While Robert Zemeckis’ quirky fable, “Forrest Gump,” predictably dominated 1994’s Oscar nominations, the awards race was chock-full of surprises Tuesday, particularly in the directing and acting categories.
In this 67th year of the awards, the typically mainstream motion picture academy leaned heavily toward original, diverse and even controversial fare. Never before have so many independent films dominated, and never has one independent movie company--in this case, spunky Miramax Films, with 22 nods--upstaged the major studios with the most entries.
However, it was Paramount Pictures’ “Forrest Gump,” a movie that languished unmade for nine years, that led the pack with 13 nominations, including best picture, best director and best actor. That’s the most for any film since 1966’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
An overjoyed Zemeckis said he was “surprised at the amount of the nominations. This is pretty great.”
The film, about a good-hearted simpleton whose remarkable life intersects with key moments in modern American history, was the sleeper hit of last summer and has gone on to gross a remarkable $306 million.
“Gump” marks the second best actor nomination in a row for Tom Hanks, who won last year for the AIDS drama “Philadelphia.” If he wins, it would be the first time in nearly 60 years a performer has won back-to-back best actor awards (Spencer Tracy won for “Captains Courageous” in 1937 and “Boys Town” in 1938).
“It is always an honor to be nominated,” Hanks said Tuesday. “We’re very proud of our movie and are pleased to see it nominated among such a surprisingly diverse group of films.”
Joining “Gump” as best picture nominees were two other expected entries, Quentin Tarantino’s violent black comedy “Pulp Fiction” and Robert Redford’s “Quiz Show,” and two dark horses, Mike Newell’s romantic comedy “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and Frank Darabont’s prison drama “The Shawshank Redemption.”
Though “Gump,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Four Weddings” were big hits, “Quiz Show” and “Shawshank” performed poorly at the box office.
“Pulp” and “Shawshank” each received seven nominations, as did Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway,” one of several stunning surprises.
Among the upsets in the director category were Allen, who has been virtually shunned by the Hollywood community in recent years for his personal problems, and Poland’s Krzysztof Kieslowski, whose Swiss movie “Red” was ineligible for best foreign film, but which garnered three nominations, including original screenplay and cinematography.
Omissions include Newell and Darabont, whose films were each honored for best picture. Missing from the best picture category was “Legends of the Fall.” Also missing were best actor hopefuls Hugh Grant (“Four Weddings”) and Terence Stamp (“Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) and best film contenders “Little Women” and “The Lion King.”
The most controversial oversight, however, was the failure of the acclaimed basketball-themed “Hoop Dreams” to be nominated for either best documentary or best picture. Its sole nomination was for best editing.
The biggest acting surprises came in the supporting actress category, where the only sure bet had been for Dianne Wiest as the Broadway diva in “Bullets Over Broadway.”
“Bullets” marks the sixth time Allen was nominated for best director and 11th time for screenwriting. He previously won for best director and screenplay for 1977’s “Annie Hall” and for his 1986 screenplay for “Hannah and Her Sisters.”
“Gump” brings a first best director nomination for Zemeckis, who next to Steven Spielberg is Hollywood’s most successful filmmaker, with the “Back to the Future” trilogy and the 1988 blockbuster “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Zemeckis won the Golden Globe for “Gump” and is a contender for the DGA award.
But he faces stiff competition from the maverick Tarantino. The 31-year-old is the critics’ darling, as is “Pulp,” which won last spring’s Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or. Tarantino lost out to Zemeckis for best director at the Globes, but won for screenplay.
Rounding out the list was Redford, who won for 1980’s “Ordinary People.” He received Globe and DGA nominations for “Quiz Show’s” examination of the 1950s television quiz show scandal and how America lost its innocence in the process.
Longshots in the best actress category were Miranda Richardson for “Tom & Viv,” Winona Ryder for “Little Women” and Susan Sarandon for “The Client.” Richardson and Ryder are first-time best actress nominees; it’s Sarandon’s fourth.
Richardson said: “I’m very happy for the producers since this film was 10 years in the making. That the academy is more open to independent work these days adds to the suspense, making the nominations much harder to second-guess.”
The British actress is joined by two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster, nominated for her role as a reclusive wild child in “Nell,” and previous Oscar winner Jessica Lange, as an emotionally unstable military wife in “Blue Sky,” which was shelved for three years due to Orion Pictures’ financial woes.
“After the history of this film, to get this kind of attention is great. It’s like a gift out of the blue,” said Lange, who receives her fifth best actress nod.
Veteran British stage actor Nigel Hawthorne scored the biggest surprise on the best actor front for repeating on-screen his London triumph as the demented monarch in “The Madness of King George.” His co-star, Helen Mirren, also scored her first nod, in the best supporting actress category.
Hawthorne praised producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr.: “He deserves a huge amount of credit for the risk he took, allowing me to play this role with relatively little movie credibility.”
The other four best actor nominees, including Hanks, Paul Newman for “Nobody’s Fool,” Morgan Freeman for “Shawshank Redemption” and John Travolta for “Pulp Fiction,” have all previously been nominated.
Both Newman, 70, as the stubborn curmudgeon in “Nobody’s Fool” and Travolta as the dimwitted hit man in “Pulp” had their leading-man status affirmed.
“After such a major set-up, I was bracing myself for disappointment,” said Travolta. “It’s been 17 years, after all, since I was nominated for ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and figured it just wasn’t in my cards.” He humbly added, “Last year, I was watching the Oscars at home, feeling like a total outsider. Now, I guess, I’m ‘back.’ ”
In the hard-to-call best supporting actress slot, joining previous Oscar winner Wiest was her “Bullets” co-star Jennifer Tilly, and other first-timers Mirren, Rosemary Harris for “Tom & Viv” and Uma Thurman for “Pulp Fiction.”
There were fewer surprises in the best supporting actor division. Martin Landau was recognized for his performance as Bela Lugosi in “Ed Wood.” Joining him were Samuel L. Jackson in “Pulp Fiction” and Gary Sinise in “Forrest Gump.” Chazz Palminteri as a gangster playwright in “Bullets” and former best actor winner Paul Scofield as the overbearing father in “Quiz Show” were more unexpected.
For original screenplay, all five nominees--Miramax’s “Bullets,” “Heavenly Creatures,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Red” and Gramercy Pictures’ “Four Weddings"--were independently produced and had offbeat themes.
With the exception of “King George,” the best adapted screenplay choices were for more traditional studio fare: “Forrest Gump,” “Nobody’s Fool,” “Quiz Show” and “Shawshank.”
In the often controversial foreign film arena, two countries scored their first nominations: Cuba for “Strawberry and Chocolate” and Macedonia for “Before the Rain.” Rounding out the list are Globe winner “Farinelli: Il Castrato” (Belgium), “Eat Drink Man Woman” (Taiwan) and Russia’s “Burnt by the Sun.”
The results of the Oscars, voted on by the 4,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will be announced March 27 in a ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium to be telecast on ABC and hosted by David Letterman.
Times staff writers Elaine Dutka and Robert W. Welkos also contributed to this article.