'Hugo,' 'The Artist' Garner The Most Oscar Attention

Academy Award nominations were announced Tuesday morning. Hugo got the most nominations, followed by The Artist. Melissa Block talks to NPR film critic Bob Mondello.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. It's that time again. Oscar nominations were announced this morning and the two frontrunners are films steeped in movie history.

"Hugo," which is both a children's adventure and a tribute to a French film pioneer, received the most nominations, 11, including Best Picture and Best Director.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "HUGO")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You've tried to forget the past for so long.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Maybe it's time to try and remember.

BLOCK: Close behind "Hugo" with 10 nominations is "The Artist," a silent black and white comedy about the dawn of talking pictures.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE ARTIST")

BLOCK: And, as always, there were surprises and omissions. Our film critic, Bob Mondello, is here to guide us through them. And, Bob, let's get one thing clear right from the top. Nine nominations this year for Best Picture. The last two years, there were 10. What's going on?

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Well, it's all very strange. The Oscar nominating process has changed a lot in the last few years. The original idea in expanding to 10 nominees was to get in more pop hits, like "Inception" last year, "Avatar" the year before. That worked, maybe a little too well because the new rule is aimed at the opposite direction. The votes are weighted now with an academy member's first choice counting more than his second or third choice.

And that's led this year to seven broad consensus choices, "Hugo" and "The Artist," which you mentioned before, "The Descendants," "The Help," "Midnight in Paris," "War Horse" and "Moneyball."

And then there are two sort of dark horse candidates, which are "The Tree of Life" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," which apparently some smaller group of people thought were really terrific.

BLOCK: A mini trend here, Bob, about movies that are about movies or movie making.

MONDELLO: Right.

BLOCK: We saw it with "Hugo" and "The Artist" and I guess "Midnight in Paris," which the main character is a screenwriter there, too.

MONDELLO: Sure. That does.

BLOCK: What other trends are you seeing?

MONDELLO: Well, the big one, it seems to me, is that the nominees are a lot more international than usual. You've always got five foreign language films, right. But this year, seven of the acting nominees hail from outside the U.S., including Demian Bichir, a surprise Mexican-born nominee for Best Actor. He played the undocumented immigrant in "A Better Life," a wonderful drama. He's terrific in it. He was really great.

The Best Original Screenplay - there are nominees from France, "The Artist" and Iran, "A Separation," which is also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. There's a fine German documentary called "Pina" and in the Best Animation category, which has been more or less owned by Pixar since it was created, Pixar's "Cars 2" didn't make it, but two foreign language cartoons did. I mean, that's really different. "A Cat in Paris" from France and "Chico and Rita" from Spain. So it's quite an international year.

BLOCK: And, Bob, we mentioned omissions. One, John Hawkes, whom we profiled on the program yesterday...

MONDELLO: Right.

BLOCK: ...did not get nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Leonardo DiCaprio did not get a Best Actor nomination for his work in "J. Edgar."

MONDELLO: Which is a surprise. I think he probably would have been the nominee if not for Demian Bichir. Frankly, these awards are now so talked about and there are so many other awards that it's hard for there to be surprises anymore, but you know, you can come up with a couple. A lot of people thought that "Adventures of Tin Tin" would be up for animated film. Apparently, there are people in the academy who don't think that motion capture is real animation.

Spielberg had two shots at Best Director in December for "Tin Tin" and "War Horse," but he didn't make it. In the Best Actress category, Rooney Mara is kind of a surprise. She was nominated for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." I think most people expected Tilda Swinton to be in that slot for "We Need to Talk About Kevin."

If you were doing it under the old voting system where you get 10 nominees, I think either "Bridesmaids" or "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" would have made the Best Picture list. They both did OK, though. "Tinker Tailor" got a nomination for Gary Oldman for Best Actor and "Bridesmaids" got Supporting Actress for Melissa McCarthy, who was kind of wonderful, and Screenplay, which is not bad for a comedy that was not written by Woody Allen. So, not bad.

BLOCK: And Hollywood's biggest night is when, Bob?

MONDELLO: Sunday, February 26th.

BLOCK: OK. Can't wait. NPR's film critic Bob Mondello, talking about this year's Oscar nominations. Bob, thanks so much.

MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure.

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