Oscar Forecast: A Wintry Mix Of Nominees

A look at the films and people nominated for this year's Academy Awards, to be held Feb. 24.
By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

PARK CITY, Utah, Jan. 22 -- It would be a pity if the Academy Awards show were spiked because of the writers' strike, because this might be the most wide-open contest in years.

With no big Hollywood blockbuster to squash the competition, the Oscar nominations went Tuesday to dark, unsentimental and often violent films and performances -- with the story of a drug deal gone horribly wrong ("No Country for Old Men") and the tale of a ruthless oilman ("There Will Be Blood") leading the field with eight Academy Award nods each, including Best Picture for each and acting bids for Javier Bardem and Daniel Day-Lewis.

The other nominees for Best Picture are the legal thriller "Michael Clayton," the British love and war epic "Atonement" and the quirky comedy "Juno." With acting and directing nominations included, Oscar night might be a cliffhanger.

Now the question is whether the annual televised awards will be staged Feb. 24 as planned while Hollywood writers continue their months-long strike against the movie studios and TV networks.

While the five Best Picture contenders have performed respectably at the box office, none would be considered a big movie. The sweet, off-center comedy about a high school pregnancy, "Juno," which opened in early December, takes the top spot with $87 million. "There Will Be Blood," which opened over the winter holidays, has earned $8 million.

The Best Actor contenders are George Clooney for "Michael Clayton"; Daniel Day-Lewis for "There Will Be Blood"; Johnny Depp in the razor-sharp musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"; Viggo Mortensen as the chauffeur you don't want to mess with in "Eastern Promises"; and Tommy Lee Jones as a man searching for the truth about his soldier son for "In the Valley of Elah."

Best Actress nominees are Cate Blanchett, in a reprise of her regal roles in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"; Julie Christie for "Away From Her"; Marion Cotillard as French singer Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose"; Laura Linney as a late-blooming sibling in "The Savages"; and Ellen Page as the tart-tongued scamp in "Juno."

Bob Berney, president of Picturehouse, was counting himself a happy mogul for snapping up the rights to "La Vie en Rose" at last year's Cannes Film Festival, based on a 10-minute rough clip of Cotillard. "At the time I had no idea who she was, but she was amazing," Berney said of her portrayal of Piaf. "She reminds me of the physical transformation of Charlize Theron in "Monster," which won the South African an Oscar in 2004.

And as quickly as the contenders were announced Tuesday morning, there was the time-honored grousing about snubs, and the what were they thinking?!? Among the mostly unheralded: "The Great Debaters," "The Kite Runner," "American Gangster" and "Zodiac."

Oscar prognosticators appeared flummoxed by the nomination of Tommy Lee Jones for "In the Valley of Elah." Another surprise: just how strong "Juno" was, with a coveted directing nomination going to young Jason Reitman, whose first feature film was the 2005 "Thank You for Smoking." "Juno" also took a Best Original Screenplay chit for Diablo Cody, a former stripper.

Many handicappers expected "Atonement" to lose altitude, despite its Golden Globe win, because it has not been among the top picks of the screen actors, directors, writers and producers guilds. But there it was.

The nominees for Best Director are Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood"; Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, "No Country for Old Men"; Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"; Reitman, "Juno"; and Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," about the editor of French Elle who suffers a stroke that leaves him with "locked-in syndrome," and no way to communicate (or write a book, as he did) except by blinking one eyelid.

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