Thursday, January 25, 2007

'Dreamgirls' Leads in Oscar Nominations But Is Snubbed For Best Picture

January 24, 2007

‘Dreamgirls’ Leads in Oscar Nominations but Is Snubbed for Best Picture

New York Times

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Jan. 23 — Everything went as planned for “Dreamgirls,” a perfectly confected Oscar machine. Great cast, showstoppers that stopped the show, and a wonderful back story in Jennifer Hudson, the washed-out “American Idol” turned movie star. And it was all propelled by hype-filled rollout, plenty of strong reviews and, finally, widespread belief that it was the favorite in the best-picture throwdown.

Everything continued to go as planned during the news conference at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences here on Tuesday morning, with this crowd-pleasing costume musical racking up eight nominations. And then the best-picture category was announced:
“Babel,” “The Departed,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Queen” and “Letters From Iwo Jima.”

Wait. Are they nominating six this year? The hundreds of reporters in the auditorium were leaning heads together, making sure that they did not hear the name “Dreamgirls.”

They did not.

“Dreamgirls” had the most nominations for the day, eight, including a pair for its supporting players, Eddie Murphy and Ms. Hudson, but it will not be around for the war. It is the first film in many decades to have the most nominations and not be in the best-picture category.

The seven nominations for “Babel” prove that the academy is a sucker for a weave of ambitious filmmaking (multiple languages and stories are represented) and big stars in small roles. (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were in just one segment of the movie’s triptych.)

“Pan’s Labyrinth,” a Spanish-language film, received a half-dozen nominations, as did “The Queen,” in an array that was announced by Sid Ganis, president of the academy, and the actress Salma Hayek at 5:38 a.m Pacific time; it was planned to land in the middle of morning shows in the East.

Much of what happened was expected — Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren, who played monarchs to very different effect — continued their stately walk to the podium, with nominations for best actor and best actress. (“I’m not going to win in a million years, and that’s absolutely fine,” said Kate Winslet, a fellow nominee in the actress category.)

Ms. Mirren said of her nomination: “It’s the mother lode. It’s the big mama of the whole thing. There’s nothing in the whole world like the Oscars.”

Mr. Whitaker described his excitement: “I’m stoked. I have to find the right word, and ‘stoked’ is O.K.,” he said, joining the ritual outpouring of gratitude and expectation.

Mr. Murphy, a seasoned veteran, and Ms. Hudson, an absolute beginner, were joined in the supporting categories by 10-year-old Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin, 72, for their roles in “Little Miss Sunshine.” (It’s been 38 years since Mr. Arkin’s last nomination, for “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” )

The supporting-actor category was notable for its eclecticism, with Jackie Earle Haley’s portrayal of a pedophile in “Little Children” being recognized, as was Rinko Kikuchi’s role in “Babel” as a deaf-mute Japanese girl with a lot on her mind. In total, out of 20 slots for acting awards, 5 black actors were nominated, 2 Latinas and a Japanese woman.

And in a year when the precursor awards have been all over the road, the movies came from all over the world. “Cinema is an international art form, and you can do it in any language the artist dreams about,” Mr. Ganis said after coming offstage. He pointed to Clint Eastwood’s vivid example in making two movies in two languages about the same war.

The academy, frequently criticized for being a prisoner of convention, ventured far and wide in search of films that represented the year’s most spectacular achievements. Tidy little movies like “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Queen” were selected for best-picture nods, and two movies in which English is a second language — “Babel” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” — also made the cut, while “The Departed,” a big popcorn movie with a bloody, relentless end, was recognized as well.

Even “United 93,” a movie that made the unthinkable watchable, was given a significant nod when Paul Greengrass was nominated for best director. None of these movies had a built-in Oscar-winning apparatus — far from it, actually, but perhaps that was precisely the point.

Los Angeles is a place that worships success, but can be very punishing when it comes to striving for it. Paramount/DreamWorks learned as much, as it sought to position “Dreamgirls” as a favorite and succeeded; but something went wrong on the way to the podium. It most likely did not help that the movie, with its gorgeous songs and amazing costumes, was a tough sell to begin with among white males, a demographic that describes the majority of the academy’s 5,800 voting members.

The marketing of the film didn’t help, either. Regardless of what you have heard, “Dreamgirls” was a story that was about something, a particularly American story of success and redemption. Instead it was sold as a parade float, majestic and unstoppable. Behind that miscalculation, the basic blocking and tackling of an Oscar campaign fell short. The decision to send out screeners of the movie late was built on hubris — the same reason that Parmount/
DreamWorks chose to charge $25 for early peeks at the movie — which suggested that it was an Important Film that must be seen on a big screen.

But the death of President Gerald Ford, combined with a national holiday, meant that most academy members did not get the film until Jan. 3, 10 days after they had received “Letters From Iwo Jima,” a movie that wasn’t even supposed to come out in 2006. That means that academy members saw the hype long before they saw “Dreamgirls” and had just 10 days to see it before they voted. (“Flags of Our Fathers,” another Paramount/Dreamworks project, this one from Mr. Eastwood and Steven Spielberg, came basted in Oscar juice and went nowhere.)

It made for a bad day at Paramount, although the studio’s chief, Brad Grey, was traveling and not taking calls, so no one can say for sure. The studio can find solace in “Babel,” a movie from its specialty division, Paramount Vantage, that did extremely well on Tuesday.

At Warner Brothers, things did not go as planned, either. It was thought early on that “Blood Diamond,” with its serious themes and star wattage from Leonardo DiCaprio, would be a durable contender. Mr. DiCaprio scored a best-actor nomination. But it was Warner’s “Departed” that landed in the thick of the best-picture race, and its director, a hardy unrequited perennial named Martin Scorsese, was also chosen. And the studio’s decision to release Mr. Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima” is looking pretty smart just about now.

Alan F. Horn, chief executive of Warner Brothers, said best-laid plans or not, he was thrilled for both directors, Mr. Scorsese and Mr. Eastwood — the face-off will reprise 2005, when “Million Dollar Baby” edged out “The Aviator” — and with the five nominations
“Blood Diamond” received. (In one indication of “The Departed’s” underlying strength going forward, Mark Wahlberg was nominated in the supporting category for his profane, explosive depiction of a police official.)

“We ended up in a good place,” Mr. Horn said.

Now that the nominations have been settled, the battle for credits will begin. The academy handout listed the best-picture nominations of both “The Departed” and “Little Miss Sunshine” with “nominees to be determined.” The academy will have to decide which of the five producers of “Little Miss Sunshine” deserve a statue, and although Graham King is currently listed, for the purposes of the best-picture nomination, as the sole producer of Warner Brothers’ “Departed,” Mr. Grey, who packaged the movie as an agent before he came to Paramount, may yet have something to say about that. As murky as that seems, it can be said with certainty that it won’t be pretty.

And, going forward, the best-picture race was left without a clear favorite, which is great news for the academy. The voters love a contest, and ABC does, too, because television of all kinds thrives on suspense. With a new host, Ellen DeGeneres, and a collection of films that millions of people actually paid money to see, ABC is hoping on reversing a drop-off in viewership and certainly improving on last year’s 39 million viewers when the show comes up on Feb. 25.

Paula Schwartz contributed reporting for this article.

No comments: