Road to Oscar noms paved with everybody's wins

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Oscar outlook: After months of reading the awards tea leaves to predict who Oscar's best picture nominees would be, we can now look back to figure out how they got there.

Since early December, a steady stream of kudos handed out by critics groups and other organizations has prompted daily speculation about the Oscar prospects for titles like "No Country for Old Men," "Atonement" and "There Will Be Blood." With the benefit of hindsight we can now focus on the timeline of what happened earlier this winter for some insights into what influenced Academy members on the road to making their nominating decisions.

Almost all of the National Board of Review's key awards announced Dec. 5 wound up being reflected in Tuesday's Oscar nominations -- including "No Country for Old Men" (picture), George Clooney (actor, "Michael Clayton"), Julie Christie (actress, "Away From Her"), Casey Affleck (supporting actor, "The Assassination of Jesse James ..."), Amy Ryan (supporting actress, "Gone Baby Gone"), "Ratatouille" (animated feature), original screenplay (a tie between Diablo Cody for "Juno" and Nancy Oliver for "Lars and the Real Girl") and adapted screenplay (Joel and Ethan Coen, "No Country").

Only the NBR wins for director (Tim Burton, "Sweeney Todd"), documentary ("Body of War") and foreign film ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") were not mirrored in the Oscar noms. Of course, "Diving Bell" wasn't eligible in Oscar's foreign language race because it wasn't France's official entry (although it did receive four Oscar noms, including directing, cinematography, editing and adapted screenplay).

Those who like to dismiss the NBR as an anonymous group of New York socialites with no credentials for evaluating movies should think twice next year. Clearly, the NBR awards pointed the way to the Oscar noms. In particular, the NBR established "No Country" as a major contender for Oscar's best picture race.

The Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. announced its awards Dec. 9, putting "There Will Be Blood" into the ring as the year's other major heavy dramatic best picture Oscar contender. But where the NBR spread its awards around, the L.A. critics gave multiple honors to "Blood." The group's key awards that were echoed with Oscar noms included best picture, director (Paul Thomas Anderson, "Blood"), actor (Daniel Day-Lewis, "Blood"), actress (Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en Rose"), supporting actress (Amy Ryan, "Gone" and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"), screenplay (Tamara Jenkins, "The Savages"), documentary ("No End in Sight") and animated feature (a tie between "Ratatouille" and "Persepolis").

The L.A. critics' key awards that weren't mirrored with Oscar noms were supporting actor (Vlad Ivanov, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days") and foreign language film ("4 Months," which didn't make the Academy's foreign language shortlist). The L.A. critics put "Blood" on the road to the Oscars, setting it up "No Country's" serious high profile dramatic competition.

When the New York Film Critics Circle's awards were announced Dec. 10 they tipped the scales back in favor of "No Country." The group's kudos that later were balanced by Oscar noms included best picture ("No Country"), actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), actress (Julie Christie), director (Joel and Ethan Coen, "No Country"), supporting actor (Javier Bardem, "No Country"), supporting actress (Amy Ryan), screenplay (Joel and Ethan Coen), animated feature ("Persepolis") and documentary ("No End"). Of its key awards, only foreign language film ("The Lives of Others") wasn't reflected in the Oscar nominations.

December also saw awards from a wide range of other critics groups. Without going into more detail than necessary here, it's worth pointing out that "No Country" was clearly the critics' favorite film. It received best picture wins from groups in prime markets like Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Toronto, Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego and Dallas. Interestingly, "Blood" didn't resonate with critics groups the way "No Country" did. That could reflect the fact that "No Country" got an earlier start, going into limited release at 28 theaters Nov. 9, about seven weeks before "Blood" kicked off Dec. 26 at two theaters in New York and L.A. Given "Blood's" year-end arrival, it's possible that critics outside New York and L.A. may not have had an opportunity to see it before voting.

The Broadcast Film Critics' nominations were announced Dec. 11 and with seven noms "Into the Wild" was that group's frontrunner. But that wasn't reflected in how the group wound up voting. When the BFCA's awards were announced Jan. 7 it was "No Country" that walked off with best picture. The group's wins also translated into many Oscar noms -- including director (Joel and Ethan Coen), actor (Daniel Day Lewis), actress (Julie Christie), supporting actor (Javier Bardem), supporting actress (Amy Ryan), animated feature ("Ratatouille") and documentary ("Sicko"). The BFCA's best foreign language film award went to "Diving Bell," which wasn't eligible in the comparable Oscar race.

