'No Country,' 'Blood' nab eight nods each

Click here for the full list of nominations

It’s all about blood and money, as “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” — two pics shared by Miramax and Paramount Vantage — scored eight nominations each, leading the pack for the 80th annual Academy Awards.

The two were nommed for best pic, as were Focus Features’ “Atonement” and Warner Bros.’ “Michael Clayton” (seven noms each), and Fox Searchlight’s “Juno” (four).

Also scoring well were Disney’s “Ratatouille,” with five, and Miramax/Pathe Renn’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” at four.

Movies from specialty divisions clearly led the noms, with WB the only major repped in the best-pic category. Oscar voters also repeated another recent trend in saluting dark and challenging films that defy genre expectations and make audiences work (see separate story). While most of the year’s topical-Mideast films were shut out, the mood of the country (and the world) are reflected in the lineup of dark and introspective pieces.

The early morning announcement of nominations at Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences headquarters in BevHills made no mention of the writers strike, though Acad honchos afterward affirmed that plans are proceeding to make sure the show will go on.

The year’s crop is heavy with first-timers. Five of the six director nominees saw their first nom in that category: Julian Schnabel (“Diving Bell,” his third feature), Jason Reitman (“Juno,” his second pic), Tony Gilroy (making his helming debut with “Clayton”), Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (“No Country”) and Paul Thomas Anderson (“Blood”). Only Joel Coen had been cited in this category.

Similarly, the writers included several Oscar frosh, including Sarah Polley (“Away From Her”), Diablo Cody (“Juno”), Nancy Oliver (“Lars and the Real Girl”) and Tamara Jenkins (“The Savages”). Except for Jenkins, it’s the first produced feature script for each. This marks the first time four women have been nommed solo in the script categories.

Joining a select group of people cited in four categories in one year (Orson Welles, Warren Beatty) are the Coen brothers, as directors, writers and producers of “No Country” — and they are also nominated for editing under their joint pseudonym Roderick Jaynes.

Only twice before have directing teams been nominated: Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise (“West Side Story”) and Beatty & Buck Henry (“Heaven Can Wait”).

“Blood” filmmaker Anderson is a triple nominee as director, writer (his third time in that category) and producer. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz scored three noms for their songs from Disney’s “Enchanted.”

Double nominees include Cate Blanchett for dual bio-roles in Universal’s “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” and Weinstein Co.’s “I’m Not There” as Bob Dylan (following Linda Hunt in the cross-gender casting); Brad Bird, as producer and co-writer of “Ratatouille”; Gilroy for “Clayton”; Roger Deakins (“Jesse James” and “No Country” cinematography); Skip Lievsay (sound editing and sound mixing, “Country”); Randy Thom (both sound categories for “Ratatouille”) and John Frazier (visual effects for “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Transformers”).

The screenplay races also include two previous Oscar winners: Christopher Hampton, nommed for “Atonement” and Ronald Harwood, “Diving Bell.” (they won for “Dangerous Liaisons” and “The Pianist,” respectively).

All five of the best pic contenders included acting noms, with lead George Clooney and supporting work by Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson for “Clayton”; leads Ellen Page for “Juno” and Daniel Day-Lewis for “Blood”; and supporting Saoirse Ronan for “Atonement” and Javier Bardem, “No Country.”

The acting races include five actors who repped the sole bid for their pic: leads Viggo Mortensen, “Eastern Promises” and Tommy Lee Jones, “In the Valley of Elah”; and supporting Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Charlie Wilson’s War”), Blanchett (“I’m Not There”) and Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone”).

Other lead contenders: Julie Christie (“Away From Her,” her fourth nom), Marion Cotillard (“La Vie en Rose”), Laura Linney (“The Savages,” her third) and Johnny Depp, “Sweeney Todd” (third).

Also in the supporting races: Casey Affleck (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) and two longtime vets who are Oscar freshman, Hal Holbrook (“Into the Wild”) and Ruby Dee (“American Gangster”).

Concerns about the war and the Middle East showed up in documentary noms and, interestingly, animation.

Magnolia Pictures’ “No End in Sight” and the Documentary Group’s “Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience” deal with Iraq directly, while ThinkFilm’s “Taxi to the Dark Side” addresses the torture of prisoners.

The other two contenders are ThinkFilm’s “War/Dance” about Uganda and Lionsgate-Weinstein Co.’s “Sicko,” about American health care.

The cel animated “Persepolis,” from Sony Pictures Classics, looks at a girl’s upbringing in Iran. (The other two contenders are the CGI “Ratatouille” and Sony’s “Surf’s Up.”)

The 2007 lineup of films is another reminder of the key role festivals are playing in the Oscar race. “No Country” and “Diving Bell” debuted at Cannes; “Away From Her” and “Michael Clayton” at Toronto; “Atonement” at Venice, “La Vie en Rose,” Berlin; “Juno” and “Into the Wild” at Telluride (followed by Toronto, Rome, etc.)

The changing film business make distributor tallies difficult, due to the number of shared titles. But, asterisks aside, Miramax and Par Vantage clearly did well.

Besides sharing in “Country” and “Blood,” Miramax had “Diving Bell.” It’s only the third Oscar race for the reinvented Miramax under newish topper Daniel Battsek.

Par Vantage made a big splash last year in its first race with “Babel,” and is making a bigger splash this year. Besides the two top pics, it is distribbing “Into the Wild,” with River Road Entertainment.

This year’s race is also notable for what didn’t happen. There is little racial diversity among the actors, in contrast with the last few years, and foreign-language films didn’t factor in as many races as in the recent past (e.g., “Babel,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Letters From Iwo Jima”).

And there are no disputes over producers credit: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, following Producers Guild of America rulings, cited three producers for each of the best pic nominees, with no questioning over the number of producers, as had been the case in the last few years.

The closest thing to a controversy so far involves the foreign-language category: Last week, when the shortlist of nine pics were unveiled, some were surprised at the omissions. But that flap may subside soon, with the five nominees being Israel’s “Beaufort,” Austria’s “The Counterfeiters,” Poland’s “Katyn,” Kazakhstan’s “Mongol” and Russian’s “12.”

But the biggest question is not over any omissions or inclusions, but about what will happen with the Feb. 24 ceremonies. Most hope that the strike will be resolved long before the Feb. 24 Oscarcast, but in the meantime, Hollywood’s big night of the year has become a symbol (and possibly a leverage point) in the negotiations.

At any rate, it adds another element of suspense to the entire awards season.

The film with the most noms has ended up winning the best picture prize in 16 of the last 20 years. However, the tides are turning. For the last three years, the nom leader did not win: “The Aviator,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Dreamgirls” led, but the best-pic Oscar went to, respectively, “Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash” and “The Departed.”

There were 306 films eligible for contention this year, according to AMPAS.

Nominations were announced at Academy headquarters in BevHills at 5:38 a.m. Tuesday, with Acad prez Sid Ganis and Kathy Bates unveiling contenders in 10 categories.

Final ballots will be mailed Jan. 30 and are due Feb. 19. Awards will be presented Feb. 24 at the Kodak Theater in ceremonies produced by Gil Cates.

Click here for the full list of nominations

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