“Chicago” was their kind of movie, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences proved it by showering a whopping 13 Oscar nominations on the movie version of Bob Fosse’s musical. But the biggest winner at Tuesday’s 75th Academy Awards nominations was Harvey Weinstein.
The chairman of Miramax not only shepherded “Chicago” through nearly 10 years of development but presided over the three-year public relations disaster that was “Gangs of New York,” which repaid his bluster with 10 nominations.
As icing on his cake, Miramax has the overseas distribution rights to “The Hours,” which received eight nominations, and it has a financial piece of “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” which Miramax developed before turning it over to New Line.
After a couple of years of being shuffled off to the Oscar sidelines with little, showy but empty candidates like “Chocolat,” the man who virtually invented modern Oscar campaigning reminded the competition that this was how it was done. First, you produce great movies. Then you convince the 5,816 members of the academy that those movies were great with a barrage of advertising and hype.
Miramax also pulled off a couple of minor coups by securing a best actress nomination for Salma Hayek in “Frida” and a supporting actress nomination for Queen Latifah in “Chicago.”
Meryl Streep, who could have had nominations in either of those categories for “The Hours,” had to console herself with becoming the most-nominated actress in Oscar history courtesy of her supporting actress nod for “Adaptation.” She now has 13 nominations, surpassing Katharine Hepburn’s 12.
There were few bona fide surprises in Tuesday’s announcements, save for the relatively poor showing of “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” While the first installment of the trilogy led the nomination tally last year with 13, the second installment earned only six for a film that both critics and audiences considered superior to the first.
Director Peter Jackson suffered a major snub by being shut out in the best director race. His spot was taken by Spain’s Pedro Almodovar, whose “Talk to Her,” unlike the films of the other directing nominees, was not nominated for best picture.
The Is-My-Face-Red award goes to this writer, who confidently predicted Monday that neither first-time director Rob Marshall of “Chicago” or convicted felon Roman Polanski, director of “The Pianist,” would be recognized by the academy. Both were.
The film with the most nominations has won the best picture category for 18 of the past 20 years, which bolsters the view that “Chicago” is essentially a lock to become the first musical to win best picture since “Oliver!” in 1968. Still, it is a long shot to win most of the other categories in which it was nominated, including best song.
Even if we weren’t hometown boosters, we would consider “Lose Yourself” from “8 Mile,” the first Oscar-nominated song ever to have been written and recorded in Detroit, the front-runner, and a victory would also make it the first slice of hip-hop ever to win an Oscar. This raises the question: Would Eminem dare pick a fight with Oscar host Steve Martin as he did with Triumph the Insult Dog at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards?
Michigan was also recognized in the documentary category, with the nomination for “Bowling for Columbine,” an examination of the United States’ obsession with guns by Flint’s favorite rabble-rouser, Michael Moore. The nomination was also a bone thrown to those who argue that the academy’s documentary selection inevitably excludes movies that audiences actually like and go to see; “Bowling” is now destined to become the highest-grossing doc of all time.
Julianne Moore undoubtedly has mixed emotions. Yes, she became only the ninth actor ever to be nominated twice in one year, and the first ever to be nominated in two categories for two pictures, supporting actress for “The Hours” and best actress for “Far from Heaven.” But she had to feel disappointment at the overall performance of “Far from Heaven.” It failed to receive a best-picture nomination or a best-director nomination for her friend Todd Haynes. And perhaps most grievously, her costar, Dennis Quaid, was overlooked for best supporting actor. Perhaps the academy thought that nominating two straight men playing gay roles, Ed Harris did make the cut for “The Hours,” would just be tacky.
Of course, any supporting actor debate is practically moot. Paul Newman, in “The Road to Perdition,” will probably be a near-unanimous sentimental choice by the time of the March 23 ceremony. (The late cinematographer Conrad Hall, also nominated for “Perdition,” automatically becomes the front-runner as well.)
That “Gangs of New York”‘s Martin Scorsese will finally win the best-director prize he was denied for “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” is a foregone conclusion. But with Oscars, foregone conclusions often can become formidable mistakes in judgment.
Lost in all the “Chicago” hoopla were a couple of small victories. Just a few days ago, Variety announced that the triumph of computer animation over the traditional hand-drawn style could have dramatic ramifications for Walt Disney Studios. On Tuesday, Oscar voters gave four of the five animated-feature nominations to films that were primarily hand-drawn, and three of those were Disney films. They included the probable winner “Lilo & Stitch,” and “Treasure Planet,” whose box-office failure prompted Disney to take a $75 million tax write-off.
Fortunately, Miramax is a wholly owned Disney subsidiary.