Far from exclusive

As the world's eyes turn again to Hollywood and the Oscars, there are signs that this year, the Academy is turning its gaze and meeting them halfway

Last year, the Oscars seemed to demonstrate a new era of inclusiveness; right from the nominations, a range of leftfield talent was rewarded, and on the night itself three black actors received the dues they rightly felt were overdue.

Well, get ready for more of the same as this year's shortlist embraces not just more of the US film industry but more of the world's.

Sure, the most nominations went as expected to Chicago, The Hours and Gangs of New York, but that in itself is a break with tradition - or the start of a new one. Last year, Moulin Rouge was the first musical to be nominated for best picture in two decades.

This year, Chicago leads the field outright with 13 nominations - the same number that Lord of the Rings took last year. (LOTR failed to capitalise on the night, but don't bet on that happening this time.)

And The Hours? The Academy loves a high-minded struggle of a tortured genius (think A Beautiful Mind), but a literary British film, with a complex, tripartite plot structure and no serious male leads is not what would usually attract smart Oscar money.

Of the three, Gangs of New York is the classic Oscar film; shot by a grand old man of Hollywood, it's a sweeping epic, American right down to the bone, and with a budget running to nearly nine figures.

The only problem is, not everyone was so sure it was all that good. Our very own Xan Brooks recently wondered if old Marty might not be past it, on the evidence of his latest film, and many reviewers have put it down as a "flawed masterpiece".

But enough of big films, and of grand old men. Women are the real story at this year's Oscars. The six women actors playing major roles in Chicago and The Hours have between them bagged seven out of the 10 "actress" nominations available, with some inevitable trade-offs.

As Nicole Kidman gets the best actress nomination for The Hours, her co-stars have to be accommodated elsewhere: Meryl Streep gets a supporting actress nod for Adaptation, while Julianne Moore arguably comes off best of the three, joining Nicole on the best actress shortlist with her performance in Far From Heaven, and competing with Streep with her part in The Hours.

The presence of both Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the best supporting shortlist for Chicago will probably lead to vote-splitting that will lose the film the gong: these gamey, show-stopping roles aren't typical Academy fodder anyway, and members may prefer to reward one of the Hours co-stars.

In contrast to the pell-mell scramble for statuettes in the women's categories, the men's competition looks worthy, but not particularly exciting - don't expect any gasps when those envelopes are opened, but there will be raised eyebrows if Jack Nicholson doesn't score for About Schmidt.

Further evidence of the mainstream overflowing its banks is offered by the original screenplay shortlist, which features two films shot almost entirely in a language other than English, and one set in a barely-assimilated Greek community in the US.

And to see Pedro Almodovar popping back up again in the best director category, you'd think the Oscars had become some sort of world cinema award, not an annual Hollywood back-slapping event.

There are two base explanations for Pedro's inclusion on the shortlists. The first says that the Academy was so shocked not to see him on Spain's entry for best foreign film (that went instead to a downbeat unemployment drama, Mondays in the Sun) that it resolved he must have something by way of consolation.

The other and by far the more cynical explanation notes Salma Hayek's nomination for best actress, two Spanish language screenplays, and a foreign language category in which Academy members are much more likely to have seen the Mexican entry than any of the others.

It concludes that, if last year was the triumph of the black actors, then this year the Academy is after the Hispanic vote. What's perhaps more likely is that the increasing market for Spanish-language films in the US is giving them greater distribution, and by extension bigger potential budgets. With these they attract major talent, and Academy attention.

Amidst this lovely, inclusive new Hollywood order, don't weep for the British film industry, in case you were planning to. The Hours is a British film, with a British screenwriter and director.

Three of the best actor nominations are for British leading men, and we can claim as a nation another two nods for About A Boy in the adapted screenplay shortlist and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the best supporting actress.

Whether we come away with garlands on the night, we can at least console ourselves that we were up against a lot more of the world than we used to be.


Sean Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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