Oscar 2008: Trends and Facts–4 Acting Awards

In the contest for the 81st Oscar Awards, “The Curious Cse of Benjamin Button” received 13 nominations.  In Oscar’s entire history, onlky 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.

Paramount-Warner’s “Benjamin Button” was one of two films from the majors to score a best pic nom, along with Universal’s “Frost/Nixon,” which gained five. The two pics are double the majors’ showing last year, when only WB’s “Michael Clayton” made the cut.

Specialty Indies and Art Fare

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

Release date: All five pictures opened in the last two months of the year.

Films and Directors: Each of the five best-pictures contenders saw its director nominated — which, incredibly, is only the fifth time that’s ever happened.

Best Porducer

“Benjamin Button’s” producer Kathleen Kennedy earned her sixth producing bid, tieing her with Stanley Kramer and Steven Spielberg for the record for individual producers.

Best Director:

Stephen Daldry makes Oscar history by going three for three: With this year’s “The Reader,” he has scored a directing bid for the trio of films he’s helmed.

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

A.R. Rahman (“Slumdog”) is a triple nominee, for his music score and two songs: “Jai Ho” and “O Saya,” which rep 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.

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”).

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.

There are nine first-timers among the 20 acting contenders. Seven of the 10 lead actors are aged 45 or older.

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

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”).

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

“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.

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.

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.

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

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”).

For actor, contenders are Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”), Frank Langella (“Frost/Nixon”), Sean Penn (“Milk”), Brad Pitt (“Button”), Mickey Rourke (“The Wrestler”),

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

Foreign-language finalists: German’s “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” “The Class,” Japan’s “Departures” Austria’s “Revanche” and Israel’s “Waltz With Bashir.”

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.”

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.

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).