Noms broaden wide-open Oscar race

HOLLYWOOD — It’s going to be a cloudy kudos season, replete with award shows but lacking in sure bets or even front runners. Not only are the critics groups clashing, the American Film Institute also managed to create some surprises in its inaugural list of AFI Awards.

With five noms apiece, Miramax’s “In the Bedroom” and Columbia’s “Black Hawk Down” pace the film race — a combo that typifies AFI’s mixture of smaller niche films with big studio offerings.

Right behind with four each are New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” Universal Focus’ “Mulholland Drive,” and two USA Films offerings, “Gosford Park” and “The Man Who Wasn’t There.”

Other big studio offerings such as DreamWorks’ “Shrek,” Fox’s “Moulin Rouge,” Paramount’s “Vanilla Sky,” DreamWorks-Universal’s “A Beautiful Mind” and Warner Bros.-DreamWorks’ “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” found plenty of AFI attention, as did smaller pics like Newmarket’s “Memento,” Lions Gate’s “Monster’s Ball” and IFC’s “The Business of Strangers.”

Going home without any noms were some high-profile end of the year pics that had been highly touted, such as Columbia’s “Ali,” Miramax’s “The Shipping News” and “Iris,” and Warner’s “The Majestic.”

The award season kicked off this month when three critics orgs announced winners and runners-up for the year’s top pics. But AFI broadens (and heats up) the race by choosing 10 contenders for best film.

Unlike other film contests, AFI goes with four noms in every category except for pic rather than the five usually tallied by Oscars and Emmys.

The AFI roster is dominated by year-end openers. Of the 10 pic nominees, only three opened before fall: “Memento,” “Moulin Rouge” and “Shrek”; four (“Black Hawk Down,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Beautiful Mind” and “Monster’s Ball”) have yet to bow.

The AFI group also applied some imagination in the TV voting. While past Emmy faves like “The Sopranos” (HBO), “Everybody Loves Raymond” (CBS) and miniseries “Anne Frank” (ABC) led the charge with three apiece, the org also salutes some interesting choices, like UPN’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

The org made choices in 12 film and seven TV categories.

As with the Golden Globes event, which salutes film and TV, Hollywood puts more focus on the film races, thanks to the timing. The TV announcements come after the Emmys, while the film announcements are part of the Oscar buildup.

Since these are the inaugural awards, there is no way of knowing whether the AFI kudos will prove an accurate Oscar bellwether. But in a year with no sure things, and no clear front-runners in any race, the film biz, more than ever, is paying close attention to all year-end kudos.

And all eyes are on the AFI prize: Like the Oscars, these awards are voted on by a cross-section of pros, as opposed to the guild honors (Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild of America, etc.), critics’ kudos and votes by the public.

AFI on Monday also revealed the judges list, which it had kept secret (see separate story).

Talking Monday with Daily Variety, AFI topper Jean Picker Firstenberg pointed out the difference with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. “The Academy is all peers of cross-disciplines; we are a group that encompasses the creative community, critics and scholars.”

Unlike the Acad, the AFI panelists “don’t vote on a piece of paper. The group is deliberative,” meaning they hash out their choices together. In addition, the group provided explanations for their picks of the top 10 pics. (For explanations, go to www.afionline.org.)

Picker Firstenberg sat in on the sessions, but didn’t participate in the voting. The TV committee met for one long day (9 a.m.-6 p.m.) and the film panel gathered for 1¾ days, she said.

To underline how widespread the kudos are, only three of the four director contenders have their films represented. Nominated are Todd Field, “In the Bedroom”; David Lynch, “Mulholland Drive”; and Ridley Scott, “Black Hawk Down.” Robert Altman (“Gosford Park”) rounds out the race though his film is not in the top 10.

Similarly, scripters Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff are mentioned for “Ghost World” though the film is not. Those two writers are competing against Rob Festinger and Field for “In the Bedroom”; Christopher Nolan, “Memento”; and Akiva Goldsman, “A Beautiful Mind.” The AFI doesn’t distinguish between original and adapted scripts.

A number of omissions of presumed faves are inevitable in any kudos race, and AFI has its share but does offer some interesting inclusions. In the featured actress race, Cate Blanchett (for MGM’s “Bandits”) and Frances O’Connor (“A.I. Artificial Intelligence”) compete along with such buzzed-about thesps as Jennifer Connelly (“Beautiful Mind”) and Cameron Diaz (“Vanilla Sky”). Gene Hackman was cited as one of the featured actors of the year for “The Royal Tenenbaums,” though Disney is pushing him as a lead actor for that pic.

Along with a trio of actresses cited by the critics groups (Halle Berry, Sissy Spacek and Naomi Watts), the AFI race includes Stockard Channing from “The Business of Strangers.”

In a sign of the changing times in the filmmaking world, AFI offers a digital artist of the year category, encompassing everything from effects-heavy pics (“Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “A.I.”) to the animated “Waking Life.”

This month, the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle and the L.A. Film Critics Assn. picked, respectively, Fox’s “Moulin Rouge,” Universal Focus’ “Mulholland Drive” and Miramax’s “In the Bedroom” as best film.

As seen on TV

On the small-screen front, the AFI kudos divide TV series into two races: drama and comedy. Along with HBO’s “Sopranos” and NBC’s “The West Wing,” the top four dramas include UPN’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (widely admired and popular, but continually ignored by Emmy voters) and the newish HBO skein “Six Feet Under.”

HBO’s cult hit “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (another stranger to Emmy) is matched with three more familiar kudos contenders: CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle” and HBO’s “Sex and the City.”

HBO took home three of the four movie/mini bids with “Band of Brothers,” “Boycott” and “Conspiracy.” The lone rep of the broadcast webs is ABC’s “Anne Frank.”

The awards are on a fast-track schedule: The winners will be announced Jan. 5 at ceremonies at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

While there is a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm in some quarters for the awards, many Acad members feel that there are already enough award events that threaten to diminish the singularity and importance of the Oscars. The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has remained similarly mum about the new trophies, but AFI clearly moves into Golden Globes territory by honoring film and TV — and by announcing its choices before the Globes handouts.

In a media-friendly move, the org eschewed the usual press conference announcement of noms and unveiled the choices at 6 a.m. PST Monday via email and faxes.

The Jan. 5 awards will air live on CBS in a three-hour special. Event will be exec produced by Gary Smith and Frederi S. Pierce. Dann Netter and Bob Gazzale will produce for AFI.

(Matthew Ross in New York contributed to this report.)

And the nominees are…

MOTION PICTURE
“A Beautiful Mind” producers, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard (Universal/DreamWorks)
“A Beautiful Mind” is one of the few films ever to suggest that the life of the mind can be as exciting and intriguing as any thriller. Based on the story of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash, the film’s subtle, but masterful cinematic technique puts audiences inside the mind of a troubled genius when he begins to question reality.

“Black Hawk Down” producers, Jerry Bruckheimer, Ridley Scott (Columbia)
“Black Hawk Down” is an unrelenting combat experience. Leaving behind the traditional rules of the genre, the film immerses its audience in the cold reality of war. It arrives in theaters at a moment in American history which could not be more timely.

“In the Bedroom” producers, Graham Leader, Ross Katz, Todd Field (Miramax)
“In the Bedroom” is a rich, subtle examination of the American family. It’s a movie in which the characters talk to one another, but never really say what’s on their minds or in their hearts. The filmmakers trust the audience to watch, listen and understand the truth revealed by the film’s outstanding performances.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” producers, Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Tim Sanders (New Line)
“The Lord of the Rings” taps the magical forces of American film to bring life to J.R.R. Tolkien’s rich literary legacy. Never losing sight of the “human” elements of this first book in his trilogy, the scope of the film sets the standard by which future motion picture epics should be judged.

“The Man Who Wasn’t There” producer, Ethan Coen (USA Films)
“The Man Who Wasn’t There” uses stunning black-and-white cinematography to evoke the memory of classic American film noir, but presents its story with a modern sensibility. By mixing dark humor with stark violence, the movie lays out a series of events where a man nobody notices changes the lives of everyone around him.

“Memento” producers, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd (Newmarket)
“Memento” turns the traditional rules of movie narrative upside down, backwards, forwards and sideways. The film is like a complex jigsaw puzzle, but after all the pieces are assembled, it turns out not to be the picture on the box.

“Monster’s Ball” producer, Lee Daniels (Lions Gate)
“Monster’s Ball” is a love story that resists the usual tradition of movie romances. When a white prison corrections officer and a black single mother are drawn together by a series of tragic events, the result is an unsentimental, complex mixture of sex, race and family that provides no easy answers.

