Oscar 2008: Analysis of Trends and Facts

Trends and Facts

Benjamin Button

In the contest for the 81st Oscar Awards, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” received 13 nominations.  In Oscar's entire history, only two movies have received 14 nominations: All About Eve in 1950 and Titanic in 1997.  “Benjamin Button” is only the ninth film in 80 years to ever score that many nominations.

Studio Vs. Indies

Paramount-Warner’s “Benjamin Button” was one of two films from the majors to score a best picture nomination, along with Universal’s “Frost/Nixon,” which gained five.  Last year, only one studio movie, Warner's “Michael Clayton” made the final cut.

Specialty, indies, and niche films scored three of the best picture nominations: Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire” (with 10 nominations), Focus Features’ “Milk” (8 nominations) and the Weinstein Co.’s “The Reader” (five nominations).

Best Picture and Number of Nominations:

In 15 of the last 20 years, the top-scoring contender went on to win best picture. But the trend may be changing. The top nominee only won the top prize in two of the last five years.

Picture's Release Date:

All five pictures opened in the last two months of the year, and three of them in December (See an earlier blog about impact of release date).

Films and Directors:

Each of the five best-pictures nominees saw its director nominated.   Amazingly, this is only the fifth time in 80 years that’s ever happened; the last time was in 1944.

Stephen Daldry makes Oscar history by going three for three: With this year’s “The Reader,” he has scored a directing bid for the each of the three films he has helmed: Billy Elliott in 2000 and The Hours in 2002.

Four of the five director contenders were also among the DGA nominations: Danny Boyle (“Slumdog”), David Fincher (“Button”), Ron Howard (“Frost/Nixon”), and Gus Van Sant (“Milk”). But Daldry on Thursday replaced DGA nominee Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”).

Best Producer

“Benjamin Button’s” producer Kathleen Kennedy earned her sixth producing nomination.  Sdhe now shares the honors with Stanley Kramer and Steven Spielberg for the record for individual producers.

Triple Nominee

A.R. Rahman (“Slumdog”) is a triple nominee, for his music score and two songs: “Jai Ho” and “O Saya,” which represent the third and fourth bids for songs not in the English language.


Andrew Stanton (“Wall-E”) is only the fourth person to score a second bid in the animated feature category, which began in 1981. He also earned a citation in original screenplay as one of the scribes on the film.

“Waltz With Bashir” is the first animated feature nominated for a foreign-language Oscar (though it’s the 13th animation to be submitted in that context; last year’s France's “Persepolis” didn't even make the short list.

TV and Hollywood

Two best-picture contenders center around real-life TV shows: “Frost/Nixon” (the 1977 interviews) and “Slumdog Millionaire” (India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”).

Foreign Language

France maintains its lead in the foreign-language Oscar race, with its 35th bid for “The Class,” the winner of the Palme D'Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Fest.

Four Acting Categories

There are nine first-timers among the 20 acting contenders, which is about 50 percent. Seven of the ten lead actors are 45 or older.

Best Ac

For Best Actor, the finalists are: Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”), Frank Langella (“Frost/Nixon”), Sean Penn (“Milk”), Brad Pitt (“Button”), Mickey Rourke (“The Wrestler”),

Best Actress nominees: Anne Hathaway (“Rachel Getting Married”), Angelina Jolie (“Changeling), Melissa Leo (“Frozen River”), Meryl Streep (“Doubt”) and Kate Winslet (“The Reader”).

With a 15th bid for “Doubt,” Meryl Streep maintains her easy lead in most acting nominations. Runners-up are Katharine Hepburn with 12 and Jack Nicholson with 13.

Kate Winslet was nominated as leading actress in “Reader,” though she won a Golden Globe and a BFCA as supporting actress for the same film.

Posthumous Nominations

Heath Ledger scored a supporting actor nom for “The Dark Knight” on the first anniversary of his death. This marks the seventh posthumous acting nomination, including the sole winner so far, Peter Finch (“Network”).

Actors in Black Face

Robert Downey Jr.’s nomination (“Tropic Thunder”) marks the first time since Laurence Olivier’s 1965 “Othello” that an actor has been nominated for playing a role in blackface.

Supporting Actors

Viola Davis and Michael Shannon are supporting contenders (for “Doubt” and “Revolutionary Road,” respectively) though each has only about 10-12 minutes of screen time.

Double Nominations

Michael Semanick was cited twice in the sound mixing race, for his work on “Benjamin Button” and “Wall-E.” Ben Burtt is up for “Wall-E,” in both sound editing and mixing.

Women in Men's Fields

Lora Hirschberg (“Dark Knight”) becomes the third woman nominated in the sound mixing category.

Foreign-Language Oscar:

Austria: “Revanche”
France: “The Class”
Germany: “The Baader Meinhof Complex”
Israel: “Waltz With Bashir”
Japan: “Departures” 

(See My Reviews) 

Best Animated Feature:

Disney’s “Bolt,” DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda,” and Disney-Pixar’s “Wall-E.”

Documentary feature: “The Betrayal (Nerakhoon),” “Encounters at the End of the World,” “The Garden,” “Man on Wire,” and “Trouble the Water.”

If you want to know more about the Oscars, please read my book: All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards (latest, updated and expanded edition, 2003).