Oscar acquires a Boston accent

Mass. movies score Oscar nominations

By Ty Burr and Wesley Morris
Boston Globe
January 26, 2011

BOSTON-Hollywood tilted significantly and decisively to the Northeast yesterday. An unusually high percentage of nominations for the 83rd annual Academy Awards went to movies set in Boston and its environs, and featuring actors either from Massachusetts or playing local natives.

Two Bay State dramas were nominated for the best picture Oscar. “The Social Network,’’ a portrait of Harvard social life and antisocial entrepreneurs, received eight nominations, and “The Fighter,’’ which memorializes the city of Lowell and one of its own, the boxer Micky Ward, has seven.

Not since “Good Will Hunting’’ received nine nominations in 1998 has the movies’ biggest awards show had such a decidedly Bay State cast. Where that film was a beachhead for local stories and on-location shooting — a production and commercial success after decades in which Boston fought a reputation as a cold, unfriendly place to make movies — the movie year 2010 stands as a hard-won pinnacle of Hollywood on the Charles.

Recent hits like “Mystic River’’ and “The Departed’’ have made the city’s grittiest streets a genre unto itself, while Massachusetts natives such as Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have gone out to California only to literally bring it back home. This year’s nominations are only the tip of the iceberg: Other locally flavored movies the Academy largely overlooked this year include “Shutter Island,’’ “Conviction,’’ “The Company Men,’’ and “The Town.’’

For area moviegoers, the sheer preponderance of nominated actors, films, and behind-the-camera talent with local connections stands as a major source of pride, more evidence that the area has stories to tell that the world wants to see. The volume and quality of the current crop of films also confirm the state’s hard-won foothold in the film industry, at a time, ironically, of uncertainty: Recent weeks have seen the Patrick administration oust state film head Nick Paleologos and merge his office into the polyglot new Massachusetts Marketing Partnership. How the business of wooing filmmakers here will change is unknown.

Yesterday’s Oscar picks also reflected local color in the acting categories. Jesse Eisenberg was nominated for best actor for his work as the affluent Harvard student and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Supporting-actor nominations went to two men for films with area ties: Jeremy Renner for his role as an amoral Charlestown thug in “The Town,’’ and Christian Bale, who stole “The Fighter’’ from Mark Wahlberg, playing Micky Ward’s crack-addicted brother Dicky Eklund. Wahlberg’s performance, which is widely seen as passive in relation to the flashier work of his costars, was omitted from the best-actor list. But his persistence got “The Fighter’’ made.

In the supporting actress category, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams, respectively playing Ward’s mother and girlfriend in “The Fighter,’’ were nominated. When all the nominations are taken into account, New England figures significantly in the overall total — a startling comeback for a state whose film industry was moribund a decade ago.

This is completely and totally thrilling,’’ said Leo, reached yesterday at the Sundance Film Festival. “This movie has body, heart, and soul. Alice Ward is in the hospital right now and my love is there with her. I love Alice and the gift she gave me of allowing her to play her in this extraordinary film.’’

Wahlberg, who spent five years trying to get “The Fighter’’ made, said he had a lot of help.

“It has been such an incredible journey and one that I am grateful to share with David O. Russell, Christian, Melissa, Amy, my fellow producers, and the Ward and Eklund families,’’ he said yesterday.

Ben Mezrich, author of “The Accidental Billionaires,’’ the book on which “The Social Network’’ is based, said it was a thrill to work with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who is nominated for best adapted screenplay.

“He came to Boston and we sat in the Four Seasons Hotel and went through the book chapter by chapter,’’ Mezrich said yesterday. “He went off and wrote very quickly. I handed him a lot of juicy documents and he did the rest.’’

It should be noted that other films made outside the area were nominated as well. “The King’s Speech,’’ a period drama about a stuttering George VI and his speech therapist, received 12 Academy Award nods. The popular revenge western “True Grit’’ received 10. And the ambitious smash-hit caper thriller “Inception’’ had eight. In its second year fielding an expanded list of 10 best-picture candidates, since it stopped doing so in 1944, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences nominated an impressive array of films, from earnest family comedy and animated sequels to ambitious summer entertainment and enjoyably sleazy trash.

The field includes “127 Hours’’ (six nominations), about a hiker whose arm is pinned by a boulder; Pixar’s animated hit “Toy Story 3’’ (five); the ballet-world psychological-thriller “Black Swan’’ (five); the au courant social comedy “The Kids Are All Right’’ (four), about a Los Angeles lesbian couple coping with the appearance of their teenagers’ sperm-donor father; and “Winter’s Bone’’ (four), a little-seen independent drama, in which a tough young Ozarks woman (Jennifer Lawrence) scours the backwoods for her deadbeat dad.