“Moulin Rouge” producers, Martin Brown, Baz Luhrmann, Fred Baron (20th Century Fox)
“Moulin Rouge” is a kaleidoscope of melodrama, soap opera and opera, which updates the traditional American musical genre. The film tells the story of a passionate but doomed love affair in dynamic images that explode with color, energy and humor.

“Mulholland Drive” producers, Mary Sweeney, Alain Sarde, Neal Edelstein, Michael Polaire, Tony Krantz (Universal Focus)
“Mulholland Drive” is a classic example of the poetry of personal cinema. The film takes the audience to an erotic world — a dreamlike Los Angeles landscape where things are not always what they seem, but where the images never lose their beauty and power.

“Shrek” producers, Aron Warner, John H. Williams, Jeffrey Katzenberg (DreamWorks)
“Shrek” is an animated film that takes an eraser to traditional fairy tale characters and situations. Moving at a fast pace with wit and intelligence, SHREK delivers solid family entertainment that is sheer pleasure for young and old.

Actor
Russell Crowe, “A Beautiful Mind”
Billy Bob Thornton, “The Man Who Wasn’t There”
Denzel Washington, “Training Day”
Tom Wilkinson, “In the Bedroom”

Actress
Halle Berry, “Monster’s Ball”
Stockard Channing, “The Business of Strangers”
Sissy Spacek, “In the Bedroom”
Naomi Watts, “Mulholland Drive”

Featured Actor
Steve Buscemi, “Ghost World”
Brian Cox, “L.I.E.”
Gene Hackman, “The Royal Tenenbaums”
Tony Shalhoub, “The Man Who Wasn’t There”

Featured Actress
Cate Blanchett, “Bandits”
Jennifer Connelly, “A Beautiful Mind”
Cameron Diaz, “Vanilla Sky”
Frances O’Connor, “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”

Director
Robert Altman, “Gosford Park”
Todd Field, “In the Bedroom”
David Lynch, “Mulholland Drive”
Ridley Scott, “Black Hawk Down”

Screenwriter
Daniel Clowes, Terry Zwigoff, “Ghost World”
Rob Festinger, Todd Field, “In the Bedroom”
Akiva Goldsman, “A Beautiful Mind”
Christopher Nolan, “Memento”

Cinematographer
Ericson Core, “The Fast and the Furious”
Roger Deakins, “The Man Who Wasn’t There”
Slawomir Idziak, “Black Hawk Down”
Janusz Kaminski, “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”

Editor
Jill Bilcock, “Moulin Rouge”
Dody Dorn, “Memento”
Pietro Scalia, “Black Hawk Down”
Tim Squyres, “Gosford Park”

Production Designer
Stephen Altman, “Gosford Park”
Rick Carter, “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”
Grant Major, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”
Arthur Max, “Black Hawk Down”

Digital Artist
Scott Farrar, Dennis Muren, “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”
Robert Legato, Nick Davis, Roger Guyett, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”
Jim Rygiel, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”
Bob Sabiston, “Waking Life”

Composer
Craig Armstrong, “Moulin Rouge”
Angelo Badalementi, “Mulholland Drive”
Patrick Doyle, “Gosford Park”
Howard Shore, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”

Drama Series
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (UPN)
“Six Feet Under” (HBO)
“The Sopranos” (HBO)
“The West Wing” (NBC)

Comedy series
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO)
“Everybody Loves Raymond” (CBS)
“Malcolm in the Middle” (Fox)
“Sex and the City” (HBO)

Movie or Miniseries
“Anne Frank” (ABC)
“Band of Brothers” (HBO)
“Boycott” (HBO)
“Conspiracy” (HBO)

Series Actor
James Gandolfini, “The Sopranos”
Michael C. Hall, “Six Feet Under”
Chi McBride, “Boston Public”
Ray Romano, “Everybody Loves Raymond”

Series Actress
Edie Falco, “The Sopranos”
Allison Janney, “The West Wing”
Jane Kaczmarek, “Malcolm in the Middle”
Doris Roberts, “Everybody Loves Raymond”

Movie or Miniseries Actor
Kenneth Branagh, “Conspiracy”
Ben Kingsley, “Anne Frank”
Giovanni Ribisi, “Shot in the Heart”
Jeffrey Wright, “Boycott”

Movie or Miniseries Actress
Tammy Blanchard, “Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows”
Judy Davis, “Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows”
Hannah Taylor Gordon, “Anne Frank”
Phylicia Rashad, “The Old Settler”

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