HOLLYWOOD — Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences were in a fightin’ mood as two combat films, “Gladiator” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” paced the race for the 73rd annual Oscars, with 12 and 10 nominations, respectively.
They’ll compete for best picture with “Chocolat,” “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic,” which nabbed five bids apiece.
In nominations for the 73rd annual Oscars, the Academy offered a handful of oddities and records.
Steven Soderbergh makes Oscar history with “Brockovich” and “Traffic”: It’s the first time ever that a helmer has had two directing noms and two best picture contenders in one year.
His helming noms mark the first time a director will compete against himself since Michael Curtiz in 1938. And the film double play is the first since 1974, when Francis Ford Coppola had two best film contenders, though a single directing nom.
The 10 “Tiger” citations rep the most noms ever for a foreign-language film, besting the record seven for Italo pic “Life Is Beautiful.” “Tiger” is only the seventh foreign-lingo film to compete for best picture, and the first from an Asian country.
“Traffic,” too, is a rarity: a best-pic nominee based on a TV series (the British mini “Traffik”).
With a surprisingly strong showing, “Chocolat” marks Miramax’s 10th best picture nom in nine years — a feat no other company can match.
Miramax is in a best-pic battle with DreamWorks for the third consecutive year, after the 1998 “Saving Private Ryan”/”Shakespeare in Love” contest and last year’s “American Beauty”/”The Cider House Rules” faceoff.
The strong showings of “Gladiator” and “Brockovich” defy the conventional wisdom that early-year openers are forgotten. Both bowed in the first half of the year; “Brockovich,” in fact, debuted last March, before last year’s Oscar ceremonies. Both are available on DVD — a first for two best film nominees.
Four of the best picture nominees saw their directors cited: Ang Lee for “Tiger,” Ridley Scott for “Gladiator” and Soderbergh for “Brockovich” and “Traffic.” The fifth helming bid went to Stephen Daldry, the Brit legit helmer who made his film debut with “Billy Elliot.”
While some question how a film can be cited but not its director, the discrepancy is not unusual. Over the decades, there have only been three five-for-five correlations of best pic and director nominees, in 1957, 1964 and 1981.
All five best pics saw their screenplays nominated, with three adaptations (Robert Nelson Jacobs, “Chocolat”; Wang Hui Ling, James Schamus and Tsai Kuo Jung, “Tiger”; and Stephen Gaghan, “Traffic”) and two for original screenplay (Susannah Grant, “Brockovich,” and David Franzoni, John Logan and William Nicholson, “Gladiator”).
The other adapted screenplay nominees are Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and Steve Kloves, “Wonder Boys”; for original screenplay, noms went to Cameron Crowe, “Almost Famous”; Lee Hall, “Billy Elliot”; and Kenneth Lonergan, “You Can Count on Me.”
Along with Soderbergh, Schamus is a double nominee (also in the song category); other double nominees include Tan Dun, Tim Yip and Ang Lee, all from “Tiger.”
In a year when there were few certainties, some question marks did well: Although they missed out on a best-film citation, “Almost Famous” got four bids, and “Billy Elliot,” “Quills” and “Wonder Boys” received three each; with two acting contenders, “Pollock” did better than expected.
Twenty films earned multiple nominations; 19 got one apiece. That’s out of a total of 242 features eligible.
The phrase “wide-open race” has been used countless times in connection with this year’s Oscar derby.
No sure things
In many years, such as 1997, there are several films (“Titanic,” “L.A. Confidential”) that seem shoo-ins for a lot of noms. This year, however, there were wildly varying critics prizes, industry buzz and pundits’ predictions, so no film seemed a sure thing.
As one Oscar vet observed last week about the nominations, “I won’t be shocked at anything.”
Among the films that had been mentioned as possible best pic contenders were “Almost Famous,” “Billy Elliot,” “Cast Away” and “Thirteen Days.”
Many critics lamented that the “wide open” aspect indicates a paucity of good choices this year. On the other hand, the conclusion may be that there was a wealth of good work — there was just no “Titanic.”
“Brockovich” and “Gladiator” were widely admired by critics and audiences, but their Oscar chances were uncertain. Everyone was waiting for fourth-quarter releases that sounded tantalizing: “Finding Forrester,” “Pay It Forward,” “Proof of Life,” “Unbreakable,” etc.
When many of those films didn’t pan out, it suddenly seemed that those early-year openers, which often are relegated to also-ran status in Oscar-land, would have their place in the sun.
Certainly, the 12 noms is good news for “Gladiator.” In nine of the past 10 years, the film with the most noms went on to win best picture. For the other four pics, there’s always hope, since 1992′s “The Silence of the Lambs” was not even runner-up in the noms count and it went on to win the top five prizes.
