Dark themes dominate Oscar nominations: Greed & murder + corruption & deception
The 2008 Oscar nominations have been announced. This year’s top contenders are the following:
- Eight nominations: Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood & Joel and Ethan Coen’s U.S. critics’ fave No Country for Old Men.
- Seven nominations: Joe Wright’s Atonement & Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton.
- Five nominations: Brad Bird’s Ratatouille.
- Four nominations: Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly / Le Scaphandre et le papillon and Jason Reitman’s Juno.
Of the above, the only two titles not in the running for Best Picture are Ratatouille and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The latter is up for Best Director, while Atonement‘s Joe Wright was left out.
Notably, whether in dramas or in comedies, dark themes dominate in just about every category:
- Greed (There Will Be Blood, American Gangster).
- Murder(s) (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Eastern Promises, No Country for Old Men, In the Valley of Elah).
- Corruption (Michael Clayton, Sicko, Charlie Wilson’s War).
- Deception (Atonement, Gone Baby Gone).
- War (No End in Sight, War Dance, Beaufort, Katyn).
- Illness/mortality (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Savages, Away from Her).
- Political/religious repression (Taxi to the Dark Side, The Counterfeiters, Persepolis).
- Death (most of the aforementioned films, plus Into the Wild).
A couple of major exceptions: Juno with its feel-good abortion/adoption story and by far the biggest box office hit among the Best Picture nominees, and Ratatouille, toplining a rodent chef-wannabe.
‘Atonement’ not exactly an Oscar surprise
Though all but ignored by U.S. critics this awards season, Atonement was a big hit with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, earning more Golden Globe nominations than any other film. The ensuing publicity may well have made Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members decide to check out Joe Wright’s British-made period drama.
In case this theory is on target, that explains how Atonement ended up receiving seven Oscar nods, including Best Film, Best Supporting Actress (Saoirse Ronan), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Christopher Hampton adapted Ian McEwan’s novel).
On the downside, Joe Wright was left unnominated and so were leading lady Keira Knightley, leading man James McAvoy, and veteran Vanessa Redgrave (Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for Julia, 1977). Curiously, this is the Academy Awards’ second McAvoy snub in a row; last year he went unrewarded for his work in Kevin Macdonald’s The Last King of Scotland, which eventually earned Forest Whitaker the Best Actor Oscar.
David di Donatello winner bypassed
Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Unknown Woman / La Sconosciuta was the big winner at the 2007 David di Donatello ceremony. Yet the Italian drama – one of nine Best Foreign Language Film semifinalists – failed to land a nomination in that Oscar category.
The other three semifinalists ultimately left out were Cao Hamburger’s The Year My Parents Went on Vacation / O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias (Brazil), Srdan Golubovic’s The Trap / Klopka (Serbia), and Denys Arcand’s Days of Darkness / L’âge des ténèbres (Canada).
But whereas Italy, Brazil, Serbia, and Canada missed out on a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination, Russia managed to receive no less than two nods: Nikita Mikhalkov’s 12 (a remake of Sidney Lumet’s 1957 Best Picture nominee 12 Angry Men) and Sergei Bodrov’s period epic Mongol – officially, a Kazakhstan entry.
Laura Linney holds U.S. flag + nominated Oscar winners
Laura Linney, in the running for her performance in Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages, is the only American among the Best Actress nominees. Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose / La Môme) is French, Julie Christie (Away from Her) is English, Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Years) is Australian, and Ellen Page (Juno) is Canadian.
Among the 2008 Academy Awards’ 20 acting nominees, six of them have already won Oscars:
- Julie Christie (Best Actress for Darling, 1965).
- Daniel Day-Lewis (Best Actor for My Left Foot, 1989).
- Tommy Lee Jones (Best Supporting Actor for The Fugitive, 1993).
- Cate Blanchett (Best Supporting Actress for The Aviator, 2004).
- Philip Seymour Hoffman (Best Actor for Capote, 2005).
- George Clooney (Best Supporting Actor for Syriana, 2005).
Nine of the acting nominees are Oscar first-timers.
Movie veterans Julie Christie & Ruby Dee
In the 2008 Oscar’s acting categories, Julie Christie is the veteranest of them all: her first nomination – and only win to date – was for John Schlesinger’s aforementioned Darling (1965). If she wins again this year, that’ll mean a(n approximate) 42-year gap between Oscar victories, a record in the acting categories.
