A pair of black-and-white biographical melodramas about freakish, tormented protagonists, "The Elephant Man" and "Raging Bull," lead all contenders for the 1980 Academy Awards with eight nominations each, according to selections announced yesterday in Los Angeles by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "Coal Miner's Daughter," a third biographical story, took the runnerup position with seven nominations.
All three will compete with "Ordinary People" and "Tess," which collected six nominations apiece, for the ultimate price of best movie when the 53rd annual Oscar are presented on Monday, March 30, in ceremonies to be emceed by Johnny Carson and telecast nationally by ABC.
The only blockbuster attraction of 1980, "The Empire Strikes Back," was brushed off by Academy voters with nominations in three craft categories, although the board of governors announced last week that it would receive a special achievement award for visual effects.
A close race for best actress looms between Sissy Spacek, who portrayed country & western vocalist Loretta Lynn in "Coal Miner's Daughter," and Mary Tyler Moore, playing against type as the coldhearted mother in "Ordinary People." The other nominees are Ellen Burstyn for "Resurrection," Goldie Hawn for "Private Benjamin" and Gena Rowlands for "Gloria." Burstyn previously won as best actress of 1974 ;or "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" and Hawn as best supporting actress of 1969 for "Cactus Flower."
Robert De Niro would appear to be a heavy favorite as best actor for his performance as prizefighter Jake La Motta in "Raging Bull." British actor John Hurt, concealed behind layers of latex makeyp to portray the hideously deformed Victorian sideshow freak John Merrick in "The Elephant Man," will also contend for the award, along with Robert Duvall as the bull-headed marine officer in "The Great Santini," Jack Lemmon as the wisecracking press agent in "Tribute" and Peter O'Toole as the devious film director in "The Stunt Man."
De Niro in a previous winner as best supporting actor of 1974 in "The Godfather, Part II." Lemmon won as best supporting actor of 1956 for "Mr. Roberts" and best actor of 1975 for "Save the Tiger."
Jason Robards, a two-time winner as best supporting actor ("All the President's Men" in 1976 and "Julia" the following year), could match the late Walter Brennan's trio of Oscars in the category if chosen for his brief but indelible impersonation of Howard Hughes in "Melvin and Howard." However, he should face stiff competition from 20-year-old Tim Hutton as the neurotic son in "Ordinary People" and Joe Pesci as De Niro's long suffering brother in "Raging Bull." Another young actor, Michael O'Keefe, received a nomination for his work as the bullied son in "The Great Santini." Judd Hirsch, cast as an understanding psychiatrist in "Ordinary People," completes the category.
Mary Steenburgen, the winner of four year-end critical awards for her performance as Melvin Dummar's first wife in "Melvin and Howard," heads the lsit of contenders for best supporting actress. The distinguished stage actress Eva Le Gallienne ws nominated for her performance as a farm matriarch in "Resurrection," and the remaining finalists were Eileen Brennan in "Private Benjamin," Diana Scarwid in "Inside Moves" and newcomer Cathy Moriarty in "Raging Bull." All were nominated for the first time.
Unlike last year, when "Kramer vs. Kramer" seemed a prohibitive favorite and went on to dominate the awards, none of the 1980 contenders has a decisive advantage in terms of popularity or prestige. Only one of the five nominees for best movie, "Coal Miner's Daughter," has been a major commercial success to date, ranking sixth on Variety's list of the top-grossing release of 1980. A good showing at the Oscars could mean a great deal to "Ordinary People," "The Elephant Man," "Raging Bull" or "Tess," all the matically bleak into the bargain. In addition, the chance of major awards could also give "The Stunt Man" and "Melvin and Howard" a fresh chance at box-office success.
The best film nominations were echoed in the case of four finalists in the category of best direction -- David Lynch for "The Elephant Man," Martin Scorsese for "Raging Bull," Robert Redford for "Ordinary People" and Roman Polanski, who left Hollywood three years ago to avoid the consequences of a morals conviction, for "Tess." Richard Rush, nominated for "The Stunt Man," might be regarded as the upset choice over Michael Apted, the unnominated director of Coal Miner's Daughter."