Only a dozen other films have received 12 nominations; only eight other pics received more. “All About Eve” and “Titanic” still hold the record, with 14 apiece.
The top contenders represent a good mix of modern films (“Brockovich,” “Traffic”) and period pics (“Chocolat,” “Tiger,” “Gladiator”), of comedy, action and drama, and a blend of overseas and domestic lensing. They also rep a mix in genres.
What all five films have in common is bravura filmmaking. Though critics groups often go for more cerebral fare, Academy voters again embraced a quintet that are, above all, entertaining, with serious themes, strong emotional hooks and dazzling technical expertise. And all are doing well at the box office.
Good B.O. does not guarantee Oscar’s embrace, however.
Other than “Gladiator” and “Erin,” Oscar voters pretty much ignored big box office winners.
The top 10 films at the international B.O. that were eligible this year are “Mission: Impossible 2,” “Gladiator,” “The Perfect Storm,” “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Dinosaur,” “X-Men,” “Scary Movie,” “What Lies Beneath,” “Erin Brockovich” and “Charlie’s Angels.”
“Storm” nabbed two bids and “Grinch” three. The other six came home empty-handed.
After Soderbergh reaped twin noms from the Directors Guild of America, BAFTA and the Golden Globes, the big question was whether he could pull off an Oscar double play. Some feared he’d cancel himself out, though most predicted he’d pull at least one nom.
In the directing race, Scott is the only Oscar veteran; the others are first-timers. Soderbergh is the only American-born helmer of the group.
The five are the same quintet nominated by BAFTA. Four of the five also were cited by the DGA; Daldry replaces DGA contender Cameron Crowe. (Since 1970, the five nominees for Oscar and the Directors Guild of America have been identical only three times.)
Taiwan-born Lee is the third director nominated for an Asian-language film; the others were Hiroshi Teshigahara (“Woman in the Dunes,” 1965) and Akira Kurosawa (“Ran,” 1985).
Thanks to “Crouching Tiger,” the Acad’s list has a stronger than usual Asian presence in categories including art direction, cinematography, original score, song and screenplay.
In the acting races, however, racial minorities are rare. There are no blacks or Asians, but there are two Hispanics: Spaniard Javier Bardem and Puerto Rico-born Benicio Del Toro. Twelve of the 20 thesps are U.S.-born.
And it’s veterans’ day in the acting races. Fifteen of the 20 are past nominees; six are past winners.
SAG nominations are a bellwether of Oscar noms, but only three of the five actors are in both races: Crowe, Hanks and Rush. Oscar contenders Bardem and Harris replace Jamie Bell (“Billy Elliot”) and Del Toro (cited in the lead category in SAG’s kudos).
Among actresses, though, SAG and Oscar’s quintet are identical.
When Del Toro shifted to Oscar’s supporting race, he supplanted SAG contender Gary Oldman. The other four supporting actors match. And Marcia Gay Harden replaces SAG nominee Kate Winslet.
In the music races, John Williams racked up his 39th nom for the original score of “The Patriot.” Though he’s the most-nominated living person, he’s still behind the late composer Alfred Newman, who racked up 45 noms.
The song race reps a rock all-star gathering: Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Sting and Bjork. This year is only the second time since 1994 (“The Lion King”) that toons have not nabbed at least two berths in the song race.
The tech categories are saluting a lot of vets, including Kevin O’Connell, who’s up for his 14th nom.
Other than “Tiger,” the only foreign-language film nominated in other categories was Miramax’s “Malena,” which took two (original score and cinematography).
Of the past foreign-language pics nominated for best pic, two were in French, two in Swedish and two Italian: “Grand Illusion,” “Z,” “The Emigrants,” “Cries and Whispers,” “Il Postino” and “Life Is Beautiful.”
Among this year’s foreign-language nominees, the nod for France’s “The Taste of Others” reps the 31st for the country in that race, a record for any nation.
Members in nine branches nominate achievements in 15 categories. Special voting groups within the Academy this year picked the nominees in other categories (docu, foreign-lingo film, makeup, short films, sound editing, visual effects), with everyone balloting on best pic.
The Acad consists of 5,722 voting members in 14 branches. The largest group is actors, with 1,329, or 23% of the total.
Nominations were announced Tuesday morning by Acad president Robert Rehme and Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates at 5:30 a.m. PST, at Academy headquarters in Beverly Hills.
Final ballots will be mailed Feb. 28, with polls closing March 20. Oscars will be handed out March 25 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Steve Martin will host the Gil Cates-produced event.