Lawrence, a 20-year-old, received her first Oscar nomination for best actress. Until “Winter’s Bone,’’ her biggest part was as a regular on the comedian Bill Engvall’s now-canceled TBS sitcom. Her fellow nominees have all been nominated before. They are: Annette Bening for her role as an uptight doctor in “The Kids Are All Right’’; Nicole Kidman, who plays a vividly grieving mother in “Rabbit Hole’’; Natalie Portman for her work in “Black Swan’’ as a dancer undergoing a physical and psychological transformation; and Michelle Williams as a miserably married wife in “Blue Valentine.”

The best-actor race includes: Javier Bardem, in a minor surprise, for his role as a psychic networker in “Biutiful’’; Jeff Bridges as a rarely sober US marshal in “True Grit’’; Eisenberg as a cutting, deadly serious college student in “The Social Network’’; Colin Firth as a frustrated, tongue-tied royal in “The King’s Speech’’; and the Oscar broadcast’s co-host, James Franco, as an imperiled hiker in “127 Hours.’’

Joining Bale and Renner in the supporting actor contest are: John Hawkes for his role as an intimidating crystal-meth addict in “Winter’s Bone’’; Mark Ruffalo as the feckless sperm donor in “The Kids Are All Right’’; and Geoffrey Rush as an unorthodox elocution teacher in “The King’s Speech.’’

In addition to Adams and Leo, the nominees for supporting actress include Helena Bonham Carter as the king-to-be’s tepid wife in “The King’s Speech,’’ Hailee Steinfeld as a sharp young woman bent on catching the man who killed her father in “True Grit,’’ and Jacki Weaver, as a mother to criminal sons in “Animal Kingdom.’’

This year’s directing nominees reflect the coming of age of a group of men whose work has been on the cutting edge of commercial cinema for years: David Fincher (“The Social Network’’), Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan’’), and David O. Russell (“The Fighter’’). Only Fincher has been nominated in the directing category before; their appearance together represents an unmistakable generational change. They’re joined by Joel and Ethan Coen (“True Grit’’), whose work, in general, is by no means conventional, and Tom Hooper, whose work, in “The King’s Speech,’’ by every means is.

“Toy Story 3’’ will compete in the best animated feature category with the springtime hit “How to Train Your Dragon,’’ and “The Illusionist.’’

For all the variety in this year’s nominees, there appear to be a number of sure bets. Firth stands poised to collect a best actor Oscar for “The King’s Speech’’ in part on the momentum of last year’s “A Single Man,’’ for which he was nominated but did not win. Barring a Portman upset, Bening is on track for her first Oscar, a best actress award for “The Kids Are All Right.’’ And Bale’s performance has won him almost every pre-Oscar acting prize, making him close-to-certain victor in his category.

“The Social Network’’ and “The King’s Speech’’ are considered the films to beat for the best picture of 2010. The two represent strikingly different schools of moviemaking. The latter film is a crowd-pleasing historical drama in the classic Miramax mode (that studio’s ex-head, Harvey Weinstein, executive-produced the film for the Weinstein Company). The former is an up-to-the-minute tale of online success and offline betrayal, heavily and shrewdly marketed by Sony Pictures, and delivered at a breathless pace.

Alternatively, this year the truly tiny independent distributor Roadside Attractions, founded and run by a pair of Boston natives, picked up “Winter’s Bone’’ and kept it in theaters for months. The studio is also releasing Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful,’’ which opens Friday in Boston and is also up for the foreign-language Oscar.

Every year, the Academy manages to omit a few names and titles. This year’s include: Bening’s costar, Julianne Moore, and Williams’s costar, Ryan Gosling. “The Town’’ was on many predictors’ short-lists, but Renner represents the movie’s sole nomination. Two best picture nominees were directed by women — “The Kids Are All Right’’ (Lisa Cholodenko) and “Winter’s Bone’’ (Debra Granik) — but neither is a directing nominee. Both women are nominated for their screenplays, however.

The Academy’s directors branch also again passed over Christopher Nolan. Two years ago it was for “The Dark Knight’’; this year it ignored his work on “Inception.’’ His script is nominated for original screenplay.

But the story around here is the deserved largesse the Academy has bestowed on the local screen scene. Has Massachusetts come of age as a center of film production and narrative or is this the peak? Given the iffy future — tightened state budgets, a new film board minus its established guiding force, the potential for “Bahstan’’ fatigue among Hollywood filmmakers — it’s far too soon to say. For now, the area has 16 Oscar nominations — second only to California — and those other 48 states don’t.

The 83rd Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, Feb. 27.

Mark Shanahan contributed to this report. Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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