By Indiewire | Indiewire January 28, 2004 at 2:00AM
Surprises Among the 76th Oscar Nominations: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Foreign Language Films, and Miramax
by Eugene Hernandez
While a number of surprises marked the nominations for the 76th Academy Awards, the annual Oscar nods are often most intriguing for their omissions. Such was the case for many who watched the announcement yesterday morning. An informal email poll of friends and colleagues in the film business yesterday found many people were surprised by a handful of nominations: the entire foreign language category, and Keisha Castle-Hughes for best actress.
Perhaps even the top-notch researchers and crack media-relations team at the Academy were even a bit surprised by the inclusion of Castle-Hughes. The official nominations press release listed Miramax as the distributor of "Whale Rider," in fact the film was released by Newmarket Films, which scored two best actress nods, the other for Charlize Theron in "Monster."
BEST ACTRESS: Keisha and Scarlett
I was certainly surprised by the inclusion of (Keisha Castle-) Hughes," said Mark Urman, head of distribution at THINKFilm, "Usually, a film like this would be relegated to a writing category, if acknowledged at all. To nominate a no-name Maori teen for Best Actress is to truly LIKE a film."
"When I saw this film at LAST Sundance, I was afraid she would touted as Best Supporting Actress (which she was)," posted indieWIRE member "olivergruver" in a reaction to the nominations, "So glad the Academy knew it was a lead performance and nominated her where she should be. Too bad the film missed out on Best Picture."
"My biggest peeve for the past few years has been the ever more egregious 'positioning' of actors for nominations in inappropriate categories," explained IFP's Milton Tabbot, a seasoned armchair Oscar analyst. "So I was surprised this year that the actors' branch resisted these ploys for the most part. The 'Talent Will Win Out' prize has got to go to Keisha Castle-Hughes, who secured a Best Actress nomination despite Newmarket's outrageous maneuvering to get her one for Supporting Actress, even though top-billed and the title character."
"Unfortunately, Scarlett Johansson could not pull off the same feat," added Tabbott, "Compounded by the 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' option, I've got to think she lost some all-important lead actress votes for 'Lost in Translation' due to Focus's clouding the waters with a supporting bid."
"I was surprised that Scarlett (Johansson) didn't get a nod for 'Translation,'" added Mark Urman, "It seemed like her year, and the film was the one true indie winner (the balance of the indie nods are all over the map and fairly routine, even predictable.)"
"Miramax is shut out of Best Picture for the first time in over a decade (unless, of course, you count its quarter share of 'Master and Commander')," noted Thom Geier of Entertainment Weekly. "Even more surprisingly, a film Miramax barely promoted -- 'City of God' -- wound up getting four nominations, including best director. (Sidelight: It's interesting that the film's credited 'co-director' didn't get a nomination -- she would have been the fourth woman nominated in the category.)"
"Another sign that the voters were ignoring the Miramax campaign: The Elvis Costello song, which Miramax conspicuously dropped from its ads, got a nomination, as did (pleasant shocker!) 'A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow' from 'A Mighty Wind.' Go Folksmen!"
FOREIGN LANGUAGE: Good bye, "Lenin"
"Next to Best Actress, the most surprising nominees come from the Best Foreign Language category," noted indieWIRE's world cinema columnist Anthony Kaufman, "'Barbarian Invasions' was a shoo-in, but who would have expected the dark, misanthropic Swedish picture 'Evil' or the Japanese samurai epic 'The Twilight Samurai.' And does Sony Classics have a crystal ball or secret agents at the foreign Academy screenings, having just bought the Czech entry 'Zelary' last week?!" Continuing, Kaufman added, "What really irks me is that Harvey Weinstein was right: he predicted 'Twin Sisters' would be an Oscar contender last Cannes and there it is."
"The inclusion of 'City of God' for best director and screenplay after a snub last year in the foreign film category should only reiterate that perhaps the process needs further investigation," added Palm Pictures' head of distribution Ryan Werner, "Then again, anyone who signs up for the foreign film committee and watches enough films to qualify deserves an award also!"
OTHER SURPRISES: Gollum?
"There were some omissions that surprised me as well, including Sir Ian Mackellan for "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," offered Hamptons International Film Festival industry liaison Mark Rabinowitz, "It would have been nice for the Academy to recognize the astonishing work put in by Andy Serkis as Gollum, but I don't think they're quite ready to nominate an animated character, no matter how much real acting went into the creation. Another blatant omission was not nominating Andrew Lesnie for his work as the DP on 'LOTR' but then again, the same thing happened last year. Anyone who has seen that film will likely be as astonished as I am."
"Johnny Depp nudging out Russell Crowe isn't a shocker, but a pleasant surprise just the same," said EW's Thom Geier, "Really big shocker: Despite all the talk, 'Monster' didn't get a makeup nomination."
"Congrats and thank you to the IFP and all of the indie producers who took on the MPAA and the screener ban," wrote indieWIRE member "zeke" in a posting on the site yesterday, "Your hard work has obviously paid off resulting in great indie representation at the 76th Academy Awards. Go Ross and Charlize Go!"