With one of the highest grossing non-holiday openings for a film this past weekend (“Hannibal”), Hollywood seems pumped and primed to bounce back from a lackluster year. But the annual rites of Oscar must be taken care of first and the beginning of the end for 2000 came yesterday when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominations for the 73rd Annual Academy Awards.
Robert Rehme, president of the Academy, and former Best Actress winner Kathy Bates (1990″s “Misery”) presented the nominations, which saw few surprises, several oddities and the usual smattering of perennial Academy favorites.
Ridley Scott”s “Spartacus”-style epic “Gladiator” led the pack with 12 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and a pair of nods for its stars Russell Crowe (Best Actor) and Joaquin Phoenix (Best Supporting Actor).
Close behind “Gladiator” was Ang Lee”s epic martial arts fable “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” which netted 10 nominations including Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film nods as well as one for director Lee.
His competition, however, is double trouble in the form of director Steven Soderbergh, who received Best Director nominations both for “Traffic” and “Erin Brockovich.” Both films were also nominated for Best Picture and Best Screenplay, recognizing Stephen Gaghan for “Traffic” and Susannah Grant for “Erin Brockovich.” Rounding out the Best Picture nominees is “Chocolat,” whose director Lasse Halstrom was left out in the cold in favor of Stephen Daldry (“Billy Elliot”) for the final Best Director slot.
Jeff Bridges (“The Contender”) and Willem Dafoe (“Shadow of the Vampire”) have a handful to deal with in the form of dual Soderbergh Best Supporting Actor nominees. Benicio Del Toro scored a Best Supporting Actor nod for “Traffic” along with Albert Finney for his role as an ornery lawyer in “Erin Brockovich.” Del Toro is considered the front runner in this category after his victory at the Golden Globes.
Julia Roberts leads the pack in the Best Actress category as most expect her to finally get her paws on Oscar for her role as the title character in “Erin Brockovich.” Her competition, however, is tough, with strong performances by fellow nominees Ellen Burstyn (“Requiem for a Dream”), Laura Linney (“You Can Count On Me”), Juliette Binoche (“Chocolat”) and Joan Allen (“The Contender”).
Tom Hanks will go for his third Best Actor award, after landing a nomination for “Cast Away.” Aside from Crowe, the Academy went for the art house fare to finish out the Best Actor category, anointing Javier Bardem (“Before Night Falls”), Ed Harris (“Pollack”) and Geoffrey Rush (“Quills”).
Another Academy alum, Dame Judi Dench landed yet another nomination, this time for Best Supporting Actress in “Chocolat.” She faces stiff competition from Marcia Gay Harden (“Pollack”), Julie Walters (“Billy Elliot”) and the one-two rocking punch of Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand from “Almost Famous.”
“Almost Famous” scribe Cameron Crowe scored his second Best Original Screenplay nomination along with Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count On Me”), Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot”), Grant and the writing crew behind “Gladiator.”
No year would be complete without a few snubs. Those left on the outside looking in yesterday morning include Michael Douglas, considered a near lock for “Wonder Boys,” Cameron Crowe, whose “Almost Famous” was passed over for Best Picture and Best Director, and the film”s “Fever Dog,” denied in its bid for Best Original Song.
And now the real games begin, as you can speculate on who will win, who won”t and what they”ll wear up until the awards are passed out on March 25.