When the Academy Award nominations for Best Director were announced yesterday, Steven Spielberg's name wasn't among them. And that omission, suggesting a backlash by the Hollywood community against its most successful director-turned-mogul, was only the biggest of the Academy's surprises.
As expected, Spielberg's movie for Warner Brothers, "The Color Purple," a tale of a woman's transcendence in rural Georgia, was nominated for Best Picture, as was Universal's "Out of Africa," an epic romance about Karen Blixen's life and hard times in Kenya. The two pictures led the field with 11 nominations apiece.
Also nominated for Best Picture was Paramount's "Witness," a romantic thriller about a tough cop in Amish country, and Fox's "Prizzi's Honor," a black comedy about two killers in love. Both received eight nominations.
The surprise fifth nominee was Island Alive's "Kiss of the Spider Woman," an art-house film based on the Manuel Puig novel about a revolutionary and a homosexual who become friends in jail. The film did not have a major studio release.
Spielberg was edged out by "Kiss of the Spider Woman" director Hector Babenco and by another surprise nominee, the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa -- whose film "Ran" was not nominated by his country for Best Foreign Film and therefore was ineligible in that category. The other nominees for Best Director were Peter Weir, for "Witness"; Sydney Pollack, for "Out of Africa"; and five-time nominee John Huston, for "Prizzi's Honor."
Spielberg has been jilted before. He was said to be bitterly disappointed when he and "E.T." were beaten by Richard Attenborough and "Gandhi" in 1982.
The costar of "Kiss of the Spider Woman," William Hurt, was nominated for Best Actor for his role as the abstracted homosexual who comes to political consciousness. As anticipated, Jack Nicholson received his eighth Oscar nomination for his portrait of a dumb but cunning hit man in "Prizzi's Honor." It was Nicholson's eighth Oscar nomination. Harrison Ford was nominated for the first time for the role of John Book, a cop who learns the value of nonviolence, in "Witness." James Garner, whose film "Murphy's Romance" just slipped in under the deadline, received the fourth nomination. The group was rounded out by Jon Voight, who played a tough con with a mouth full of existentialism in "Runaway Train."
Golden Globe winner Whoopi Goldberg was nominated for Best Actress for her portrait of Celie, the heroine of "The Color Purple." It is her first film role. The other Best Actress nominees are all Oscar veterans. Jessica Lange got the nod once again for bringing Patsy Cline to life in "Sweet Dreams"; Meryl Streep was nominated for the role of Karen Blixen in "Out of Africa"; Anne Bancroft was nominated for her portrait of the profane, cigarette-bumming Mother Superior in "Agnes of God"; and for the eighth time, the Academy has dangled the brass ring in front of Geraldine Page, this time for her role as Carrie Watts in "The Trip to Bountiful." Page has never won an Oscar.
One-time matinee idol Don Ameche won a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for "Cocoon," as did Klaus Maria Brandauer for his portrait of a charming, dissolute nobleman in "Out of Africa," and William Hickey, who played a disintegrating Mafia don in "Prizzi's Honor." The nominations were filled out, surprisingly, by Robert Loggia for limning a foulmouthed, over-the-hill detective in "Jagged Edge," and by Eric Roberts, who played a brass-lunged thug in "Runaway Train."
Two actresses from "The Color Purple" -- Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey -- led the nominations for Best Supporting Actress; they were joined by Anjelica Huston, who won the New York Critics Circle Award for the role of the Brooklynese mob scion Maerose in "Prizzi's Honor." Filling out the roster were two more surprises: Meg Tilly for her portrait of a neurasthenic nun in "Agnes of God" and Amy Madigan, for playing the tough daughter who tries to hold her family together in "Twice in a Lifetime."
Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale were nominated for Best Original Screenplay for "Back to the Future," the year's highest grossing feature. Other screen writers laureled were Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown for their Orwellian "Brazil"; Luis Puenzo and Aida Bortnik for "The Official Story," an Argentine film about the desaparecidos; Woody Allen for his period fantasy, "The Purple Rose of Cairo"; and William Kelley, Pamela Wallace and Earl M. Wallace for "Witness." The Best Screenplay Adaptation nods went to Menno Meyjes for adapting Alice Walker's novel, "The Color Purple"; Leonard Schrader for adapting the Puig novel, "Kiss of the Spider Woman"; Kurt Luedtke for adapting Isak Dinesen's "Out of Africa"; Richard Condon and Janet Roach for adapting Condon's novel, "Prizzi's Honor"; and Horton Foote for adapting his own teleplay, "The Trip to Bountiful."
Best Cinematography huzzahs went to Allen Daviau, for his crystalline work in "The Color Purple"; David Watkin, for the lush scenery of "Out of Africa"; Takao Saito, Masaharu Ueda and Asakazu Nakai, for the majestic tableaux of "Ran"; John Seale, for his painterly work in "Witness"; and William A. Fraker for "Murphy's Romance." Touted for Best Original Score were Maurice Jarre, for his Coplandesque score to "Witness"; John Barry, for "Out of Africa"; Bruce Broughton, for "Silverado"; Georges Delerue, for "Agnes of God"; and 12 composers for "The Color Purple."
Best Foreign Language Film garlands went to "Angry Harvest" (West Germany), "Colonel Redl" (Hungary), "Three Men and a Cradle" (France), "When Father Was Away on Business" (Yugoslavia) and "The Official Story."
Nominated for Best Documentary were "Broken Rainbow," "Las Madres," "Soldiers in Hiding," "The Statue of Liberty" and "Unfinished Business."
Among the studios, Universal led with 18 nominations, followed by Warner's with 13, Columbia and 20th Century-Fox with 10 apiece and Paramount with nine.
The nature of the choices was not significantly different than it has been in years past. But if the pattern of the Academy's taste hasn't changed, the specifics -- the scattering of the choices among so many films -- promises, at the very least, a more interesting show when the 58th Academy Awards are telecast March 24.
"Rambo: First Blood Part II" received one Oscar nomination -- for Best Sound Effects Editing.
Nominations in other categories included:
ART DIRECTION: "Brazil"; "The Color Purple"; "Out of Africa"; "Ran"; "Witness"
COSTUME DESIGN: "The Color Purple"; "The Journey of Natty Gann"; "Out of Africa"; "Prizzi's Honor"; "Ran"
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT: "The Courage to Care"; "Keats and His Nightingale"; "Making Overtures"; "Witness to War"; "The Wizard of the Strings"
FILM EDITING: "A Chorus Line"; "Out of Africa"; "Prizzi's Honor"; "Runaway Train"; "Witness"
ANIMATED SHORT FILM: "Anna & Bella"; "The Big Snit"; "Second Class Mail"
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: "Graffiti"; "Molly's Pilgrim"; "Rainbow War"
SOUND: "Back to the Future"; "A Chorus Line"; "Ladyhawke"; "Out of Africa"; "Silverado"
SOUND EFFECTS EDITING: "Back to the Future"; "Ladyhawke"; "Rambo: First Blood Part II"
VISUAL EFFECTS: "Cocoon"; "Return to Oz"; "Young Sherlock Holmes"
MAKEUP: "The Color Purple"; "Mask"; "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins"