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83d Academy Award Nominations

Posted by Wesley Morris  January 25, 2011 09:36 AM

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Ty Burr and Wesley Morris, Globe Staff

Hollywood tilted significantly and decisively to the northeast this morning. Nominations for the 83rd annual Academy Awards were announced, and movies set in Boston and its environs, featuring actors either from Massachusetts or playing local natives, represented a historically high percent of the total. Two Bay State dramas were nominated for the best picture Oscar. "The Social Network," a portrait of Harvard social life and anti-social entrepreneurs, received eight nominations, and "The Fighter," which memorializes the city of Lowell and one of its own, the boxer Micky Ward, has seven.

Oscar's acting categories also reflected local color. Jesse Eisenberg was nominated for best actor for his work as the affluent Harvard student and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Supporting-actor nominations went to two men for films with area ties: Jeremy Renner for his role as an amoral Charlestown thug in "The Town," and Christian Bale, who stole "The Fighter" from Mark Wahlberg, playing Micky Ward's crack-addicted brother Dicky Eklund. Wahlberg's performance, which is widely seen as passive in relation to the flashier work of his costars, was omitted from the best-actor list. But his persistence got "The Fighter" made.

In the supporting actress category, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams, respectively playing Ward's mother and girlfriend in "The Fighter," were nominated. When all the nominations are taken into account, New England figures significantly in the overall total -- a startling comeback for a state whose film industry was moribund a decade ago.

For area moviegoers, the sheer preponderance of nominated actors, films, and behind-the-camera talent with local connections stands as a major source of pride, evidence that the area has stories to tell that the world wants to see. This says nothing of "Shutter Island," "Conviction," "The Company Men," and "The Town," movies the Academy largely overlooked. The volume and quality of films also confirms the state's hard-won beachhead in the film industry, at a time, ironically, when those gains may be threatened: Recent weeks have seen the Patrick administration oust state film head Nick Paleologos and merge his office into the polyglot new Massachusetts Marketing Partnership. How the business of wooing filmmakers here will change is unknown.

It should be noted that other films made outside the area were nominated as well. ?The King's Speech,? a period drama about a stuttering George VI and his speech therapist, received 12 Academy Award nominations. The popular revenge western ?True Grit? received 10. And the ambitious smash-hit caper thriller "Inception" had eight. In its second year fielding an expanded list of 10 best-picture candidates, since it stopped doing so in 1944, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences nominated an impressive array of films, from earnest family comedy and animated sequels to ambitious summer entertainment and enjoyably sleazy trash.

The field includes "127 Hours," about a hiker whose arm is pinned by a boulder (six); Pixar's animated hit "Toy Story 3" (five); the ballet-world psychological-thriller "Black Swan" (five); the au courant social comedy "The Kids Are All Right," about a Los Angeles lesbian couple coping with the appearance of their teenagers' sperm-donor father (four); and "Winter's Bone," a little-seen independent drama, in which a tough young Ozarks woman (Jennifer Lawrence) scours the backwoods for her deadbeat dad.

Lawrence, a 20-year old, received her first Oscar nomination for best actress. Until "Winter's Bone," her biggest par was as a regular on the comedian Bill Engvall's now-cancelled TBS sitcom. Her fellow nominees have all been nominated before. They are: Annette Bening for her role as an uptight doctor in "The Kids Are All Right"; Nicole Kidman, who plays a vividly grieving mother in "Rabbit Hole"; Natalie Portman for her work, in "Black Swan," as a dancer undergoing a physical and psychological tranformation;  and Michelle Williams as a miserably married wife in "Blue Valentine."

The best-actor race includes Javier Bardem, in a minor surprise, for his role as a psychic networker in "Biutiful"; Jeff Bridges as a rarely sober U.S. Marshal in "True Grit"; Jesse Eisenberg as a cutting, deadly serious college student in "The Social Network"; Colin Firth as a frustrated, tongue-tied royal in "The King's Speech"; and the Oscar broadcast's co-host, James Franco, as an imperiled hiker in "127 Hours."

Joining Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner in the supporting actor contest are: John Hawkes for his role as an intimidating crystal-meth addict in "Winter's Bone; Mark Ruffalo as the feckless sperm donor in "The Kids Are All Right"; and Geoffrey Rush as an unorthodox elocution teacher in "The King's Speech."

In addition to Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, the nominees for supporting actress includes Helena Bonham Carter as the king-to-be's tepid wife in "The King's Speech," Hailee Steinfeld as a sharp young woman bent on catcher the man who killed her father in "True Grit," and Jacki Weaver as a mother forced to do unsavory business for her criminal sons in "Animal Kingdom."  

This years's directing nominees reflect the coming of age of a group of men whose work has been on the cutting edge of commercial cinema for years: David Fincher ("The Social Network"), Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan"), and David O. Russell ("The Fighter"). Only Fincher has been nominated in the directing category before; their appearance together represents an unmistakable generational change. They're joined by Joel and Ethan Coen ("True Grit"), whose work, in general, is by no means conventional and Tom Hooper, whose work in "The King's Speech," by every means is.

"Toy Story 3" will compete in the best animated feature category with the springtime hit "How to Train Your Dragon," and "The Illusionist," a delicate French comedy based on a script idea by the comic genius Jacques Tati, who died in 1982.

For all the variety in this year's nominees, there appear to be a number of sure bets. Firth stands poised to collect a best actor Oscar for "The King's Speech" in part on the momentum of last year's "A Single Man," for which he was nominated but did not win. Barring a Portman upset, Bening is on track for her first Oscar, a best actress award for "The Kids Are All Right." And Bale's performance has won him almost every pre-Oscar acting prize there is, making him close-to-certain victor in his category.

"The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" are considered the films to beat for the best picture of 2010. The two represent strikingly different schools of moviemaking. The latter film is a crowd-pleasing historical drama in the classic Miramax mode (that studio's ex-head, Harvey Weinstein, executive-produced the film for the Weinstein Company). The former is an up-to-the-minute tale of online success and offline betrayal, heavily and shewdly marketed by Sony Pictures, and delivered at a breathless pace. In a sense, boiling the ten films down these two represents a kind of David-and-Goliath, as much as Weinstein can still be considered a David in Hollywood.

Alternatively, this year the truly tiny independent distributor, Roadside Attractions, founded and run by a pair of Boston natives, picked up "Winter's Bone" and kept it in theaters for months. The studio is also releasing Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Biutiful," which opens Friday in Boston and, in addition to Bardem's nomination, is up for the foreign-language Oscar.  

Every year, the Academy manages to omit a few names and titles. This year's include: Bening's co-star, Julianne Moore, and Williams's co-star, Ryan Gosling. "The Town" was on many predictors' short-lists, but Renner represents the movie's sole nomination. And two best picture nominees were directed by women -- "The Kids Are All Right" (Lisa Cholodenko) and "Winter's Bone" (Debra Granik) -- but neither is a directing nominee. Both women are nominated for their screenplays, however. The Academy's directors branch also managed to again pass over Christopher Nolan. Two years ago it was for "The Dark Knight"; this year it ignored his work on "Inception," which was nothing if not directed. His script is nominated in the original screenplay category.

But the story around here is the deserved largesse the Academy has bestowed on the local screen scene. Has Massachusetts come of age as a center of film production and narrative or is this the peak? Given the iffy future -- tightened state budgets, a new film board minus its established guiding force, the potential for "Bahstan" fatigue among Hollywood filmmakers -- it's far too soon to say. For now, the area has 16 Oscar nominations -- second only to California -- and those other 48 states don't.

The 83rd Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, February 27.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is's features editor.

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