"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a fable about a man who ages in reverse, dominated the 81st annual Academy Award nominations this morning, earning 13 nods, including best film, best actor for Brad Pitt and best director for David Fincher.
This year's Cinderella story, the indie hit "Slumdog Millionaire," earned 10 nominations. The poignant drama about an impoverished Indian teen who ends up on a TV game show earned nods for best picture, best director for Danny Boyle and best adapted screenplay for Simon Beaufoy.
Both "Milk" about slain gay-rights activist Harvey Milk -- and the Batman thriller "The Dark Knight" received eight nominations apiece. Among those nods: One year -- to the day -- after he died at age 28 of a drug overdose, Heath Ledger earned a best supporting actor nomination for his performance as the Joker.
Other best picture nominees included "Milk"; "Frost/Nixon," a historical drama about former President Richard Nixon; and "The Reader," a harrowing drama about an ex-Nazi prison guard.
But perhaps the biggest winner Thursday was independent film.
These may have been the selections of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but the major nominations resembled the Film Independent Spirit Awards. Only two of the best picture nominees are studio releases -- "Benjamin Button" and "Frost/Nixon." The rest hail from the indie world, as do many of the other nominees in the marquee categories.
Pitt and his domestic partner, Angelina Jolie, had plenty of reason to celebrate today. Not only did he earn a leading acting nomination, but so did she: Jolie was nominated for best actress for her performance as a single mother searching for her missing son in "Changeling."
Joining Pitt in the best actor category are Richard Jenkins as a widowed college professor who befriends an immigrant in "The Visitor," Frank Langella as Nixon in "Frost/Nixon," Sean Penn as slain San Francisco gay-rights advocate Harvey Milk in "Milk" and the comeback kid Mickey Rourke as the aging athlete refusing to give up the ring in "The Wrestler."
Though Penn has received the lion's share of critics' awards for "Milk," Rourke earned the Golden Globe.
Along with Jolie, the nominees for leading actress are Anne Hathaway as a troubled woman attending her sister's nuptials in "Rachel Getting Married," Melissa Leo as a financially strapped mother of two in "Frozen River," Meryl Streep as a stern nun in "Doubt" and Kate Winslet as an illiterate former Nazi prison guard in "The Reader." (Coincidentally, Winslet just won a Golden Globe for "The Reader" but in the supporting actress category.)
That nomination for Winslet was part of a surprisingly strong showing for "The Reader," which earned major nominations -- best director for Stephen Daldry and best adapted screenplay for David Hare.
Rounding out the list of best director are Ron Howard for "Frost/Nixon" and Gus Van Sant for "Milk."
Vying with Ledger in the best supporting actor category are Josh Brolin as San Francisco supervisor Dan White in "Milk," Robert Downey Jr. for his comedic turn as the ultimate method actor in "Tropic Thunder," Philip Seymour Hoffman as a priest suspected of abusing an altar boy in "Doubt" and Michael Shannon as a mathematician with mental problems in "Revolutionary Road."
On the supporting actress side, the nominees are Amy Adams as a young nun in "Doubt," Penelope Cruz as a wacky ex-wife in the comedy "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," Viola Davis as the mother of an altar boy who may have been abused in "Doubt," Taraji P. Henson as the adoptive mother in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and Marisa Tomei as a veteran stripper in "The Wrestler."
The nominees for best animated film are "Bolt," "Kung Fu Panda" and "Wall-E." The latter also received nominations for best original screenplay, original score, original song, sound mixing and sound editing.
There were several snubs:
Bruce Springsteen, who won the Golden Globe for best song for his title tune from "The Wrestler," was overlooked. The "Dark Knight" failed to receive nominations for best picture, director or screenplay -- a surprise for those who had predicted it would do well in those categories. Also noticeably missing from the list was Sally Hawkins for best actress for "Happy-Go Lucky" and Dev Patel for best supporting actor for "Slumdog Millionaire."
Clint Eastwood fans who had been hoping the veteran would get an Oscar nomination for lead actor for "Gran Torino," which is shaping up to be the 78-year-old icon's biggest box office hit, were undoubtedly disappointed.
Another veteran, writer-director Woody Allen also was passed up for his "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." And Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio failed to earn nominations for "Revolutionary Road," which was much ballyhooed as their first re-teaming since 1997's "Titanic."
The awards ceremony, which has struggled in the ratings in recent years, will take place Feb. 22 in a star-studded ceremony at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood and telecast live on ABC. Though the Oscars have been hosted by comedians for the last several years, actor Hugh Jackman will be emceeing the proceedings.
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