No one was surprised when Jeff Bridges was nominated for a best actor Academy Award Tuesday for his performance as a down-and-out country singer in “Crazy Heart,” the film based on the book by Rhode Island College English Prof. Thomas Cobb.
Bridges has already won the best actor awards from the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Award given by the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
It wasn’t much of a surprise, either, when the song “The Weary Kind,” written for the film by T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham, got a best-song nomination. It had already won the best song award at the Golden Globes.
But there were two major surprises surrounding “Crazy Heart” when the Oscar nominations were announced in Beverly Hills Tuesday. Maggie Gyllenhaal was nominated for best supporting actress in the film in which she plays a newspaper reporter who comes to interview the singer Bad Blake, but soon becomes an integral part of his life. Gyllenhaal was a long shot who was almost never mentioned among potential nominees.
Cobb, reached shortly after the nominations were announced, said, “I expected Jeff and ‘The Weary Kind’ to be nominated, but I was really really pleased Maggie got it because I thought she was incredibly affecting. I thought she brought a genuine quality to the role.”
He said he was “kind of hoping [“Crazy Heart”] would also get a best picture nod. When it didn’t it was disappointing, but I can’t say it was a shock.”
Perhaps a bigger surprise was that “Crazy Heart” director Scott Cooper, who found Cobb’s book and shepherded it into production, was not nominated for his adapted screenplay. Cooper, making his debut as both director and screenwriter, wasn’t expected to get a best director nomination, but it was widely assumed he had a good shot for the adapted screenplay award. Cobb and Cooper are in the running for the University of Southern California’s Scripter Awards, which honors both the screenwriter who adapted a published work and the author of the original work, and will attend the awards ceremony Sunday in Los Angeles.
On the broader Oscar front, poised for a head-to-head battle with nine nominations each are James Cameron’s mega hit, “Avatar,” reputedly the most expensive movie ever made, and Kathryn Bigelow’s low-budget “The Hurt Locker,” about soldiers who defuse bombs in Iraq. Cameron has already won the best director and best picture awards at the Golden Globes. Last weekend Bigelow, his ex-wife, took the best director award from the Director’s Guild of America, the first time a woman has won the award in the group’s 62-year history. The DGA award winner has gone on to take the Academy Award as best director 80 percent of the time. Bigelow is only the fourth female director to be nominated for an Oscar; none have won.
The best actress race also looks tight with favorites being Meryl Streep for “Julie & Julia” and Sandra Bullock for “The Blind Side.” This marks Streep’s 16th Oscar nomination while it’s the first for Bullock. Both actresses won best actress Golden Globes — Streep in the comedy category and Bullock in the drama category.
In an effort to increase TV ratings for the Academy Awards, which will be handed out March 7 for the 82nd time, there are 10 best picture nominees. The last time that happened was for the 1943 awards when “Casablanca” won. Since then, only five films have been nominated each year, although in earlier years it had been a sliding scale of nominees — only two for 1928 and 1929, four for 1932 and 12 for 1935.
The idea was to bring in films that a lot of people actually had seen beyond such arty films as “An Education,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” and “A Serious Man,” all of which are best picture nominees this year. But really the battle is expected to be between “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker,” with director Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” a dark horse candidate. The latter film has eight nominations, including best director, best supporting actor — Christoph Waltz — and original screenplay — Tarantino. “Up,” another best picture nominee, is also in the running for best animated film.