The Oscars have always been international, but this year the US film awards seem to have been particularly open to foreign invasion. Seven of the 10 contenders for best actress and best supporting actress are foreigners, including best actress front-runner Helen Mirren. Coryse Borg takes a look at the protagonists of this year's awards
They are the "Black" Oscars because for the first time ever, African Americans have collected eight of the 177 nominations.
They are the "Green" Oscars, with Green parties heralding the era of ecological correctness.
They are the "Royalty" Oscars with Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker nominated for portraying the current Queen of England and the last King of Scotland.
They are the "Feminist" Oscars because the characters portrayed by the leading lady nominees are strong, wilful, independent and older women.
And finally, they (hopefully) are the "Marty Scorsese" Oscars. He has been nominated a whopping six times for best director, but has yet to win a coveted statuette.
The Oscars are typically the second most-watched television show each year, after the Super Bowl. More than 93 million people watched the Super Bowl; 38.9 million people watched the Academy Awards last year.
This year's Academy Awards herald a record eight African-American nominations - five in the acting categories alone. Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness), Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond), Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson (both for Dreamgirls), are all nominated, with Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson favourites to win their respective categories. Djimon Hounsou is favourite to win in my personal category, since I met him briefly on the set of Gladiator years ago and found him to be a lovely, talented, down-to-earth person (apart from being phenomenally good-looking of course)!
A glance at winners in the acting categories since the Oscars were founded in 1929, shows that since Hattie McDaniels won the best supporting actress statuette for Gone with the Wind in 1939, only a handful of African American actors or actresses have been honoured by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including Sidney Poitier (best actor for Lilies of the Field in 1963), Whoopi Goldberg (best supporting actress for Ghost in 1990) and Denzel Washington who won both best supporting actor (for Glory in 1988) and best actor (for Training Day in 2002).
Only two male actors (Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington) have won the best actor award. The only African American woman to win an Academy Award for best actress was Halle Berry (for Monster's Ball in 2004).
American writer Ralph Ellison once said: "'Hollywood movies are not about blacks but about what whites think about blacks". Nominations for black writers and directors at the Oscars are still few.
John Singleton is still the only black director ever nominated (for 1991's Boyz n the Hood) while only three have received nominations for original screenplays.
In Hollywood nowadays, "ecological correctness" seems to be the "phrase du jour". For the past five years environmental pressure group Global Green has been persuading celebrities to turn up to the Academy Awards in fuel-efficient vehicles rather than gas-guzzlers.
A number of celebrities have been trying to make people aware of the importance of saving the earth... mainly by organising lavish parties, true. But doing it in an environmentally-friendly way. For example, the Global Green Pre-Oscar Party held just before the Oscars saw a number of celebrities arriving at the scene not in the usual stretch limousines, but in hybrid cars. Inside, they drank organic beverages.
Recently, tomboy actress Cameron Diaz (who was one of the first stars to buy a hybrid car, promotes energy-saving items in a series of advertisements with Gwyneth Paltrow and presents a series on environmentally friendly travel for MTV) and former US Vice President Al Gore announced a series of rock concerts in London's Wembley Stadium and elsewhere to highlight the dangers of global warming.
And speaking of Al Gore, his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, nominated in this year's best documentary feature section, deals with Mr Gore's effort, after he was defeated in the 2000 election, to help save the planet from irrevocable damage including extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves.
Royalty in movies is almost always a crowd pleaser. I'm certain that if a film were made about Princess Diana, crowds of people would flock to watch it. Till then, we have to content ourselves with powerhouse performances by Helen Mirren (whom I have always adored since the first day I watched her in TV's Prime Suspect many years ago) in The Queen and Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland. The buzz for both films is very good, with Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker both tipped to win.
The characters portrayed by the actress mentioned above, as well as Kate Winslet (Little Children), Dame Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal), Penélope Cruz (Volver) and Meryl Streep (The Devil wears Prada) are all what one would consider "strong", determined women, even if the way they go about things is not always right. It seems that gone are the days when, to garner an Oscar nomination for best actress, one had to portray a hooker or a serial killer (Pretty Woman, Monster). In any case, the Brits have cause to celebrate with three of the five women nominated for best actress (Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Judi Dench), being British.
And, finally, this year everyone seems to be tipping Martin Scorsese for the best director award. I guess, he has missed out so many times (six), he deserves it. He has been nominated for Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Gangs of New York, The Aviator, and this year for The Departed, but, strangely enough not for Mean Streets, Taxi Driver or for the movie that many consider his best work, The King of Comedy.
The fact that his best seems to be behind him doesn't seem to bother anyone who is calling for recognition this year. I suppose that they are simply adhering to an Academy Award tradition called the "right name, wrong film", where a performer or film-maker who misses out for a good piece of work is later rewarded for a lesser piece.
Martin Scorsese is a hot favourite to win his first Academy Award for directing The Departed, as well as best motion picture, which is ironic as the film only received three other nominations. He won his second Golden Globe award and his first Directors' Guild of America award for directing it. Only six times in 54 years has a winner at the Directors' Guild of America not won the Oscar for best director. So basically, Marty mate, the odds at least are in your favour this year.
