February 13, 2002

'Lord of the Rings' Is Big Nominee for This Year's Oscars

Ian McKellen (Gandalf), nominated for best supporting actor

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Feb. 12 A three-hour epic about elves, dwarfs, wizards and small, hairy-footed hobbits that is just the first chapter in a trilogy of films dominated the 74th annual Academy Award nominations this morning, coming away with 13.

Nominations for the movie, "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," based on J. R. R. Tolkien's 1954 fantasy, included best picture, best director (Peter Jackson), best musical score (Howard Shore), best cinematography (Andrew Lesnie) and best supporting actor (Ian McKellen).

"This is a film that didn't have an international star in it," Mr. McKellen said in a telephone interview from London. "It had a director whose track record in this genre was nonexistent. And of course, this is a movie that doesn't have an ending. Only a fool would have put money into it. Fortunately, New Line Cinema was foolish enough to take the risk."

Indeed, the entire "Lord of the Rings" project was a major gamble for New Line, a mini-studio within the AOL Time Warner empire, whose executives risked $300 million on the three-movie series. Had the first installment flopped, there would have been little appetite for "The Two Towers," coming in December, or "The Return of the King," due in December 2003.

Two films also received eight Oscar nominations, including ones for best picture: "A Beautiful Mind," a romantic drama about a schizophrenic mathematician, and "Moulin Rouge!," a romance with contemporary songs in a Belle Époque setting. Also nominated for best picture was "Gosford Park," a comic murder mystery with an all-star cast from the veteran director Robert Altman, which had seven nominations, and "In the Bedroom," about a murder's repercussions on a middle-class family, which had five.

"A Beautiful Mind," which won the Golden Globe for the year's best drama, also drew nominations for Ron Howard's direction, Russell Crowe's lead performance and Jennifer Connelly's supporting role. It was Mr. Crowe's third nomination in a row; he won the best-actor award for "Gladiator" last year.

Mr. Howard, reached in his hotel room in Berlin where he was preparing for a screening of "A Beautiful Mind" at that city's film festival, said he was struck by the diversity of the nominations and the way the academy seemed to be honoring risk-taking.

"In a year that everyone had been decrying as a bland one for films, it wound up being really an interesting, even an adventurous year," Mr. Howard said.

Another case in point was "Moulin Rouge!," the director Baz Luhrmann's bold attempt to reinvent the movie musical, which won the Golden Globe for the year's best comedy or musical. It also drew a nomination for Nicole Kidman's lead performance, although Mr. Luhrmann was not cited among the director nominees.

Ms. Kidman, who is in Sweden making "Dogville" for the director Lars von Trier, was scheduled to shoot some particularly intense scenes this morning. So she did not find out until a break in the filming, several hours after the academy's announcement, that she had been nominated for best actress.

"I was in the middle of a very, very tough scene, and I've been kind of incommunicado," Ms. Kidman said. "Actually, I thought it was tomorrow, so it came as a huge surprise. I was sure I wasn't going to get nominated. I immediately called up Baz and told him that we'd both have this for the rest of our lives, and we cried."

The biggest surprise was the unexpectedly strong showing for "Gosford Park," whose nominations included ones for supporting performances by Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith. Mr. Altman, who has never won an Oscar, was nominated for the fifth time.

The nominations were particularly sweet for USA Films, which in a year of unusually lavish spending in Oscar campaigns chose to keep its budget in check.

"To get seven nominations, we spent less than the other contenders spent," said Scott Greenstein, chairman of USA Films. "You need to advertise. You need to call attention to your movie. But really, at a certain point, it's overkill."

"In the Bedroom," a small, independent film, also drew nominations for best actress (Sissy Spacek) and best actor (Tom Wilkinson). The nomination extends Miramax's streak to 11 best-picture nominations in 10 years, beating a record held by Warner Brothers, which had 10 from 1955 to 1964.

"I feel like Joe DiMaggio today," said Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax. "What a streak. And the end result, I think, is that it's a wide-open race this year. `A Beautiful Mind' had probably been the front-runner going into today, and now `Lord of the Rings' jumps into the lead. It shows that the academy is interested in being diverse, in sharing the wealth. So I think the `Lord of the Rings' showing is good, and it's good for everybody."

Mr. Wilkinson, who watched the nomination announcement on television from his home in England, said of "In the Bedroom": "It was made in the best sort of spirit possible, and it's been recognized in this way. What more can you say?"