Helen Hayes is the current record-holder, with just about 38 years elapsed between her Best Actress win for Edgar Selwyn’s The Sin of Madelon Claudet (for the period 1931–32) and her Best Supporting Actress win for George Seaton’s Aiport (1970).
Now, Best Supporting Actress nominee Ruby Dee (American Gangster) is the overall top veteran in the acting categories, having begun her show business career back in the 1930s. As per the IMDb, Dee’s first film is supposed to have been Leonard Anderson’s 1946 musical That Man of Mine, about which there’s very little information out there.
Double nominee Cate Blanchett
Nominated as Best Actress for playing British Queen Elizabeth I in Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Years and as Best Supporting Actress for playing a version of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, Cate Blanchett is the eleventh performer to receive two acting nods in the same year. The others were:
- Fay Bainter (1938; as Best Actress, White Banners; as Best Supporting Actress, Jezebel).
- Teresa Wright (1942; as Best Actress, The Pride of the Yankees; as Best Supporting Actress, Mrs. Miniver).
- Barry Fitzgerald (1944; as both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for the same role in Going My Way).
- Jessica Lange (1982; as Best Actress, Frances; as Best Supporting Actress, Tootsie).
- Sigourney Weaver (1988; as Best Actress, Gorillas in the Mist; as Best Supporting Actress, Working Girl).
- Al Pacino (1992; as Best Actor, Scent of a Woman; as Best Supporting Actor, Glengarry Glen Ross).
- Holly Hunter (1993; as Best Actress, The Piano; as Best Supporting Actress, The Firm).
- Emma Thompson (1993; as Best Actress, The Remains of the Day; as Best Supporting Actress, In the Name of the Father).
- Julianne Moore (2002; as Best Actress, Far from Heaven; as Best Supporting Actress, The Hours).
- Jamie Foxx (2004; as Best Actor, Ray; as Best Supporting Actor, Collateral).
Bainter, Wright, Fitzgerald, and Lange won in the supporting category. Pacino, Hunter, and Foxx won as leads. The only double losers listed above are Weaver, Thompson, and Moore.
‘Enchanted’ vs. ‘Enchanted’ vs. ‘Enchanted’
Starring Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, and Susan Sarandon, Kevin Lima’s romantic comedy fantasy Enchanted received three Oscar nominations this year – all of them in the Best Original Song category.
That means composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz are competing with themselves – in addition to Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová for “Falling Slowly” from Once and the yet-to-be-determined official composers of the song “Raise It Up” from August Rush. (Update: the official “Raise It Up” nominees are Jamal Joseph, Charles Mack, and Tevin Thomas.)
The Enchanted Menken-Schwartz songs are “So Close,” “Happy Working Song,” and “That’s How You Know.”
No love for Jonny + Deakins vs. Deakins
Also in the Oscars’ Music categories, Jonny Greenwood’s much-praised There Will Be Blood score was deemed ineligible reportedly because most of the music wasn’t composed for the film. Somewhat ironically, Alan Menken’s Enchanted score was also deemed ineligible because it was mostly song-based, as opposed to the actual scoring of dramatic/comedy scenes.
This year there’s no Best Adapted Score/Best Song Score category, though apparently there should have been.
By the way, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz aren’t the only two 2008 Oscar nominees competing with themselves, as Roger Deakins was shortlisted twice in the Best Cinematography category: for There Will Be Blood and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
Nominated Best Director duos
Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen received a total of four Oscar nominations this year for the thriller No Country for Old Men: Best Film (as producers), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Editing.
In the Academy Awards’ 80-year history, the Coen brothers are only the third duo to share a Best Director nomination. The previous two were winners Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for West Side Story (1961) and nominees Warren Beatty and Buck Henry for Heaven Can Wait (1978). Remember: last year, Little Miss Sunshine was a Best Picture nominee, but directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris were bypassed.
Regarding Warren Beatty, the Hollywood veteran has also received four nominations in a single year – twice, in fact. Both times, whether solo or in collaboration, as producer, director, star, and screenwriter for Heaven Can Wait (1978) and Reds (1981). He took home the Best Director Oscar for Reds.
Of note, the Coen brothers also collaborated on the 1996 Best Picture Oscar nominee Fargo, but only Joel Coen was officially listed as that film’s director. Ethan Coen was listed as the producer, while both Coens were credited for the screenplay and as editors (like in No Country for Old Men, billed as “Roderick Jaynes”). Fargo was shortlisted for a total of seven Oscars, including the four categories mentioned in this paragraph.
