BEVERLY HILLS - A clash of cultures erupted in Hollywood on Tuesday, pitting ``Gladiator'' Romans against Qing Dynasty warriors from ``Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'' and a scrappy activist named ``Erin Brockovich'' for the movies' highest honors, the Oscars.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts (news - web sites) and Sciences named its Oscar nominees and early favorite ``Gladiator,'' about an outcast Roman general seeking vengeance for his family's death, claimed the most nods with 12, including best picture, best actor for Russell Crowe and best director for Ridley Scott.
``When you make this kind of epic movie, if any aspect fails the whole movie fails,'' producer Doug Wick told Reuters, ``So, what was really exciting was the pleasure of seeing Ridley get nominated, then Russell. It's like playing on a team, and playing on a team where no-one dropped a pass.''
Ang Lee's Mandarin-language drama ``Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,'' which has wowed audiences and critics with its blend of martial arts and a stirring love story, surprised industry experts with 10 nominations, the most a foreign language film has ever received.
``Crouching Tiger'' also earned nominations for best picture and best foreign language film, marking only the third time a film has been nominated in both categories in the Oscars' 73-year history. Lee was also nominated for best director.
``I feel relieved because it was such hard work for a year and one-half,'' Lee told Reuters. ``After 10 months (since its debut at the Cannes film festival) I feel I've done everything I can to help the film. I feel at peace.''
Lee said he doesn't look upon the Oscars as a competition, but he noted their importance to the film industry and to helping a film gain attention. ``This is the biggest movie event in the world,'' he said.
The Battle For Best Film
But come March 25, when the Oscars are handed out in a gala Los Angeles ceremony televised around the globe, ``Crouching Tiger'' and ``Gladiator'' will be up against some tough competitors.
``Erin Brockovich,'' in which best actress nominee Julia Roberts portrays an environmental activist who brings a mighty utility to its knees, and the drug war drama ``Traffic,'' earned best picture nods for director Steven Soderbergh.
``I can't even put into words what I'm feeling,'' Soderbergh said in a statement. ``I think if I didn't have the distraction of shooting a film I would have to be sedated.''
Rounding out the best picture nominees was ``Chocolat,'' which proved to be a surprise for many industry watchers because the movie, though well-liked by audiences, had been left out of many of the early awards.
Soderbergh, too, will go up against Scott and Lee in the best director category after having been nominated for both ''Brockovich'' and ``Traffic'', becoming the first director to accomplish that feat since Michael Curtiz did it in 1938.
The double nomination could present a problem, however, because many industry watchers think votes for Soderbergh could be divided between the films, leaving room for Lee, Scott or final nominee, Stephen Daldry of British movie ``Billy Elliot.''
``I think It's a real dilemma for Steven because he is very scrupulous guy, and he has been unwilling to make a choice, and say I support one or the other film,'' said ``Traffic'' co-producer Marshall Herskovitz.
Left out of the director category, however, was Cameron Crowe whose ``Almost Famous'' about a young rock critic on tour with a band in the 1970s earned a Golden Globe award in Jan. Crowe did collect an Oscar nod for best original screenplay
Music categories were loaded with talent as rock music legend Bob Dylan earned a nomination for best original song with ``Things Have Changed'' from ``Wonder Boys.''
Joining Dylan were Sting with ``My Funny Friend and Me'' from ''The Emperor's New Groove;'' Icelandic pop star Bjork with ``I've Seen It All'' from ``Dancer in the Dark;'' Randy Newman with ``A Fool in Love'' from ``Meet the Parents,'' and Jorge Calandrelli and Tan Dun for ``A Love Before Time'' from ``Crouching Tiger.''
Actor And Actress Categories
Despite the high-powered musicians, it is films, actors and actresses that grab the Oscar spotlight. Included with Crowe in the best actor category was Tom Hanks in drama ``Cast Away,'' considered a favorite for playing a modern-day Robinson Crusoe stranded on an island. Hanks won back-to-back Oscars in 1993 for ``Philadelphia'' and 1994 with ``Forrest Gump.''
Longshots against Crowe and Hanks will be Javier Bardem, who plays a Cuban poet and novelist in ``Before Night Falls,'' Ed Harris playing the artist Jackson Pollock in ``Pollock'' and Geoffrey Rush as the infamous Marquis de Sade in ``Quills.''
Best actress nominees included box office queen Roberts for ''Brockovich'' along with two actresses who received strong reviews but little popular attention in independent-style films, Laura Linney playing a single mom whose estranged brother returns home in ``You Can Count on Me'' and Ellen Burstyn portraying a TV-addicted mother in ``Requiem for a Dream.''
``I've been kicking around for a long time and this feels pretty damn good,'' Linney told Reuters.
Also on the best actress list are Juliette Binoche playing the owner of a chocolate shop who turns a small French town upside down in ``Chocolat'' and Joan Allen as a female vice president appointee under political fire in ``The Contender''
``It seems like going to the moon,'' Binoche said, adding that as a little girl growing up in France she'd always fantasized of Oscar stardom. ``It's like being in a dream.''
Supporting actress nominees were Judi Dench in ``Chocolat,'' Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand for ``Almost Famous,'' Julie Walters in ``Billy Elliot,'' about a boy who wants to study ballet instead of boxing, and Marcia Gay Harden for her acclaimed portrayal of artist Lee Krasner in ``Pollock.''
Gay Harden called the nomination and ``a real tribute to (Harris) and his 10-year labor of love, making Pollock.''
Nominees for supporting actor were Jeff Bridges in ``The Contender,'' Willem Dafoe in ``Shadow of the Vampire,'' Benicio Del Toro in ``Traffic,'' Albert Finney in ``Erin Brockovich'' and Joaquin Phoenix for ``Gladiator.''
``It's a good way to wake up,'' said Dafoe of learning his nomination before dawn in Los Angeles.
Joining ``Crouching Tiger'' in the foreign language film grouping are Mexico's ``Amores Perros,'' the Czech Republic's ''Divided We Fall,'' Belgium's ``Everybody Famous'' and France's ''The Taste of Others,'' marking the 31st time a French film has been nominated for that award
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)