Two melodic effusions from "Fame" -- the title song and "Out Here on My Own" -- will contend for the best song Oscar with Dolly Parton's title ballad from "Nine to Five," the Willie Nelson ballad "On the Road Again" from "Honeysuckle Rose" and the somewhat hard-to-place "People Alone" from "The Competition." Michael Gore composed both songs for "Fame," with lyrics by Dean Pitchford on the title tune and lyrics by his sister Lislie Gore on "Out Here on My Own." The number from "The Competition" has music by Lalo Schifrin and lyrics by Wilbur Jennings.
The frequently troubled music division eliminated one category, best song score and/or music adaptation. The best original score category remains, and the finalists will be Gore for "Fame," John Corigliano for Altered States," John Morris for "The Elephant Man," John Williams for "The Empire Strikes Back" and Philippe Sarde for "Tess."
Nominations in other categories:
Original Screenplay: "Brubaker," W.D. Richter and Arthur Ross; "Fame," Christopher Gore; Melvin and Howard," Bo Goldman; "Mon Oncle d'Amerique," Jean Grault; "Private Benjamin," Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer and Harvey Miller.
Adapted Screenplay: "Breaker Morant," Jonathan Hardy, Davi Stevens and Bruce Beresford; "Coal Miner's Daughter," Tom Rickman; "The Elephant Man," Christopher DeVore, Eric Bergren and David Lynch; "Ordinary People," Alvin Sargent; "The Stund Man," Lawrence B. Marcus and Richard Rush.
Cinematography: "The Blue Lagoon," Nestor Almendros; "Coal Miner's Daughter," Ralf Bode; "The Formula," James Crabe; "Raging Bull," Michael Chapman; "Tess," Geoffrey Unsworth and Ghistain Cloquel.
Art Direction: "Coal Miner's Daughter," John W. Corso with set decoration by John M. Dwyer; "The Elephant Man," Stuart Carig and Bob Cartwright with set decoration by Hugh Scaife; "The Empire Strikes Back," Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley, Harry Lange and Alan Tompkins with set decoration by Michael Ford; "Kagemusha," Yoshiro Muraki; "Tess," Pierre Guffroy and Jacn Stevens.
Editing: "Coal Miner's Daughter," Arthur Schmidt; "The Competition," David Blewitt; "The Elephant Man," Anne Z. Coates; "Fame," Gerry Hambling; "Raging Bull," Selma Schoonmaker.
Costume Design: "The Elephant Man," Patricia Norris; "My Brilliant Career," Anna Senior; "Somewhere in Time," Jean-Pierre Dorleac; "Tess," Anthony Powell; "When Time Ran Out . . ." Paul Zastupnevich.
Sound: "Altered States," Arthur Piantadosi, Les Fresholtz, Michael Minkler and Willie D. Burton; "Coal Miner's Daughter," Richard Portman, Roger Herman and Jim Alexander; "The Empier Strikes Back," Bill Varney, Steve Maslow, Gregg Lanaker and Peter Sutton; "Frame," Michael J. Kohut, Aaron Rochin, J.M. Hardy and Chris Newman; "Raging Bull," Donald V. Mitchell, Bill Nicholson, David J. Kimball and Les Lazorowitz.
Foreign Language Film: "Confidence" from Hungary, "Kagemusha" from Japan, "The Last Metro" from France, "Moscow Does not Believe in Tears" from the Soviet Union and "The Nest" from Spain.
Documentary Feature: "Agee," "The Day After Trinity," "From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China," "Front Line" and "The Yellow Star -- The Persecution of European Jews, 1933-45."
Documentary Short: "Don't Mess With Bill," "The Eruption of Mr. St. Helens," "It's the Same World," "Kart Hess: Toward Liberty" and "Luther Metke at 94."
Animated Short: "All Nothing," "The Fly" and "History of the World in Three Minutes Flat."
Live-Action Short: "The Dollar Bottom," "Fall Line" and "A Jury of Her Peers."
Honorary or Special Achievement Awards: Henry Fonda for career achievement; "The Empire Strikes Back" for visual effect; Linwood Dunn, Cecil Love and the Acme Tool & Manufacturing Co. for inventing, engineering and developing the optical printer.