Back in mid-December there still hadn't been any indication of major support for "Atonement," which had had a great buzz going for it as insiders started thinking about the awards season last fall. Although "Atonement" did quite well with the critics when it opened, scoring a very fresh 82% rating on RottenTomatoes.com, it didn't nail down best picture wins from critics groups. That no longer mattered, however, after the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. announced its Golden Globe nominations Dec. 13. "Atonement" led the Globes pack with seven noms -- including best picture-drama, director (Joe Wright), actor-drama (James McAvoy), actress-drama (Keira Knightley), supporting actress (Saoirse Ronan), screenplay (Christopher Hampton) and original score (Dario Marianelli).

When the Globe winners were revealed Jan. 13 "Atonement" gained stature as a likely best picture Oscar contender by winning the best picture-drama Globe (and also for Dario Marianelli's original score). As is typically the case, the Globes were a good bellwether for the Oscar nominations. Besides "Atonement's" twin wins, other Globe winners who went on to land Academy noms included actress-drama (Julie Christie), actor-drama (George Clooney, "Michael Clayton"), actress-comedy or musical (Marion Cotillard), actor-comedy or musical (Johnny Depp, "Sweeney Todd"), supporting actress (Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There"), supporting actor (Javier Bardem), animated feature ("Ratatouille"), director (Julian Schnabel, "Diving Bell")and screenplay (Ethan and Joel Coen).

There were no Globe wins-Oscar noms matches for best picture-musical or comedy ("Sweeney Todd") and foreign language film ("Diving Bell").

"Juno" made headlines as the best picture-comedy winner when the Satellite Awards were announced Dec. 16. "No Country" captured the group's best picture-drama honors. Both films, of course, are now competing in Oscar's best picture race. Other match-ups between Satellite winners and Oscar nominees include best director (Joel and Ethan Coen), actor-drama (Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises"), actress-drama (Marion Cotillard), actress-comedy or musical (Ellen Page, "Juno"), supporting actress (Amy Ryan), supporting actor (a tie between Tom Wilkinson and Casey Affleck), adapted screenplay (Christopher Hampton), original screenplay (Diablo Cody, "Juno"), animated feature ("Ratatouille"), original score (Alberto Iglesias, "The Kite Runner") and documentary ("Sicko").

Satellite winners didn't turn up as Oscar nominees for best actor-comedy or musical (Ryan Gosling, "Lars and the Real Girl") and foreign language film ("Lust, Caution").

When the Screen Actors Guild's nominations came out Dec. 20 the five nominees for best ensemble cast, the Guild's equivalent of a best picture category, were "3:10 to Yuma," "American Gangster," "Hairspray," "Into the Wild" and "No Country." Of those five, only "No Country" went on to become a best picture Oscar nominee, throwing some cold water on the popular theory that SAG ensemble noms automatically translate into best picture Oscar noms.

SAG did much better, however, matching up with Oscar noms in its other categories. Of SAG's lead male actor noms -- George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Ryan Gosling, Emile Hirsch ("Into the Wild") and Viggo Mortensen -- there were Oscar noms for Clooney, Day-Lewis and Mortensen. In the lead female actor category the nominees were Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth: The Golden Age"), Julie Christie, Marion Cotillard, Angelina Jolie ("A Mighty Heart") and Ellen Page. Oscar voters went on to nominate Blanchett, Christie, Cotillard and Page.

On the supporting front, there were male actor SAG noms for Casey Affleck, Javier Bardem, Hal Holbrook ("Into the Wild"), Tommy Lee Jones ("No Country for Old Men") and Tom Wilkinson. Only Jones failed to get into the Oscar supporting actor race (where Philip Seymour Hoffman got the nom for "Charlie Wilson's War").

In the female actor supporting category, SAG nominated Cate Blanchett ("I'm Not There"), Ruby Dee ("American Gangster"), Catherine Keener ("Into the Wild"), Amy Ryan and Tilda Swinton ("Michael Clayton"). Here, too, only one SAG nominee missed out on an Oscar nom. Academy voters went for Saoirse Ronan for "Atonement" in place of Keener.

Clearly, SAG's track record in terms of leading to Oscar nominations was great with supporting actors, quite good for lead actors and poor (at least this year) on the ensemble cast front.

