HOLLYWOOD — It is a wide-open horse race for the 74th annual Academy Awards, and the nominees range from small pics to mega-epics. But a few fascinating trends have emerged in the nominations.
This was the year of violence. These are the first Oscars since the events of Sept. 11, and cover the year 2001 — the first official year of the new millennium. The films were released in a year when Hollywood was rocked by fear of strikes, a recession and, of course, the trauma of terrorism; future sociologists may find that these factors are reflected in the voting. (On the other hand, the slate this year may just reflect the fact that it was, to put it mildly, an odd year for films.)
Most of the best pic nominees feature the death of a key character. Many deal with mayhem.
There were murders (or attempted murders) in “Gosford Park,” “In the Bedroom,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “Memento,” “Monster’s Ball,” “Mulholland Drive,” “Sexy Beast” and “Training Day.”
There were deaths in “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Iris,” “Moulin Rouge,” “Pearl Harbor,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Vanilla Sky.”
This was a year of confusion for Oscar seers. As late as mid-November, the guesses were still up in the air to come up with five pic contenders.
Traditionally, studios release a glut of prestige movies at year’s end to lure holiday audiences and to tap into awards season; many kudos mavens expected these titles to fill Oscar’s categories.
There was high buzz for films that few had seen, though many of them ended up as Oscar underachievers (“Ali,” “Vanilla Sky,” etc.) or no-shows (“The Shipping News,” “The Majestic”). Meanwhile, other films bowed with relatively little fanfare and built Oscar buzz as the weeks went on (“In the Bedroom,” “Monster’s Ball,” etc.)
Still, when the dust cleared, four of the best film contenders opened in late November or early December. The only first-half debut was repped by “Moulin Rouge.”
It was also a year of reality — or slightly altered reality. “Black Hawk Down” opens with the words “Based on an actual event.” And the year-end glut of films saw biopics of Muhammad Ali, Iris Murdoch and John Nash; some of the pics came under scrutiny over their adherence to the truth, or variations of it. (The filmmakers basically said that there’s a separate category for documentaries; narrative films are rarely that scrupulous.) Meanwhile, real people were mixed with fictional ones in other pics; e.g., Toulouse-Lautrec in “Moulin Rouge,” Ivor Novello in “Gosford Park.”
It’s the year of Down Under. Though most Americans equate Australia and New Zealand, citizens of those countries would bristle at that. Still, the Antipodes made a spectacular showing, with noms for Peter Jackson, Baz Luhrmann, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and plenty of behind-the-scenes workers on “Rings” and “Rouge.”
The Brits, always making a strong Oscar showing, were also in plentiful supply. The Blighty mentions include Jim Broadbent, Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Kate Winslet.
And there’s a kind of poetic reciprocation in Brit Wilkinson playing an American, while Yankee Renee Zellweger plays a Brit in “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”
The year of film festivals. Unlike many past years, when fest faves were Oscar also-rans, festivals this year figured prominently in Acadeny of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voting. “Moulin Rouge” and “Shrek” preemed at Cannes, which also gave a big sendoff to “The Lord of the Rings.” “In the Bedroom” and “Memento” are Sundance vets.
The year of families. Robert Altman and his son Stephen were both nominated. Baz Luhrmann and his wife, Catherine Martin, took home three noms between them. And Peter Jackson and his partner, Fran Walsh, shared a screenplay citation.