Leave it to the directors branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to add a dash of spice, or bitters, to the otherwise predictable stew of Oscar nominations.
Last year, they surprised most of us by excluding Steven Spielberg from the final five on the best director ballot, while "The Color Purple" itself was receiving 11 other nominations. This year, they surprised us again by including David Lynch, whose controversial mystery "Blue Velvet" was being overlooked by every other branch.
Lynch appeared on a ballot that included favorites Oliver Stone ("Platoon"), James Ivory ("A Room With a View"), Roland Joffe ("The Mission") and Woody Allen ("Hannah and Her Sisters"). Those four directors' movies were also nominated for best picture, along with "Children of a Lesser God."
Mostly, the nominations followed form in the academy's pre-dawn ceremony, held this year for the benefit of the network morning shows on the East Coast. Crews from all three networks were on hand to turn their cameras on the horde of red-eyed journalists and publicists trooping into the academy's Goldwyn theater to pick up their Oscar packets at 5:30 a.m.
The academy tried to soften the inconvenience by serving coffee, juice, rolls and Bloody Marys, but there was much grumbling among the crowd gathered there, like so many extras, for the academy's network toadying.
The early announcement, moved up 2 1/2 hours from the traditional 9 a.m. gun, was said to be as much for the convenience of European audiences as for the East Coast network shows. But the fact that ratings for ABC-TV's live coverage of the Oscar show have been shrieking downhill in recent years may have had more to do with it. This year's show will air March 30.
Anyway, the nominations went pretty much as expected. Oliver Stone's "Platoon" and James Ivory's "A Room With a View" each weighed in with eight nominations to lead the field, while Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters" and Roland Joffe's "The Mission" followed with seven apiece.
"Aliens," scoring heavily in the technical categories, also had seven nominations.
Besides Lynch, there were no major surprises in any of the categories, unless you want to count those acting nominations for work done in panned movies or for work from the wrong movie.
Dennis Hopper gave a career performance as a psycho in "Blue Velvet," creating the new standard for screen geeks, but was nominated instead, as best supporting actor, for his work as an alcoholic parent in the much more conventional "Hoosiers."
Jane Fonda got her seventh career nomination for her "Klute"-like role as an alcoholic call girl in "The Morning After," which is only a surprise if you overlook the weak competition among leading actresses last year. Her co-nominees are Marlee Matlin ("Children of a Lesser God"), Sissy Spacek ("Crimes of the Heart"), Kathleen Turner ("Peggy Sue Got Married") and Sigourney Weaver ("Aliens").
Weaver becomes the first actress ever nominated in the lead category for an action-adventure, science-fiction or horror film, the three genres that simultaneously describe "Aliens."
The actors' branch of the academy wasn't as daring in the case of Jeff Goldblum, who certainly gave one of the year's best performances in "The Fly," a graphic horror film that large numbers of academy voters apparently restrained themselves from seeing. The movie was nominated for best makeup; Goldblum was overlooked.
The best actor ballot is headed by Paul Newman, the sentimental choice to win an Oscar on his seventh try for "The Color of Money." The 62-year-old star has now been nominated twice for playing pool shark Fast Eddie Felson--first as a revved-up punk in the 1961 "The Hustler," and now again as a middle-aged liquor salesman reliving and reviving his skills through a young protege.
Newman said at a London press conference last week that he has lost interest in chasing the Oscar, comparing his six failed courtships with it to chasing a beautiful lady for 80 years.
"Finally, she relents," Newman said, "and you say, 'I am terribly sorry. I am tired.' "
Whether he shows up or not, Newman will be the sentimental choice when the awards are handed out. His main competition figures to come from Bob Hoskins, who has won several critics awards as best actor for "Mona Lisa," and William Hurt ("Children of a Lesser God"), who won a year ago for "Kiss of the Spider Woman."
Hoskins, whose victory streak with this role began with a best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival last May, said in a phone interview from London that he was thrilled to become part of the Oscar process and said he will show up if his current film, "Roger Rabbit," is finished in time.
"This ('Mona Lisa') has been the best thing I've ever done," Hoskins said. " 'The Long Good Friday' is a wonderful film, but as an actor, everything came together in 'Mona Lisa.' It is very difficult to play a fool for two hours and still remain interesting. Fools usually get very boring after a while. Apparently, I pulled it off."
It was a mild surprise to see James Woods' name on the best actor ballot. Woods got rave reviews for his performance as a flaky but impassioned photo-journalist in Oliver Stone's "Salvador," but the movie had a short theatrical life early last year.
Apparently, it shows the value of videotape to the Oscar race. "Salvador" has been a hot rental item in video stores for several months.
The other best actor nominee was jazzman Dexter Gordon, being tapped for his movie debut in Bertrand Tavernier's homage to American jazz in Paris in "Round Midnight."
Dianne Wiest, who swept the major critics' awards as best supporting actress for "Hannah and Her Sisters," shares the Oscar ballot with Maggie Smith ("A Room With a View"), Piper Laurie ("Children of a Lesser God"), Tess Harper ("Crimes of the Heart") and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio ("The Color of Money").
Both Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe, the bad sergeant and the good sergeant from "Platoon," were nominated for best supporting actor, setting up the possibility of a split vote. If so, the likely beneficiary would be Michael Caine, who received his fourth career nomination for "Hannah and Her Sisters."
