83rd Annual Oscar Nomination: The “King” reigns!


 

The Oscar race turned into a wild scramble on Tuesday, as “The King’s Speech” took the biggest number of nominations, “True Grit” surged into second position, and “The Social Network,” which had seemed a front-runner, was matched by “Inception,” followed closely by “The Fighter,” in gathering nominations for the 83rd Academy Awards.

“The King’s Speech,” about friendship and speech therapy, garnered 12 nods, including best picture, best director (for Tom Hooper) and best actor (for Colin Firth as a stammering King George VI). The film had just won top honors from the Producers Guild of America over the weekend, and emerged as the leader in an unusually competitive pack of contenders for the best picture Oscar.


Best Picture
  • “Black Swan”
  • “The Fighter”
  • “Inception”
  • “The Kids Are All Right ”
  • “The King’s Speech”
  • “127 Hours”
  • “The Social Network”
  • “Toy Story 3″
  • “True Grit”
  • “Winter’s Bone”

(See full list in Awards Season 2011 section)

In the morning’s biggest surprise, “True Grit,” a western remake from the filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, followed with 10 nominations, including best picture, best director for the Coens, and a best actor nomination for Jeff Bridges, who won the acting award last year for “Crazy Heart.”

“True Grit” has been an audience favorite since its release in late December but had barely registered in the panoply of pre-Oscar awards and was recognized not at all at the Golden Globes last week.

By contrast, “The Social Network,” an unauthorized look at the Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, dominated the early awards, but slipped somewhat in the Oscar nominations. It secured eight of those on Tuesday, including best picture. David Fincher was nominated for his directing, Aaron Sorkin for the script and Jesse Eisenberg for starring as Mr. Zuckerberg.

“Inception,” a twisted tale of layered dreams, similarly had eight nominations, including best picture, but did not win a best director nomination for Christopher Nolan. The seven nominations for “The Fighter,” a boxing drama, included best picture, best director for David O. Russell and a best supporting actor nod for Christian Bale, but did not include a best actor nomination for Mark Wahlberg

In a twist that will require some tap-dancing on Oscar night, Feb. 27, one of the ceremony’s hosts, James Franco, was nominated as best actor for his work in “127 Hours,” based on the true story of a trapped outdoorsman who must sever his own arm to escape. The movie was also nominated for best picture. Mr. Franco’s co-host for the evening is Anne Hathaway, another young star, who was featured in “Love and Other Drugs” — a contender that was shut out on Tuesday.

“One of the reasons I agreed to host was to take my mind off the nominations — I have a reason to show up and not think about winning anything,” said Mr. Franco by telephone from Yale University, where he recently began a doctoral program in English. “At the moment,” he added with a laugh, “I’m really just worried about making sure I’m on time for class.”

Natalie Portman, fresh off winning a Golden Globe for her performance in “Black Swan,” appeared to lead the best actress category. Other nominees included Annette Bening for playing a controlling lesbian in “The Kids Are All Right”; Michelle Williams for her emotional portrait of a young wife in “Blue Valentine”; Nicole Kidman as a mother dealing with the loss of a child in “Rabbit Hole”; and Jennifer Lawrence for her role as an Ozarks girl on a hunt for her crystal-meth-cooking father in “Winter’s Bone.”

In the supporting acting categories, “The Fighter” dominated. In addition to Mr. Bale’s crack-addled former boxer, Melissa Leo, who portrayed his hard-scrabble mother, and Amy Adams, in an equally gritty role from that film, each grabbed nominations. Other supporting nominees included Hailee Steinfeld, the 14-year-old actress at the center of “True Grit,” and John Hawkes, who portrayed a terrifying Ozarks man named Teardrop in “Winter’s Bone.”

Also named in the best actor category was Javier Bardem, for his role in the Mexican picture “Biutiful, ” nominated for best foreign language film. “Dogtooth,” from Greece; “Outside the Law,” from Algeria; “Incendies,” from Canada, and “In a Better World,” from Denmark, were nominated as well.

Last year, when the academy doubled the number of best picture nominees to 10 in a bid to shore up television ratings for its ceremony, Oscar-watchers began looking to the directing category for a clue as to which five films were really the top contenders. By that measure, “Black Swan” would make the cut, as its director, Darren Aronofsky, received a nomination, one of five for the film, including best picture.