20070224-lifestyle--oscarbrit.jpgBritish out in force on red carpet
British talent will be out in force on the Oscar red carpet tomorrow after a bumper year for UK actors, writers and directors who have made small and quirky a virtue in an industry better known for big and brash.
Twenty nominations at this year's Academy Awards involve UK talent or films that range from the quintessentially British royal drama The Queen to the subversive humour of Borat and British director Paul Greengrass's take on the ultimate US story of the doomed 9/11 flight in United 93.
"It has been a stunning year for us," said Tina McFarling, head of industry relations at the UK Film Council. "The Oscar nominations are the icing on the cake after a wave of optimism that has been flowing with awards at Cannes, Venice, Toronto and the Golden Globes."
Helen Mirren, a hot favourite for best actress for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth, leads the British assault along with Kate Winslet and Judi Dench, directors Stephen Frears and Paul Greengrass, Borat screenwriter and creator Sacha Baron Cohen, and screenwriters Peter Morgan (The Queen) and Patrick Marber (Notes on a Scandal).
The Queen has six nominations, including best picture. The Last King of Scotland, which stars American best actor nominee Forest Whitaker, was partly financed by British national lottery money, as was Venus which stars British best actor nominee Peter O'Toole.
Steeped in Shakespeare and strong on theatre, Britons have long been ambivalent about Hollywood, resenting its box-office dominance, ill at ease with its glitz and yet irked at being sidelined on the movie industry's most prestigious night.
The James Bond franchise apart, British movies struggle to compete at the box office against Hollywood's action thrillers although its actors and screenwriters are in high demand.
Instead film-makers have turned to what they know best - smaller movies with a uniquely British flavour.
"Britain has finally divested itself of that feeling that it needs to compete with Hollywood. Where we excel is in producing high quality films at all different budget levels and which are true to our own culture," said Ms McFarling.
The Queen is a perfect example. The movie, which examines the reserved British royal family's response to the emotional public outpouring over the death of Princess Diana, has been embraced by US film critics partly because of American fascination with royalty.
But admiration for the movie won't be enough to win the coveted best picture Oscar, although Helen Mirren is seen as a shoo-in for the best actress award.
"The Queen is not the kind of movie to win the best picture, not because it is British but because it is a bit small in terms of scope and scale. I think the Academy voters will go for something that is more uniquely American," said film critic Emanuel Levy of emanuellevy.com.
Chariots of Fire (1981) and Gandhi (1982) were the last predominantly British productions to win Best Picture.
But the perception that Britons are always the bridesmaids, never the bride on Oscar night is mistaken, Hollywood experts say, although the movies they appear in may not be draped in the Union Jack.
Recent British Oscar winners include directors Sam Mendes for American Beauty and Anthony Minghella for The English Patient, actors Anthony Hopkins for The Silence of the Lambs, Emma Thompson for Howards End, Rachel Weisz for The Constant Gardener, Catherine Zeta-Jones for Chicago, Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules, Judi Dench for Shakespeare in Love and a 2002 honorary award for Peter O'Toole.
"The Academy, like Hollywood itself, has always liked the British and has treated them pretty kindly. Americans have an enormous respect for British acting and writing," said film historian David Thomson, author of the Biographical Dictionary of Film.
Even if British nominations do not translate into armfuls of statues tomorrow, recognition in Hollywood builds investor confidence in UK films and helps secure foreign distribution, said Ms McFarling.
"The British sensibility, which used to go 'if we don't win the Oscar we must be a failure', truly has gone away."
"For us, having this number of nominees, the UK film industry is already a winner," Ms McFarling said.
Performance by an actor in a leading role
Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson Peter O'Toole in Venus Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland
Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine Jackie Earle Haley in Little Children Djimon Hounsou in Blood Diamond Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls Mark Wahlberg in The Departed
Performance by an actress in a leading role
Penélope Cruz in Volver Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal Helen Mirren in The Queen Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada Kate Winslet in Little Children
Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Adriana Barraza in Babel Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls Rinko Kikuchi in Babel
Best animated feature film of the year
Cars John Lasseter Happy Feet George Miller Monster House Gil Kenan
Achievement in art direction
Dreamgirls The Good Shepherd Pan's Labyrinth Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest The Prestige
Achievement in cinematography
The Black Dahlia Vilmos Zsigmond Children of Men Emmanuel Lubezki The Illusionist Dick Pope Pan's Labyrinth Guillermo Navarro The Prestige Wally Pfister
Achievement in costume design
Curse of the Golden Flower Yee Chung Man The Devil Wears Prada Patricia Field Dreamgirls Sharen Davis Marie Antoinette Milena Canonero The Queen Consolata Boyle
Achievement in directing
Babel Alejandro González Iñárritu The Departed Martin Scorsese Letters from Iwo Jima Clint Eastwood The Queen Stephen Frears United 93 Paul Greengrass
Best documentary feature
Deliver Us from Evil An Inconvenient Truth Iraq in Fragments Jesus Camp My Country, My Country
Achievement in film editing
Babel Blood Diamond Children of Men The Departed United 93
Best foreign language film of the year
After the Wedding Days of Glory (Indigènes) The Lives of Others Pan's Labyrinth Water
Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Children of Men The Departed Little Children Notes on a Scandal
Babel Letters from Iwo Jima Little Miss Sunshine Pan's Labyrinth The Queen