The other best supporting actor nominees are Hopper ("Hoosiers") and Denholm Elliott ("A Room With a View").
The day's big winner, though, was Oliver Stone, who ended up with three personal nominations--as "Platoon's" director and screenwriter, and as co-writer for the script of "Salvador."
Woody Allen was the only other multiple nominee, showing up on both the director's ballot and the best original screenplay ballot for "Hannah."
The day's oddest nominee: Paul Hogan and his co-writers on "Crocodile Dundee." The movie was fun, but isn't $125 million in box-office receipts enough of a reward?
As for his lone nomination as best director for "Blue Velvet," David Lynch seemed ecstatic.
"I am really over the moon about this," Lynch said. "Everybody told me, 'Don't expect any awards for "Blue Velvet," ' so I didn't. It took some sort of craziness or nerve or something (on the part of academy's directors), but it's real thrilling. It makes me believe there is a change in the air, it's a good time for films."
Lynch had two previous nominations, for writing and directing "The Elephant Man" in 1980. But "The Elephant Man" had six other nominations, as well, and was one of the favorites in several categories on the night of the awards. This time, he is alone. It is rare when a film is nominated for direction and nothing else.
"It feels sort of lonely," Lynch said.
Here is the full list of nominations:
Picture: "Children of a Lesser God"; "Hannah and Her Sisters"; "The Mission"; "Platoon"; "A Room With a View."
Actress: Jane Fonda, "The Morning After"; Marlee Matlin, "Children of a Lesser God"; Sissy Spacek, "Crimes of the Heart"; Kathleen Turner, "Peggy Sue Got Married"; Sigourney Weaver "Aliens."
Actor: Dexter Gordon, " 'Round Midnight"; Bob Hoskins, "Mona Lisa"; William Hurt, "Children of a Lesser God"; Paul Newman, "The Color of Money"; James Woods, "Salvador."
Supporting Actress: Tess Harper, "Crimes of the Heart"; Piper Laurie, "Children of a Lesser God"; Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, "The Color of Money"; Maggie Smith, "A Room With a View"; Dianne Wiest, "Hannah and Her Sisters."
Supporting Actor: Tom Berenger, "Platoon"; Michael Caine, "Hannah and Her Sisters"; Willem Dafoe, "Platoon"; Denholm Elliott, "A Room With a View"; Dennis Hopper, "Hoosiers."
Director: David Lynch, "Blue Velvet"; Woody Allen, "Hannah and Her Sisters"; Roland Joffe, "The Mission"; James Ivory, "A Room With a View"; Oliver Stone, "Platoon."
Screenplay: Paul Hogan, Ken Shadie and John Cornell, "'Crocodile' Dundee"; Woody Allen, "Hannah and Her Sisters"; Hanif Kureishi, "My Beautiful Launderette"; Oliver Stone, "Platoon"; Oliver Stone and Richard Boyle, "Salvador."
Screenplay Based on Material From Another Medium: Hesper Anderson and Mark Medoff, "Children of a Lesser God"; Richard Price, "The Color of Money"; Beth Henley, "Crimes of the Heart"; Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, "A Room with a View"; Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans, "Stand By Me."
Foreign Film: "The Assault" (the Netherlands); "Betty Blue" (France); "The Decline of the American Empire" (Canada); "My Sweet Little Village" (Czechoslovakia); "38" (Austria).
Documentary Features: "Time is All You've Got"; "Chile: Hasta Cuando"; "Down and Out in America"; "Isaac in America"; "Witness to Apartheid."
Documentary Short Subject: "Debonair Dancers"; "The Masters of Disaster"; "Red Grooms: Sunflower in a Hothouse"; "Sam"; "Women--For America, For the World."
Film Editing: "Aliens"; "Hannah and Her Sisters"; "The Mission"; "Platoon"; "Top Gun."
Makeup: "The Clan of the Cave Bear"; "The Fly"; "Legend."
Original Score: James Horner, "Aliens"; Jerry Goldsmith, "Hoosiers"; Ennio Morricone, "The Mission"; Herbie Hancock, " 'Round Midnight"; Leonard Rosenman, "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home."
Original Song: "Glory of Love" ("The Karate Kid Part II") by Peter Cetera, David Foster and Diane Nini; "Life in a Looking Glass ("That's Life") by Henri Mancini and Leslie Bricusse; "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" ("Little Shop of Horrors") by Alan Mencken and Howard Ashman; "Somewhere Out There" ("An American Tail") by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and James Horner; "Take My Breath Away" ("Top Gun") by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock.
Animated Short Film: "The Frog, The Dog and the Devil"; "A Greek Tragedy"; "Luxo Jr."
Live Action Short Film: "Exit"; "Love Struck"; "Precious Images."
Sound: "Aliens"; "Heartbreak Ridge"; "Platoon"; "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home"; "Top Gun."
Sound Effects: "Aliens"; "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home"; "Top Gun."
Visual Effects: "Aliens"; "Little Shop of Horrors"; "Poltergeist II: The Other Side."
Art Direction: "Aliens"; "The Color of Money"; "Hannah and Her Sisters"; "The Mission"; "A Room With a View."
Cinematography: "The Mission"; "Peggy Sue Got Married"; "Platoon"; "A Room with a View"; "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home."
Costume: "The Mission"; "Otello"; "Peggy Sue Got Married"; "Pirates"; "A Room With a View."