'Hugo' vs 'The Artist': it's a battle of the ages as nostalgia sweeps the Oscars

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Scorsese didn’t win over critics, but that won’t stop him taking on the French silent movie, says Guy Adams

A year overshadowed by concern for Hollywood’s commercial and technological future seems likely to end with a celebration of its simpler past, after the stage was set for an Academy Awards dominated by two movies inspired by film industry’s golden era.

The Oscar nominations, unveiled today, set up a race which seems likely to be headlined by an intriguing battle between Hugo and The Artist, a pair of films which both set out (in very different ways) to pay homage to the earliest days of cinema.

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, a hugely-ambitious, motion-capture animation which is short-listed in 11 of the 24 categories, revolves around a heart-felt tribute to the Parisian movie pioneer, George Méliès. It will contest the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay awards, along with a slew of technical Oscars.

Its nearest rival, The Artist, is a black-and-white silent movie which explores Hollywood’s transition to “talkies.” Made on a tiny budget, it has dominated the 2012 awards season so far, and will now seek ten Academy Awards, including Best Director for its French creator Michel Hazanavicius.

Playing into the nostalgic tone of proceedings is a wider short-list dominated by some of the industry’s most enduring legends. Woody Allen will rub shoulders with Scorsese and Hazanavicius in the Best Directing category, thanks to Midnight in Paris, his first nomination in six years; Steven Spielberg, who was last in the running for an Oscar in 2007, saw his War Horse short-listed in six categories.

The favourite to win Best Actress will once again be Meryl Streep, for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. She is attempting to break a run of twelve straight Oscar defeats, and faces perhaps her stiffest challenge from Glenn Close, another veteran leading lady with blue-chip credentials who is nominated for her lead role in Albert Nobbs.

Leading contenders for the Best Actor crown include George Clooney, who is nominated for The Descendants, a well-made drama which picked-up five nominations and now has an outside shot at Best Picture. His best-known rival will be Brad Pitt, who is seeking a first Academy Award for the baseball film Moneyball.

Underlining his growing creative stature, Clooney is also nominated for a share of a writing award, after The Ides of March - a critically-acclaimed political thriller he co-wrote, co-produced, directed and starred in - was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. “George is an extraordinarily complete film-maker,” his co-producer Nigel Sinclair told The Independent. “He was disciplined and personable. He showed us the first cut of the film three weeks after shooting wrapped, he came in under budget, and he made an incredible film.”

Today's short-list adds clarity to what has so far been a confusing Hollywood awards season, in which The Artist has picked-up the lion’s share of plaudits without ever gaining sufficient momentum to lend inevitability to its march towards the industry’s most prestigious event.

The film, made for just $15m, would be the first silent, black-and-white movie to win Best Picture since Wings in 1927. It also has a decent shot of landing major acting awards, with previously-unknown stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo short-listed for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively. "I can't believe that a year ago I was learning how to tap dance and today I am nominated for an Academy Award," said Bejo today.

Hugo's dramatic emergence meanwhile came as a surprise. The children’s film, which has a star-studded cast, gained only mixed reviews when it debuted before Christmas, and has so far disappointed commercially, returning only $83 million globally, against a production budget of around $150m.

Scorsese’s backers will now hope that filmgoers take a second look at the title. Producer Graham King today described Hugo as "the movie I'm most proud of in my career,” adding: "I really have to take my hat off to Marty for not just the technical aspect but making a genre-defining film.”

Other intriguing story-lines include the two nominations gained by the summer comedy Bridesmaids – which, though hugely successful, hardly fits the earnest profile of a typical Oscar movie - and the relatively-poor showing by British films and stars.

Whereas last year’s Oscars were dominated by The King’s Speech, this year our leading hopes lie with Gary Oldman, who wins his first ever nomination as Best Actor for Tinker Tailor, Soldier , Spy, and Kenneth Branagh, short-listed for Best Supporting Actor for My Week With Marilyn.

Golden oldies: Nominated again

Martin Scorsese

The 69-year-old received his seventh 'best director' Oscar nomination yesterday for Hugo.  Scorsese was nominated five times for the best director prize (the first for Raging Bull in 1980) before finally winning for The Departed in 2007.

Meryl Streep

Up for best actress at this year's awards, the 62-year-old already has two Oscars for her roles in Kramer vs Kramer in 1979 and Sophie's Choice in 1982. She has received 17 Oscar nominations – more than any other actor.

Woody Allen

The 76-year-old yesterday picked up his seventh nomination in the director category for his 41st film Midnight in Paris. He has two Oscars, one for his screenplay of Hannah and Her Sisters in 1987 and one for directing Annie Hall in 1977.

 

 

Here is the full list of nominations for the 84th Academy Awards:

Best Picture

The Artist

The Descendants

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

The Help

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

Moneyball

The Tree of Life

War Horse

Best actor:

Demian Bichir - A Better Life

George Clooney - The Descendants

Jean Dujardin - The Artist

Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Brad Pitt - Moneyball

Best actress:

Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs

Viola Davis - The Help

Rooney Mara - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady

Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn

Supporting actor:

Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill - Moneyball

Nick Nolte - Warrior

Christopher Plummer - Beginners

Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Supporting actress:

Berenice Bejo - The Artist

Jessica Chastain - The Help

Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids

Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs

Octavia Spencer - The Help

Adapted screenplay:

The Descendants

Hugo

The Ides of March

Moneyball

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Original screenplay:

The Artist

Bridesmaids

Margin Call

Midnight In Paris

A Separation

Directing:

The Artist - Michel Hazanavicius

The Descendants - Alexander Payne

Hugo - Martin Scorsese

Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen

The Tree of Life - Terrence Malick

Animated feature film:

A Cat in Paris

Chico & Rita

Kung Fu Panda 2

Puss in Boots

Rango

Art direction:

The Artist

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

War Horse

Cinematography:

The Artist

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

The Tree of Life

War Horse

Costume design:

Anonymous

The Artist

Hugo

Jane Eyre

W.E.

Documentary (feature):

Hell and Back Again

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Pina

Undefeated

Documentary (short subject):

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement

God Is the Bigger Elvis

Incident in New Baghdad

Saving Face

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Film editing:

The Artist

The Descendants

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Moneyball

Foreign language film:

Bullhead (Belgium)

Footnote (Israel)

In Darkness (Poland)

Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)

A Separation (Iran)

Make-up:

Albert Nobbs

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The Iron Lady

Music (original score):

The Adventures of Tintin - John Williams

The Artist - Ludovic Bource

Hugo - Howard Shore

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Alberto Iglesias

War Horse - John Williams

Music (Original Song):

Man or Muppet (The Muppets)

Real in Rio (Rio)

Short film (animated):

Dimanche/Sunday

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore

La Luna

A Morning Stroll

Wild Life

Short film (live action):

Pentecost

Raju

The Shore

Time Freak

Tuba Atlantic

Sound editing:

Drive

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

War Horse

Sound mixing:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Moneyball

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

War Horse

Visual effects:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Hugo

Real Steel

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

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