Taraji P. Henson (standing at center with hands raised) was among the nominees as "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button" scored a baker's dozen of Oscar nominations this morning in Beverly Hills, including best picture, best director, best actor and best cinematography.
  (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

"Benjamin Button" Gets A Baker's Dozen Oscar Nominations
By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel
January 22, 2009

"The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button" was anything but to Academy voters, who rewarded David Fincher's film with thirteen nominations, including best picture at this morning's Academy Award nominations.  Brad Pitt was nominated for best actor (his second nomination), while Taraji P. Henson received her first nomination, selected as one of the five actresses in the best supporting category for the film.  Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story, David Fincher's film about a man afflicted with a condition that makes him age backwards from old to young became the instant front runner for the 81st Annual Academy Awards next month.  Mr. Fincher was also recognized with a nomination for best director.  Interestingly, of its thirteen nods, neither Cate Blanchett, a perennial Oscar nominee, nor Tilda Swinton, were nominated.  Both have won Oscars previously, Miss Swinton most recently winning just last year in a supporting capacity for "Michael Clayton".
Maybe it was inevitable following last week's BAFTA nominations and Golden Globe triumphs but the drama "Slumdog Millionaire" barked loudly at this morning's Academy Award nominations with ten salutations.  Danny Boyle's film about a young teenager from the slums of Mumbai who is accused of cheating on India's "Millionaire" quiz show was nominated for best picture.  While Mr. Boyle's film failed to win nominations in any acting categories it was very strong in the other areas where it mattered: best director, best adapted screenplay, best cinematography, best editing, best original music score, best art direction and best original song, a category where it won two of a possible three nominations.

Not to be outdone, "The Dark Knight" also had a great morning.  In the very early a.m. hours here on the west coast in Beverly Hills, Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and Academy president Sid Ganis announced "The Dark Knight" no fewer than eight times, although some (including this writer) will be puzzled at the omission of the film from the best picture and best director nominees list.  Heath Ledger, who died last January but whom immortalizes The Joker in his last major performance on the big screen, was nominated in a supporting capacity for his thundering menace.  "The Dark Knight" will be re-released in North America tomorrow in both IMAX and 35mm, perfect timing as the octet of nominations will only further boost its box-office profile, which so far has meant almost $2 billion worldwide.  The film is also available now on DVD in North America.  Cinematography, art direction, visual effects, sound mixing, sound editing nominations were also bestowed upon "The Dark Knight".

Kate Winslet, who had already won two Golden Globes last week, was named among the lead actresses, with a nomination for best picture nominee "The Reader", though not for "Revolutionary Road", which was directed by her husband Sam Mendes.  Ms. Winslet, who has never won an Oscar, now has six Academy Award nominations to her name and the British actress may just finally win the one major film accolade that has eluded her.  "The Reader" also snagged nominations for Stephen Daldry (director), David Hare (adapted screenplay) and Chris Menges and Roger Deakins (cinematography).  Mickey Rourke also woke up to an Oscar nomination for his lead work as a physically battered '80's pro-wrestler seeking past glory amidst family turbulence in "The Wrestler".  Marisa Tomei was also nominated for her supporting work in "The Wrestler", her third nomination.  She won in the early 1990's for "My Cousin Vinny".  Among other notable nods in the lead acting categories were Melissa Leo ("Frozen River"), Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor"), Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon").  Along with Ms. Leo and Mr. Jenkins, Anne Hathaway won her first Oscar nomination, playing a rehabbing alcoholic in Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married". 

In the supporting actor realm, Robert Downey Jr. ("Tropic Thunder") joined Mr. Ledger and Michael Shannon ("Revolutionary Road") among others.  Penelope Cruz received a second Oscar nomination for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona", but the story of the supporting actress category was "Doubt", with supporting actresses Viola Davis and Amy Adams among the film's cast that scored Oscar nominations for all four its main actors: Meryl Streep, with her 16th Oscar nomination in the lead category, and supporting actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, whom for the second consecutive year was nominated for an Oscar in a supporting role.  Last year Mr. Hoffman was nominated for "Charlie Wilson's War". 

The Academy had few reservations about "Doubt" and it also cheered "Milk", which won eight nominations including best picture, Gus Van Sant (director), Sean Penn (lead role), Josh Brolin (supporting role) and Dustin Lance Black's original screenplay.  Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood, who has just started directing his new film "The Human Factor", was largely omitted from this morning's nominations.  "Gran Torino", critically lauded, came up empty and "Changeling" won three nominations including for Angelina Jolie's leading work and Tom Stern's cinematography.

In the ranks of animation, Andrew Stanton's "Wall-E" appears the early favorite as the best animated feature.  It also won an original screenplay nomination.  "Waltz With Bashir", the animated feature, won a nomination in the best foreign film category, along with Laurent Cantet's "The Class" among others.  In the documentary features, "Trouble The Water", directed by Michael Moore's colleagues Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, about the survival of families in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, was recognized, as was "The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)", directed by Ellen Kuras.  Both films were at last year's Sundance Film Festival.  "Man On Wire" was also nominated in the category, among others.

Hugh Jackman, who hosts the 81st Annual Academy Awards exactly one month from today, probably mustered an afternoon smile for "Australia", in which he stars with Nicole Kidman.  Baz Luhrmann's big-budget ode to 1950's Hollywood won a nomination for best costume design.

Oscar Nominations (Partial List)

Popcorn Reel Awards Season 2009

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