Ms. Spacek, who won the Golden Globe for her performance and is widely seen as a front-runner for the best-actress Oscar, said she was at home in Virginia, sleeping, when the awards were read on live television.

"The phone woke me up with the news," she said. "It has been such an incredible ride. When you make independent films like this, you're always ready to just have the experience of making it be enough, to not have expectations about what might happen with it afterwards."

Ms. Spacek said she would definitely attend the ceremonies on March 24 at the Kodak Theater, the Oscars' new permanent home at the heart of Hollywood Boulevard. "Wild horses could not keep me away," she said. "Not that I've seen many wild horses lately."

Besides Mr. Crowe and Mr. Wilkinson, the best-actor nominees were Denzel Washington for "Training Day," Will Smith for "Ali" and Sean Penn for "I Am Sam." This year is the first time that two black actors, Mr. Washington and Mr. Smith, have vied for the award. No black actor has won the Oscar for a leading role since 1963, when Sidney Poitier got the award for "Lilies of the Field."

No black actress has ever won an Oscar for a leading role, but this year's nominees include Halle Berry as the wife of a condemned prisoner in "Monster's Ball." Besides Ms. Kidman and Ms. Spacek, the other nominees were Judi Dench for "Iris" and Renée Zellweger for "Bridget Jones's Diary."

Ms. Berry was also in London, where she is playing a role in a new James Bond film, to be released in November. (Without a title as yet, it is simply known as "Bond 20"). "I always tell my manager when I'm up for awards, `if you have something good to tell me, call me; otherwise let me go about my day,' " she said. "And he called me."

One of the fruits of getting an Oscar nomination, especially for an actress like Ms. Berry, who has played many romantic and action roles, is that it can change a filmmaker's image of a performer.

"That really was one of my big reasons for wanting to do `Monster's Ball' in the first place," Ms. Berry said. "I knew it would let me do something where I could really stretch and be more than what people might think I am."

Films that become box-office blockbusters are not always warmly received by the 6,000 or so voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: of the top 25 moneymaking films of all time, only two, "Titanic" and "Forrest Gump," also won the best-picture Oscar. This year's biggest moneymakers, however, did quite well in the nominations. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the top-grossing film of 2001, came away with three, for art direction, costume design and original score. It had not been considered a leading candidate for a best-picture Oscar.

Two of the year's other big hits, "Shrek" and "Monsters Inc." both computer-animated films also drew important Oscar nominations. Both were nominees for best animated feature, a new category, along with "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius." "Shrek" also drew a nomination for its screenplay, and "Monsters Inc." was nominated for best score, best song and best sound editing.

"When we were making `Toy Story' back in 1995, people were saying, `Oh, are audiences really going to want to sit through an hour and a half of computer animation?' " said John Lasseter, creative director of Pixar Animation, which made "Monsters Inc." "Something like these four nominations for `Monsters' really shows how the thinking has changed. I think I can finally take off my computer-animation cheerleading costume."

Michael Lynne, co-chairman of New Line, said of "The Lord of the Rings": "We knew that the film had connected with audiences all over the world, and it had done very well with the critics, but to get this kind of validation from our own industry is very meaningful to us. Especially when we look at the names of the films we are now in company with."

Only two films, "Titanic" in 1997 and "All About Eve" in 1950, have ever had more nominations than "The Lord of the Rings," with 14 each. And only six other films have had 13: "Shakespeare in Love" in 1998, "Forrest Gump" in 1994, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in 1966, "Mary Poppins" in 1964, "From Here to Eternity" in 1953 and "Gone With the Wind" in 1939.

Although the film with the most nominations usually does win the best-picture Oscar, this is never a sure thing, especially when there are strong competitors that have performed well in the acting nominations, since actors make up the largest voting branch in the academy.

Mr. Jackson, who is at work on the computer-generated effects for the second installment in the Tolkien trilogy, said he and other members of the "Lord of the Rings" creative team had stayed up all night at his house in New Zealand to watch the nomination announcement.

"We just sort of sat around and talked and waited, and we decided that we wouldn't sleep," he said.

The list of nominees came at 2:30 a.m., he said, and one by one he heard the names of many of his guests being read aloud.

"It's a dream come true," said Mr. Jackson, who fought for years to find a studio willing to underwrite such an expensive and risky venture. "This project has had so many moments in time when it could have fallen over and not happened. It does feel like fate has somehow taken us by the hand and guided us through this process."

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company