Inspiration from bygone age dominates Oscars shortlist

By Guy Adams

A year overshadowed by concern for Hollywood's commercial and technological future seems likely to end with a celebration of its simpler past, after the stage was set for an Academy Awards dominated by two movies inspired by the film industry's golden era.

The Oscar nominations, unveiled yesterday, set up a race which seems likely to be headlined by an intriguing battle between Hugo and The Artist , a pair of films which both set out (in very different ways) to pay homage to the earliest days of cinema.

Martin Scorsese's Hugo, a hugely ambitious, motion-capture animation which is shortlisted in 11 of the 24 categories, revolves around a heartfelt tribute to the Parisian movie pioneer George Melies. It will contest the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay awards, along with a slew of technical Oscars.

Its nearest rival, The Artist, is a black-and-white silent movie which explores Hollywood's transition to "talkies". Made on a tiny budget, it has dominated the 2012 awards season so far, and will now seek 10 Academy Awards, including Best Director for its French creator Michel Hazanavicius.

Playing into the nostalgic tone of proceedings is a wider shortlist dominated by some of the industry's most enduring legends.

Woody Allen will rub shoulders with Scorsese and Hazanavicius in the Best Director category, thanks to Midnight in Paris, his first nomination in six years; Steven Spielberg, who was last in the running for an Oscar in 2007, saw his War Horse shortlisted in six categories.

The favourite to win Best Actress will once again be Meryl Streep, for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady . She is attempting to break a run of 12 straight Oscar defeats, and faces perhaps her stiffest challenge from Glenn Close, another veteran leading lady with blue-chip credentials, who is nominated for her lead role in Albert Nobbs.

Other contenders are Viola Davis for The Help, Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn.

Leading contenders for the Best Actor crown include George Clooney, who is nominated for The Descendants, a well-made drama which picked up five nominations and now has an outside shot at Best Picture.

Underlining his growing creative stature, Clooney is also nominated for a share of a writing award, after The Ides of March - a critically acclaimed political thriller he co-wrote, co-produced, directed and starred in - was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

"George is an extraordinarily complete film-maker," his co-producer Nigel Sinclair said. "He was disciplined and personable. He showed us the first cut of the film three weeks after shooting wrapped, he came in under budget, and he made an incredible film."

His best-known rival will be Brad Pitt, who is seeking a first Academy Award for the baseball film Moneyball. Demian Bichir has been nominated for A Better Life, Gary Oldman wins his first nomination as Best Actor for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and Kenneth Branagh is shortlisted for Best Supporting Actor for My Week with Marilyn.

Yesterday's shortlist adds clarity to what has so far been a confusing Hollywood awards season, in which The Artist has picked up the lion's share of plaudits without ever gaining sufficient momentum to lend inevitability to its march towards the industry's most prestigious event.

The film, made for just US$15 million ($18.6 million), would be the first silent, black-and-white movie to win Best Picture since Wings in 1927.

It also has a decent shot at landing major acting awards, with previously unknown stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo short-listed for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively.

Hugo's dramatic emergence meanwhile came as a surprise. The children's film, which has a star-studded cast, gained only mixed reviews when it debuted before Christmas and has so far disappointed commercially, returning only US$83 million globally, against a production budget of around US$150 million.

Scorsese's backers will now be hoping that filmgoers take a second look.

- Independent

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