Paramount Pictures finds itself juggling a pair of contenders in “The Fighter” and “True Grit,” as does Fox Searchlight, which has both “Black Swan” and “127 Hours.” Walt Disney Studios and its Pixar unit, meanwhile, can feel vindicated by the nomination of “Toy Story 3,” which became its third animated film — following “Beauty and the Beast” and “Up” — to be nominated for best picture.

“Toy Story 3” was also nominated as best animated feature, along with “How to Train Your Dragon,” and “The Illusionist.”

The other best picture nominees were “The Kids Are All Right” and “Winter’s Bone,” which had been lauded on the indie film circuit and slipped in among some of the more heavily promoted films that dominated the top of the nominees list.

The nominations were announced with the usual pre-dawn hoopla. Mo’Nique, dressed in a silvery party dress, joined the academy’s president, Tom Sherak, in a smile and a dapper sports coat, to read the top categories in a live broadcast from the academy’s headquarters that began more than an hour before sunrise.

As always, Hollywood will pay attention to what was left out. Perhaps the most striking omission this year was that of Michael Douglas, a Hollywood favorite who received a diagnosis of throat cancer as the awards season got under way, and had two films — “Solitary Man” and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” — in contention.

Neither film received a nomination, something that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, when the academy was more inclined to leaven judgments with a dollop of sentiment (witness that “True Grit” best actor award, in 1970, for the overdue John Wayne). Over the last five years, the voting membership has become slightly younger, more foreign and far more inclined to honor independent film than crowd-pleasers and old-school stars.

For those who find their fun on the inside, the year has brought a face-off between Harvey Weinstein, the old Oscar hand whose Weinstein Company released “The King’s Speech,” and Scott Rudin, a similarly credentialed player who is among the producers of “The Social Network” and “True Grit.” Two years ago, Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Rudin tangled publicly over their mutual involvement with “The Reader,” but eventually made up and moved on.

For Sony Pictures, a win by “The Social Network,” now beset on all sides by stiff competitors, would be an overdue triumph. The studio has not had a best picture since “The Last Emperor,” in 1988. A win for “The King’s Speech” would be the first for its distributor, the Weinstein Company, which was formed by Harvey and Bob Weinstein after they left Miramax Films, a studio they had founded and turned into a perennial Oscar presence.

The nominations brought a cultural divide, as well. While “The Social Network,” with its pop psychological scrutiny of a still aborning tech phenomenon, points forward, “The King’s Speech” looks back toward World War II and has an international following. It received 14 nominations for awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, whose membership overlaps with the 5,755 voting members of Hollywood’s film academy.

In a show of strength on the independent film side, Sony Pictures Classics, a small specialty films unit of Sony Pictures, had seven nominations, including two for best foreign film (with “In a Better World” and “Incendie”), one for best animated feature (with “The Illusionist”), and one for best documentary feature, with “Inside Job.”

The academy’s governors have said they hoped a documentary would slip into the expanded ranks of best picture nominees, but that did not happen. In the best documentary category, other nominees were “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” “Gasland,” “Restrepo,” and “Waste Land.” A significant snub was the omission of “Waiting for Superman,” an educational reform documentary that was directed by Davis Guggenheim, who previously directed “An Inconvenient Truth.” The picture had enjoyed strong backing from both Paramount Pictures and Bill Gates. Mr. Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, and an advocate of education reform, had even appeared onstage with Mr. Guggenheim at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. But less heavily promoted nominees carried the day.

Among the strongest contenders, “The King’s Speech,” “The Fighter,” and “The Social Network” were all rooted in reality, something that had seemed unlikely only a year ago, as Hollywood reveled in fictions and fantasies like “The Hurt Locker” and “Avatar.”

“Sometimes true stories are the ones that have the most reliability — the narrative lands harder,” said Todd Lieberman, a producer of “The Fighter.” “It’s hard to believe what you’re watching actually happened.”

The last time nonfiction films played quite so strong a role in the nominations was 2006, when “Capote,” “Munich,” and “Good Night, and Good Luck,” all drawn from life, were nominated.

The Oscar broadcast is scheduled for Feb. 27 on ABC.

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