Film critic Steve Persall was busy Thursday typing out some in-depth observations on the Academy Award nominations on his blog, Reeling in the Years. We picked out some of the highlights that you can use around the water cooler today. Read more at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.
The 13 nominations for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is impressive but not a record. That mark belongs to Titanic and All About Eve with 14 each. Benny is in good company, though. Only eight other films ever received 13 Oscar nominations, and five went on to win the Best Picture Oscar: Gone with the Wind, From Here to Eternity, Forrest Gump, Shakespeare in Love and Chicago.
One trend doesn't bode well for Best Picture nominee Slumdog Millionaire: Over the past 50 years, only four Best Picture winners (Braveheart, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Last Emperor, Gigi) didn't feature a nominated actor. Those movies were constructed more as visual spectacles than intimate dramas, so the lack of acting nods for Danny Boyle's movie creates an uphill battle to overcome romantic fantasy Benjamin Button. Button's top nomination status (including two acting nods) more often than not leads to the biggest prize on Oscar night. Slumdog Millionaire is runnerup with 10 nominations.
Blockbuster for TV
Academy voters muffed the chance to make The Dark Knight the fourth No. 1 box office hit to be nominated for Best Picture over the past decade. (The most recent box office champs making the list are The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2004, Saving Private Ryan in 1999 and Titanic in 1998.) It isn't coincidence that those Oscar telecasts garnered the show's highest TV ratings in recent years. When moviegoers feel personally invested in a movie, they tune in. Still, the Oscars are historically one of the year's top-rated TV shows, and Heath Ledger's expected posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor won't hurt.
Meet the shockers
Four names stunned anyone expecting Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel or a second nomination for Kate Winslet.
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor: He plays Walter Vale, a widowed professor discovering illegal aliens living in an apartment he owns. Previous roles: dead father in Six Feet Under and the dumbfounded one in Step Brothers.
Melissa Leo, Frozen River: Her turn in Frozen River is even more obscure to moviegoers but no less impressive. She plays Ray Leo Eddy, a single mother in frigid Upstate New York whose desperation leads to smuggling Indians and Asians across the Canadian border. Previous role: TV drama Homicide: Life on the Streets.
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road: He appears in only two scenes yet got a Best Supporting Actor nod. He plays John Givings, a compulsively honest schizophrenic who's the wisest person in a superficial 1950s suburb. Previous role: a 9/11 hero in Oliver Stone's World Trade Center.
Taraji P. Henson, Benjamin Button: She received her first Oscar nomination, but it isn't her first time at the rodeo. Henson appeared on stage in 2006, singing the Oscar winning song It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp with Three Six Mafia. She also sang it in Hustle and Flow, playing baby mama to a pimp (Terrence Howard) starting a music career.