Kaufman (Real Video clip)

MAGNOLIA (New Line) Written by Paul Thomas Anderson (Real Video clip)

THE SIXTH SENSE (Buena Vista) Written by M. Night Shyamalan (Real Video clip)

TOPSY-TURVY (USA Films) Written by Mike Leigh (Real Video clip)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (Miramax) Screenplay by John Irving (Real Video clip)

ELECTION (Paramount) Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor (Real Video clip)

THE GREEN MILE (Warner Bros.) Written for the screen by Frank Darabont (Real Video clip)

THE INSIDER (Buena Vista) Written by Eric Roth & Michael Mann (Real Video clip)

THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (Paramount & Miramax) Screenplay by Anthony Minghella (Real Video clip)

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER An El Deseo S.A./Renn/France 2 Cinema Production; Spain

CARAVAN A Galate Films – France 2 Cinema – Les Productions de la Gueville/Les Productions JMH/Antelope (UK) Limited/National Studio Limited/Bac Films Production; Nepal

EAST-WEST A UGC YM Production; France

SOLOMON AND GAENOR An Apt Film and Television Company Production; United Kingdom

UNDER THE SUN A Sweetwater AB Production; Sweden

CINEMATOGRAPHY

AMERICAN BEAUTY (DreamWorks) Conrad L. Hall (Real Video clip)

THE END OF THE AFFAIR (Columbia) Roger Pratt (Real Video clip)

THE INSIDER (Buena Vista) Dante Spinotti (Real Video clip)

SLEEPY HOLLOW (Paramount and Mandalay) Emmanuel Lubezki (Real Video clip)

SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS (Universal) Robert Richardson (Real Video clip)

FILM EDITING

AMERICAN BEAUTY (DreamWorks) Tariq Anwar (Real Video clip)

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (Miramax) Lisa Zeno Churgin (Real Video clip)

THE INSIDER (Buena Vista) William Goldenberg, Paul Rubell and David Rosenbloom (Real Video clip)

THE MATRIX (Warner Bros.) Zach Staenberg (Real Video clip)

THE SIXTH SENSE (Buena Vista) Andrew Mondshein (Real Video clip)

ORIGINAL SCORE

AMERICAN BEAUTY (DreamWorks) Thomas Newman (Real Video clip)

ANGELA’S ASHES (Paramount and John Williams (Universal Pictures International) (Real Video clip)

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (Miramax) Rachel Portman (Real Video clip)

THE RED VIOLIN (Lions Gate) John Corigliano

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