Oscar snubs and surprises

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THE shocker Tuesday wasn't that Oscar winners Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett were once again in the running for Academy Awards. In a year marked by more than a few out-of-left field honorees and a handful of notable omissions, however, the films responsible for Jones and Blanchett's nominations caught Oscar watchers by surprise.

Most Hollywood handicappers put the smart money on Jones scoring a nomination for his high-profile supporting turn in "No Country for Old Men," one of the year's best-reviewed films. But the craggy Texan -- the movie's titular country-less septuagenarian -- ended up landing his Oscar honor for lead actor in "In the Valley of Elah," writer-director Paul Haggis' crime-drama, which took in less than $7 million at the box office. In that film, Jones stars as a Vietnam veteran who goes searching for his son after the young man disappears upon returning home from a tour of duty in Iraq.

Marketers for Todd Haynes' Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There" can be happy that Blanchett's supporting performance as the folk rock icon was recognized after numerous "For your consideration" trade paper ads. But her lead actress nomination arrived out of the blue, courtesy of the comparatively buzz-less costume drama, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," a sequel to the historical drama responsible for originally cementing the Australian actress' star status.

Oscar prognostication concerning the Ridley Scott-directed crime epic "American Gangster," meanwhile, remained focused around Denzel Washington's showboating performance as Frank Lucas, a real-life '70s New York drug kingpin who exposed corruption in the Drug Enforcement Agency. Instead, it was 84-year-old Ruby Dee as Lucas' mother who landed a supporting actress nod. Her brief, scene-stealing appearance in a relatively minor character part resulted in "American Gangster's" lone Oscar nomination.

Then there were the snubs.

Chief among those notably empty-handed this year: Angelina Jolie, who portrays real-life author Mariane Pearl, the crusading widow of the Wall Street Journal reporter slain by terrorists in "A Mighty Heart." Likewise, many observers expected Christian Bale, playing an escaped P.O.W. in Werner Herzog's "Rescue Dawn," to land a nomination but it never materialized.

Tim Burton had been widely touted but failed to generate academy support for directing "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" even though he was nominated for a Golden Globe and picked up a number of critics' awards for his gore-spattered adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical. And Eddie Vedder's Golden Globe win for his song "Guaranteed" from "Into the Wild" failed to yield an Oscar nomination for the Pearl Jam front-man in a category dominated by three original song entries from the Disney flick "Enchanted."


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