Best Director first-timers + ‘Into the Wild’ goes missing
More on the 2008 Oscar’s Best Director category: five of the six nominated directors are first-timers. Fargo‘s Joel Coen is the single exception.
Missing in action was Sean Penn for Into the Wild, a Directors Guild Award nominee. In his stead, the Academy’s Directors Branch voters opted for Jason Reitman for Juno.
Into the Wild was also shortlisted in the Writers Guild Awards’ Best Adapted Screenplay category. In its place (and that of Zodiac), the Academy’s Writers Branch opted for Away from Her and Atonement.
As so often happens, non-Americans had a strong showing at this year’s Oscars. Here’s a sample list:
- The United Kingdom: Julie Christie (Best Actress), Daniel Day-Lewis (Best Actor), Tilda Swinton (Best Supporting Actress), Tom Wilkinson (Best Supporting Actor), Christopher Hampton (Best Adapted Screenplay), Roger Deakins (Best Cinematography), Marit Allen (Best Costume Design). In addition to South African-born Ronald Harwood (Best Adapted Screenplay) and Czech-born Jan Pikava (Best Original Screenplay), both U.K.-based.
- France: Marion Cotillard (Best Actress), Vincent Paronnaud (Best Animated Feature), Juliette Welfling (Best Film Editing). In addition to Iranian-born, French-based Marjane Satrapi (Best Animated Feature).
- Ireland: Seamus McGarvey (Best Cinematography), Glen Hansard (Best Original Song). In addition to the unusual case of Saoirse Ronan: born in the U.S. to Irish parents and raised in Ireland.
- Canada: Ellen Page (Best Actress), Jason Reitman (Best Director), Sarah Polley (Best Adapted Screenplay).
- Italy: Dante Ferretti (Best Art Direction), Dario Marianelli (Best Original Score), Marco Beltrami (Best Original Score).
- Australia: Cate Blanchett (Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress).
- Spain: Javier Bardem (Best Supporting Actor), Alberto Iglesias (Best Original Score).
- Poland: Janusz Kaminski (Best Cinematography).
- Czech Republic: Markéta Irglová (Best Original Song).
Best Costume Design nominee Marit Allen (La Vie en Rose) died of a brain aneurysm in November 2007. She was 66.
Missing in action
Besides those mentioned elsewhere in this post, notably missing from the 2008 Oscars are:
- Nowhere to be found on the Oscar nominations roster: Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days (though bypassed by the Best Foreign Language Film voters, the Romanian abortion drama was eligible in the regular categories), J.A. Bayona’s The Orphanage (Spanish entry also eligible in the regular categories), Ang Lee’s Lust Caution, Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, David Fincher’s Zodiac, Adam Shankman’s Hairspray, Brian De Palma’s Redacted, David Silverman’s The Simpsons Movie, and Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf.
- SAG Award nominees Angelina Jolie for A Mighty Heart, Ryan Gosling for Lars and the Real Girl, Tommy Lee Jones for No Country for Old Men, and Emile Hirsch and Catherine Keener for Into the Wild.
- Apart from the Best Documentary Feature category, Michael Moore’s Sicko and Charles Ferguson’s No End in Sight. (See other Best Documentary Feature semifinalists.)
- Apart from the Best Original Song category, John Carney’s Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winner Once.
- Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Ridley Scott’s American Gangster in the Best Picture and Best Director categories.
- Tony Kaye’s abortion-themed documentary Lake of Fire.
- Amy Adams and Susan Sarandon for Enchanted.
- Brad Pitt for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
- Mike Nichols, Tom Hanks, and Julia Roberts for Charlie Wilson’s War.
- Helena Bonham Carter for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
- Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington for American Gangster.
- Josh Brolin for No Country for Old Men.
- Frank Langella for Starting Out in the Evening.
- Paul Dano for There Will Be Blood.
- Eddie Vedder’s Golden Globe-winning song “Guaranteed” from Into the Wild.
The WGA willing, the Oscar ceremony, in all its grandiose tackiness, will be held on Feb. 24 in Hollywood.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website.
Vanessa Redgrave Atonement image: Focus Features / Universal Pictures.
Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey Enchanted image: Berry Wetcher / Walt Disney Studios.
Ellen Page and Michael Cera Juno image: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Philip Bosco The Savages image: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
“Oscar Nominations: Greed & Murder + Corruption & Deception + Where’s Vanessa Redgrave?” last updated in October 2018.