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The Man of the Hour: Oscar Nominations Honor Aviator, Scorsese

It was zero controversy zone for the Academy on Tuesday morning when the 77th Oscar nominations were announced. It was a year of very controversial films, those that tackled every issue from sexual repression to abortion to the war in Iraq to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But the Academy shied almost completely away from those film, choosing instead a grab bag of more traditional fare.

What took the place of controversy was a kind of obsession with leading men – all five of the best picture contenders, The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, Sideways, Finding Neverland and Ray are about what changes occur in the lives of their leading male characters, three of whom are based on real people.

While the supporting females in these films (let’s face it, Hilary Swank, though nominated for lead, is really a supporting character in Million Dollar Baby) are catalysts for the change, the films aren’t about the women, but the men whom they loved and were loved by.

If it wasn’t the year of the controversial film, it certainly was the year of the biopic – Howard Hughes, J.M. Barrie and Ray Charles are men whose lives influenced our culture – and perhaps more than that, were icons of varying shades of masculinity. This theme turns out to be present in all five of the Best Picture nominees: how does a boy become a man? How does the man not lose the boy within?

To that end, the Best Actor race was the most crowded and competitive of all. There hasn’t been a year in recent memory in which there were so many powerful performances by men. The Academy overlooked two of the best – Jeff Bridges in The Door in the Floor, which never seemed to get the necessary momentum, and Javier Bardem, who plays a quadriplegic in The Sea Inside. But the fact that they were overlooked doesn’t mean the chosen five were less deserving – Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby and Jamie Foxx for Ray are currently the two strongest contenders, with Don Cheadle’s astonishing work in Hotel Rwanda presenting a potential spoiler for frontrunner Foxx. The other two slots went to Johnny Depp for Finding Neverland and the brilliant Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator.

And speaking of The Aviator, the film topped the list of nominations with eleven, including a surprise supporting actor nod for Alan Alda. All eyes will be on The Aviator’s box office, which it needs if it hopes to sweep. And of course, Martin Scorsese is up for yet another Best Director Oscar and this time it might stick.

Also nominated for Best Director, Clint Eastwood, Scorsese’s biggest competition, for Million Dollar Baby, Alexander Payne for Sideways, Taylor Hackford for Ray and Mike Leigh for Vera Drake. Adding Leigh in the mix is the most controversial choice since Vera Drake is about abortion. The film also got a screenplay and Best Actress nod for Imelda Staunton.

Joining Staunton are Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby, the current frontrunner, who will once again challenge Annette Bening, who is up for her versatile and lively performance in Being Julia. What a great thing for Catalina Sandino Moreno to be nominated for Maria Full of Grace, and finally Kate Winslet for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

It was slim pickins for actresses, however, as this was a man’s year — imperfect men in desperate need of repair – men who succeed or fail despite the obstacles put in front of them.

The Oscars will be held February 27, 2005 at 5:30 p.m. on ABC.

Nominees as follows:

Best Picture

The Aviator (Miramax)

Finding Neverland (Miramax)

Million Dollar Baby (Warner Bros.)

Ray (Universal Pictures)

Sideways (Fox Searchlight)

Achievement in Directing

Martin Scorsese for The Aviator (Miramax)

Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby (Warner Bros.)

Taylor Hackford for Ray (Universal Pictures)

Alexander Payne for Sideways (Fox Searchlight)

Mike Leigh for Vera Drake (Fine Line Features)

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Don Cheadle for Hotel Rwanda (United Artists)

Johnny Depp for Finding Neverland (Miramax)

Leonardo DiCaprio for The Aviator (Miramax)

Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby (Warner Bros.)

Jamie Foxx for Ray (Universal Pictures)

Best Supporting Actor

Alan Alda for The Aviator (Miramax)

Thomas Haden Church for Sideways (Fox Searchlight)

Jamie Foxx for Collateral (Dreamworks SKG)

Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby (Warner Bros.)

Clive Owen for Closer (Columbia Pictures)

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