As press and publicists gathered for this morning's Oscar nomination announcement by Academy president Sid Ganis and Kathy Bates (a last-minute substitute for a scheduled but unannounced presenter who was stuck in North Carolina), tensions were higher than we've ever seen and the overall crowd, even in the lobby at 5 a.m., was the largest we've seen.
Sad times for the New Line publicist who came hoping to hear "Hairspray" make the cut. Not a single nomination.
And again for Dreamworks, who watched in horror from the same seats last year when "Dreamgirls" was passed over for a widely predicted best picture nomination. It must have felt like deja vu this year when the studio's highly touted "Sweeney Todd" racked up only three nominations, just one more than another Stephen Sondheim musical, the roundly panned "A Little Night Music" received in 1977. It's fair to say it was not a good morning for Broadway musical adaptations at the Academy Awards.
The Fox Searchlight contingent was jumping out of its seats at every mention of "Juno" and "The Savages," which nailed a deserving, if somewhat surprising, nod for Academy fave Laura Linney.
It was also good times to for the Miramax/Paramount Vantage groups who share distribution of the two critically acclaimed co-leaders, "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood," both from prolific producer Scott Rudin, capturing eight nominations apiece.
"No Country's" Joel and Ethan Coen had a great morning, having personally received four nominations (picture, screenplay, editing, directing) -- marking the first time a duo has done that hat trick.
Get breaking news alerts delivered to your mobile phone. Text BREAKING to 52669. You will receive up to 30 msgs/mo. Msg&data rates may apply. Text HELP for help. Text STOP to cancel.
Also cheering in the back rows was the Focus gang who seemed resigned to watching "Atonement" shut out in best picture after all the major guilds snubbed it, only to go ballistic when it was the first name called when the big one was announced.
For pundits who are having a particularly hard year getting a handle on this race, the inclusion of "Atonement" for best picture is ironic considering at the beginning of the season it was an overwhelming favorite to be nominated and even win.
When it was ignored by SAG, DGA, WGA and PGA voters, the nail seemed to be in the coffin and all the pundits jumped ship (including a few of us). Now the nail has been removed. "Atonement's" Golden Globe best picture drama win, 14 BAFTA nominations and seven academy nods have put it back in the game. Big time.
It's hard to remember the last time a best picture nominee was so completely ignored by the guilds, but one consultant for a competing movie told us it had to be the votes from Europe -- particularly England where "Atonement" has been widely seen since early fall -- that made all the difference.
Still, as always seems to be the case, "Atonement" is the one best picture nominee without a corresponding nomination for its director, Joe Wright who of course, also did not make the DGA list. That spells trouble for its ultimate prospects of winning the big prize in the end, but considering the odds it has already overcome, don't count it out.
Most likely the movie "Atonement" knocked out was another European favorite, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," which did receive noms for director, screenplay, editing and cinematography. Coupled with its PGA, DGA and WGA mentions, the developments would seem to indicate a best pic nod as well.
But it didn't happen with the Oscars just as it didn't happen when BAFTA announced its nominees last week. The fact that the film was in French could have hurt its chances.
Despite Miramax's best efforts to educate academy members, there may have been confusion for some voters as to whether the film was eligible instead for the foreign language category. The academy rarely nominates foreign language flicks in the best picture category.
This being the odd year that it is could still see "Diving Bell" director Julian Schnabel walk away with the directing prize since he has already won the directing Golden Globe as well as several critics awards and at the Cannes Film Festival (over the Coens). Oscar odds are not in his favor, however. The last time a director won for a film not nominated for best picture was in 1928-29, the academy's second year, when Frank Lloyd picked up the award for "The Divine Lady."
Speaking of directors, Jason Reitman's surprise nomination for "Juno" indicates real strength for that "little movie that could." Although Reitman would seem a long shot to win, it could mean big things for "Juno" in the best picture category where it is a light alternative to the more serious pictures, particularly "No Country" and "Blood."
Both those films have a lot of violence in them. The academy went down that route last year with "The Departed" and may not want to go there again so soon. Should "No Country" (probably the favorite in a race with no real front-runner) and "Blood" split their votes, watch for "Juno" -- the only certified box-office smash of the five nominees and soon to hit $100 million for Fox Searchlight -- to walk right in and become the rare comedy to take the prize.