The Directors Guild of America's nominations were announced Jan. 8 and, as is usually the case, most of them were subsequently mirrored by nominations from the Academy's directing branch. The DGA's five noms went to Paul Thomas Anderson, Joel and Ethan Coen, Tony Gilroy, Sean Penn ("Into the Wild") and Julian Schnabel. There were Oscar noms for everyone but Penn (with that slot going instead to Jason Reitman for "Juno"). So the DGA continues to be a great indicator of what Academy members are likely to nominate in the directing category.

The Writers Guild of America announced its nominations Jan. 10 and, as expected, most of its nominees went on to receive noms from members of the Academy's writers branch. In the original screenplay category the WGA noms went to Diablo Cody ("Juno"), Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton"), Tamara Jenkins ("The Savages"), Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up") and Nancy Oliver ("Lars and the Real Girl"). Only Apatow missed out on an Oscar nom (which went instead to Brad Bird for "Ratatouille").

In the WGA's adapted screenplay category there was good news for the Coens, Anderson, Ronald Harwood ("Diving Bell"), Sean Penn ("Wild") and James Vanderbilt ("Zodiac"). There were Oscar noms ahead for the Coens, Anderson and Harwood. Academy voters replaced Penn and Vanderbilt with Christopher Hampton ("Atonement") and Sarah Polley ("Away From Her").

Jan. 14 saw the Producers Guild of America announce its best picture nominations, four of which were later applauded by Academy voters. The PGA's contenders were "Diving Bell," "Juno," "Michael Clayton," "No Country" and "Blood." All but "Diving Bell" wound up as best picture Oscar nominees (with "Atonement" in place of "Diving Bell").

When the British Academy's BAFTA nominations were announced Jan.16 there were 14 noms for "Atonement," the most for any film. While it's difficult to compare BAFTA and Oscar noms because there were some films that British voters were considering (like "The Lives of Others") that weren't on Oscar's 2007 radar, in the best film category there was a significant overlap for three of the five nominees. "Atonement," "No Country" and "Blood" all scored BAFTA and Oscar noms. BAFTA's other two titles were "American Gangster" and "The Lives of Others" while Oscar's other noms went to "Juno" and "Michael Clayton."

All told, it's been a wide open awards race from Day One and it's still wide open as we enter the final weeks of campaigning. All five best picture Oscar nominees have had their moments in the awards spotlight this season and at this point you can still make a case for everyone winning and everyone losing.

Filmmaker flashbacks: From Sept. 6, 1990's column: "Films that open early in the year are easily overlooked when the time comes for Oscar nominations because Academy members have fresher memories of year-end releases. That's unfortunate because often there are worthy films, performances and other creative contributions that surface before the fall.

"This spring and summer, for instance, there were films that prompted a buzz about having potential for Oscar nominations. Here's a look at some of those Oscar outlook situations in the hope that Academy members will remember them when they mark their nominating ballots.

"To begin with, there's Whoopi Goldberg's performance ... in Paramount's summer blockbuster 'Ghost.' Goldberg is a much talked about possibility for a supporting actress nomination. Coming as it has after so many failed starring efforts, her work in 'Ghost' has really revitalized her career. Whether 'Ghost' director Jerry Zucker can conjure up a best director nomination for himself remains to be seen. Zucker's roots, of course, are in directing the sort of broad comedies that don't usually appeal to Academy members.

"There's also talk about a supporting actress nomination for Madonna for 'Dick Tracy...' (which) could also bring Al Pacino a supporting nomination ... There also could be nominations for Richard Sylbert's production design, Vittorio Storaro's cinematography and for the special character makeup by John Caglione Jr. and Doug Drexler ...

"Another performance that's got people talking about a supporting actor nomination is Marlon Brando's work in Tri-Star's 'The Freshman ...' Paramount's spring hit 'The Hunt for Red October' is also generating an Oscar buzz. It could nail down a best picture nomination ... Buena Vista/Touchstone's spring blockbuster 'Pretty Woman' could bring Julia Roberts an actress nomination for he role as a hooker."

Update: Whoopi Goldberg did, indeed, win the supporting actress Oscar for "Ghost." Although the film was a best picture nominee, Jerry Zucker didn't get a directing nod. Madonna wasn't nominated for "Dick Tracy," but Al Pacino got a supporting actor nom. Richard Sylbert and Rick Simpson won the art direction-set decoration Oscar and John Caglione Jr. and Doug Drexler won for makeup. Vittorio Storaro was nominated for cinematography. There were no Oscar noms for "The Freshman" and no best picture nod for "The Hunt For Red October." Julia Roberts was a supporting actress nominee for "Pretty Woman."

Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel www.UpdateHollywood.com.
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