And the Oscar nominees are…

Matt Busekroos

Hollywood was awakened early on Thursday, Jan. 22 when President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) Sid Ganis announced the nominations for the 81st annual ceremony alongside Academy Award winning actor Forest Whitaker.

In the race for Actor in a Leading Role, character actors Richard Jenkins and Frank Langella received their first nominations for “The Visitor” and “Frost/Nixon,” respectively. Both Jenkins and Langella have long, industrious careers in the business. Langella is nominated here for his performance as President Richard Nixon, which is the same role that won him the Tony Award in 2007. Brad Pitt earned his second career nomination for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which is also the most nominated film this year with 13 bids. Pitt’s first nomination was in the supporting category in 1996 for “Twelve Monkeys.” Both Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke earned nominations for two of the strongest performances of the year. Penn, a previous winner in this category in 2004 for Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River,” is back as gay rights activist (and California’s first gay elected official) Harvey Milk in the Gus Van Sant directed biopic, “Milk.” Rourke is a first time nominee as washed-up wrestler Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler.” The notable omission in the category is Clint Eastwood for “Gran Torino,” who has recently announced his retirement from acting. Who should be here? Leonardo DiCaprio for his intense and soul-aching performance as a man struggling to survive in suburbia in the 1950’s in “Revolutionary Road.”

The mixed-up race of Actress in a Leading Role was finally cleared up when nominations were announced. Kate Winslet surprised with a nod for “The Reader” rather than “Revolutionary Road.” Winslet had been campaigned in Lead for “Revolutionary Road” and Supporting for “The Reader,” however, Oscar voters decided to nominate her for the Stephen Daldry drama instead. This nomination for “The Reader” gives Winslet her sixth career nomination. If she loses in February, Winslet will tie Deborah Kerr and Thelma Ritter as the most losing actress in Oscar history. Meryl Streep earned her 15th career nomination for “Doubt” continuing her record as the most nominated actor of all time. Streep is a previous winner in Supporting for 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer” and in Lead for her performance in the 1982 film “Sophie’s Choice.” After a surprising snub for 2007’s “A Mighty Heart,” Angelina Jolie was nominated for Eastwood’s “Changeling.” Jolie previously won in Supporting in 2000 for “Girl, Interrupted.” Anne Hathaway and Melissa Leo are first-time nominees this year. Hathaway gives a startlingly good performance in the drama “Rachel Getting Married,” while indie regular Leo broke through for her performance as a struggling mother in “Frozen River.” Sally Hawkins (“Happy-Go-Lucky”), Cate Blanchett (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) and Kristin Scott-Thomas (“I’ve Loved You So Long”) failed to make the highly competitive race. Who should be here? Michelle Williams for her heartbreaking turn as a young woman traveling with her dog to Alaska in the indie-drama, “Wendy and Lucy.”

The clear cut favorite in Actor in a Supporting Role is Heath Ledger for his wicked turn as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” Ledger is the sentimental favorite after his death, though his tantalizingly devilish performance deserves to win the Academy Award based on its own merits. The surprise nomination of the morning went to Michael Shannon for “Revolutionary Road,” who made the final five over the presumed Dev Patel for “Slumdog Millionaire.” After a wonderful performance in 2007’s “No Country for Old Men,” Josh Brolin was finally rewarded with his first nomination for his performance as Dan White in “Milk.” Robert Downey Jr. earned his second career nomination for the summer comedy “Tropic Thunder” and Philip Seymour Hoffman was nominated for “Doubt.” Hoffman’s performance is arguably leading and his placement in Supporting is fraudulent. Nonetheless, this is Hoffman’s second nomination in a row in supporting. Hoffman previously won in Lead as Truman Capote in 2005’s “Capote.” Who should be here? Eddie Marsan, whose brittle turn as the hardnosed driving instructor in Mike Leigh’s comedy “Happy-Go-Lucky” made for the perfect contrast to happy-go-lucky Poppy (Sally Hawkins).

The race of Actress in a Supporting Role opened up considerably with Kate Winslet out of the category. Amy Adams received her second nomination in three years for her turn as mousy nun Sister James in “Doubt.” Adams was previously nominated in 2006 for “Junebug.” Her co-star, Viola Davis, earned her first nomination for her film-stopping turn as a desperate mother hoping for the best. Taraji P. Henson also earned her first nomination as Queenie in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Penélope Cruz follows the trend of performances in Woody Allen films garnering nominations in the Supporting Actress category (past winners include Mira Sorvino and Dianne Wiest and nominees Jennifer Tilly and Judy Davis, among others). Cruz’s fiery turn as Maria Elena in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” makes her an early favorite for the win. This is Cruz’s second nomination following a nod for her leading performance in “Volver” in 2007. Rounding out the category is past Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei, who earned her third career nomination for playing a stripper with a heart of gold in “The Wrestler.” Who should be here? As Rachel, Rosemarie DeWitt displayed maturity and brutal honesty towards her recently rehabbed sister Kym (Hathaway), who recently completed a stint in rehab just in time to make Rachel’s wedding in Jonathan Demme’s “Rachel Getting Married.”
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For the first time since 2006, the nominees correspond exactly between Motion Picture of the Year and Director. Heavy industry and audience favorite “The Dark Knight” missed both categories despite racking up a total of eight nominations elsewhere. It is thought that prestige Holocaust drama “The Reader” slipped in over “The Dark Knight.” Based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink, “The Reader” is the last film Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack had a hand in producing before their untimely deaths last year. Director Stephen Daldry earned his third nomination in ten years for the film. Interestingly, Daldry has only directed four films and has reaped Oscar nominations for his last three. The rest of the directing category includes Danny Boyle for “Slumdog Millionaire,” David Fincher for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Ron Howard for “Frost/Nixon” and Gus Van Sant for “Milk.” The 81st Academy Awards air Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. on ABC.